Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Orchestra
Instrumentation: Brass and percussion band
Length: 6 minutes
Commissioned by: European Brass Band Association
Premiere: 29 April 2006, Waterfront Hall, Belfast.
Brass Band Oberösterreich, conductor Hannes Buchegger.
Recording: Brass Band Oberösterreich (DOYEN CD 211)


The night of Sunday the sixth of January 1839 was a night of madness.  On this night, Ireland was hit by a devastating storm.  The day began well enough.  Children outside playing in the snow were looking forward to the festivities that evening, as this was Little Christmas, Nollaig na mBan, the day that had been Christmas before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar and it was a major social occasion with céilís and festive meals.

Earlier that day there was a strange heat and an unnaturally calm air – voices floated between houses over a mile apart.  That evening a light westerly breeze grew to a fury and after midnight it blew a fearful gale, reaching its height between three and five a.m.  The ensuing pandemonium saw buildings blown away, people and things flung about.  In its aftermath, seaweed was found on hilltops and herrings were picked six miles inland.  The timing of the storm was significant.  Epiphany is a feast of revelation, the day Christ made his being known to the world and Nollaig na mBan, a celebration of Little Woman’s Christmas.

Little Christmas focuses on the events of that day, leading to the arrival of the storm itself.  The piece opens with a blast, which is quickly hushed by a motionless phrase whose silence suggests something not quite right.  A solo euphonium mimics the local seer who prophesies the coming of the storm but who is ignored by the locals who are accustomed to his rantings and ravings.  A brief percussion improvisation hints at an uncertainty in the air but this is quickly ignored by the following fast section with the bustle and excitement of the day’s preparations.  Quiet solo chromatic lines swoosh over harmonic pillars of sound before the final “dizzy” section where the band lets rip at the arrival of the storm!  Little Christmas was commissioned as the Section B test piece for the 2006 Belfast European Brass Band Contest.

Score and parts are published by The Music Company (UK): www.themusiccompanyltd.com