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Epitaph VI: Phoenix Rising (Coventry/Dresden)

Duration: c. 7 minutes






Publisher: MEM


Programme Notes:

On the evening of November 14th 1940 the British City of Coventry, in a raid code named Operation Moonlight Sonata, was attacked by the German Luftwaffe. The following morning a total of 568 civilians lay dead and the historic Cathedral of St Michael's a burnt out shell. A new Coventry Cathedral was built and consecrated in 1962. The remains of the former still stand today as a constant reminder to all that venture around its now calm and peaceful grounds.


On the evening of February 13th 1945 the British Royal Air Force led an attack on the German City of Dresden. This was followed up by the American Air Force the following day. Dresden was known as the Florence of the Elbe and was an 'unprotected' city. The firestorm unleashed on her was one of the most devastating ever known. Even the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not match the death toll inflicted there over half a century ago. It is impossible to clarify the loss of life in numbers: estimates vary but at least 25,000 inhabitants lost their lives. It puts Coventry into a kind of shade but both cities have links - the Frauenkirche in Dresden is still being rebuilt to this day, they are twin cities sharing a terrible fate delivered from the skies in the mayhem and madness that illustrates the futility of all wars both ancient and modern. This binds and bonds them.


So, I deliver my 6th Epitaph in memoriam of both Coventry and Dresden. Two quotations served as an opening inspiration:


'Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it doth singe yourself.' - William Shakespeare (Henry VIII) and note that this alludes to Daniel 3:19,22, the fiery furnace for Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego, which in fact burned their would-be executioners (Shaheen).


'I had not thought death had undone so many.' - T. S. Elliot (The Wasteland)


Musical quotations form an integral part of this composition. They are there as symbols representing various aspects of the events. I have included their texts where relevant (often curtailed) in both the score and the performing material. These should serve as reference points to the journey of this brief (generally quiet) elegy for conductors and players alike.  The Lamentation music is my own and most of the harmonisations of the quotations too. Certainly they have had to be revoiced in this context. The full sequence of texts is as follows:




'Wie Liegt die Stadt so Wust.'


'How lonely lies the city that was full of people. All her gates are desolate. The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street. From on high He sent fire, into my bones He made it descend. Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the earth?'


'She took no thought of her doom; therefore her fall is terrible, she has no comforter. For this our heart has become sick, for these things our eyes have grown dim.'


'Why do you forget us forever, why do you so long forsake us? Restore us to your self, O Lord, that we may be restored. Renew our days of old, O Lord, behold my affliction, O Lord, and behold my distress!'


LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH - verses from Luther's translation of the Bible.





Coventry Carol (1591) - from the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, 15th century, this song is sung by the women of Bethlehem in the play, just before Herod's soldiers come in to slaughter their children.


'Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,

By by, lully lullay,

Thou little tiny child,

By by, lully lullay.


O sisters too,

How may we do

For to preserve this day

This poor youngling,

For whom we do sing,

By by, lully lullay?


Herod, the king,

In his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, In his own sight,

All young children to slay.


That woe is me,

Poor child for thee!

And ever morn and day,

Neither say nor sing

By by lully lullay!





Est ist genug (1662) - melody by Johann Rodolph Ahle, concludes Bach's cantata 60 with this chorale. Fear of death is finally vanquished by hope in God's salvation. 'It is enough: Lord . . .  let me rest . . .  I journey hence in peace, leave behind my wailing. It is enough!'





The famous 'Manzoni' Requiem (1874) responds here to the previous plea with 'Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord.'




This, more gentle Requiem (1888) delivers a much more brutal blow in its text:


'Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that dreadful day, when heaven and earth are moved, when you will come to judge the world by fire.'



The mix and marriage of the contents of these 'texts' provides the basis for the structure of this piece. I have envisaged it in a rather cinematic sense. View it thus: imagine the velocity of the aircraft and their terrible cargoes in transit and execution of their 'duty'  - then hear the music accompanying this as slow motion reflection, no real sounds, just an ever searching adagio . . .


What about the PHOENIX? The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes this as a 'mythological bird, the only one of its kind, that after living for 5 or 6 centuries in the Arabian desert burnt itself on a funeral pile and rose from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle; paragon.'


This is the logo of modern day Coventry - out of these ashes she has arose. Dresden has taken a little longer to emerge, but undoubtedly will do so - it should not be long before she is once again the 'Florence of the Elbe' with all of her artistic qualities deservedly restored.


Just like a 'Phoenix Rising'.




2 Euphonium and Tuba Quartets

2 Tuned Percussion


Percussion Requirements:



Performance Notes:


  • It is possible (and permissible) to perform this work with larger forces, though it will require careful balancing. Music directors could even experiment with maintaining smaller intimate groups at some times, reserving the larger ensemble for particular effect elsewhere. The sound concept is that of a large church organ with various bells in attendance.


  • Repeated sections are rarely exactly the same and are subtly adjusted by both dynamic and articulation contrasts.


  • The seating arrangements will require some insight, baring in mind the performance venue in question. Something visually interesting will enhance the overall concept and effect.


  • It is assumed that this work will be conducted. A degree of rubato is permissible to humanise the musical journey.


  • The commas at the end of bars 101-104 indicate slight pauses before the next bar is commenced.


  • The text 'Father forgive…' is inscribed in the apse of the old Coventry Cathedral as a contemporary plea for salvation. The music forms the outline of 'Est ist genug' (It is enough) thereby linking in English and German the two reconciled cities.

Available Recordings:


Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble

Cond.  R. Winston Morris


Mark Masters


How Low Can You Go?

PortgueseTuba Ensemble

Cond.  Sérgio Carolino




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