Tim Reynish September 2006, Revised February 2017

Published by Maecenas Music

L’HOMME ARMÉ performed as a ballet by the Slovene Armed Forces Band

Eleven years after writing this article, I revisited it in preparation for a concert at TrinityLaban College, London. I still love the work, its variety of styles, and yet its closely argued variants of the splendid original theme which is just as happy upside down as the right way up, in canon, in augmentation or diminution; no wonder there are over 40 settings of the Mass using the tune as a cantus firmus.

I have included a programme note from Chris as a preface to suggestions on how to tackle rehearsals. In 2000 I toured Australia and New Zealand, giving classes and adjudicating, and I heard a competition on New Zealand Radio with five young New Zealand composers, each writing an orchestral work of about ten minutes. I was immediately struck by Hikurangi Sunrise by Christopher Marshall, and when I got home I looked at his website vaia'ata and emailed him that I would love to discuss the possibility of his writing a wind work and wished him luck in the final voting. He emailed back within a couple of hours to say that he had won the audience prize, would love to write a work, and so he wrote the first WASBE consortium school band work, Aue premiered in 2002. He followed this in 2003 with L’Homme Armé, written in the shadow of the Iraqi invasion, as was David del Tredici’s In Wartime

L’Homme Armé: Variations for Wind Ensemble Christopher Marshall

L’Homme armé was commissioned by Tim and Hilary Reynish in memory of their third son, William. The world premiere was given by the Guildhall Symphonic Wind Ensemble in Jönköping, Sweden, on 2nd July, 2003 as part of the WASBE Conference.

Christopher Marshall writes: When I decided to write a work based on this ancient tune I had to balance three competing and apparently incompatible intentions. Firstly, given the text of the song and the time I was writing the music – prior to and during the hostilities in Iraq – I wanted it to express some of my feelings towards the institution of war. Secondly, since the melody has been an inspiration over more than five centuries since its composition, I wanted to honour that tradition by alluding to some of the musical styles and employing some of the techniques of my predecessors. Thirdly, some evidence points to the origin of this tune as a French drinking song, so I wanted the music to have an element of enjoyment and exuberance. As the music progressed I was surprised at the extent to which the first intention became dominated by the second and third. Only traces of the “war theme” could be detected in the finished work. Examples are the siren-like opening and closing motifs, the rhythms of Te Rauparaha’s war chant “Ka mate, Ka ora” (if I live, I die), a “pleading” motif derived from a “waiata tangi” (mourning song), and a brief march and funeral procession. The homage to musical tradition is seen in the form of the whole piece, that most ancient of musical structures, variations on a theme. Within this overall form canons of all possible types and descriptions abound. I quickly came to the conclusion that this L’Homme armé owed much of its popularity with composers to its great contrapuntal potential. As for the “enjoyment theme”, elements of dance and popular song from several ages and places infiltrate much of the piece and power its momentum to a vigorous climax. Gradually I came to see that my three intentions for this piece were not entirely incompatible. In my research to a programme note I came across the following curious quotation with which Pierre de la Rue (1460-1518) concluded one of his two exquisite mass settings on L’Homme armé. Extrema guadi luctus occupant (the extremes of joy can ward off sorrow). Perhaps one antidote to the sorrows of war can be found in the sheer joy of music.



Bars 1-7 Note that the trumpets, low brass and percussion are only forte – apart from air-raid siren trombones dominating, we need to try for crystal clear rhythmic clarity

From A – E, I rehearse the cor anglais, alto saxophone and trumpet to get as perfect a balance as possible, quite marcato, with the appoggiaturas very strong, crescendi in basses left late and quite menacing; I make 2 and 3 before E a stronger than the rest.


From letter F I ask the players to think in 6/8, and to phrase vocally, usually to third beat of second bar. I like the percussion and the baritone/3 trombone and euphonium to play quite lightly, with the tom toms crescendoing virtuosically. At G the tutti must also be carefully and lightly balanced.

At letter I, Chris likes the horns more prominent than I do. Articulation is important, notes not quite touching! 3 before L can then be a big brutal event.

From L it is easy to get too noisy; if the tutti does this, then the semiquavers/16ths in the tom toms, at 3 before M and 1 before N cannot make their effect. Two before the end there is a tendency for the horns to slow down, simply because of the way it is written….its quite elegant.


This is a mediaeval dance, needs the double reeds to play quite coarsely. (My best oboe soloist in this was actually a marching band clarinettist – rough). I ask the cor anglais to be very positive after Q and the bass drum to make the roll of war bigger and more menacing than Chris suggests.


At R I prefer to conduct alla breve, with the woodwind ghosting rather indistinctly and blurred, against horns poco marcato. I phrase the horns in 3 bars, 3 bars and then breathing 5 after S.

