Monday, 21 June 2010

Marion Anderson: Yellow Sands for Pianoforte

I have always had a soft spot for piano pieces that evoke the sea and the seaside. I guess that apart from the well known Holiday Diary Op.5 by Benjamin Britten, most works that evoke the pleasures of a holiday by the sea tend to be ‘teaching’ works rather than those written for the virtuosos. Yet that is not the point. For those of us who are not blessed with great technical skill (about Grade 6 and a bit at a stretch) it is always nice to discover something that we can play easily and possibly even at sight. And one last qualifications has to be that the music is worth playing. Marion Anderson’s attractive Yellow Sands fits the bill admirably.

I had never heard of the composer before coming across this piece in a second-hand bookshop in Southampton: a search on Google does not reveal much about her, although there are plenty of references to the American contralto of the same name. Although this lady also played the piano and wrote music, I fear that they are not the one and the same. A search of the music library catalogues reveals well over a hundred publications by ‘our’ Marion and these are all largely teaching and technical pieces. So I am assuming that they are two different people.
Yellow Sands was published by Leonard, Gould and Butler of 139 New Bond Street, London in 1939. It has a striking ‘shadowgraph’ cover which is what first drew my attention to the sheet music in the browser. A number of children and a dog are playing games that typify a British holiday by the sea.
Anderson prefaces the score with a quotation from Shakespeare – “Come unto these yellow sands,” which we adults will know is a quote from The Tempest!
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands.
Curtsied when you have and kissed,
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.
Hark, hark!
However Marion Anderson is not trying to write a series of Shakespearian sketches – it is the fun and high spirits of a day at Morecambe or St Ives that has captured her imagination. There are ten short pieces mostly being no longer that a single page of music.
The first pieces is entitled ‘Jolly Sandboys’ and as such seems to have little to do with the beach! I understand that a ‘sandboy’ was literally someone who fetched sand to be put onto the floors of pub – its usage would seem to be Victorian. The happy bit derives from the fact that they were paid in kind with ale! I guess that Anderson is not alluding to this – but to the idea of running down to the beach – certainly the grace notes and compound time suggest a high degree of jollity. We are on safer ground with the lilting ‘Sailing Boats’ which gracefully depicts either the real thing or a model yacht in the paddling pool. I am a bit baffled by the third piece – ‘Rubber Horse’ – I guess (and hope) it means some kind of floating toy in the lido! Anderson insists that it is played with ‘fun and vigour. ‘Seagulls’ is perhaps the gem of the piece – from the technical as well as the 'sound' aspect. It is a lovely and simple depiction of the birds flying and gliding over the sea. The fifth piece is a little waltz that suggests fun whilst netting shrimps or crabs – ‘Fishers at the pool’. This ‘crisp’ number encourages the pianist to use thirds in both hands. I love ‘Donkey Riders’ with its lively 6/8 time signature. Once again Anderson uses thirds which makes this piece quite challenging for young fingers. ‘Punch & Judy’ is by far the most imaginative piece from the harmonic point of view. Nothing outrageous of course, but an interesting little progression of E minor, D major, C# Major and C major! Along with the sharp offbeat left hand part this makes for a somewhat knockabout sketch that well reflects the protagonists! ‘Sleepy Sunbathers’ is a drowsy number once again written in 6/8 time. Parallel thirds and melodic patterns containing added sixths make for a well deserved rest after the rigours of Mr. Punch. ‘Leap Frog’ is a neat little number that encourages the pianist to rapidly change had positions and even a little crossing of hands to represent the ‘actions’. Finally ‘Castle Builders’ is the longest piece in the series, and although it is written in waltz time it is really more of a ‘march’ if that is possible. It brings Yellow Sands to a triple forte conclusion.
Finally, Yellow Sands is dedicated to ‘Sonia’ whoever she may be.

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