While studying at the Royal College of Music, I became interested in the history and development of the trombone. Arthur Wilson, Professor of Trombone at the RCM and Principal Trombone of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and one of my teachers, was one of the very few players who still played the alto trombone in the symphony orchestra during the late 1970s. I absolutely adored this instrument (and its distinctive colour), which led me to explore other endangered species, like the sackbut. My first electrifying experience of playing on period instruments with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra set me on a path of discovery and experimentation.
Further exploration led me to the Royal College of Music Museum, where there were two tarnished silver 19th century trombones, identical to the one I had found in my school’s music-room cupboard at the tender age of fifteen. These RCM trombones had belonged to two of England’s finest composers: Sir Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst.
In November 2009 the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment decided to perform Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. This prompted a revisit to the RCM museum and Jenny Nex, the Curator, granted me permission to use Elgar’s trombone for that project.
I played this instrument alongside F trumpets, piston horns and a complete section of Boosey 19th century English trombones (including a G Bass). Playing the music of Elgar on such instruments produced a unique colour that married beautifully with both soloists and choir. There was a more distinctive colour difference between the old instruments compared with modern ones, and unusually, we didn't get the customary conductor’s complaint: “Brass, you are too loud!”
It was from this experience that I felt a need to explore further the world of the 19th century English trombone and the music that was written for it. What better way than through the stories and music of Elgar and Holst and their exposure to playing such an instrument?
When researching the music for this project, I wanted to rely on one of Elgar’s greatest strengths: his ability to write very beautiful melodies. Unfortunately, most were written for violin, cello, piano, voice and full orchestra, but certainly not for the trombone. I explored the works of his contemporaries and also found equally stunning tunes, well-suited to the trombone but again not written expressly for it. As I felt the melodic quality of the music was a priority, I decided to arrange some of this early 20th century repertoire and use it as a showcase for the instrument that Elgar himself played.