Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Trevor Duncan: 20th Century Express

There is virtually nothing written about Trevor Duncan’s (1925-2005) evocative 20th Century Express on the ‘web or in the musical press. In fact almost every ‘hit’ is simply an advert for the fine Marco Polo retrospective CD.
The liner notes of this recording state that the work was written in 1953. It was the latest offering from the composer in over four years of writing ‘descriptive’ music. I guess that much of this kind of work found its way into the music libraries of the radio, Pathé News and budding television studio to be used as the background to drama and news programmes. To this end publishers usually decided on the title of a piece after it had been written: fortunately Trevor Duncan was allowed the freedom to choose his own.
Apparently the composer originally entitled this piece Making Tracks - with its obvious railway oriented pun. It is one of a large number of pieces that have railways as a theme – one need thing only of Coronation Scot, Puffing Billy or Rhythm on Rails by Vivian Ellis, Edward White and Charles Williams respectively.

I guess that people of different ages will see 20th Century Express in a variety of ways. Perhaps I recall seeing a Duchess Pacific pulling thirteen coaches over Beattock Summit in the nineteen-sixties? Or maybe someone else will bring a picture of an electric train heading down to Brighton? Or maybe another will associate it with a train heading to Paris through the Channel Tunnel. I guess that bearing in mind the date of composition, it has to be a steam locomotive, and from the light, open air feel to the music a journey to the seaside is suggested. This is certainly not a train journey to work although it could be a days’ shopping in Regent Street with a show at Shaftesbury Avenue in the evening! The music certainly propels itself along, with a definite rhythm of the steam engine’s motion and the ‘diddly-dum’ on the rails being featured in the musical accompaniment. Like virtually all of Trevor Duncan’s music, 20th Century Express is beautifully scored and is a well-balanced miniature.

The 20th Century Express can be heard on Marco Polo 8.223517

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