Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Gareth Glynn: Pianimals

I was browsing in Forsyth’s music shop in Manchester. Regular readers of my articles on MusicWeb and this blog will know that it is one of my favourite shops. My grandfather, a part time conductor and church organist used to shop there, as did my uncle. So, it is really a family favourite. Over the past year on my blog I have been exploring the music of the Welsh composer Gareth Glyn. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of his Pianimals in the sale box. Naturally I bought it.
When I returned to London I tried to play it through – and found that it was a bit difficult to sight read at sight! But what bits I could get my fingers around impressed me. Anyway I asked Gareth to tell me a bit about this work.

The Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music invited composers to submit pieces for young pianists who had reached Grade 6. Glyn had an idea for a piece in which one hand would play only black notes whilst the other played only white. It is hardly surprising that he called it ‘Zebra’. Unfortunately, the album of pieces did not appear. However, Glyn sent the piece to Spartan Publishing to see if they were interested. In fact they were: they asked the composer to provide another two pieces in similar vein – so an album was born. The second and third pieces were written for black notes only and for white notes only. The new pieces were called Polar Bear and Crow respectively.

The printed music is an attractive production. The contents page does not use titles but pictures. It is certainly a novelty. However Glyn had originally provided subtitles describing each piece, which for the record I append here:-

"A Polar Bear dances in front of his mirror" (because the left hand
music is an exact inversion of the right hand’s”

"Sad dance of a one-legged Crow" (one-legged because only one hand,
the left, is used in the piece, despite its being laid out on /three/

"A Zebra tries to dance on his hind legs" (because the music is
deliberately lopsided in rhythm and harmony”

The work did have an effect on musical history and the teaching of future musicians! Pianimals was one of the set works for the GCSE syllabus used for ‘Musical Analysis’ classes. The composer told me that the work was recorded by Mervyn Burtch for distribution to schools. So, I guess that it may well have an influence far beyond the ephemeral nature of much music written for ‘young’ pianists. It certainly deserves a commercial recording.

The music is available from Spartan Publishing. Unfortunately there is no recording of this work currently available.

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