Thursday, 11 March 2010

Thomas Dunhill: Playtime Melodies for Piano Op.45

There is always a danger of ignoring pieces of music that are technically simple in favour of those offering a major challenge to the solist. Furthermore there can be a propensity to make an a priori judgement that any piece of music that is produced for the educational market must in some way be sub-standard and unworthy of our attention.
In the year following the commencement of work on Thomas Dunhill’s (1877-1946) Symphony in A minor, he published a set of piano pieces called Playtime Melodies. This work is a million miles away from the depth and romantic mood of his symphony, yet, these short pieces are equally worthy of our attention.

These five short pieces are designed to help the young (or relatively inexperienced) player to add five attractive pieces to their repertoire whilst at the same time extending their technical capability. At no time does Dunhill relinquish his invention or musicality. These pieces are not written down to his players.

The first piece uses the well-known tune Girls and Boys come out to play as the basis its progress. The music is played ‘allegretto. poco gajamente’ – which latter word means gaily or in a careless manner. Careless not referring to the actual renditions of the text – but to the mood created! It is really a little dance in a folk-like 6/8 time. The tune, or at least variations on the tune are supported by simple left hand chords that nearly always emphasise the beat. Towards the conclusion the melody is given to the left hand.
The second piece In Solitude is really a quiet and reflective little waltz. The piece opens with the tune in the left hand whilst the other hand plays a very simple chord on the second beat. The middle section is poco animato but soon returns to the doloroso mood of the opening. There are one or two places in the piece designed to trip even a reasonably experienced player. However after some wayward modulations the music comes to a quiet end.
Next up is a Hornpipe written in a loose A minor. This not an easy piece to play and requires a clear, well-marked staccato touch in the left hand. The middle section modulates to the dominant major before closing firmly in the tonic with a sharp coda. As a child this music would certain have a tang of the sea to it.
A short Celtic Lullaby makes the fourth piece. This is once again in 6/8 time. It opens with a quiet falling minor third melody, repeated four times, before the lullaby proper begins. The tune has a definite Scottish feel, without resorting to the use of a Scotch snap. The melody is played by left and right hand in turn. The short two-bar phrases that underlie the melodic progress have to be played thoughtfully and with care.
The final piece is a Passepied. It is technically the most difficult piece in the album. A Passepied was a seventeenth century French dance originating in Brittany. It is invariably fast music written in 3/8 time and was often a part of a Baroque suite. Dunhill’s Passepied is quite long for a child’s pieces lasting over a hundred bars. Rhythmically the main interest is in the right hand with basically just tow figures proving the musical material. It is a good romp and provides an excellent finish to this well wrought little Suite.

The music was published by Alfred Lengnick & Co. Ltd of 14 Berners Street London W1. It was priced 2/- net.
One final observation: the printer has written in the wrong time signature at the start of this piece. Someone has scored it out and written in the correct one!

There are, as might be expected, no recordings of this Suite currently available.

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