Monday, 7 April 2008

Billy Mayerl: Sennen Cove

One of my musical desiderata over the years was Billy Mayerl’s tone poem Sennen Cove. Now most listeners will probably associate this composer with his ‘characteristic syncopated piano music’ and their orchestral arrangements. Typical of these works are the pieces such as Bats in the Belfry and the ever popular Marigold. However there was a more serious side to his compositional skills. This revealed itself in a number of Eric Coates-like pieces. Perhaps the best known is the Four Aces Suite which was orchestrated by Ray Noble. However Sennen Cove is one a group of three tone poems which include The Forgotten Forest and a Balearic Episode.
Sennen Cove is regarded as an impressionistic piece that is a musical portrait of a popular holiday resort on the Cornish Riviera. It was originally conceived as a piano work.
The piece opens with some impressive sea-music followed by a sweeping tune on the strings. These opening bars exhibit some interesting harmonic shifts that add to the impressionistic feel of this music. It could be argued that this ‘Onedin Line- type theme’ is over the top, yet it is great stuff- the composer is enjoying himself. It is the most accomplished part of the score.
Soon a change of mood allows some biting woodwind phrases to interrupt the proceedings before the summer haze descends on the scene once again. Now nature is given a rest: it is time for the children to play on the beach- whether it is paddling, rounders or shrimping it is surely fun. But soon the beach begins to empty: people head back to their boarding houses as the stormy weather begins to make its presence felt. Yet it subsides and the summer music returns to bathe the coast in its hazy sunshine. Mayerl introduces an ‘end of pier’ type of tune that builds up into quite a romantic climax before resolving itself into dance rhythms. Summer nights at the Palais! Yet the sea music closes the work – not quite mid-night but dusk is certainly descending on the cove.
Sennen Cove is no Tintagel or La Mer. It is quite short at just over eight minutes. And it could be argued that the musical material is unbalanced and inconsistent. Mayerl perhaps tries to introduce too many images into his music. Yet as a work by someone who is a decided miniaturist it is certainly enjoyable and evocative of a day at the seaside long ago.
Billy Mayerl’s original piano piece was probably orchestrated by Fred Aldington.
Sennen Cove is available on Dutton CDBP9766

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