Djemaa el Fna for 36 trumpets

Djemaa el Fna takes its name from the famous square that is the heart of Marrakesh’s medina. I visited this most exotic of African cities at Christmas 2008. Despite the many attractions in and around the city – the souks, the Saadian tombs and the Atlas Mountains – it was to this square I returned again and again. The atmosphere at dusk is magical. Fortune-tellers, acrobats and story-tellers attract large audiences. The delicious smell of tagines and barbecued meat mixes with the scent of incense and exotic spices. But it is the sounds that linger most. The call to prayer drifting from the nearby Koutoubia Mosque, the raitas wailing, African drumming, the sound of Gnawa music.

A piece for 36 trumpets may seem a strange way to respond to all this, but a large number of instruments in such a confined harmonic area (the range of the trumpet is not large) is a good way of reflecting such a bustling and crowded space. The thematic material evokes many of the sounds I heard in and around the Djemaa el Fna.

The trumpets are divided into four spatially separated groups of nine, each with their solo trumpet leader. The players within the group respond to material fed to them by the solo trumpet. Each group of nine plays their sharply contrasted material at first in turn, and then all together at the end. The piece ends with a recollection of a piece of traditional Gnawa music I heard played in the riad in which I was staying. It serves to resolve the preceding harmonic argument and draw the piece to a restful close.


36 tpts


c. 9 minutes
Performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales trumpets and friends, conducted by Mark Eager
Full performance