King Edward's Music

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

This Is Our Voice workshop

Last week, boys from King Edward’s School took part and assisted in a workshop for the ‘This Is Our Voice’ project, led by Mr Keith Farr and Dr Leigh. The partnerships project aims to help primary school teachers teach songwriting to their classes in preparation for a concert this June, when they will perform their own compositions.

Steinway Jazz Night – this Monday 24th April

We’re looking forward to our Steinway Jazz Night directed by Mr Thompson this Monday 24th April in the Ruddock Hall at 6pm.

Tickets are free and are available via the Ruddock Hall box office!

Spring Concert – Tuesday 28th March

At the end of last term, our music ensembles from both KES and KEHS put on a superb Spring Concert in the Ruddock Hall. Conducted by Mr Monks in his last concert, the Massed Choir started the evening by performing the John Rutter arrangement of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and Parry’s ‘I Was Glad’. Other ensembles played repertoire ranging from Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No.3, Adele’s ‘Skyfall’, and Cahn’s ‘Come Fly With Me’.

Thank you to Mr Ash for the photographs, and well done to all those involved! We’re looking forward to this Summer Term’s concerts.

Gwilym Thorp on Berlioz

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869): Symphonie fantastique, op.14 (1830)

  1. Rêveries – Passions
  2. Un bal
  3. Scène aux champs
  4. Marche au supplice
  5. Songe d’une nuit du sabbat

Hector Berlioz composed Symphonie fantastique in 1830. In the year 1827, the composer was an audience member at a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It was there that Berlioz first met the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, whose character and performance on stage instantly captivated his heart. Berlioz sent many love letters to Smithson, but not one of them was met with a reply. Berlioz continued to send letters to Smithson for two years, but she eventually left Paris without replying to a single one of them. Berlioz, who was brokenhearted, decided to channel his unrequited love and embarked on a colossal project: a five-movement fantastical symphony that concludes with a hideous witch’s bacchanale.

Berlioz provided his own programme notes for each movement (reproduced after this essay). The main topic is one of languish: the tormented artist turns to opium in an effort to ease his emotional pain due to being plagued by dreams of the ideal woman who eludes his grasp. Across all five movements, the “fixed idea” (idée fixe) represents the beloved, and its fusion of yearning and destruction which binds the symphony in a journey through fascination, obsession, and ultimately chaos. 

The first movement introduces the protagonist, a young musician who is plagued by an obsession with the woman of his dreams. Every time he thinks he is close to winning her love, an unknown force pulls them apart. He cannot win her and he cannot demonstrate his worth to her. The idée fixe symbolises this exhausting pursuit of the impossible with a symmetrical rise in intensity and a deflating descent back into the orchestral depths; eventually returning to the starting key in the final bars of the movement, and a prayerful, plagal cadence.

The second movement sees our protagonist’s spirits take a joyful turn. Here we experience a grand ball. Sparkling gowns and graceful dances make themselves heard. The idée fixe is developed into a majestic dance melody that is rich in harmonic variety and intense sensuality. When it came to arranging for the staging and performance of the piece in later years, the composer experienced great difficulty with his bold choice of instrumentation, which places the twin harps in the centre of the stage (it was difficult to find talented harpists, especially tuned harpists). The autograph score of the piece included a solo cornet obbligato, possibly written for the cornet player Arban, but was not included in the full score until 1854. Nowadays, it is more common for the piece to be played without the cornet obbligato, but the best performances include it. 

The third movement gives us a chance to take a breath. A peaceful pastoral picture fills the senses as two shepherds call to each other across a windswept plain. A late-afternoon breeze rustles the grass while the English horn and an off-stage oboe sing a distanced duet. Tranquillity and peace are now the order of the hour. The interlude is composed of hope and optimism, and the English horn makes an attempt to resume the duet. There is no answer. The air becomes cold as the timpani produces a menacing roll of thunder. Something has gone amiss. 

At the beginning of the fourth movement, the listener is greeted by an apocalyptic scene. Our protagonist, convinced of his eternal solitude, overdoses on opium and enters a deep but disturbed sleep. His senses are overtaken by vivid nightmares in which he imagines that he has murdered his beloved and is being condemned to the scaffold. The dismal procession is accompanied by grotesque brass instruments and sombre percussion, which is getting closer with each heavy footfall. Trombones’ deep death rattles, strings’ forced gaiety, and the bassoon’s ominous authority haunt the execution scene. The clarinet emerges from the ashes for a brief moment to play the idée fixe. Sadly, it’s just an apparition; when the blade falls to the ground, the assembled mob jeers contemptuously.

