Thursday, 12 February 2009

Peter Hope: Bramhall Hall Sketches

I cannot quite recall the circumstances when I first discovered Bramall Hall manor house. I think my father took me in the Hillman Minx to visit some friends or relations at Cheadle Hulme. However, I can still remember seeing this wonderful building, from a distance – like something out of a picture book. My father told me that it was one of the great black-and-white houses in Cheshire. I never did manage to get inside the house or its gardens – although it has been on my list of things-to-do ever since. So it came as pleasant surprise to be introduced to Peter Hope’s fine suite the Bramall Hall Dances.

On first hearing these dances, the listener feels that they have entered a kind of time warp. I guess that a good ‘subtitle’ would be an echo of Parry’s ‘Hands across the Centuries’ Suite. The composer has written in the preface to the score that he developed these pieces by combining “elements of medieval and modern popular music”. But I believe the reality is more complex than this. What Peter Hope has done is to create what could be seen as a descriptive history of music that may well have been played in Bramall Hall at any time over the past 500 years. Yet this history is not literal: it is an interpretation that is perfectly at home in both the modern world and the renaissance...

This piece can be described as a fusion of early music and modern music. However, there is no sense that this ‘modern’ refers to anything that might have been composed by Peter Maxwell Davies or Pierre Boulez. In the nineteen-sixties there was a fad for the use of oboes, flutes and harpsichords in what was called ‘Baroque Pop’ – or even ‘Baroque ’n Roll’! I guess that this was best heard in The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Yesterday and some arrangements by Phil Spector. However a number of groups developed this sound including Focus, Jethro Tull and psychedelic outfits like Dantalion’s Chariot. The Bramall Dances hardly fit into this category either. However there is another genre, which is perhaps not formally defined in dictionaries of music. This is what I have called ‘Suburban Sunday’ music. I coined this phrase after playing through a suite of piano pieces by Philip Lane – Leisure Lanes. One of the most attractive numbers in this suite was ‘Suburban Sunday’. This is, I guess, music that is designed to have a wider popular appeal than Bach or Beethoven or Mozart. It uses basically classical forms, harmonies and melodies, but with a distinct ‘pop’ feel. There are often lots of major 7ths and 9ths, and plenty of interesting and usually subtle syncopations. The Bramall Dances falls into this bracket – but surely retaining much more of the naked vitality of the ‘old’ music - which makes these dances unique.

Please read the full article at MusicWeb Internatonal

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