Thursday, 16 May 2013

Some New Piano Pieces, 1929 style

One of the minor pleasures, but ultimately of frustration, is noting piano works mentioned in old musical journals. In the present instance, the February 1929 issue of The Dominant devotes a column to recently published piano music with special emphasis on what was useful for ‘educational’ purposes.  It is one of the unfortunate facts of programme makers and recitalists at present (2013) that they tend to avoid this ‘genre’. Presumably this is because they are deemed ‘too easy’ and do not show off the technical achievements of the maestro. A lot of fine music has been lost to concertgoers because of this conceit. For example, the music of Alec Rowley, Felix Swinstead, Harry Farjeon and Thomas Dunhill has disappeared from view. I guess that the assumption is that these composers wrote nothing but ‘educational’ music: pieces that are only of interest to Grade Fivers. Certainly, all of them wrote virtuosic music that deserves the occasional airing.
The present article outlines some dozen or so pieces that lie between what is now Grade 1 and Grade 7. I have not a clue what any of them sound like, save to say that they fascinate me. I guess that if I am honest it is the typically picturesque titles that impress me: as a youngster I would rather have played a piece of music called ‘Pirates Ahoy!’ than a Minuet in G.
Some of these pieces are studies –such as Eva Pain’s Three Rotation Studies – which we are assured are much better than the title suggests. There is apparently some subtle pedalling to engage with.  I wonder what T.A. White’s The Maze and Puck’s Dance sound like – seemingly exactly as their titles suggest.  I have heard of the composer C. Edgar Moy; however his Riverside Days are new to me. They are charming summer pictures expounding short verses by Rodney Bennett (father of the better known composer).  Another pedagogue is Dr. Kitson – famed for his text books on counterpoint and harmony. Seemingly his Two-Part Invention is a ‘tip-toe dance between the two hands’. Who was Sybil Fountain?  Certainly her Sea Horses have evocative titles such as ‘Flying Fish’ and ‘Coral’.  Two descriptive sets of pieces include Norman Peterkin’s Summer Eves, and Barnham Johnson’s Hard-Handed Men which explore the characteristics of six delightful characters from A Midsummer’s Night Dream, including Quince, Bottom, a Carpenter and a Weaver.
The better kent composer, Robin Milford has contributed a ‘senior piece’ with his slow paced Sir Nicholas’ Caper.  E. Markham Lee had issued an impressive sounding suite called Cliff and Tide-Rip, which is ‘entirely free of the ‘written for children’ feeling that spoils so much ‘educational’ music’. Two Pieces were offered by Roy Agnew –one gay, one smooth. Gordon Slater, who is probably best remembered in the organ loft, has published three pieces under the title Bluejacket – ‘Hornpipe’, ‘Sea Croon’ and ‘The Blue Peter’.  One piece that especially caught my eye was F.H. Shera’s Bridge End which seemingly has ‘enormous variations of tone, and pace, all logical and interesting to make.’
Somewhere in my collection of piano music, I know that I have a piece or two by Welton Hickin; however I cannot put my finger on them at the moment. In 1929 his contribution was Three Miniature Dances. At a higher grade level, Norman Peterkin’s Two Tunes for piano (one drowsy, one lively) and Thomas Wood’s Three Plain Tunes deserve mention.
Nancy Gifford concludes her brief review in The Dominant by noting that ‘what is good of all this output of new music first and foremost [that] the pieces are not likely to be met with in examination lists.’ She concludes that they are ‘fresh, wholesome, connected with out of door life, or with literature, and are perfectly free from mawkish sentiment.’  
I guess that I may find one or two of these numbers in second hand music bookshops or charity shops. However, I imagine that most of them I will never play or hear. And I guess that this is a pity...
...hopefully some reader may have a scan of the above mentioned Cliff and Tide-Rip by E. Markham Lee.

1 comment:

Martin Usher said...

I've got a suite by Welton Hickin, Suite Migonne. It was first published in 1907 and it surfaced sometime in the mid to late 50s as a (I think) Grade 3 examination piece.

I think one reason why content is getting lost is the copyright laws. Thanks to Disney et al copyright now lasts for ever and since enforcement is now so brutal publishers are terrified of putting anything out on the 'net unless they can guarantee that the composer has been dead for 100 years or more. (....and this is for stuff published pre 1923. Post-1923 seems to have infinite copyright.) Since Mr. Hickin's pieces are not common I thought that it would be nice to code them up so people could download them, figuring that so long as his music still exists he's not going to be forgotten. I got the stuff up there but you'll only be able to access it if you're in the US. (So "see me" if you want a copy...)

Radio 3 Breakfast is currently doing an English composer thing and I'd like to be able to get these lost composers some exposure.