Two months ago, I received an unexpected email from a friend who let me know that he had heard my piece ‘Sunset’, the penultimate track on my 2017 album Symphonic Minimalism, on Ken Bruce’s show on Radio 2 after the 11 o’clock news.
The piece had been played to show respect to Her Majesty the Queen who had sadly passed away the previous day. This was actually the second time ‘Sunset’ had featured on the Ken Bruce show, appearing previously on Remembrance Day in 2021.
It’s very simple, with a lyrical arching melody in the strings moving over slow-moving chordal harmonies in the lower brass. It’s an un-complicated piece in which the long unfolding melody is stated just once, slightly building as it progresses. It benefits from a beautiful performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded at Abbey Road.
‘Sunset’ was one of those few tracks I have composed extremely quickly and almost gave the illusion of it writing itself.
I had already completed most of the pieces for the Symphonic Minimalism album and wanted a track to fill up the session to take full advantage of the time we had. That said, many of the other tracks we were recording that day were very technically demanding, so I needed something, a filler track if you will, which wasn’t too challenging to play. The rare ease of composing it on this occasion almost seemed like a reward for the hard graft of writing the rest of the tracks. Normally my work is a culmination of a long and extensive process of revisions and re-revisions but relatively speaking ‘Sunset’ flowed out naturally, bar a little polishing of the orchestration before the recording.
I very loosely modelled the track on some of the compositions of John Barry – a simple lyrical melodic style with an almost regal feel and beautiful orchestral sound. I was indeed imagining a sunset when I wrote it and had some sense of the piece having an ultimate warm, resigned, quiet finality about it. I resisted the temptation, which often exists with these types of pieces, in going too big with the orchestral sound, which I think contributed to its resonance in such sombre and dignified situations.
Continuing in its tradition of ease, the piece was recorded in one take – fortuitous because we only ended up having time to play it once through. It’s brilliant to see it being so successful and having a real life of its’ own away from the field of media music. Interesting too that the context of how it’s been played is so close to the one I envisioned when I wrote it, albeit on a slightly larger scale.
It is also exciting to note that there is a new Brass Band arrangement of ‘Sunset’ by Adam Taylor, being published by Cantatio Music. The arrangement has already been performed by The Haydock Band, directed by Mark Quinn at the Wychavon Festival of Brass.