The Cistercians was written during December 2003 and January 2004 as an entry for Morecambe Band’s Centenary New Music Competition, which it went on to win. The first two performances were at the final of this competition, part of the band’s 100th Anniversary Concert at The Dome in Morecambe on 9 July 2004.
The music was inspired by visits to three of Britain’s great Cistercian Abbeys; Valle Crucis, Fountains and Rievaulx. The Cistercian Order was founded at Citeaux in France in the 11th Century and was based on the principles of austerity, humility and piety. Cistercian Abbeys were deliberately sited in remote, difficult areas. Despite this many of them, especially Rievaulx, became immense centres of commerce and power, with ever more complex administration and hierarchies.
In a way the music reflects this; all the material in the piece is derived from two simple motifs played by flugel and solo horn in the opening bars and becomes more complex and further removed from the original material as the piece develops. After a tranquil opening section a fugal chorale develops over a medieval-style “tenor” – a stretched out version of one of the original motifs. A burst of semiquavers leads into a faster, folk-dance type section – our medieval abbey has become a bustling trade centre – before rhythmic quaver pulses in the horns and cornets accompany powerful chords in the low brass; this is another “tenor” derived from the opening motifs. A short development section, including the folk dance “hocketing” round the band and a slightly disjointed 10/8 section leads to a restatement of the fugal chorale from the beginning before a frenetic coda brings the work to a triumphant conclusion.