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The Fenlands 'Symphonic Suite for organ and brass'


The Fenlands (Dr Wills thought at first he might call the work ‘Fenlandia’!) is a sinfonia concertante for organ and wind band, and it requires both technical skill and imaginative musicianship from the soloist and wind players. The first movement, ‘The Vikings’, is powerful, sombre and vigorous, expressing as it does the ‘dynamism and vigour of the pagan culture of this energetic and warlike race’. Wagnerians will readily recognize the ‘Fate’ motif from ‘The Ring’ which is skilfully woven into the texture and developed alongside a brusque rhythmic motif in the band and a quotation from Dr Wills’s own Carol of King Canute (Canute was also associated with the Fens).

The second movement, ‘Wicken Fen’, is a compositional tour de force in that it is a palindrome—halfway through, the music is reversed, retracing its steps to the beginning. Wicken Fen is one of the few areas of fenland that has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, being totally unaffected by the reclamation through drainage that took place from the seventeenth century onwards. It is an eerie place whose flatness and apparent featurelessness have a remote, gaunt majesty which is superbly captured in this atmospheric music, the organ weaving shimmering figures against the band’s soft chords that build up into a climax of almost frightening power.

The third movement, ‘Oliver Cromwell’, portrays a fenland figure who combined energetic and extrovert resolution with dour and sombre devotion to a grim, tenacious religious faith; and the vigorous, tuneful finale, a march named after the City of Ely, captures the spirit of a vigorous musical tradition established by Elgar and Walton—tuneful, self-confident and full of ceremonial colour. Thus, in the composer’s words, it ‘pays homage to the City, the Band, and a great musical heritage’.

The Fenlands was first performed by the composer and The Cambridge Co-operative Band in Ely Cathedral on 10 October 1981.

from notes by Hyperion Records Ltd © 1983


Music for Organ and Brass Band
CDH55003Archive Service


Movement 1: The Vikings
Movement 2: Wicken Fen
Movement 3: Oliver Cromwell
Movement 4: March: City of Ely

Track-specific metadata for CDH88005 track 9

Movement 4: March: City of Ely
Recording date
15 June 1982
Recording venue
Ely Cathedral, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Edward Perry
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Music for Organ and Brass Band (CDH55003)
    Disc 1 Track 23
    Release date: May 1999
    Deletion date: March 2015
    Archive Service
  2. Elgar, Walton & Wills: Music for Organ and Brass Band (CDH88005)
    Disc 1 Track 9
    Release date: May 1988
    Deletion date: May 1999
    Superseded by CDH55003
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