Nigel Clarke Wind Orchestra Music Volume 1

The first of three volumes of Nigel Clarke’s wind orchestra music have been released today (06/06/24) on iTunes and will be available soon on other streaming and download platforms.

Volume 1 features Breaking the Century, Earthrise, Mysteries of the Horizon, Gagarin and King Solomon’s Mines.

Richard Phillips – Head of Music Division, SATCoL says of this release:

Nigel Clarke is known for his bravura orchestration which is especially reflected in his wind orchestra, orchestral and feature film scores. The Naxos record label says of Clarke: “The Brussels-based British composer Nigel Clarke is renowned for his virtuosic style, and an uncompromising contemporary musical language that speaks with an authentic voice to today’s audiences.”

His first wind orchestra work, Samurai, was commissioned by conductor Timothy Reynish and the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra in 1995 and received its premiere at the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles (WASBE) Conference at Hamamatsu in Japan. Samurai became an overnight success and since then has beenperformed by the greatest wind orchestras around the world. Clarke has subsequently written many wind orchestra works and this digital release will be the first volume of three, showcasing Clarke’s contribution to this genre. The recording focuses on some 30 years of Clarke’s musical development and shows the diversity of his musicianship, with each composition having its own unique flavour and style distinct from his earlier work. We hope you enjoy this first volume. R.P.

 – Sleeve Notes –

BREAKING THE CENTURY – Royal Airforce Central Band, Conductor: Wing Commander Rob Wiffen OBE

100 is a number that has carried special importance throughout human history. 2,000 years ago, the Romans called their foot soldiers `Centurions’; the 100th part of an American dollar is called a `cent’; Athletes and swimmers race over 100 metres or multiples of one hundred; with luck and skill you can score a `century’ in cricket; in the animal kingdom a `centipede’ is an insect that is reputed to have 100 legs. We all aspire to become a `centenarian’ and live to a healthy 100 years of age.

Nigel Clarke wrote Breaking the Century as a Brass Band commission to celebrate Oxted Band’s centenary and subsequently developed the work further for Concert Band.

Breaking the Century can be broadly described as a Dance Overture. It is written as a moto perpetuo(perpetually in motion), with its momentum and energy maintained throughout by its fast allegro tempo.


Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, Conductor: Clark Rundell

Earthrise is the name of one of the most iconic photographs in history – the original NASA image named AS8-14-2383 which was taken by the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968 during the first manned mission to the Moon. Astronaut Michael Collins was capsule communicator for the Apollo 8 team and later took part in the Apollo 11 mission that first landed on the Moon. Having been one of the first men to glimpse the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon, the only splash of colour in an otherwise dark and colourless universe, Collins later described the Apollo 8 mission as “more awe-inspiring than landing on the Moon”.

This famous photo opportunity took the Apollo crew entirely by surprise. The Earth came into view on their fourth orbit as they emerged from the far side of the Moon and the excitement of the crew members Frank Borman, Bill Anders and James Lovell at that moment was captured on audio:-

Frank Borman: “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

Bill Anders: “Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled”.

Frank Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?

Bill Anders: “Hand me that roll of color quick, will you” –

James Lovell: “Oh man, that’s great!”

Bill Anders: “Hurry. Quick ….”

James Lovell: “Take several of them! Here, give it to me ….”

Frank Borman: “Calm down, Lovell.”

James Lovell later recalled: “There’s no colour. In the whole universe wherever we looked, the only bit of colour was back on Earth…. It was the most beautiful thing there was to see in all the heavens. People down here don’t realize what they have”.  The crew of Apollo 8 were briefed by NASA to take photographs of the Moon – anything extra was described as a target of opportunity, so it is extraordinary that the most famous image from their mission was of the Earth. In 1969 the Earthrise photograph was featured on a US Postal Service stamp commemorating the achievements of Apollo 8

Earthrise is written in one continuous movement but divided into three sections – fast-slow-fast. It is a symphonic poem, in which Clarke endeavoures to capture the excitement and expectation that the Apollo 8 mission brought to the world. The opening bars are intended as a musical portrait of the rocket launch on 21 December 1968 in Florida as witnessed by the author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

“Slowly, as in a dream, slowly it seemed to hang suspended on a cloud of fire and smoke” Then followed the noise “a shattering roar of explosions, a trip-hammer over one’s head, under one’s feet, through one’s body. The earth shakes, cars rattle, vibrations beat in the chest. A roll of thunder prolonged, prolonged, prolonged.”

