Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Alan Richardson: Roundelay for Oboe (or Clarinet) & Piano

Recently I wrote about Alan Richardson’s piano miniature Dreaming Spires. In that post I mentioned that perhaps one of his best known pieces was the Roundelay for oboe and piano. Just the other day, I discovered the score for this work in Travis and Emery’s music bookshop in London.
There is an immediate mystery to be solved with this piece. The Guardian obituary (16 August 2003) for the clarinettist Jack Brymer suggests that the Roundelay was written specifically for him. However the score carries a dedication to Helen Gaskell. The Times obituary (14 October 2002) for her states that “Richardson dedicated his oboe and piano work Roundelay to Gaskell, even though he was married to the oboist Janet Craxton.” As an aside, The Sphere commented in August 1927 that “If not the first woman musician engaged in the woodwind of an English symphony orchestra in London, Miss Helen Gaskell is certainly the first to hold the position of second oboe in Sir Henry Wood’s orchestra at the Promenade Concerts”. She was to become one of the great ‘characters’ of the musical world.
So what was the truth? And does it really matter? I would stick with Helen Gaskell as the dedicatee – simply because that is what is printed on the score.
Roundelay was completed in October 1935 and was duly published in 1936 by Oxford University Press. The piece appears to have been originally conceived for oboe and piano. However, it is likely that the composer realised that it would work equally well for clarinet. The front cover states ‘Roundelay for Oboe (or Clarinet) and Piano.’ It is interesting to note that the oboe and clarinet parts were published separately, priced 8d (3p) each.

The title of the piece is in fact an Anglicization of the French word ‘rondolet’, which is the diminutive of ‘rondel.’ It basically means a poem or a song with a recurring refrain and a small one at that.
The basic form of the work is largely derived from the ‘rondolet' form. In its original literary guise this would have consisted of one stanza made up of seven lines. Although Richardson is not strict in his interpretation of this scheme, the opening refrain is certainly repeated a number of times throughout the work. However the poetic form did allow for a degree of variation or even elaboration in the repetition of the refrain -and this is a feature of Richardson’s work. Yet the contrasting sections are never that far removed from the opening theme. Much use is made of flowing semiquavers in both the solo part and the accompaniment. There is a change of mood, however at the halfway mark when the music is signed 'poco pui mosso' (a little more movement) allows for a piano pedal point. This gives a more serious feel to the music. 

This work is hardly noticed in the musical press, with virtually no reviews. There is one notice in Times for 13 May 1981 when the work was performed at the Wigmore Hall. Gervase de Payer and Gwenneth Pryor were the performers. Max Harrison notes that [Roundelay] “was a pastoral affair with soft melodic curves and an air of peacefulness.” The programme notes, by the same writer, of the Chandos recording suggests that is work in a ‘pastoral’ vein’ and is characteristic of the composer’s music. Harrison notes that “it is well organised and effectively varied in detail.” Finally, and a little condescendingly he suggests that Richardson’s piece “has more substance that its title might suggest.”

I think that ‘pastoral’ is not the right description of this work. Although it is perhaps easy going, I would probably suggest that there is a touch of the neo-classical in these pages. Perhaps Poulenc would be nearer the mark than Vaughan Williams at his rustic best!

Roundelay can be heard played by Gervase de Peyer and Gwenneth Pryor on Chandos 8549

1 comment:

Can Bass 1 said...

Oh the late Gervase de Peyer! What a talent! (He is dead, isn't he?)