Tuesday, 7 September 2010

E Markham Lee: Moorland and Torland

I recently found a copy of Ernest Markham Lee’s Moorland and Torland Suite for pianoforte in an Oxfam shop. It was prices £1.29 which compared favourably to the original publication price of 2/6 (12½p)
The work consists of six sketches describing various locations and features of the Devon landscape. Markham Lee was attracted to this area of the country and also wrote a West Country Suite and a Rivers of Devon Suite for orchestra. The titles of each piece are accompanied by short pieces of verse which were contributed by the composer’s friend Dr. S. King Alcock. They are:-
1. The Tors at sunset
2. Taw River
3. The Lonely Pool
4. In the Purple Heather
5. Silent Water
6. Farewell
The composer has provided a footnote for the third and fifth pieces. 'The Lonely Pool' is in fact ‘Cranmere, the deserted pool in mid-most moor, whence all Dartmoor rivers take their rise.’ 'The Silent Water' was the local name given to part of the Taw River, where it ‘loses its character and moves almost imperceptibly, deep down between heather covered banks.
The music in each of these short sketches probably suggests the composer’s response to what he is seeing, rather than a musical picture of the landscape. To my eye and ear, these are well written numbers that hover somewhere between Grade 5 & 6 ability. But like so much music composed for amateurs, nothing is a simple as it seems. There are plenty of places to trip up the unwary player.
The strongest sketch is probably Silent Water. It comes closest with its tempo, ‘slowly with deep expression’ to creating a genuine mood picture.
So long the journey to the destined goal
The river well nigh dozes. Frown nor smile
Disturbs its placid face-yet, all the while
Deep down, the steadfast waters seaward roll.

The least successful sketch is the rather simplistic waltz which accompanies 'In the Purple Heather'. Yet even this reflects Alcock’s words:- 'If the heather is trampled with respect/While the children laugh and sing'.
I enjoyed playing through this work, however it is one of many pieces that it would be nice to have just one ‘professional’ recording of.

A short biography of Ernest Markam Lee will follow in a few posts time.

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