After the opening section, Clarke emulates the speed and power of Apollo 8’s Saturn V rocket which is catapulted towards the Moon using the Earth’s gravitational force. The atmosphere then becomes calm, portraying the astronauts floating weightlessly in their capsule on their way to the dark side of the Moon. This is a prelude to the kernel of the work, the moment when the Earth comes into view – the only coloured object in an otherwise monochrome universe. The final section of the work depicts Apollo 8 hurtling back to Earth at an unimaginable 25,000 miles per hour on its quarter of a million-mile journey, hitting Earth’s narrow atmospheric corridor and finally splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

The various moods of Earthrise are reflected and captured in a specially commissioned poem of the same name by Martin Westlake to accompany this score. Earthrise  was commissioned and dedicated to conductor Luc Vertommen and Brass Band Buizingen.


EARTHRISE By Martin Westlake

On 21 December 1968,

In a daring escape,

Three men with a pocket calculator

Rode a roaring tower of 5.6 million parts

Into Floridean skies

And soared into expectant orbit.


While they gazed back at a world fast changing

From landscape to planet,

Gravity drove them,

Pebbles flung from Earth’s sling,

Across the vast astrolabe

Towards their lunar destination.


Rushing slowly through utter loneliness,

They floated in their silvery dust speck,

Gliding and sliding along an invisible plane

Towards the moon’s bright disk,

And there they hid in the black nothingness

Of the dark side.


Celestial tourists drifting back into light,

Their camera-ed necks craning through fogged up windows,

They caught a target of opportunity,

A twin-filmed grain of rock floating with all its peoples,

A colourful, half-lit pendulum,

Swinging out from the moon’s pockmarked cheek.


Borman, Anders and Lovell – the three exceptions,

Gazed at the rest of humanity in its distant invisibility,

Then fell a quarter of a million miles,

Bouncing on the atmosphere before streaking earthward,

An orange slash in a black piece of velvet,

Parachuting down to the Pacific’s waves.


Man had been to the moon, but he had seen the earth,

Seen what gods saw, seen what gods made;

He had seen the earth rise,

Seen frontiers and races disappear.

And, just for a while, it seemed

That man would think as gods thought.



Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, Trumpet: Brendan Ball, Conductor: Clark Rundell

1. The Menaced Assassin, 2. The Dominion of Light, 3. The Flavour of Lights, 4. The Discovery of Fire


Clarke wrote Mysteries of the Horizon for the virtuoso Belgian cornet player Harmen Vanhoorne and Brass Band Buizingen under the baton of their conductor Luc Vertommen. Clarke then subsequentlyrewrote the concerto for wind orchestra at the request of the American Conductor Prof Matthew J George to perform with the University of St Thomas Wind Ensemble with Harmen Vanhoorne as soloist.

Mysteries of the Horizon can be performed on either the cornet or the trumpet – in this recording Brendan Ball plays the Trumpet.

The composer writes “The concerto was inspired by the paintings of the Belgian artist René Magritte (1898 – 1967) and living in Brussels, I was able to visit the Magritte Museum many times to absorb myself in the surrealist artist’s work. I love the way that themes and gestures flow freely through his work, from bowler hats and bowler-hatted men, to umbrellas, pipes and doves”.

In the same way Clarke has allowed themes and musical gestures to flow freely from one movement to another in his concerto. Mysteries of the Horizon is not programmatic, but yet he has tried to colour each movement with an atmosphere that reflects the particular Magritte painting on which it is based. As a concerto, Mysteries of the Horizon is unusual as it has four movements and not the standard three found in many classical concertos. The first movement, The Menaced Assassin, is the most aggressive of the four movements; the painting depicts a naked woman’s corpse lying on a chaise-long in a sparsely decorated room. In the room is also a man, assumed to be the murderer, listening to a wind-up gramophone. The assassin does not seem to realise that hiding behind the door, apparently lying in wait for him, are two men wearing bowler hats and dressed in black, one carrying a club and the other a large net. There are also three male observers looking on at the scene through a window with mountains in the distance. When viewing the painting it is as if one is a voyeur, and it is difficult to avert one’s gaze from this burlesque-scene of horror and discord.

