The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay
is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy written by Robert Greene, around 1588-92 and is recognised as groundbreaking in terms of its multiple-plot structure. The head of brass
takes one aspect of the play in which Friar Bacon labours to create an artificial head made of brass, animated by demonic influence, that can surround England with a protective wall of the same metal. Bacon’s inability to remain awake and the incompetence of his servant Miles, spoil the opportunity. The head of brass
is written for narrator and saxophone quartet. When Simon Rees chose this episode from Greene’s play to accompany Peter Reynold’s piece, he took as a starting point the four 'heads of brass' that are an integral visual element of the saxophone quartet. In musical terms, Greene’s dotty friars and their anarchic servant, Miles, have been treated on a variety of stylistic levels: ranging from mock-gothic horror, with its roots in Weber’s Wolf’s Glen
and the absurd world of H K Gruber’s Frankenstein
, through to stylistic elements moreakin to the 1950s b-movie. It aims to entertain and should not be taken too seriously. The Lunar Saxophone Quartet commissioned The head of brass
with funds provided by the Arts Council of Wales in association with the prs Foundation. The Lunar Saxophone Quartet (to whom it is dedicated) gave its first performance at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, on 5 November 2010.
from notes by Peter Reynolds © 2010