2(II=picc)-2-2(II=bass cl)-2(II=contrabsn) / 4-2(I=cornet)-2-euph / timps / 2 perc / piano (ad lib) / strings (incl. solo back-desk violin)
First performance by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra conducted by Stephen Barlow (Leanne Bear, solo violin), Llewellyn Hall, Canberra, 22 September 1999
In Helston, a town in Cornwall, 8th May is “Flora”. The townspeople, traditionally in evening dress, dance through the streets to a tune which is best known to the rest of the world as “The Floral Dance”. In fact, there was nothing floral about this dance until modern times. The word “floral” is a corruption of “furry” (rhymes with worry), which is in turn a corruption of the Latin “feria”, which simply means “festival”. So “Flora” is really a typical springtime fertility festival, and the rhythm of the famous tune suggests to me that its origins lie in Morris dancing, which is also associated with fertility rituals.
This short orchestral piece is something like a tone poem. I imagined Helston waking up to a clearing mist, the town’s children, in particular, full of anticipation. One of them is heard practising the tune on a recorder (actually a piccolo). The jingle bells and the distant thumps on the bass drum remind us of the tune’s origins. When the big tune finally erupts, it is decorated by scurrying figures. The most prominent instruments in the final section of the piece are those associated with the song made famous by Peter Dawson: “cornet, clarinet and big trombone, fiddle, cello, big bass drum, bassoon, flute and eu – pho – ni – um”.
The Furry Dance was commissioned by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, and first performed by them in September 1999, during Canberra’s own spring carnival, Floriade.