The second movement, The Dominion of Light, acts as light relief from the previous musical tableau. The movement is short, rhythmic and energetic and the soloist is mainly muted throughout apart from a few bars near the end. It depicts a Magritte painting of a house in darkness with one single illuminated streetlamp outside, whilst in contrast the sky above is in daylight. Magritte painted this theme 27 times during his career!

The third movement, The Flavour of Tears, is the emotional heart of the concerto. The image is of a tobacco leaf in the shape of a bird, a `birdleaf’ with one solitary caterpillar eating away at it. The sky in the background is dark and foreboding. This painting is Magritte’s response to Belgium being occupied during World War II.

The final movement, The Discovery of Fire, is a tour de force of `fire and vim’ for the soloist. Magritte’s portrait is of a tuba that has burst into flames against a darkened background. What is ambiguous about this painting is that a tuba is made of metal and cannot catch fire. Perhaps it refers to the fact that sometimes a musician might be said to be `on fire’ when playing at their absolute best. Clarke commissioned the poet Martin Westlake to write a poem to accompany the concerto:


Mysteries of the Horizon by Martin Westlake


Ceci n’est pas un poème:

For pictures are a meaning and

That truth is the mystery.


Please bleed away from our averted eyes,

Your silk-scarfed neck

Separating off the peaks our mountain echoes.

Hat, coat and case, blackjack and net

Wait for the music to end as night falls.

Listen; the sun shines tonight and the lamp

Casts shadows on our reflections.

After all, why should we choose between night and day?

Isn’t that the poetry?


So, let us taste the tears and

May all hairy caterpillars munch

On leafy birds and approaching war

As we consider the eternal truth

That a flaming tuba

Is hard to light and even more difficult to play.


Ceci n’est pas un poème:

For pictures are a meaning and

That truth is the mystery.



Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, Conductor: James Gourlay

1. Road to the Stars, 2. Orbit, 3. Homecoming

`GAGARIN’ was written for Dr Matthew George and the University of St. Thomas Symphonic Wind Ensemble in Minnesota, USA.

Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was a Soviet farm boy who became the first man in space. He was born on 9 March 1934, and this work celebrates his 70th anniversary. It was not until 1961 that the wider world heard of his name. His short life spanned the 20th century’s most traumatic times from the turmoil of the Second World War in Russia, through to the Cold War at the height of which Gagarin served as an officer in the Soviet Airforce. It was against this historical backdrop that the two main post-war superpowers competed to launch the first man into space.

Twenty of the Soviet Union’s exceptional test pilots were selected from a list of over 2000 and put through arduous training.  Only one was to be chosen to be the first cosmonaut in space. Gagarin was the man the authorities selected for this historical flight, the decision being taken only a few weeks before the actual launch. His rocket, now world famous, was `Vostok 1’.

The launch took place in a specially made launch station in the south of the Republic of Kazakhstan at Baikonur. Many disasters and deaths paved the way to this event.  Only weeks before the launch, 190 men died when a rocket exploded at the Baikonur site. It was doubtful whether Gagarin knew about this as the whole project was shrouded in secrecy.

By today’s standards the whole launch process was primitive, but on 1 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth for 108 minutes before returning to Earth and landing near the village of Smelkovka in the Saratov region. His return to Earth was reported to be witnessed by only one or two local country people.

Gagarin’s experience had a profound effect on him: after his orbit he said `Circling the earth in the orbital spaceship I marvelled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty – not destroy it!’

In Gagarin’s biography, Road to the Stars, he describes how at the moment of the launch, he heard an ever-growing din and felt the rocket tremble all over before it slowly lifted off, emitting a huge range of musical tones, pitches and timbres that no composer or set of musical instruments or voices could ever duplicate.

Gagarin became a national hero after his courageous mission, but although he gained world-wide recognition, he was never allowed to fly into space again. He died tragically on 28 March 1968 whilst flying his MiG-15UTI jet.

Road to the Stars captures the spirit of these times and the excitement of the space race. Orbit replicates the exhilaration that Gagarin might have experienced and the impression that seeing Earth from space would have had on him. Homecoming is a celebration in the form of a Russian folk dance. At various moments in the work, Clarke uses fragments of the Soviet national anthem Sing to the Motherland, home of the free (now revised and adopted as the Russian national anthem).



Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra / Conductor: James Gourlay

King Solomon’s Mines was written for Gerald Loren Welker and the Alabama Wind Ensemble, University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, USA.

