I remember receiving
a first kiss from a very beautiful and
lovely lady in the gardens of the Royal
Station Hotel in York. It was a glorious
day in July and I was conscious of Matthew
Arnold’s ‘all the live murmur of a summer’s
day’ around me. Yet the world could
have been a million miles away: the
busy traffic on Station Rise was invisible
and inaudible: even the noise of the
trains seemed to belong to a different
world. We walked across the lawn, round
the fountain and sat by the flower beds.
Time stood still. For me it was as if
I was in Paradise Gardens. And
of course we were. William Baines had
looked at this same vista many years
in the past. He wrote: "…there
was a lovely view, overlooking the gardens
of the Station Hotel. You looked through
thick green foliage onto the grounds,
which were beautifully laid out with
flowers - and in the centre a little
fountain was playing. A perfect blue
sky, and the sun shining low - made
indeed a grand picture."
He had watched as the
sun set over York. It was on a summer’s
day too - 2 June 1918: a few months
before the Great War ended. The vision
inspired him to compose what may not
be regarded as his masterpiece, but
is an attractive and beguiling work.
It is in fact a tone poem that successfully
balances impressionism with sheer romance.
This is a technically difficult piece
that exploits the resources of the piano.
Baines makes use of three staves, and
even then one wonders if it is enough.
There is a touch of ecstasy and passion
about this work that makes it special.
From my point of view
the girl is gone and the gardens have
largely become a car park – but the
music remains. It is hard for me to
listen to this piece without my personal
programme! It makes a fine introduction
to Baines’ piano works.
It is probably not
necessary for most readers of this review
for me to detail Baines’ life and works
– yet a few words may be of help and
interest to listeners new to his music.
William Baines was
a Yorkshire composer and pianist born
at Horbury in the West Riding. He came
from a musical background: his father
was an organist and played piano at
the local cinema. After piano lessons
with William Jowett of Leeds and basic
composition studies at the Yorkshire
Training College of Music, Baines also
began work in the cinema. Ill health
was to dog him for most of his life
and after a few months of military service
he returned to York as a recitalist
and cinema pianist. He was to spend
the rest of his short life composing
and playing and exploring his beloved
Yorkshire. He died in York in 1922.
The composers that
seemed to interest him most include
Debussy, Ravel, Bridge and Scriabin.
It is not hard to see the influence
of these men on his music.
It would be easy to
assume that Baines wrote music only
for the piano, simply because this is
all that has survived and is remembered
today. Yet there is a considerable catalogue
of works covering a variety of genres
including a youthful symphony, a piano
concerto and a number of chamber works.
Yet it is the piano music that will
be long remembered and which interests
The present CD is a
reissue of the original LP from 1972
and represents a fine conspectus of
the composer’s music. Perhaps Baines’s
masterpiece is the Seven Preludes
which, taken as a whole, offers an overview
of his musical achievement. These seven
pieces, written in 1919 explore a huge
range of moods and technical requirements.
It is therefore surprising that there
is a strong sense of unity and purpose
about these Preludes when we
consider the contrast.
We find an out and
out romanticism and sustained passion
in the first, an almost ‘opiate tonality’
in the fifth. The fourth prelude is
a ‘torrent of semiquavers without key
or time signature.’ Yet the second Prelude
is deeply reflective. The set ends with
a fine explosion of complex Rachmaninov-like
octaves and pianism. Yet the coda to
this work leaves the listener ‘up in
the air’. It is Scriabin who is the
most obvious influence here.
Tides is a work
that epitomises William Baines’ art.
This is music that is both tied to a
location – Flamborough Head – yet is
timeless. I have written extensively
about these pieces in my article A
Visit to Flamborough, however it
bears repeating that this is fine sea
music that is both descriptive and reflective.
Perhaps this is one of Baines’ masterpieces?
are an interesting set of ‘fancies’
and although they may not be a critical
part of Baines’ work are certainly attractive
and reveal the composer’s technique
and imagination to the full. Is the
third number, Still Day the best?
The Twilight Pieces are quite
advanced in their harmonic language.
They are less romantic in nature than
much that Baines wrote – in fact there
is a simplicity about these pieces that
is almost hypnotic. All of them are
quiet and reflective and could be seen
as valedictory. The composer died the
following year. Apart from the Preludes
these are probably the most important
pieces on this CD.
which were composed in 1920/21, consist
of four short tone poems. Labyrinth
is another highly effective sea–picture:
a repetitive, almost monotonous piano
figuration is used with great effect.
Water pearls is actually a little
waltz -but not in any way sentimental.
The Burning Joss Stick is atmospheric
as it should be: the music moving in
slow soft chromatic chords and we can
feel the incense slowly rising. The
last piece is Floralia -which
well suggests the voices of laughing
E.J. Moeran is probably
not generally regarded as a writer of
solo piano music. Yet the eight works
presented here are all good examples
of the composer’s art and I believe
that the repertoire would be the poorer
without at least a few of them. Yet
I do not think I have ever heard one
of these pieces ‘live’ – with the exception
of Bank Holiday which a friend
played for me in the sitting room! And
two of the pieces are within the gift
of the amateur pianist – so I
can play them!
It is easy to suggest
that Moeran’s piano music is derivative
– John Ireland and to a certain extent
Arnold Bax could be adduced as models.
Yet listening to these works we discover
an individual voice that owes more to
the Celtic Twilight movement that any
‘cribbing’ or ‘kleptomania’.
is the most impressive piece in this
selection. It was written whilst the
composer was staying in Norfolk. This
is fine ‘water music’ that is complex
and chromatic. Yet the work does have
its moments of repose – ending quietly.
Ireland certainly appears to be the
inspiration here. The White Mountain
is a concise piece that explores a folk
tune - which is played in a number of
arrangements: a very simple, but quite
beguiling. The programme notes point
out that the Toccata was written
in the shadow of Bax’s music. Once again
it is complex music that balances excitement
with romance and a certain touch of
Ireland. The work is written in three
clear sections: with reflective slow
music and an impressive finish.
can only be described as a romp. It
is exactly how I feel when shutting
down the computer on Friday night before
the Whitsun holiday! Written in a popular
yet convincing style it has touches
of Percy Grainger about it.
The Two Legends
once again allude to an Irish subject
and tune. One does not know what the
Folk Story is, but it is a highly
decorated piece of music that explores
a number of moods. Moeran makes use
of lots of cascading runs and chromatic
chords. All this leads to a complex
climax and an enigmatic close. The
Rune has a certain intense mournful
quality about it, yet we must not forget
that a ‘rune’ was a Viking symbol.
There is another edition
of William Baines’s piano music available
on Priory CDs and I guess that most
enthusiasts of English music will already
be owners of this recording. Eric Parkin
is the soloist on this disc as well
and most of the repertoire overlaps.
Priory adds an Idyll and Chimes
to the programme and Lyrita have
the Twilight Pieces and the eight
pieces by Jack Moeran. So it is a tough
call. Una Hunt gives a convincing recording
of the ‘Complete’ Moeran piano music
on ASV CD DCA1138 which again will be
an essential CD for all English music
In spite of the fact
that Parkin only gives a selection of
Moeran’s works and notwithstanding that
the sound may not be as clean as the
ASV and Priory discs, this is still
an important selection. It is fair to
say that Parkin consistently understands
the depth of Moeran’s music whereas
Hunt occasionally seems to miss the
‘Celtic’ nature of some of the pieces.
Yet the bottom line
is that this is a fine CD and is essential
listening for all who claim to be enthusiasts
of British piano music.