The final movement is formed by a witches’ sabbath. A variety of equally disgusting creatures are introduced to the scene. As they wait for a special visitor, ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and sorcerers leap about in increasing fury. The approach of the beloved, though one who is possessed by demons, is announced by the now-familiaridée fixe. What was once a great, mournful song has become a vulgar, eerie melody. The Dies Irae scene elicits its ominous toll as the orchestra portrays the monsters of the night. Woodwinds tangle themselves up in ceaseless trilling, and strings turn their bows upside down and act as percussion. The composition finishes at a frenzied rate as we lose sight of our protagonist in the chaos as a driving syncopation from the bass drum propels the movement into its culmination.

Gwilym Thorp, Fourths

Choral and Orchestral Concerts

Below are some photos of Monday’s Choral and Orchestral Concert taken by Mr Ash. Well done to all the students from both schools and particularly our soloists who performed over both Sunday and Monday’s concerts!

Music residential trip to Whitemoor Lakes – 3rd-5th March 2023

Below is a snapshot of our pupils rehearsing for our Choral and Orchestral Concerts during our music residential trip to Whitemoor Lakes in Lichfield last weekend. Our Monday night Choral and Orchestral concert is happening tonight which will feature soloists from our Upper Sixth.

Thank you to all the pupils and staff who took part on the trip.

Choral and Orchestral Concerts

This Sunday 12th and Monday 13th March

Guitar Instrumental Evening – Monday 27th February

Here is our Thursday Guitar Ensemble playing in Monday’s Guitar Instrumental Evening. Well done to the pupils who performed!

We have this term’s last Instrumental Evening for drum kit and percussion this Monday 6th March at 6pm in the Ruddock Hall. Entry is free and no tickets required.

Lunchtime Recital – Thursday 16th February

Just before the half term break, we were treated to some wonderful performances including Weber’s ‘Romance for trombone and piano’, Humperdinck’s Evening Prayer from ‘Hansel and Gretel’, Brahms’ horn trio, and Pichl’s ‘Duet in D major’ for two violins.

Well done to everyone who performed, and thank you to Mr Ash for the photos.

Strings’ Instrumental Evening – Monday 13th February

Well done to everyone who performed in last night’s Strings’ Instrumental Evening! Below is a photo of one of our Year 7 chamber groups, who performed Frank Bridge’s Minuet for piano trio.

Lunchtime Recital – Thursday 9th February

Well done to those who performed in Thursday’s Lunchtime Recital!

Come back next Thursday 16th at 13:10 with repertoire featuring Humperdinck’s Evening Prayer, Weber’s Romance for trombone and piano, Pichl’s Duo G-dur and Brahms’ Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano.

Thank you to Mr Ash for the photos below.

Performers’ Platform – Tuesday 7th February

Tuesday’s Performers’ Platform delivered an array of repertoire performed by musicians from both schools; including pieces by Elgar, Bach, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Below is a photo of the Wind Nonet, performing Gounod’s Petite Symphonie. Well done to all who took part!

Woodwind and Brass Evening – Monday 6th February

Well done to all those who took part in our Woodwind and Brass Instrumental Evening! See below for photos of the ensembles which performed.

Woodwind and Brass Instrumental Evening tonight

Our Instrumental Evening series continues this Spring Term with our Woodwind and Brass Instrumental Evening commencing at 18:00 in the Ruddock Hall. No tickets are required and it’s free admission.

Lunchtime Recital – Thursday 2nd February

Yesterday was the first Lunchtime Recital of 2023, and we were treated to fantastic performances on harp, guitar, and piano. Well done to those who took part, and thank you to Mr Ash for the photos.

Our next Lunchtime Recital happens next Thursday 9th February at 13:10, which will feature repertoire by Schubert, Chopin, Barrios, and Ireland. A reminder that all our Lunchtime Recitals are free to attend, with no tickets required!

King Edward's School, Birmingham, King Edward VI High School for Girls, KES Birmingham, KEHS Birmingham, KES, KEHS, KES Music, KEHS Music
King Edward's School, Birmingham, King Edward VI High School for Girls, KES Birmingham, KEHS Birmingham, KES, KEHS, KES Music, KEHS Music
King Edward's School, Birmingham, King Edward VI High School for Girls, KES Birmingham, KEHS Birmingham, KES, KEHS, KES Music, KEHS Music

Planets: the winner

This is Planets, the winner of this year’s King Edward’s School Clef Club Composition Competition.

It’s composed by Max Walsh, of the Fourths, who responded to Rahul Sharma and Ke Chen Yu’s challenge to look ‘into the unknown …’

Max has also recorded the piece:

Many congratulations to this excellent young composer, and to all who entered the competition.