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By Philip Scowcroft

Beatrix Potter is remembered, in a literary sense (for she was also a keen sheep farmer and deeply interested in the work of the National Trust) for her charming tales for children, now coming up to their centenaries and, perhaps at least as much so, for the equally delightful watercolours she provided to illustrate them. It follows that music inspired by her writings should also have charm and by and large this has been the case.

The largest Potter inspired score is the ballet music for the EMI film Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971), revived on stage at Covent Garden in 1992): a delicious confection, for this is a superbly scored compilation of memorable tunes and the period from which they were taken was a notably tuneful one, in Britain at least adapted by John Lanchbery (1923-) from mainly relatively obscure 19th Century British composers. These have the charm we have said is requisite and so does the pretty music composed by Colin Towns for the TV adaptations of recent years of several of the best loved stories. So, I recall, did the simple songs written to accompany adaptations of some stories for the gramophone in the 1960s and whose composer I cannot now remember.

Philip Stott composed in 1984 a book of twelve pieces for descant recorder entitled the Peter Rabbit Recorder Book. This was published for Frederick Warne, Beatrix Potter's publishers, and was illustrated by her own illustrations, but in black and white. The composer most attracted to Potter was Christopher Kaye le Fleming (1908-85), school teacher, writer and railway enthusiast and a miniaturist composer who should enjoy a better reputation than in fact he does. The earliest of his Potter works are the Peter Rabbit Piano Books: Vol 1, dating from 1935, features Mrs Tiggy Winkle, Squirrel Nutkin, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Tom Kitten and Ginger and Pickles as well as Peter Rabbit in its six short movements. Book 2 was for piano duet again in six movements (the Flopsy Bunnies, Jeremy Fisher, Two Bad Mice, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs Tittlemouse and Samuel Whiskers).

In 1967 le Fleming brought out a musical Squirrel Nutkin, an adaptation by Potter herself from the story of that name, the music being arranged from traditional melodies. Finally there was le Fleming's suite in six brief movements for woodwind quintet (flute, oboe, two clarinets and bassoon) entitled Homage to Beatrix Potter. In this suite charm is once again the keynote; but Beatrix Potter seems to have inspired this in all the composers who have sought to interpret her writings in music.

P L Scowcroft

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