King Solomon’s Mines is a continuous composition which is 12 minutes in duration and is written in ten programmatic scenes based on Rider Haggard’s novel of the same name. These scenes are:

  1. Solomon’s Road, 2. Allan Quatermain 3. Attack and Last Stand of the Greys, 4. To Kill a King,
  2. Place of Death, 6. Solomon’s Treasure Chamber, 7. Buried Alive 8. Escape 9. Reunited 10. Farewell

The piece describes the colourful fictional tale of Allan Quatermain’s quest to find King Solomon’s diamond mine in deepest Africa. With the help of a bloodstained map, he eventually finds the mine after encountering many dangerous situations. Allan Quatermain can be considered the forerunner of the movie hero Indiana Jones.



The British composer Nigel Clarke grew up in the seaside town of Margate, UK and though not from a musical family, developed a lifelong love of music at an early age while learning a brass instrument at school. At 16 he joined the Royal Marines as a junior military bandsman and went on to serve in the Band of the Royal Army Medical Corps and ultimately the Band of the Irish Guards. His desire to write music was encouraged at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall. This led him study composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London with Paul Patterson.

During his professional career Clarke has held posts as Composition and Contemporary Music tutor at the Royal Academy of Music, and Head of Composition at the London College of Music and Media. His many national and international residencies and associations include positions with the Young Concert Artist Trust, The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Black Dyke Band, Brassband Buizingen, Grimethorpe Colliery Band and Middle Tennessee State University. Clarke’s longest musical collaboration has been with violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Clarke is renowned for his virtuosic writing using an uncompromisingly contemporary language which speaks to audiences. He has a penchant for storytelling, and his works brim with rhythmic drive and bravura orchestration. It is this language of contrasts and colour, juxtaposing savage musical outbursts with moments of sheer transcendental beauty that draw audiences into his sound world.

Clarke’s scores include works for symphony orchestra, brass, wind, and chamber combinations, and he has also been nominated for numerous awards for his compositions for the concert hall and for film. His works are recorded on many prestigious labels and are performed worldwide.


The RNCM Wind Orchestra is one of several large scale ensembles that make up the wide diversity of music-making at one of the world’s leading music conservatoires. In 2000 the RNCM was awarded a second Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of its ‘outstanding education work’. The citation reads: Through a unique series of commissions, broadcasts, professional recordings, and world-wide performances by its staff and students, the College has transformed the repertoire and performance standards of wind ensemble music in this country. Its outstanding achievements in this field have brought international acclaim.



The Royal Airforce Central Band was formed in 1922 and quickly established a reputation for innovation and excellence. During the Second World War the Band included in its ranks many of the country’s finest civilian musicians including the legendary French Horn player, Dennis Brain.

The RAF Central Band has several notable achievements of interest in its history – On 22 April 1922, they were the first ever military band to broadcast on BBC Radio and remain to this day the most-broadcast military band in Britain. In 1955, they also became the first military band to make a long-playing gramophone record. More recently the Band earned the distinction of being the first outside the USA to be awarded the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Citation for Musical Excellence.



Rob Wiffen began his career in the Salvation Army, learning to play the trombone at Southall Citadel in London. Wiffen played in the prestigious National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain before entering the Royal College of Music where he studied trombone with Arthur Wilson.

On completion of his studies he joined the Royal Air Force Music Services and became the principal trombonist of the Central Band. Wiffen eventually decided to concentrate his energies on conducting and became a Director of Music for the RAF. He has directed the Band of the RAF Regiment, the Western Band of the RAF and the Central Band of the RAF. His promotion to Principal Director of Music, Royal Air Force, in January 1998, made him the twelfth in a line of distinguished musicians who have held this prestigious post and, on appointment, the youngest since Sir George Dyson in 1919.  He was awarded the OBE for services to Royal Air Force Music in 2002. On leaving the RAF in 2003, he relocated to Spain where he spent much of his time composing and arranging music and playing the trombone. He is presently Professor of Conducting at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall and teaches postgraduate conducting, composition and arranging at the London College of Music.


Brendan Ball’s early musical education was in the brass band movement of the North of England before winning a scholarship to study at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester. Whilst at Chetham’s, Brendan was a brass finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Further study ensued, as a Foundation Scholar, at the Royal College of Music with David Mason, Michael Laird, Stanley Woods, John Wilbraham and Yonty Solomon.

