Friday, 9 July 2010

Alex Rowley: Three rediscovered pieces

I always keep my eyes open for any music by Alec Rowley when I am in second hand bookshops. Over the years I have made a small collection of these often charming pieces, although with such a huge catalogue of music I guess that I will never manage to collect everything he published.
A few days ago I discovered a pile of music that had just come into my local second-hand bookshop. Amongst them were three pieces of sheet music published by Edwin Ashdown. I have never seen the edition before and even the titles were unknown to me. In fact after a little exploration on the internet I discovered that these were reprints of movements from earlier publications from the Ashdown catalogue. All four pieces are in a uniform edition and are all two pages long.
There is nothing in this music that is great or challenging, however they are four charming pieces that are easy to play whilst providing a technical challenge or two for less experienced pianists. I would estimate them to be about Grade 3 performance and Grade 6 sight reading test level.
The Highland March was originally composed in 1920 and appears to have originally been published as a part of Our First Duets Book 1. It has been rewritten for piano solo. I can find no other reference to this in any of the catalogues. It is an interesting little piece that is written in 4/8 time and balances an energetic melody with a bagpipe drone. The key centre is A minor with a straightforward modulation to the relative dominant minor. The close of the work is modal. The predominant dance pattern is four descending semiquavers followed by to quaver making a melodic leap of a perfect fifth.
April is perhaps the most attractive piece. It is preface by words written by Aidan Clarke:-
The Lilac’s out, the lilac’s out!
Fairy folk with tiny shout,
April’s merry minstrelsy,
Springtime’s careless cheery rout
Are dancing to the lilac tree.

This piece is written as a waltz in 3/8 time. The C major melody is supported by left hand chords played on the second and third beats of the bar. Harmonically this is the most adventurous of the pieces I discovered, with a fair few added notes, major sevenths and a final modulation to F minor in the closing bars. April was originally a part of The Shepherd’s Calendar Suite which was published c1921, although this piece carries the date of 1914. The other pieces in the suite were Early Spring, The Weary Shepherd, From the hill country, Midsummer Day and finally Colinclouts come home again. The final two numbers of this suite were also available in the Ashdown reprint.
The final piece I found was Flanagan keeps a’ dancin'. Like the Highland March this was part of the collection Our First Duets Book 1. This has been rewritten and has had a number of subsequent publications. My copy gives a date of 1920 and the Duet collection appears to have been issued circa 1933. However, the library catalogues note that it was the first movement of a little suite called Three Irish Sketches for piano with the other pieces being By the flowing Shannon and an Irish Pipe March. This was published circa 1923.
This is a typical little Irish jig written in 6/8 compound time. The entire piece is written in A aeolian and there are no accidentals. The left hand provides a simple bare fifth chordal accompaniment to the lively tune, however in the middle section there is a slightly more involved figuration for the left hand. The piece concludes loudly with an accented chord in the tonic. The composer instructs that there is no slowing up at the end of the piece.
These pieces were originally priced by Edwin Ashdown at 9d (about 4p), however they had been over-stamped with a stamp pricing them at 1/- (5p) and then had a sixpence added by hand making it a grand total of 7½p! I guess that as I paid 50p each for them inflation certainly appears to have been at work. It is not clear when the reissue was published but I am guessing circa 1965.

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