Our performance of John Pickard's Eden at the 2013 Festival of Brass at the Royal Northern College of Music
This work was commissioned by the Brass Band Heritage Trust as the test piece for the final of the 2005 Besson National Brass Band Championship, held at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
The score is prefaced by the final lines from Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost (completed in 1663), in which Adam and Eve, expelled from Paradise, make their uncertain way into the outside world:
"...The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way."
My work is in three linked sections. In the first, the characters of Adam, Eve and the serpent guarding the Tree of Knowledge are respectively represented by solo euphonium, cornet and trombone. The music opens in an idyllic and tranquil mood and leads into a duet between euphonium and cornet. Throughout this passage the prevailing mood darkens, though the soloists seem to remain oblivious to the increasingly fraught atmosphere. A whip-crack announces the malevolent appearance of the solo trombone who proceeds to engage the solo cornet in a sinister dialogue.
The second section interprets the Eden story as a modern metaphor for the havoc mankind has inflicted upon the world, exploiting and abusing its resources in the pursuit of wealth. Though certainly intended here as a comment on the present-day, it is by no means a new idea: Milton himself had an almost prescient awareness of it in Book I of his poem, where men, led on by Mammon:
"...Ransacked the centre and with impious hands
Rifled the bowels of their mother earth
For treasures better hid. Soon had his crew
Opened into the hill a spacious wound
And digged out ribs of gold."
So this section is fast and violent, at times almost manic in its destructive energy. At length a furious climax subsides and a tolling bell ushers in the third and final section.
This final part is slow, beginning with an intense lament featuring solos for tenor-horn, flügel-horn and repiano cornet and joined later by solo baritone, soprano cornet, Eb-bass and Bb-bass.
At one stage in the planning of the work it seemed likely that the music would end here -- in despair. Then, mid-way through writing it, I visited the extraordinary Eden Project in Cornwall. Here, in a disused quarry -- a huge man-made wound in the earth -- immense biomes, containing an abundance of plant species from every region of the globe, together with an inspirational education programme, perhaps offer a small ray of hope for the future. This is the image behind the work's conclusion and the optimism it aims to express is real enough, though it is hard-won and challenged to the last.
©John Pickard 2005
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