Skip to main content

Jacques Harry Cohen (b. 1970)

Bizet

Three Nottingham Dances A ballet for orchestra
I. The Golden Arrow
II. Allan-a-Dale
III. Duel (Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne)

"Three Nottingham Dances was commissioned by Nottingham Philharmonic Orchestra to celebrate its 25th birthday, and was therefore inspired by legends associated with the city's most famous son, Robin Hood. My original plan was to write a dance for each of the characters in the story: a pas-de-deux for Robin and Marion, a stomp for Friar Tuck, a dance of the merry men, and so on! But this would have resulted in a composition that was far too long for the programme so in the end I settled for three dances which could be played in less than a quarter of an hour.

The Golden Arrow was the prize offered by the Sheriff of Nottingham for the finest archer. Robin Hood, knowing that the Sheriff planned to ensnare him, disguised himself as an old man in order to win the competition and avoid suspicion. This short, introductory movement is characterised by fanfares suggesting heraldry and shooting arrows.

Allan-a-dale was a minstrel and friend of Robin Hood. When we meet him he is distraught because his bride-to-be is to be married off to a rich old knight. The melody is derived from Mendelssohn's famous wedding march from A Midsummer Night's Dream and there is perhaps a hint of the sad troubadour in The Old Castle from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

The last dance, Duel, by far the longest of the three, depicts the famous sword fight between Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne. If you have ever seen a fencing match, you will have noticed that the movements are not continuous and this is reflected by jerky rhythms and abrupt silences. According to the legend, Sir Guy was a renegade knight who dressed himself up in a grotesque horse-hide and was hired by the Sheriff to kill Robin. The two chased each other through the forest as they desperately fought for their lives. Nearby, the Sheriff eagerly waited for the knight's horn call signalling victory. In turn, Robin tried to blow his bugle to alert his men of the danger but to no avail. The birds flew in terror from the sound of the clashing swords and angry oaths of the knight. When Robin finally defeated Sir Guy he seized the knight's horn and blew it to trick the Sheriff into thinking that he had lost, and so, as Sir Guy staggers to his death, the fanfares of the opening movement return."

Notes by Jacques Harry Cohen

Back to programme notes index