Monday, 26 October 2009

Felix Swinstead: March Wind for Piano

I recently found this attractive piece of sheet music in an Oxfam shop. Even although I already have March Wind in another album, I could not resist the drawing on the cover. I know somebody (who shall remain nameless) who studied with Felix Swinstead and does not rate his music. I guess that they felt it lacked character, interest and technical content – which can be pretty damning. I trended to disagree with tem. Whilst not suggesting that Swinstead’s music has a major place in the canon of British piano music, I think it is fair to suggest that many of his teaching pieces have a charm over and above their intent. Perhaps Swinstead can be bracketed with Thomas Dunhill and Walter Carroll, although I do feel the latter had the ability to present very original music for students. I was ‘brought up’ on much of Felix Swinstead’s music – Fancy Free and the Three Sets of Six Pieces for Children were in the piano stool. Alas these latter have been lost.

March Wind was composed, or at least published by Joseph Williams in 1937. It is a miniature toccata really that certainly manages to give a sense of movement and a feeling of nasty weather. It is not an easy piece, in spite of being (and I am guessing) about Grade 6. The left hand part is typically played staccato and ranges over three octaves. The effect id created by at least three note patterns which are repeated and juxtaposed Most of this piece are largely diatonic, yet in the last four bars there is a considerable amount of key change and a little descending chromatic scale in the left hand. Alas The Musical Times does not give the piece a good review – “it is a rather meagre little breeze set up by quick finger work – a useful study no doubt.” Yet all that said, I enjoy playing it and surely one is reminded of the Swinburne poem:-
Mad March, with the wind in his wings wide-spread,
Leaps from heaven, and the deep dawn's arch
Hails re-risen again from the dead
Mad March.
Soft small flames on rowan and larch
Break forth as laughter on lips that said
Nought till the pulse in them beat love's march.
But the heartbeat now in the lips rose-red
Speaks life to the world, and the winds that parch
Bring April forth as a bride to wed
Mad March.

1 comment:

Frank Howard said...

Thank you for your take on Swinstead, which is the first article I've read on him (I hope to read a few more).
I bought two of his pieces recently at a second-hand book stall in Manchester. I had never heard of him!
I'm looking forward to playing them when I've transcribed them into Klavarskribo. They are:
Humoresque Op. 21;
Valse Impromptu Op. 26, No. 1.
Thanks again.