I recently discovered an interesting link on the ‘Net. Dr. William Wynne Willson has created a website at MUSIC WWW which is totally dedicated to providing a free source of downloadable, out-of-copyright keyboard music. So far, this library of music consists of an expanding collection of some 165 pieces from Charles-Valentin Alkan to Hugo Wolf and from John Alcock to Max Reger. Some of the music is relatively easily available – but much of it will only be found after much hunting in second-hand music shops.
And there is an added benefit – because the music is written in Sibelius, it can be ‘played’ albeit in a rather basic form. At least, it is possible to get a general idea of the piece and its interpretation.
On this note it is important to read Dr. Willson's notes on How to Use the Site because it is essential to download a little applet from Sibelius. This is simply to allow the music to appear on the screen, to print it and to hear it on the computer speakers.
Naturally the composers that most interest The Land of Lost Content are William Baines, William Sterndale Bennett, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Ivor Gurney, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford and Arthur Sullivan. More about one or two of these in a moment. However, I have to say that I do not limit my listening and playing to 19th/20th Century British Music. So I was glad to see ‘sheet music’ of works by John Bull, Richard Jones and William Byrd to name three from an earlier generation. And I have always been a great enthusiast of Stephen Heller’s music. I think it has suffered from being associated simply with pedagogy. This is to do a disservice to the Studies in particular and the rest of his music in general. Alas, the pieces presented here are fairly accessible, but one hopes that Dr Willson will transcribe some of the more obscure numbers from this malaligned composer.
One lovely little piece that I had not seen or heard was Vladimir Rebikov’s Le Dernier Rendevous. It is within the gift of a Grade 5 or 6 player and the title aptly describes the soul of the music.
But it is the British music that I hope will be appreciated by listeners, scholars and pianists and may feature in their repertoire. And furthermore I hope that Dr. Willson will seek out and discover pieces in this field that are largely unavailable. I am sure that I (and others) will be able to give him a number of suggestions!
William Baines is represented here by one of his minor masterpieces the The Lone Wreck and Goodnight to Flamboro'. Certainly to this listener these pieces have exercised a special attraction since I first heard Eric Parkin play them on Lyrita many years ago. And of course, Flamboro’ Head is one of my favourite places in England. There is one small miniature from Sterndale Bennett, Forget-Me-Not. This is well worth printing and playing. Two lovely little pieces come from the pen of Sir Arthur Sullivan – the First and the Fifth Daydreams. As a composer not normally associated with the piano, these piano pieces from Sullivan deserve study. Certainly the first Daydream is in most amateur pianist’s gift – the fifth is slightly more challenging- but once you get over the Gb key signature it soon reveals its charms. In fact it lies quite easily under the fingers.
However, for me personally the greatest gift in this Website is the collection of piano pieces by Ivor Gurney. Now this is not the time to discuss these in detail, as I have hardly got my head around them yet. But Dr. Willson has transcribed some delightful miniatures that surely deserve to be both recorded and available as sheet music. These include the set of 5 Preludes published in 1921 by Winthrop Rogers Ltd and the attractive Five Western Watercolours, published by OUP in 1923 with tantalising titles such as Twyver River, Alney Island, The Old Road, Still Meadows and Sugar Loaf Hill. But have an explore on Dr. Willson’s site yourselves to see what is on offer from Gurney and the other composers. Let us hope that there will be many more pieces on offer!