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  • Writer's pictureBret Newton

Hy-Brasil (wind ensemble)

Hy-Brasil is an Irish legend of a mysterious island in the North Atlantic, surrounded by mist that only appears to sailors once every seven years.

The band must play at the outer limits of the realm of soft dynamics to create the mist that surrounds the island. Underneath this mist, the lowest strings of the Harp ring out a gloomy peal. All the while, the men of the ship (a wordless male chorus) intone the harmonies of the sea. The glassiness of the water is occasionally broken by ripples. A fish may appear or a bird. All the while, the men and the mist continue. One of the men begins to tell the story of Hy-Brasil to the crew. They become entranced by the tale and a vision of the island grows in their heads only to fade back into the mist. Suddenly, one of the men sees something through the mist. Hy-Brasil is there. The Organ, silent until now, start to play the mist, and the mist becomes clear as the Organist shows their skill. Finally, the whole island of Hy-Brasil is seen and it is both glorious and terrifying. The men watch as the mist rolls back in and Hy-Brasil becomes nothing more than a memory.

Sometime in around 2006, I was doing a lot of reading of ancient British history and legends and came across the myth of Hy-Brasil for the first time. It was one of those rare moments when the musicality of an idea struck me. There was not so much a story to tell, but an image to paint with sound. At the time, I was still ensconced in the superiority of the orchestra over the wind ensemble (a view I no longer hold), so I set out to compose the piece for orchestra. Knowing that orchestras would never touch it, it dwelt in my portfolio for some years before I looked at it again. After completing my first volume of Band Orchestration, I began to think of the possibilities of transcribing it for wind band. I've always maintained that orchestral work played by a band lose something in the translation. However, this work, I thought, could be made to work and not lose anything. The greatest challenge in the project was how to properly transcribe the string "mist" that is a feature of the orchestral version. I thought about this for several months before beginning the project. While not interesting to the casual observer, the process involved using a high sustained tones on the saxophone quartet and Oboes, with the undulation in the clarinets, Flutes, and two Piccolos. Perhaps the most significant realization was the importance of the Tenor Clarinet (Alto) in the transcription. I've always been a fan of the instrument, but only now realize how utterly indispensable the instrument (in this case two) is.

This work, with its extreme delicacy is suited for a top level college ensemble. The duration is roughly 16 minutes.


  • 2 Piccolos

  • 2 C Flutes

  • 2 Oboes

  • Alto Oboe*

  • 4 B-flat Clarinets

  • 2 Tenor Clarinet*

  • 2 Bass Clarinets

  • Great Bass Clarinet*

  • Contrabass Clarinet

  • Soprano Saxophone

  • Alto Saxophone

  • Tenor Saxophone

  • Baritone Saxophone

  • 2 Bassoons

  • Contrabassoon

  • 4 F Horns

  • 2 B-flat Cornets

  • 2 Tenor Trombones

  • Bass Trombone

  • Tenor Tuba

  • Contrabass Tuba

  • Timpani

  • Chimes and Crotales

  • Harp

  • Organ

  • TTBB Chorus

*Note - I use a more logical and standardized nomenclature for these instruments (English Horn, Alto Clarinet, and Contra-Alto Clarinet) to correctly define roles and to add consistency within the instrument families. This system is outlined in my book Band Orchestration - Volume 2: Woodwinds.

Full Score 11x17 -$50

Set of Parts - $250

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