Monday, 1 June 2009

David Lyon: Country Lane -an impression for orchestra

David Lyon (b.1938), the Walsall born composer, would probably not want to be judged simply on this rather attractive orchestral miniature. Yet after listening to the Marco Polo retrospective of his music, it was the one piece that caught my eye – so to speak. Of course the most important work on this CD is probably the fine Concerto for Horn and Strings or maybe even the enchanting Fairytale Suite. Lyon’s catalogue includes an impressive array of major works – including a Piano Concerto in One Movement, an orchestral Burlesque, a String Quartet and a Suite for Percussion –all works surely worthy of attention. But as my train sped through the Surrey hills the other day it was Country Lanes that fitted the bill. 
The programme notes are quite specific in declaring that this piece is “intended to conjure up the image of a pony and cart wandering through the countryside.” When I contacted the composer, I told him that it sat well with Peter Hope’s Ring of Kerry and Benjamin Frankel’s Carriage & Pair. So perhaps the musical imagery is explicit. Lyon told me that if there was any direct 'inspiration' for the piece, it could have been that at the time of writing, he was living in a "pretty idyllic cottage near Bath, having recently moved from London". He felt that he had "visualised something like a pony and trap meandering gently through the countryside".

The composer told me that the work dates from 1971, at a time when he was writing a lot of so-called 'light music' with the aim of getting it broadcast by one of the BBC house orchestras. He further recalled that at that time “the BBC Light Music Dept ran a 'repertoire rehearsal' scheme, in which one could submit a piece for a 'run-through'; if it met with approval, it would then be included in the BBC repertoire, thus guaranteeing at least one broadcast.” Apparently it was also more-or-less guaranteed publication, so it was a bit of a blow when the BBC eventually abandoned the scheme -together with a number of its orchestras.

Country Lanes is really quite a short piece – in fact it would have fitted nicely onto one side of an old 45 r.p.m. disc. The piece is defined by a relatively straightforward tune that has just a touch of syncopation and an easy going harmonic support. Perhaps the charm of the work is best seen in the neat orchestration: the tune is passed back and forth between strings and a variety of woodwind. The accompaniment is always restrained. There are certain little touches that bring this piece to life. For example, there is a hint of a modal cadence here and there and the harmonic interest is maintained by a series of key changes. Another fingerprint of the composer is the considerable use of counterpoint. The result is a tightly controlled, but inherently simple piece of character music. The title is certainly reflected in the finished product.
Stylistically David Lyon’s music nods to the lighter moods of William Walton and perhaps even Malcolm Arnold.

David Lyon told me that “Country Lanes wasn't as lucky as some of my other pieces regarding the number of eventual broadcasts - though, ironically, it is one of very few pieces that I have written in a deliberately straight-forward 'light music' format, whereas most of my music tries (with varying success) to appeal to two audiences: those who just enjoy a good tune, presented in a readily-accessible idiom, and those who require a little more meat, with thematic development, fancy counterpoint, more adventurous harmonies and structure etc."
The composer believes that Country Lanes is perhaps the most successful 'miniature' that he has written.
Finally, there is an interesting little coincidence about this piece: my email to the composer arrived as he was just about to start to prepare a new, computerised score for the publisher. So perhaps this charming work that originally saw the light of day some 38 years ago, is about to have a new lease of life in an era when ‘light’ music is no longer seen as being passé.
Country Lanes is recorded on Marco Polo 225039

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