The Peat Cutters

Cantata for SA children’s chorus, SATB youth chorus and brass band


25 minutes




Commissioned by Carnegie Trust (UK) Ltd





SA children’s chorus, SATB youth chorus, brass band (standard) with *percussion
*percussion: ordinary bass drum, very large bass drum, suspended cymbal, cymbals, tam-tam


1. The Eagle
2. The Fire
3. St. Francis
4. Poor Philosophy
5. A Black Resurrection


Composer Notes

The Peat Cutters is a record of a real events – a disastrous hill fire, on the island of Hoy, Orkney, in the north of Scotland, where I live. This fire, caused by a spent cigarette at the peat cuttings, destroyed the whole moorland landscape, and the wild life in it, and an experimental forestry plantation: it spread in the high wind more rapidly than the few islanders fighting the blaze could run. Its progress was stopped at last, at the back of the church, when the wind changed.

There are five movements, forming together a wide-ranging circle of transformations of the material heard in the opening bars.

The unusual combination of children’s choir, youth choir and brass band came about through the nature of the commission, for the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland and the Scottish National Orchestra Junior and Youth Choruses. The work is equally suitable for performances by for female choir instead of children’s choir, and adult chorus instead of youth choir. Any doubling of parts in the brass band depends on the size of the vocal forces available.

Much of the writing is extremely demanding in its virtuosity for both voices and instruments, though I resisted the temptation to end with a virtuoso flourish – the closing music is reflective and questioning.

Programme Notes

Short Note by Paul Griffiths

This is a substantial work in five movements, setting the composer’s own poetic words on the perpetual renewal of nature and the need to take proper care of the earth. Much of the music is slow, except in the second movement, which is descriptive of a fire racing across heathland. The band doubles the vocal lines throughout, and its full strength is naturally restricted to preludes and postludes. Even so, the scoring is varied and beautiful, and the work provides challenges and rewards for all those taking part. It was originally performed by nationally selected forces in Scotland, but it could be within the scope of a school with a thriving brass band and a strong choir.


First Performance

Usher Hall, Edinburgh (at the Edinburgh International Festival)

Sunday, 18 August 1985

Scottish National Orchestra Junior and Youth Choruses,