Alan Bullard's music is widely performed in Great Britain and many other countries, broadcast on television and radio, and appears on a number of CDs. The variety of commissions that he has undertaken - including music for a number of professional soloists and ensembles, many amateur choral societies and children's choirs, a semi-professional chamber orchestra, wind band and recorder festivals, a professional chamber choir, a festival for massed school choirs and instrumentalists, the anniversary celebrations of a church and a school, music for examination syllabuses and educational albums, and for a television programme about the Suffolk landscape - are some indication of the wide appeal of the music of this versatile composer to many different types of musicians and audiences.
Alan Bullard was born in London in 1947 and studied with Herbert Howells at the RCM and Arnold Whittall at Nottingham University. For over 30 years he has lived in or near Colchester, Essex and for many years he was Head of Composition at Colchester Institute. He is now working as a full-time composer and he is also an examiner for the Associated Board. In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Essex, and in 2010 two of his publications, Joining the Dots (ABRSM) and The Oxford Book of Flexible Carols received awards from the Music Industries Association.
As a composer he is prolific and wide-ranging, having written in most genres for both amateurs and professionals.
Instrumental commissions range from the virtuosic A minor deconstruction for violin, clarinet and piano (Coll'Arte Trio, Birmingham 1998), Winter Variations for cello and piano (Jamie Walton and Daniel Grimwood, Tunbridge Wells 1998), Aztec Genesis for large symphony orchestra (Colchester Institute Symphony Orchestra, conductor Christopher Phelps, 2001), and String Quartet no. 2 (Quince Quartet, Essex University, 2006) to pieces for young musicians such as Zoological Band (Berkshire Young Musicians Trust, 1999), Sounds through the day for recorders and percussion (Colchester Youth Arts Partnership, 2001), Harwich Hornpipe for symphony orchestra (Essex Youth Orchestra, 2004) Concerto for Recorder and Strings (written for John Turner, 2008), Journey through Time (Bloomsbury Woodwind Ensemble, 2010), North Sea Sketches (for the Society of Recorder Players Annual Convention, 2010), London Landscapes (London Youth Wind Band, 2015) and a number of collections of pieces for beginners and intermediate players published by Oxford University Press, Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Chester Music, Peacock Press, and Spartan Press.
Choral commissions include Canticle of Freedom (Colchester Choral Society, 2000), , A Bunyan Garland (Dame Alice Harpur School Choirs, Bedford, 2001), A year in a Day (Reading Phoenix Choir, 2001), A Summer Garland (Waltham Singers, 2002), Mr Lear (Sawtry Chorale, South Chiltern Choral Society, and the Kemsing Singers, 2002), A New Vision (United Reformed Church Eastern Synod and Musicians' Guild, 2003), Welcome May (Maia Singers, 2006), Byron at Newstead (Newstead Abbey Singers, 2007), Pictures of Night (Essex Young Singers, 2008). Travelling Tales (Hillingdon Choral Society, 2010) and many carols and anthems for Oxford University Press. Bullard's choral music is regularly performed all over the world by choirs large and small, and recorded on a number of CDs. Recently his carols have been performed by the BBC Singers, The Choir of Kings College Cambridge, and The Sixteen.
Choral publications include Angel Alleluias (OUP) Mary's Lullaby (OUP), Hillside Carol (OUP), Glory to the Christ-Child (OUP) Scots Nativity (OUP) Rest in the Lord of Life (OUP) and Cantate Gloria (OUP) - also four anthems in the New Oxford Easy Anthem Book (OUP), three carols in Christmas Voices (Novello), two in For him all stars (OUP), and three in Carols for Choirs 5 (OUP). OUP have also published The Oxford Book of Flexible Anthems and The Oxford Book of Flexible Carols both edited by Alan Bullard and containing a number of his works, and, most recently, Alan Bullard Carols and Alan Bullard Anthems, each containing ten of Alan's pieces including some brand-new ones. Alan's Passiontide cantata, Wondrous Cross, was published in 2012, his Advent cantata , O Come Emmanuel, in 2013, and his Christmas cantata, A Light in the Stable, in 2014 (all OUP).
Alan's own publishing company, Colne Edition, (now distributed by Spartan Press) has recently been re-issuing a number of Alan's popular choral works such as Alleluia, Four Sacred Songs, and many more, and also a number of Alan's instrumental works and solo songs.
Instrumental publications include Zoological Band, Circus Skills, World Atlas and Three Picasso Portraits (all Spartan Press), Three Diversions (Forsyth), Sixty for Sax (ABRSM ) the Joining the Dots series for piano (ABRSM), and jointly with his wife Janet, the Pianoworks piano tutor series (OUP). Many other instrumental publications are available either from the composer or via Spartan Press (Colne Edition).
