The Once and Future King is a suite of three movements; each movement was inspired by an Arthurian legend. The first movement, ‘Tintagel’, concerns the famous Cornish promontory said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. In Arthur’s time, Tintagel was part of the court of King Mark of Cornwall and the music imagines a visit by the King of the Britons to his Cornish neighbour and the place of his birth, reflecting the ceremony and drama of such an occasion; the music is strongly antiphonal, contrasting the more strident fanfares of the cornets and trombones with the warmth of the saxhorns and tubas.
The second movement, ‘Lyonesse’, takes its inspiration from the mythical land which once joined Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly. One legend claims that after the disastrous battle of Camlan where Arthur and Mordred were both killed, the remnants of Arthur’s army were pursued across Lyonesse to Scilly, whereupon Merlin cast a spell to sink Lyonesse behind them and drown the pursuers. Some say the bells of the 140 churches inundated that day can still be heard ringing. All the material in this movement derives from two short motifs heard in counterpoint at the very beginning, which are intentionally dissonant and bitonal in character.
The final movement, ‘Badon Hill’, takes its title from the legendary site of Arthur’s last battle with the Saxons and is a lively toccata based on the medieval secular song L’Homme Armée (‘The Armed Man’). The music uses a number of medieval devices including “hocketing” (passing melody from one voice to another). The actual site of Badon Hill is unknown but it has been associated with Badbury Rings in Dorset and a lot of evidence now points towards the town of Bath. Arthur’s victory at Badon Hill was the last great victory for Celtic Britain over the Saxon invaders, but in the end only set the conquest back by a few decades. Arthur himself was dead by then, betrayed and defeated by his nephew Mordred, but it is said that Arthur only sleeps and will return in a time of dire need – hence the legend that Arthur’s dying words were: Bury me in Britain, for I am the Once and Future King.
Listen to a preview and follow along with the score below!
Where space and practicality permits the opening movement should be played with cornets and trombones standing behind the band facing the audience; they should retake their seats for the second and third movements.
Concert Bass Drum (ideally NOT Kit/Pedal Bass Drum), Suspended Cymbal, pair of Clash Cymbals, Glockenspiel, Snare Drum, Tambourine, 2 x Timpani (Eb-G, Bb-D), 2 x Tom-toms, Triangle, Tam-Tam* (only if available), Tubular Bells *(only if available).
Baritones, all cornets and trombones will require metal straight mutes; all trombones and cornets will require cup mutes.
*The Once and Future King was set as the test-piece for the 3rd section of the Swiss National Championships in 2007. The score was then slightly revised in July 2008, the main alteration being the exclusion of the tubular bells part for the Regional Championships of Great Britain in 2009. Some parts which were optional (or cued on other instruments) at the request of the Swiss Brass Band Association were restored to their original octaves and instruments. In 2015 the tubular bells part was restored in the optional Percussion 3 part; all parts in Percussion 3 are optional, although some are cued in the percussion 1 & 2 parts (and the cues should be played if only two players are available).