Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Peter Yorke: Quiet Countryside

During these long January nights, I begin to think about springtime and opportunities to explore the countryside. I have never been a ‘power-walker’: I prefer to ramble, look and possibly learn. There are many things that capture my interest: historic churches, lazy streams, trees, gentle, rolling scenery, village greens and old bridges. And let us not forget the country pub, for a well-earned cheese and onion sandwich and pint of ‘real-ale.’

Peter Yorke (1902-66) is one of the lesser-known composers of British light music. After study at Trinity College, London, he followed a career in the world of dance bands. He worked with several well-known figures including Percival Mackey, Jack Hylton and Henry Hall. He formed the Peter Yorke Concert Orchestra in 1937.  In the immediate pre-war years, Yorke also collaborated with film music composer and musical director Louis Levy in several screen projects. Levy typically employed light music composers, including Clive Richardson, Charles Williams and Jack Beaver: it was unusual in those days for screen credits to be given to the writers of the film score.
Philip Scowcroft had listed a number of important compositions by Peter Yorke. These include The Shipbuilders Suite composed for a BBC Light Music Festival, a tone poem called Gallions Reach and an Overture: Explorers. Novelties include ‘Lizard in the Lounge', ‘Playful Pelican’, ‘Silks and Satins’ and two of my personal favourites,’ Cocktails by Candlelight’ and ‘Highdays and Holidays.’  

‘Quiet Countryside’ opens with several little woodwind figures, before the strings develop a deeply romantic theme. The orchestration is particularly attractive here including a delightful part for harp. The woodwind theme is heard again, before the romantic theme is reprised. It is, in effect a short tone-poem, written in binary form and lasting for just over three minutes. Yet Yorke creates a wonderfully evocative picture of the English countryside. It may well remind the listener of the day when they have explored some sleepy dell, rolling hillside or peaceful wood with their lover. It is reflective music without being melancholy.

To my knowledge there is only a single recording Peter Yorke’s ‘Quiet Countryside’ currently available on CD. The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Sidney Torch. This was originally released in 1948 on the 78rpm record Chappell C341. This was coupled with Robert Busby’s ‘Follow the Sun’. ‘Quiet Countryside’ has subsequently be reissued on Vocalion CDEA 6061 The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra Volume 1 and Priory GLCD 5145 Scenic Grandeur.

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