• Edward Gregson
  • The Salamander and the Moonraker (2018)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 3(pic)2(ca)2(bcl)2(cbn)/4331/timp.4perc/hp.pf(cel)/str(
  • children's choir
  • 2 narrators
  • 35 min

Programme Note


An Adventure Story in Music

Story and text by Susan Gregson
Music by Edward Gregson

Legend, mythology, and magic, have always been strong themes in stories for children (all the way from Grimms’ Fairey Tales and Alice in Wonderland, to Star Wars and Harry Potter). Children find it relatively easy to suspend reality and enter a world of make-believe, where they are both the chief participants and action heroes and heroines. The Salamander and the Moonraker is no exception. The story tells of the adventures of some children caught up in the magical realms beyond Earth, and begins when they encounter a ‘strange’ voice echoing from a gigantic balloon, telling them of the plight of the Moonraker. The rest of the story will unfold before you….

The music is laid out on a large canvas, and is scored for children’s choir, two narrators (male and female), and symphony orchestra (with important parts for piano, harp, and percussion). It lasts for some 35 minutes. The narrative unfolds through a mixture of free ‘recitative’ sections (both accompanied and unaccompanied), where the narrators and choir take it in turn, and sometimes together, to tell the story. The set songs comment on the story through a variety of musical means – here a waltz or march, there a gallop or rumba. As we know, children like nothing better than to sing a good tune, and that was uppermost in our minds when we set out on the creative process. The songs are ‘popular’ in idiom but also quite challenging, with the choir split into two groups and often having to maintain independent melodic lines with a wide compass of notes.

The work falls into eight main sections:

The Salamander’s Song
Glittering Galaxy
The Moonraker’s Song
Thor’s Song
We want the Moonraker
Storm Music
Going Home

The music is unified by the use of various leitmotifs, representing the various characters in the story – so, for example, Thor’s motif is a frenetic timpani solo encompassing the notes of a diminished 7th (F, A flat, B natural and D), whilst the Moonraker’s Song is accompanied mainly by harp and strings in a slow and gently waltz. The Introduction uses a four-note ‘cell’ (C, C sharp, F sharp, G) that makes various appearances throughout the work. This rather ominous sounding set of notes also encompasses the interval of the tritone (C to F sharp), the interval of fate and foreboding. There is even a quote from the fate motif in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

Indeed, quotation also plays a part in the big climax to the work, the Storm Music. This dramatic musical sequence, scored for orchestra alone, uses a whole variety of instruments, including a wind machine, thunder sheet, drums and tam-tam, and in passing also quotes from other famous ‘storm music’ sequences. However, as you will see, the Choir participates in ways other than singing here, as if they are experiencing Thor’s menacing storm themselves! Will the children, together with the Salamander and the Moonraker escape the clutches of Thor’s evil intent? Well, you’ll have to wait and see!

The Salamander and the Moonraker was commissioned by the Hallé Concerts Society especially for the Hallé Children’s Choir and Hallé orchestra to premiere in this summer concert season. It is loosely based on a work originally commissioned by the Croydon Schools’ Music Association in 1980, but has been extensively revised and orchestrated in its new guise.

Edward Gregson, Susan Gregson