Nigel with Hauts-de-France Brass Band after the Swedish Premiere of Diary of a Madman

Nigel attended the Swedish premiere of his Diary of a Madman in the Malmö Live Konserthus on Saturday, 6 May. It is the third time this year that the Hauts-de-France Brass Band, under the baton of Luc Vertommen have performed Nigel’s new work. The band’s Swedish premiere was part of the 2023 European Brass Band Championships, of which they performed Diary of a Madman as their own-choice test piece. Hauts-de-France Brass Band are the 2023 French National Brass Band Championships. As Diary of a Madman was primarily written for the band to use in competition, Nigel wrote the piece under two pseudonyms, Boris Sergeevish Kalinnikov for the French National Championships (29 January) and Christian Brant for the 2023 European Brass Band Championships (7 May).

About `DIARY OF MADMAN’ (Twenty-Fourth February)

From the beginning of history, warlords and dictators have risen up, some benign but most of them a scourge on humanity. Names that resonate to this day include Caligula, Genghis Khan, Ivan IV (The Terrible), Attila the Hun, Vlad IIII (The Impaler), Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, all of whom were responsible for wanton destruction and the torture and death of millions of victims, either citizens of invaded countries and territories and or indeed, their own peoples.

We might hope that these dark times have passed, but like the bubonic plague, a new tyrant may spring up when we are least expecting it, introducing yet another rapacious and malignant regime.

Diary of a Madman (Twenty-Fourth February) depicts a savage and brutal world – the same story of human nature that has echoed through the ages. Diary of a Madman also celebrates resistance and opposition against unjust authority and despotism.

As indicated in the score, Diary of a Madman requires a performance full of contrast, often harsh in tone evoking unadulterated violence, but its ferocious and savage articulations are periodically interspersed with moments of sublime beauty. My compositionis an 1812 Overture-style work for our times; whilst I know that real life does not always reflect art, I have chosen like Tchaikovsky to end Diary of a Madman on a victorious note.

About the Music

Nigel with conductor Luc Vertommen

Diary of a Madman starts with a light-hearted march that gives the impression of toy tin soldiers parading in a brightlycoloured ceremonial pageant from a fairy tale, conveying peace and innocence. This spectacle is abruptly interrupted by a shock and awefanfarelike march, symbolising aggression and war. This theme grinds slowly to a halt, and an atmosphere of introspection, sadness and despair takes over. Rising above the smoky theatre of war, we then hear a distant cornet give a rendition of the Ukrainian Nation Anthem (The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished. Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians). The solo cornet soon enters a fragile duet with a second cornet accompanied by dark undertones. One by one, we hear short shards of aggressive fanfare-like figures from various instruments in the band. The mood breaks – we hear strident fortissimo whole-tone scales representing pealing church bells, warning of danger. In contrast, we also hear pianissimo whole-tone scales announcing that the enemy’s troops are falling back. A counter-offensive soon takes centre stage, and battles and skirmishes are heard, with shortquotations from Mussorgsky’s `Great Gates of Kyiv’ symbolising the defenders’ heroic struggle.

All sides are victims of the Dictator’s ambition! The slow central section offer us moments of melancholic beauty and utilises Henry Purcell’s `When I am laid in earth’ (`Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas 1688). This music represents the loss of homes, dignityand loved ones. There are occasional hints at better times as the theme of the parading toy tin soldiers is heard from afar, like a distant memory.

To announce the final push, we hear a church bell strike and an air raid siren signalling a ferocious musical counterattack. After one final rendition of the Purcell theme, Diary of a Madman closes with a mood of triumph over tyranny. Nigel Clarke

Reaction to Diary of a Madman

Steven Mead [4barsrest live coverage coverage team] wrote:

A fantastic performance of an absolutely bonkers, wonderful piece of music. I wasn’t sure if the concept would work, but boy it’s absolutely did. It deserves to be heard many times, but I somehow doubt if it’ll ever receive such a great performance as this.

The loudest siren I ever heard in a contest, in fact, anywhere! Somehow, the band bought it off and displayed its full array of technical musical skills. Bravo to Luc Vertommen for bringing this piece to us this weekend. – Steven Mead

Christopher Thomas [4barsrest live coverage coverage team] wrote:

The European own choice leg has a habit of throwing up the occasional piece that is just that little bit different and this could well be one of them!

There are hints of Shostakovich in the opening paragraphs and the writing is challenging in the extreme. But what power there is in both the score and its delivery from the band. At times this brutal stuff…exactly as it should be. But there is technique on display in abundance and the constantly shifting parade of styles and savagery passes by like a garish nightmare.

The schizophrenic nature of the music is disturbing, the bizarrely twisted portrayal of the Great Gate of Kiev being perhaps the most frightening, but what is most evident is that both MD and band are feeling every note of the score. It’s terrifying but utterly compelling at the same time.

The sudden arrival of Purcell on the scene is another bizarre twist in the fabric of the music, but this is ethereally atmospheric, so beautifully played. The air raid signal that heralds ‘the calm before the storm’ whips the final passes up into a frenzy ahead of a blazing final bar.

Overall: A fascinating performance by the French of a work that well… could either love or hate. We loved every note of its unapologetic eccentricity but more than that, what extraordinary playing. Savage, powerful and ultimately gloriously triumphant.- Christopher Thomas