Friday, 21 August 2009

Angela Morley: Rotten Row – A miniature for orchestra.

I was walking across Park Lane into Hyde Park the other day in the summer sunshine (such as we have had this year) and headed towards the Serpentine. As I passed the bandstand I could see a number of horsemen riding along Rotten Row. Unusually, they were not cavalrymen, but seemed to be members of the public. I wondered where they stabled their horses in Central London?
It is not the place to speculate on the name of this bridleway, save to say that I was always told that is was the Route de Roi – but I shall leave that to the local historians and philologists. As a musician my mind thought of the attractive miniature by Angela Morley, Rotten Row. This is surely one of the most attractive pieces of light music in the repertoire. It is strange that only a single recording of this work is currently available.
It is a little confusing when considering any piece by Angela Morley as she changed name and sex in the early ‘seventies – until that time she was known as Wally Stott. However, although Rotten Row was composed in 1960 it is assigned to the composer’s latter name. Morley is best known for her scores to the films Watership Down and The Slipper and the Rose. She also wrote the music for the Goons and for Hancock’s Half Hour. She died in January of this year.
The piece opens with an upward harp glissando before the main theme establishes itself. This is totally untroubled music that makes you feel good. The clip-clop, the harness bells and jogging-along imagery are maintained throughout most of the piece. However the orchestra passes the theme and its variants between sections – with the horns having a marginally reflective moment. The orchestration is typically delicate and is well varied. The piece ends with a little pizzicato figure and a downward glissando from the harp – taking the miniature a full circle.
Rob Barnett on MusicWeb has described this piece as a “frilly and flouncy piece of pink ‘fifties fluff. It is suggestive of debonair horsey folk taking the air- elegant and superficial.” This seems as little harsh on both the horse-riding fraternity and the music – I do not think that Morley was trying to be particularly profound, pink is not the colour that suggests itself to me and horsey folk are not always superficial!
The reviewer in Gramophone “enjoyed [this piece] clip-clopping along like Leroy Anderson.
I like this piece: it is in same mould as Benjamin Frankel’s Horse and Pair. However, what impressed me most was the subtle orchestration, which is really rather good. And finally, it is a fine impression of an era that has all but disappeared. It is only with a little imagination that I could feel my way back to 1960, far less an earlier period, with the roar of traffic on Park Lane and the mass of the Hilton Hotel behind me and roller-bladers in backward- baseball caps swerving to avoid me on the path.

Angela Morley’s Rotten Row is recorded on White Line CD WHL 2138

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