CDs include Three Picasso Portraits (Saxology, Meridian CDs), Olympian Sketches (Chinook Clarinet Quartet), Cyclic Harmony and Circular Melody (British Clarinet Ensemble), Recipes for recorder and strings (John Turner and Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Naxos CDs), Hat Box (John Turner and Neil Smith) Choristers of Flight (Peacocks and Piranhas - Elysian Singers), Running for the future and other choral works (Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir and Sine Nomine, director Susan Hollingworth, Cloister CDs) Sursum Corda (St. Mary's College, Notre Dame USA, Pro Organo CDs), Glory to the Christ Child (A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Kings College Cambridge, EMI), Wondrous Cross and other anthems (Selwyn College Chapel Choir / Sarah MacDonald, Regent and many others. Alan's choral music is also featured on the annual OUP Christmas sampler CDs and on the 2008 Oxford Book of Flexible Anthems CD.
The music of Alan Bullard (article written in 2000)
Apart from a short song written in 1967 when he was a student of Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music, the earliest work that Alan Bullard now acknowledges is his Three Poems of W B Yeats of 1973. This work, (written for the chamber choir of Winchester School of Art, where he was on the staff) and a cluster of short choral works, (several of which found publishers such as Banks and the RSCM) written at about the same time, are almost the only pieces to survive a period when Bullard was finding himself musically and discarding much of his work in the process.
The opportunity of a permanent teaching post at what is now Colchester Institute caused a move in 1975 to the Essex countryside, and later to Colchester. Here encouragement by several colleagues and friends resulted in a growing musical confidence and a gradual increase in compositional output. Three Poems of W B Yeats, for example, was taken up by his colleague Ian Ray (conductor of Colchester Choral Society) who performed it with a group of students: he then commissioned for Colchester Choral Society three large-scale works - Dance of the Universe (1979), A Song to Saint Helena (1989) and Canticle of Freedom (2000) - and performed several other Bullard works with them and with other choirs. And it was through another colleague - the late Donald Hughes - that he was introduced to the Sing for Pleasure organisation and commissioned to write a work - Seasons - to celebrate Sing for Pleasure's twenty-fifth anniversary and which introduced his choral music to a range of amateur and youth choirs across the country, including the Central Singers, Chichester (conductor Nicki Bennison) who included one of the movements - now published by OUP as Stocking and Shirt - in their winning programme in the 1990 Sainsbury's Youth Choir of the Year.
At the other end of the choral spectrum, Alan Bullard was drawn in 1985 to write a ambitious setting of some challenging texts - the four sixteenth-century poems that make up Madrigal Book. This work came to the attention of Stephen Wilkinson and was the beginning of a long association with Alan Bullard's choral music, resulting in several broadcasts by the BBC Northern Singers and several performances by the William Byrd Singers of Manchester.
Although Alan Bullard had written church anthems and carols before, it was the commission for the opening of the new sanctuary at Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester in 1986 which inspired him to write Great Shepherd of Thy people, hear and his subsequent involvement with Lion Walk Church as an elder and as a member of the choir resulted in a number of anthems suitable for small amateur choirs. His work in this area attracted the interest of a number of choirs, and later of Oxford University Press, and during the last few years he has been adding to their catalogues a variety of anthems and carols for different choral groupings and situations.
The first opportunity that Alan Bullard had to write an orchestral piece was when he was studying at the RCM: Dr. Ruth Gipps asked him to write Arachne which she then performed with the London Repertoire Orchestra. A few years later the string teacher and conductor Andrew Hodkinson commissioned an orchestral piece Riverside Suite for the Leicestershire Schools Junior Orchestra - the first of several works that he was to commission from Alan Bullard. But the first orchestral piece - Lyric Overture - that the composer now acknowledges also marks the beginning of a long association with Christopher Phelps, another Colchester colleague. Christopher Phelps premièred this work, and a later work Fat Cat, with the Ipswich Orchestral Society: he premièred Fanfares with the Colchester Institute Symphony Orchestra: and he premièred Sinfonietta and Scherzo for Swinburne with the Colchester Chamber Orchestra.
In the area of instrumental chamber music, Alan Bullard has responded to the encouragement of many over the years. His friendship with Alan Parsons, composer and promoter of many new music concerts over East Anglia and at the British Music Information Centre in London, has resulted in a number of works, ranging from vocal works such as The Solitary Reaper and Ground Song, both written for soprano Lindsay Gowers, to instrumental works such as Fling (the Manson Ensemble), Prelude and Metamorphosis (Landolfi String Quartet), Cyprian Dances (Derek Foster and Anthony Green), Lament (Gemini) and Suffolk Sketches for violin. This last was written for Beth Spendlove, who has been associated with Alan Bullard's music since his move to Colchester, and has championed his music on many occasions both as soloist and orchestral director, and who recently commissioned Spring Pictures from him for a Purcell Room concert.
