Hope: Bramall Hall Sketches
I cannot quite recall
the circumstances when I first discovered Bramall Hall manor house. I
think my father took me in the Hillman Minx to visit some friends
or relations at Cheadle Hulme. However, I can still remember
seeing this wonderful building, from a distance – like something
out of a picture book. My father told me that it was one of
the great black-and-white houses in Cheshire. I never did manage
to get inside the house or its gardens – although it has been
on my list of things-to-do ever since. So it came as pleasant
surprise to be introduced to Peter Hope’s fine suite the Bramall
On first hearing
these dances, the listener feels that they have entered a kind
of time warp. I guess that a good ‘subtitle’ would be an echo
of Parry’s ‘Hands across the Centuries’ Suite. The composer
has written in the preface to the score that he developed these
pieces by combining “elements of medieval and modern popular
music”. But I believe the reality is more complex than this.
What Peter Hope has done is to create what could be seen as
a descriptive history of music that may well have been played
in Bramall Hall at any time over the past 500 years. Yet this
history is not literal: it is an interpretation that is perfectly
at home in both the modern world and the renaissance.
It is perhaps unfortunate that most listeners will associate
Hope’s compositions with so called ‘light music’. There are
a number of pieces that fit this bill with the most important
being the ubiquitous Ring of Kerry Suite. A considerable
part of the composer’s musical life was as a musical arranger:
for a number of years he did this task for the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Over the years he has worked with a number of ‘big’ artists
in producing hit albums – including Jose Carreras, Aled Jones
and Kiri te Kanawa. Yet Peter Hope told me that recently, he
made the decision to concentrate on more serious music and this
has resulted in a number of fine pieces including a Bassoon
Concertino, a Serenade for String Trio, Four Sketches
for oboe, bassoon and piano and a large-scale cantata Along
John Turner is not
only a great recorder player, but he is also a huge inspiration
to British composers and performers. Perhaps this is most keenly
felt in the Manchester area. Turner contacted Peter Hope after
hearing the composer’s Bassoon Concertino and suggested
that he write something for a concert that he and Neil Smith,
a classical guitarist, were to give at Bramall Hall in September
2001. The outcome was the present suite of five dances. Its
original scoring was originally for recorder and guitar. However,
John Turner was at that time giving a series of recitals that
combined baroque and contemporary pieces. He suggested to the
composer that he adapt these Dances for harpsichord,
cello and recorder. John Turner has played it in this form at
a number of recitals.
I guess that the
recorder has suffered a bad press over the years. It is often
seen as an instrument that ‘anyone’ can learn to play. I remember
‘having a go’ myself when I was about ten years old – with near
disastrous results. Many folk have memories of recorder bands
at school that hacked their way through arrangements of British
folk-tunes. I especially remember an excruciatingly bad performance
of Greensleeves at my primary school! Yet all those negative
thoughts have been cast away by the endeavours of people like
John Turner. He has repristinated this instrument and has raised
its performance to new heights. But what is so important is
that he is not content just to play ‘early music’ which explicitly
called for the recorder, but has gone to great lengths to commission
works from a wide variety of living composers as well as discovering
and playing their music. Examples of this achievement include
major pieces by Stephen Dodgson, Francis Jackson, Arthur Butterworth
and John McCabe.
Peter Hope himself
wrote an excellent Recorder Concerto
in 2003- no doubt based on the success of his Bramall Hall
Dances. Hubert Culot on MusicWeb International has summed
this work [the concerto] up well. He writes that it “perfectly
lives up to its sub-title ‘Birthday Concerto’ … the music
skips along with joyfulness and uninhibited lyricism …” He concludes
by suggesting that “... the Hope [piece] is the real gem in
this selection”. There is also a vocal work called A Herrick
Garland which is scored for singer, recorder, harpsichord
and cello which were written for the counter-tenor James Bowman.
It is also worthy of the listener’s attention.
Dances was published in 2003 by Forsyth Music Publishing
Division, that great Manchester institution. The score suggests
that the accompaniment may be played on the piano rather than
the harpsichord, thus giving it a greater opportunity for performance.
The guitar accompaniment is also provided, although there is
no suggestion that this piece can become a trio!
The score is headed
with the inscription, “To John Turner, for his encouragement
Sketches are written in five largely contrasting movements.
These are: – a Round Dance, a Pavane, an Ostinato,
a Waltz and a Galop. The language of this music
is not difficult, there being little to upset the listener by
way of strange harmonies or contentious musical devices. The
piece lasts for about 13 minutes.
The opening Round Dance typifies much of this music.
