Monday, 23 June 2008

William Alwyn: Bluebells for Piano

I was playing William Alwyn’s 'Bluebells' the other day. Now, this is one of four short pieces that the composer wrote between 1924 and 1926 and was published by the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music as a part of the April Morn Suite. This work consisted of four short pieces -The Lost Lamb (1924); April Showers (1924), Bluebells (1925) and Violets (1926) and was dedicated to ‘Peter'.
Alwyn was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music for some thirty years: he had studied here himself. In the nineteen twenties and thirties he wrote a number of effective works for the student and the amateur pianist.
'Bluebells' is an attractive little piece – Jonathan Woolf, describing the whole suite on MusicWeb International, suggests that we “should expect no great shakes here, but do expect some charming studies.” Andrew Knowles in the CD programme notes suggest that “…even in these…pieces Alwyn’s creative composing skill never deserts him and he amply conveys the various moods with consummate skill.”
Bluebells is extremely short - some thirteen bars and lasting for only some 39 seconds in Ashley Wass’s recording. The piece is written to be played 'Andante capriccioso' and the metronome mark suggests a slow-ish pace.
It is a ‘water colour’ piece really – but surprisingly full of movement. It has been described as a ‘painter’s garden.’ The word ‘capriccioso’ is worrying to some music teachers as this can be interpreted in a somewhat ‘hair-raising’ manner by enthusiastic students. Yet it is the ‘scotch snap’ played by the right hand that gives the main characteristic to this piece. The left hand contributes parallel fifths with chromatic passing notes. The piece ends with some interesting, almost Delius-like harmonies.
It is quite definitively some attractive Bluebells north of the border! Or perhaps it is a Scotsman’s thoughts whilst he is looking at a drift of them in Kew Gardens!

Hear this work played by Ashley Wass on Naxos 8.570359

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