Bullard's music has found particular favour with wind players: the Farnaby Brass Quintet, the Ebony Quartet, Chinook, and Saxology have all commissioned or performed works from him and recorded them either for broadcast or on CD: clarinettist colleagues Angela Fussell and Charles Hine have been responsible for the commissioning and performing of a number of wind ensemble works, and recorder virtuoso John Turner has commissioned several recorder solos and duos from him, including the successful Recipes, recently recorded on an Olympia CD.
In 1993 Bullard wrote a set of saxophone pieces for his son Sam, entitled Weekend. Their publication by ABRSM (Publishing) and the Board's subsequent encouragement of Bullard's music, resulted in his writing a number of albums for them, including those for piano, cello, flute, and trumpet (this last for his daughter Mary) in the successful Party Time! series. Bullard relishes the challenge of writing easy but interesting music for children, whether it be instrumental albums, (he is a recent contributor to the Pauline Hall Piano Time series) - large scale works for youth choirs such as Revolt! - written with his brother Nick - or the cantatas Nobody's Son and Find that Baby! (both written with librettist Norman Hart).
It can be seen, then, that much of Bullard's music is a result of his association with a wide variety of performers, both amateur and professional. Bullard's is not ivory tower music - what pleases him most is to write music which performers enjoy playing and audiences enjoy hearing: music which might provide something of a challenge, but which is not out of reach.
What is it that characterizes Alan Bullard's music?
The performer is always the starting point: not necessarily a specific player, but the type of player and the sound of the voices and instruments. For example in his Trio for violin, cello and piano the whole musical material derives from the open strings of the violin and cello and their associated harmonics, and despite its expansive nature the piece is actually very tightly constructed around chords and rhythms based upon the harmonic series. The harmonic series also features strongly in Overtones for clarinet quartet - in this piece the peculiar character of the clarinet's overtone series is the starting point for a gradually dissolving toccata which differentiates strongly between the different registers of the instrument.
At the other end of the spectrum, this concern with finding out the way instruments work informs his instrumental pieces for children; for example the melodic ideas in Lunar Landscapes grow from the tuning and fingering patterns of the cello, and those of Colneford Suite derive from a study of trombone technique. Bullard has himself said that he finds the writing of an interesting Grade 1 piece as exciting as any other musical challenge: though at another level he finds the thought required for the teaching of composition to his students to be a great stimulus to his own compositional imagination.
It is not difficult to trace the influence of Bullard's teacher Herbert Howells (particularly, as John Turner has pointed out in an article in The Recorder Magazine, in his use of an inflected scale with a sharpened fourth and flattened seventh) and that of Britten: growing up at a time when each new work of Britten's was a major event, it is clear that works such as his Ceremony of Carols, and his Spring Symphony made a lasting impression on the young composer. But there are other influences: Philip Scowcroft has recently pointed out (in an article in the British Music Society Newsletter) the influence of twelve-note techniques in Three Picasso Portraits and Circular Melody, and twelve note rows appear in the most unlikely places: in several of the movements of Fifty for Flute for instance, in vocal works such as Ground Song and The Sea of Faith, and in several orchestral pieces: Scherzo for Swinburne, the Sinfonietta and in Fanfares (this last is also notable for its consistent use of a permutated rhythmic motif). As with the challenge of writing music for beginners with their limited range of notes and rhythms, Bullard relishes wrestling with a sometimes intractable sequence of a note-row, and the challenge to find the wider-ranging textural and rhythmical solutions that this often provides. But a number of other influences also go into the Bullard melting pot: the complex harmonies and rhythms of jazz, the repeated figurations of minimalism, the shapely melodies of popular and folk-music: all of these have contributed to a musical style which is a unique blend of harmonic richness, rhythmic drive, imagination and sensitivity.
Currently Alan Bullard is much in demand, both for his instrumental and vocal music. He is increasingly building a reputation as a composer of choral music for youth and community choirs and many of his works have been performed and workshopped in Great Britain and abroad: he was the Composer in Residence for the 1999 Convention of the Association of British Choral Directors and during 2000 he completed five commissions for works from amateur and/or youth choirs.
Brief facts about Alan Bullard
I was born in South London on August 4th 1947, and my family moved to a house in Blackheath (South East London) in 1950.
I went to Invicta Primary School, Sherington Junior School and St. Olave's Grammar School (near Tower Bridge): then the Royal College of Music where I studied composition with Herbert Howells and piano with Antony Hopkins, then Nottingham University where I studied musical analysis with Arnold Whittall.
I taught free-lance in London for a few years and then in 1975 I moved to north-east Essex to teach at Colchester Institute, living first in a cottage in Fordham and then, shortly after my marriage to Jan in 1981, to a house near the centre of Colchester, where we still live. In 2005 I left Colchester Institute to concentrate on my work as a composer.