Before T one bar I start beating a subdivided half-notes and I keep in 4 from T onwards. The alto saxophone part is hard, since while (s)he and the piccolo player need to co-ordinate with the horns, they must feel it in 3/8 with a freedom which can easily cause problems. This needs a lot of rehearsal for the soloists to feel confident.

W is a Haka, a Maori War Song. Note that the baritone saxophone is sustained without accents, the low brass are forte piano NOT fortisismo though it is good to hear the trombones and tenor saxophone piling in at X. Y is difficult, to get the oboe, later cor and clarinets screaming over the top, saxophones and marimba smooth and quiet enough, the flutes, clarinets and bassoons poco marcato with the bassoons dominating with the tune. Around A1 the triplets and the syncopations are very important – maybe B1 is a little stronger than the first appearance of the Haka at W. Ask everyone to freeze on the pause, and then give time for the brass to pick up mutes.


Again it is important that the soloists feel the theme in 6/8 and that the triplets are measured and poco marcato. I always find that I take this andante too fast but then I make the ritentuto before G1 and stay at the slower tempo I should have adopted. Make sure that the semiquaver second inversion chord passages are well balanced with, as usual, lower parts strong.

At G1 invite all of the long held notes to play piano accompagnato and the figuration 4 before H1 to be stronger than the phrase for clarinets and xylophone – perhaps timps with hard sticks. The feeling must be gentle and languorous with an underlying energy. 3 before J1 is hard for ensemble, if it does not work I often make the ritenuto a little earlier and play the oboes and trumpets in the slower tempo.


This is a gentle Ländler movement which I take in 1 (so that it is never quite together – I remember Dean Dixon saying that in Frankfurt, the locals will never say ja or nein to a question, but jein)). Ask them to sing the little notes, perhaps lift the 2nd beat of the 4th of K1, look after the appoggiaturas, breathe together. At M1 perhaps a little click will help the high wind. At O1 look after the triplets in the lower parts. At P1 go into very clear dotted 8th note beats, hardly any rebound, back into 1 for the 3/8

VARIATION 6 at R1 is a little march alla Shostakovich or Prokofiev. Beware the last few bars after S1 which are very difficult and make sure that the horns are loud enough on their hand stopped notes.


This funeral march is built on the theme and its inversion, make sure that the euphonium is strong and that all three soloists articulate the repeated notes with clarity. Don’t fuss the Eb player and conduct him specially, just encourage him to support the highest note. The chains of dotted half notes need for me to be articulated clearly also.


This is a delicious bit of schmalz, luckily not lasting too long – do not get too self-indulgent; played straight it sets up the Finale marvellously. Try quick diminuendi after the arpeggios, very lightly articulated horns and long singing phrases on top.


Y1 Take the pause off very high so that your preparatory beat to the silent downbeat, is very small and non-functional if there at all. From here the phrasing of the solo instruments is vital to make all of the canonic devices work. The horn and trumpet at A2 need to over-phrase as if singing plainsong, and at B2 I often ask everyone to play whatever they have between B2 and C2 – cresc for one bar, diminuendo for one bar, then similarly over three bars, little tag quiet, cresc and dim over 2 bars, then more extended. We need to hear the ebb and flow of each en try. C2 I try to achieve a rich but not noisy organ sonority, with low brass and woodwind playing soloistically 7 before D2.

D2 for me is poco marcato e poco forte, 3 before E2 soloists molto fortissimo and tom toms back as solo. At F2 you may need to go into 4 for a couple of bars, but the idea of 16th = 16th is quite easy for them. At G2 it is easy for the woodwind to be late on their 6/8 tune. The join into H2 will need rehearsal for everyone to be able to hang on to the trumpet 16th. Don’t beat too heavily.

J2 is difficult! The cleanest performance I have ever heard was by Fred Speck with the University of Kentucky at Louisville, both he and Bobby Adams just conduct a fast 6/16 and then a faster 2/8, no problems, and at K2 Fred keeps it in 12/16 with the brass playing their triple time across. I still cannot do that and I go into a broad sub-divided 1, like the end of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – and I have heard a professional orchestra coming adrift in that on a live broadcast! I again ask the brass to phrase cleanly, not to be too noisy, perhaps piu forte at M2 and building to the end. 1 before just go into 4, with the saxophones and trombones just continuing their quadruplets and imagining that they have a bar in 5.

Chris Marshall’s website is www.vaiaata.com and you will find details of his recent work for choir and two wind ensembles, U Trau, his first work for wind called Aue, his third commission for me, Resonances and the rest of his wind ensemble repertoire.