Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Gordon Langford: Greenways

The morning after the Lynton and Barnstable Light Railway closed on 29 September 1935, a wreath was laid by the buffer stops at Barnstaple Station. The attached card had the words ‘To the Barnstaple & Lynton Railway With Regret & Sorrow From A Constant User & Admirer. Perchance It "Is Not Dead But Sleepeth"’. It was to be the fate of many lines in the United Kingdom, particularly in the aftermath of the Beeching Report in the 1960’s.

According to the programme notes for the Chandos CD, many disused railway tracks became ‘Greenways’ although other folk may well associate these with drover’s roads and other ancient ways across the Downs. However, a number of old railway lines did become pathways or cycle tracks. The often went through well-wooded and secretive parts of the countryside, although others were of a more urban or suburban nature.
Gordon Langford, as a railway enthusiast, would have known of many lines that closed. He would have lamented this catastrophic change to the British landscape. Delighted, as he no doubt was that a few of these lines were put to a new and socially important use, he would have been saddened that trains no longer ran. It is this sense of sadness that is reflected in his miniature Greenways for orchestra.

The work is quite short, lasting for only three and half minutes: it was composed in 1970. Greenways is effectively scored for a medium sized orchestra with harp.. The sleeve notes suggest that this piece is a ‘lament’ however, although it is a melancholic little piece, there is a degree of optimism. It is not difficult to hear the influence of Delius in this music: it is almost inevitable for a piece of this genre. Greenways is in ternary form -the first quiet section being an ‘andante grazioso’ which explores a leafy track in some summery afternoon. This is followed by a ‘pui allegretto’, which suggests a ‘ghost train’ on some forgotten branch line. However the opening music returns and the work closes with a touch of sadness and sentimentality.
This short piece is hardly the tone poem that musically mirrors Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop. However it is an attractive work that portrays a summer’s day a long time ago.

A few years ago the first train ran on a revived Lynton and Barnstaple railway line. At present there is only a mile or two of track, but the intention is to reopen as much of the track as possible. So, the words Perchance It "Is Not Dead But Sleepeth have turned to prophecy. Gordon Langford will no doubt be delighted that this railway and many other ‘heritage lines’ preserve the sights and sounds of an earlier age.
Greenways can be heard on Gordon Langford’s Orchestral Classics CHANDOS 10115

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