Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

Analysis of Martin Ellerby's Paris Sketches

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

Analysis of Martin Ellerby's Paris Sketches

Article excerpt

Martin Ellerby is a British composer of international standing. His compositions are published extensively, performed and broadcasted around the world, and recorded on over seventy-five compact discs. A gritty, contemporary style utilizing the traditional techniques of harmony and counterpoint is his trademark. He is in great demand for commissions and composer-in-residence appointments for ensembles in Europe. Ellerby is widely performed in the United Kingdom and Europe, but his reputation in the United States is unfortunately tied to a small number of compositions; therefore, there is a need to present Mr. Ellerby's music to American wind band conductors.

Paris Sketches stands out as a work of quality and distinction in Ellerby's oeuvre as well as in the canon of wind band works composed in the last twenty years. Conductors seeking excellent literature for their ensembles will find a gem in this engaging and accessible work. The four individual movements represent well crafted, intelligent, tuneful, and cleverly constructed compositions in their own right. However, Ellerby manages to lift the work above simply an enjoyable collection of musical vignettes by imbuing the latter movements with motifs from the first, thus providing an overall unity of uncommon merit. The orchestration is fresh and has a distinctly original sound. The melodic writing allows beautiful extended themes to comingle and contrast with short meaningful motifs. The composer's program for the work, without being kitschy, presents the interpreter and listener the opportunity to enjoy a more informed performance of the work. Ellerby's singular style and talent shine in Paris Sketches through the use of several compositional elements idiosyncratic to him.

These elements appear in Paris Sketches and in other works by the composer. It is important that conductors of Ellerby's music understand these idiosyncrasies in order to render quality interpretations of his works. These techniques make up the essential elements of Ellerby's aural stamp on his compositions. They manifest themselves in four areas: form, harmonic structure, melodic structure, and orchestration.


The first movement of Paris Sketches takes on one of Ellerby's most common formal structures, perpetual variation. In this format Ellerby presents a theme or themes and continuously varies them throughout a movement or work. This variation exists in many guises and Ellerby prefers to refer to it as the "transformation of materials.'" Ellerby also utilizes many traditional formal structures albeit with loose adherence to the classically rigid forms. For example, the last movement of Paris Sketches exists in a modified sonata form in that two primary themes and development sections are present in the work but they do not fit neatly into the standard model of the sonata form. Ellerby speaks of his ideas on sonata form in the following terms:

Sonata form is still a very solid form. It works so well. You don't have to have your second subject in the dominant and you don't need to play games with it and treat it in different ways. But principally it's two ideas battling against each other throughout the piece or the movement.2

The "two ideas" in Ellerby's music are often growing and changing throughout the work. Ellerby begins composing by setting out the structure of the movements and then establishes form for the movements themselves.3 By doing this, Ellerby is placing importance on the structure of the work and conductors should ensure that they familiarize themselves with the form before embarking on interpreting the piece.

Harmonic Language

Basically, [I use] straightforward triads, major or minor, and I dress them up with added notes. I use them [triads] in unusual progressions so that they are not necessarily associated with a particular key. They are quite tonal. I might use triads that are opposed at the same time, but they are still based on tonal principles. …

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