Altitude was written in the summer of 1977, at the request of Elgar Howarth. The music portrays an imaginary fight at an extreme height – cold, solitary, tranquil, and yet swift and mobile.
The form is roughly as follows:-
(i) A fast, but harmonically static opening section, with a long melody in the tubas;
(ii) A slower, more flowing section, beginning with a descending theme played by a solo cornet;
(iii) Tense development of previous material, culminating in a full fortissimo statement of the cornet’s theme.
(iv) A long, gradual crescendo superimposing several layers of texture, and building up to a climax in which the opening theme appears augmented in the trombones and tubas;
(v) Final appearance of the cornet’s theme;
(vi) Repeat of the beginning (with alterations in orchestration) converging on a single note (D) and disappearing in a flash.