I was delighted to receive a copy of the sheet music for this fascinating little piano piece by William Alwyn. The publication of ‘Cricketty Mill’ is a new venture for the Foundation, and represents the first of a series of works by the composer that will be published for the first time. The main emphasis will be on instrumental and chamber music.
Three things make this particular score outstanding –apart from the music itself! Firstly, there is an excellent mini-biography of the composer written by Andrew Knowles, which succinctly provides an overview of the composer’s life and works. I have often wondered when a pianist or piano teacher picks up a piece of music, just how much they actually know about the composer and their other work. Supplementary to this biography is a short paragraph or two about the work of The William Alwyn Foundation, which carries out such an important role for the furthering of the composer’s music. Secondly, there is an excellent black and white studio photograph of the composer at his piano. The front cover of the work not unnaturally has a picture of Cricketty Mill itself. And thirdly, the most innovative part of this score is the 300 word programme note for the piece. It is most welcome, and must surely help any pianist to interpret this short work.
The score was realised from the original manuscript by John Turner
For many years I have known (and attempted to play) William Alwyn’s ‘Green Hills’, which is an impressionistic piano piece that effectively paints a musical picture. However, this work was one of a pair – the other was ‘Cricketty Mill’. Both pieces were written for the pianist and composer Hugo Anson, however only the former was accepted for publication by Oxford University Press. Apparently the latter was deemed to be ‘too hard.’
‘Cricketty Mill’ is a ‘real’ place and not a creation of the composer’s imagination- in spite of the Walter de la Mare-ish title. Andrew Knowles states that it refers to a small mill “situated south west of Bisley Village in the Cotswolds, on the stream that flows down to join the Toadsmoor Brook.” Perhaps this suggests Kenneth Grahame and his Wind in the Willows as the inspiration!
William Alwyn has prefaced his score with the following original poem:-
Clear and anxious
Murmurs the stream
At Cricketty Mill
Under the Hill
Hang dark shadows…
The air is hot
With busy sounds
And, always echoing
Ripple in the Brook.
The piece opens with the sound of the murmuring of the mill stream in the accompaniment. Slowly a tune emerges which is surely influenced by John Ireland and his The Island Spell. The melody expands into chords, before being subjected to subtle changes of harmony and soon building up to a nice bitter-sweet climax. The second section is less liquid – in fact it could suggest a hardness of even iciness. The main tune is finally presented in big chords before the music comes to a virtual stop. The murmuring begins again –with the pedal being used to blur the music. Once again the music comes to a halt. The third section is really quite dreamy: Alwyn uses soft chords to suggest a hot summer’s day. Yet the water returns and the figuration of the mill wheel reappears for one last time. After a drowsy passage the works ends quietly.
The work is not easy and demands a considerable technique to both play and interpret.
As ‘Cricketty Mill’ is a recent ‘discovery’, and was probably not given at recitals there is little in the way of reviews. However Jonathan Woolf, writing for MusicWeb International notes that this work is ‘replete with tricky John Ireland impressionism – fluent, fluid, rising to a more assertive chordal bronze tone when required.’ William Norris reviewing for MusicalCriticism.com notes that ‘Cricketty Mill’ harkens back to impressionism, painting a musical picture of a tranquil location in the Cotswolds.
In conclusion, this publication is a model of how a score should be presented – biography, programme note and photo of the composer –and not forgetting a well edited and clear musical notation by John Turner. I look forward to reviewing further titles as and when they are released.
Meanwhile, ‘Cricketty Mill’ can be heard played by Ashley Wass on Naxos 8.570359 Other works on this CD include the Sonata alla Toccata, the Fantasy Waltzes and some ‘educational’ pieces that are attractive and deserve our respect.
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Cricketty Mill for piano
Published by The William Alwyn Foundation WAF001
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.