• Martin Dalby
  • Plain Man's Hammer (1984)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Dumbartonshire Wind Ensemble with funds provided by the Scottish Arts Council

  • wind band
  • 13 min

Programme Note

Martin Dalby: A Plain Man's Hammer

A Plain Man's Hammer was commissioned by the Dunbartonshire Wind Ensemble, with the financial help of the Scottish Arts Council. It is dedicated to Trevor Green with affection and admiration.

First the title: in Baden-Baden in 1955 Pierre Boulez's Le Marteau sans maître was heard for the first time. The work quickly established itself as one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century and it is still regarded so today. I had for some years fancied the idea of writing some sort of opposite to Le Marteau sans maître, and the Dunbartonshire Wind Ensemble's invitation provided the opportunity to do so. Hence Marteau translate to Hammer.

Le Marteau is a highly intricate and rhythmically complex work to perform, requiring the skill of highly adept and dedicated professional musicians. Hammer, on the other hand, is directed towards the exuberance and enthusiasm of amateur performers (which is not to say that it is necessarily all that easy to play). Equally, Le Marteau is an esoteric, elusive work to grasp though increasingly less so as the years pass. Hammer's style and material, tunes if you like, are intended to be direct and forceful (and that is not to say that its construction lacks complexity). So mine is a Plain Man's Hammer.

As for the form of the work: the whole shape owes something to classical sonata form. Put over-simply, this is a two part form of which the first is an exposition containing two tonally contrasted subjects and the second contains a development section where harmonies move rapidly towards a recapitulation of the two original subjects, this time the contrast being reconciled in the home key.

The first large section of A Plain Man's Hammer is an exposition containing two main ideas and other material associated with them. Development is replaced by a parade of incomplete parodies: a waltz almost in the style of Chopin; a sort of Tango; a Mahlerian march; something close to Janacek; a cheap imitation of a Flamenco; a corruption of Oranges and Lemons; a pop song; a military march which gets somewhat out of hand; a Viennese Waltz to set your feet tripping, and an even cheaper imitation of a Flamenco.

At the end of the work the associated material of the opening reappears in maturity; the major ideas play a subservient rôle, reappearing only in the final coda.

© Martin Dalby