Ball has played with most orchestras, opera companies and dance companies in the UK. He has also toured Europe, Asia and the USA. He has collaborated with many composers to present world premieres, forming a particular relationship with international award-winning composer, Ailis Ni Rain including Treasured, a music theatre piece performed in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral retelling the story of the Titanic.

A love of the music of Baroque masters has seen Ball perform the Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 by J.S.Bach seventeen times. the Rococo Concerto by Leopold Mozart three times. and both concertos by Michael Haydn twice. Performances of the Concerto For Two Trumpets by Vivaldi are too numerous to mention! Ball has been a member of the  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the oldest in the British Isles, and is currently a member of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. He is noted for having great stamina and technique; he said of Clarke’s concerto “it offered a challenge, both musically and technically, that I simply couldn’t resist!”


James Gourlay is internationally recognised as a soloist and chamber music player of distinction, whose performances of the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto, both in London at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts and in Japan, have been greeted with critical acclaim. He also gave the first British performances of Lacheman’s Harmonia (with the BBC Symphony Orchestra) as well as Penderecki’s Capriccio for solo tuba. World premieres given by him include works by Horovitz, Sparke, Ellerby, Newton and Steptoe. Formerly Principal Tuba with the Zurich Opera, BBC Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Musical Director of Brass BandBerner Oberland and the Williams Fairey Band, James Gourlay is also a former Head of the School of Wind and Percussion at the Royal Northen College of Music.

Clarke Rundell is currently Director of Contemporary Music at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. He studied at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA, studying conducting with John Paynter and trombone with Frank Crisafulli of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was subsequently awarded a Junior Fellowship to study conducting with Timothy Reynish at the RNCM. He regularly conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he made his debut in 1987, as well as the RLPO’s contemporary music group, Ensemble 10:10. Deeply committed to the performance of new music, Clark has given many world and British premieres of works by celebrated international composers. A highly versatile musician, Rundell served fourteen years as Director of Jazz Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music and has performed with artists such as John Dankworth, Bob Brookmeyer, Victor Mendoza, Guy Barker, Julian Arguelles, Ed Thigpen, Cleo Laine, Andy Sheppard, Lew Tabakin and Michael Gibbs.


Clarke Rundell is currently Director of Contemporary Music at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. He studied at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA, studying conducting with John Paynter and trombone with Frank Crisafulli of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and was subsequently awarded a Junior Fellowship to study conducting with Timothy Reynish at the RNCM. He regularly conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he made his debut in 1987, as well as the RLPO’s contemporary music group, Ensemble 10:10. Deeply committed to the performance of new music, Clark has given many world and British premieres of works by celebrated international composers. A highly versatile musician, Rundell served fourteen years as Director of Jazz Studies at the Royal Northern College of Music and has performed with artists such as John Dankworth, Bob Brookmeyer, Victor Mendoza, Guy Barker, Julian Arguelles, Ed Thigpen, Cleo Laine, Andy Sheppard, Lew Tabakin and Michael Gibbs.




Born in 1957, Martin Westlake is an author and academic. He has studied and worked in the UK, Italy, France and Belgium. His historical novel, Other Than an Aspen Be, is currently on submission.


Production Team:

Producer: Dr Martin Ellerby / Associate Producer: Kit Turnbull

Recording Engineers: Michael Moor, Chris Thorpe, Richard Scott  – Assistant Engineer: Lee Fisher

Earthrise, Mysteries of the Horizon, Gagarin and King Solomon’s Mines recorded at the RNCM Manchester, UK

Breaking the Century recorded at RAF Uxbridge, UK

Polyphonic Reproductions would like to thank:

Brendan Ball, Dr Martin Ellerby, Prof Matthew George, James Gourlay, Stan Kitchen, Prof Linda Merrick CBE, Richard Phillips, The Royal Northern College of Music, Timothy Reynish, Clark Rundell, Heidi Sones, Studio Music Company, Dr Luc Vertommen, Dr Gerald Loren Welker, Martin Westlake, Wing Commander Rob Wiffen OBE, Paul and Sandra Williams, Stella Wilson.

Earthrise (AS8-14-2383) photograph (courtesy of NASA) / Nigel Clarke photograph by Alexandre Badiqué

© 2024 Polyphonic Records


NIGEL CLARKE is published by Studio Music

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