Adrian Bending
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Elgar – The Dream of Gerontius (July 2023)

Elgar – The Dream of Gerontius, Gabrieli Roar 2023, concerts and recording, July 2023.
Diary clashes meant I was very happy to play percussion and the timpani part was excellently navigated by the fabulous Jude Carlton ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘ of Royal Northern Sinfonia.
It is interesting to think about the writing and development for timpani at the turn of the 20th Century. Our instruments developed slower in Britain at the time and Elgar (1900) was clearly writing for hand-tuned timpani. Compare this to ‘Salome’ (1905) and Mahler symphonies (1901-10).
Elgar I would suggest seems to be writing for the whole orchestra in a way that meant his music could be performed by regional, youth and amateur orchestras who probably didn’t have state-of-the-art instruments. Strauss on the other hand must have known that some of his harder operas with unusual instruments could only be performed by a handful of elite companies in major cities.
Although german timpani started to come into Britain at this time, this was rare and didn’t happen quickly and the most elite orchestras would have used timpani like this for the hardest and newest repertoire for some time to come.
The timpani part of Gerontius is taxing but cleverly written. It seems to assume that 3 timpani is normal (because he specifically mentions using a 4th drum), but we would always use 4 in any case to try to reduce the amount of quick changes. Frequent and relentless changes can be frustrating and tiring as it is hard to get the drums to settle, because as soon as they do, they frequently need to be changed again…
This was compounded this week as one day of rehearsals had to be moved to an outside venue. Anyone who has played timpani outdoors will agree it presents a whole new set of difficulties but here Jude got through this most difficult of situations very impressively indeed.
As I had time to watch quite a bit of the culmination of ‘The Ashes’ cricket, I was able to muse on the interesting parallels between cricket and outdoor timpani playing; both requiring a high level of attention to the weather, how this is completely beyond one’s control yet can drasticallty affect how your day is probably going to go!
The percussion instruments are; British bass drum, 30″ (date unknown), Dresden snare drum (early 20th Century), modern Premier glockenspiel, Istanbul 17″ cymbals, Wuhan 30″ tam tam, Sabian triangle and sleigh bells.
Players (L-R); Jon French, Becky McChrystal, me, Luke Taylor, Nick Cowling and Jude Carlton
My timpani and percussion score part of this piece will be available soon.

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