Fair and Feast



"Fair and Feast was written for the final concert to celebrate the 750th Anniversary of the granting of the first Charter to Saffron Walden, and was first performed in the Parish Church at Saffron Walden in September 1986 under the direction of Hugh Keelan.


The work is a tribute to a medieval market town in the form of a choral and orchestral tone poem describing a market day from dawn to dusk. George Barker, who compiled the text from a wide variety of traditional sources, supplied the following note for the first performance:

Obvously it must be summer time since the baritone soloist welcomes the day when it just past three o'clock. It is true that the Feast of St. Blaze is in February, but let that pass. It is a busy day. The music for dawn has grown from soft, high flown flutes and fiddles to a quickening climax with the baritone greeting the arriving traders. They come over the hill - the drovers, the farmers, the dairy maids and the crokers. So the first scherzo is reached - the assembled market. Sharp-practising tradesmen cheat their customers, thieves filch, women quarrel, the children scream and tumble. Weaving girls cry 'Poverty, poverty knocks' but the crowd rallies with an 'Alleluya'.


There is a short interlude for orchestra while the market is dismantled. This is the Feast of St. Blaze, patron saint of the Wool Staplers, and once a year the town gathers behind the Corporation and Town Band and, marching, beats the bounds. They sing their great hymn to St. Blaze until the Town Crier cries 'There's good ale at the sign of the Rose'.


So a grace and a toast to the town is sung, and they fall a-feasting (in the second scherzo) to a very varied Elizabethan menu. Gradually they are overcome and speech becomes more and more incoherent. Taking not the slightest notice, the Watchman returns. 'Praise ye God the Lord. To bed good people'. He sounds his horn. The good people's mumbling answer leads back to the music of dawn which this time dies away to a solo fiddle."


Christopher Brown 1990