Immediately the soloist and the accompanist are pitched into
an ‘allegro’ that by and large propels itself by using, as the
composer modestly suggested to me, “a little syncopation.” A
study of the main theme reveals a clever juxtaposition of 9/8
compound time with three ‘off-beat’ crotchets followed by three
quavers. It all adds up to ‘nine’ in spite of this clever musical
sleight of hand. It creates a very baroque sound: in fact there
is more of a medieval or Renaissance feel to this movement than
much of the rest of the work. The harmonies and the ‘pop’ feel
to the music make this something of a pastiche. The main theme
is complemented by two sections that are a little less rhythmically
complex but this always leads back to this circular ‘round’
dance. The definition of a round dance is one where typically
the dancers literally move round in a circle – a ‘ring dance’.
is the heart of this work. The listener will probably think
in terms of music written by William Byrd and Giles Farnaby.
But it must not be forgotten that both Ravel and Fauré have
written fine ‘modern’ examples. And enthusiasts of English music
will not forget the Pavane from Ralph Vaughan Williams’
Job. Traditionally a Pavane was complemented by a quicker
piece which was usually in triple time – in this case the opening
Round Dance fulfils this role.
This movement is
written in a relatively unusual 8/8 time. However this time-signature
has the luxury of allowing considerable ornamentation to be
noted precisely rather than using the conventional symbols for
mordents and trills. Perhaps of all the Dances this is
the one that would have been most at home in Bramall Hall over
its entire history. There is little here that suggests ‘pop’
or ‘jazz.’ It is truly a timeless piece.
is probably the most exciting and vibrant of these dances. It
is written in ‘common time’ but like the Round Dance
the rhythm of the accompaniment is split into 3+3+2 with the
two quavers giving it a quaint, lop-sided effect. The soloist
plays a rapid four-bar semi-quaver passage immediately offset
by a quaver passage of melodic fifths. The imbalance is quite
disconcerting - but this is the defining character of the piece.
There is a short, more relaxed episode after the second presentation
of the Ostinato. Throughout the Dance there are
four repeats of the ostinato figure with little variations,
however there is a short, and possibly unexpected, coda after
the fourth. An ‘ostinato’ is defined as “a persistent musical
phrase or rhythm” and this definition is well applied in this
is a truly lovely little number. Perhaps this is the sort of
music that is the most ‘crossover’ of the entire piece. We have
a formal structure that was originally based on the classical
ländler and which developed into the waltz which is largely
a nineteenth century phenomenon. But the sound of this music
is so ‘20th Century’ that it could be taken straight out of
a television play. This is not a dancing waltz as such - it
is reflective music. The soloist has a number of attractive
long-breathed phrases that are imbalanced - quavers followed
by one or two tied minims. But this does not upset the mood
of the music. There is a modulation for the ‘middle eight’ which
appears to be written in A-mixolydian! This section has a much
more decorated part for the recorder. However the opening theme
returns and the dance conclude with a long held note.
The work finishes
with a good old fashioned Galop. One can easily imagine
the landed gentry in Cheshire in the 1820s enjoying this dance
at the end of a typically Georgian festivity. Musically the
Galop had a ‘hop’ at the end of each step – and this is vividly
portrayed in the recorder part. The composer suggests that
this movement is played fast - in fact it is played a little
faster than was traditional for the Galop: 132 bars per minute
as opposed to 126. This dance is written in the traditional
2/4 time and rhythmically balances syncopation with straightforward
runs of staccato semiquavers. There are two ‘trios’ in this
movement which provide a relief from the frenetic activity of
the main theme. The composer calls for the ‘sopranino’ recorder
to be used for the last repetition of the main tune. This gives
a brighter and more biting quality to the music. The works concludes
with a short sharp coda.
This piece can be
described as a fusion of early music and modern music. However,
there is no sense that this ‘modern’ refers to anything that
might have been composed by Peter Maxwell Davies or Pierre Boulez.
In the nineteen-sixties there was a fad for the use of oboes,
flutes and harpsichords in what was called ‘Baroque Pop’ – or
even ‘Baroque ’n Roll’! I guess that this was best heard
in The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the Beatles’ Yesterday
and some arrangements by Phil Spector. However a number of groups
developed this sound including Focus, Jethro Tull and psychedelic
outfits like Dantalion’s Chariot. The Bramall Dances
hardly fit into this category either. However there is another
genre, which is perhaps not formally defined in dictionaries
of music. This is what I have called ‘Suburban Sunday’ music.
I coined this phrase after playing through a suite of piano
pieces by Philip Lane – Leisure Lanes. One of the most
attractive numbers in this suite was ‘Suburban Sunday’.
This is, I guess, music that is designed to have a wider popular
appeal than Bach or Beethoven or Mozart. It uses basically
classical forms, harmonies and melodies, but with a distinct
‘pop’ feel. There are often lots of major 7ths and
9ths, and plenty of interesting and usually subtle
syncopations. The Bramall Dances falls into this
bracket – but surely retaining much more of the naked vitality
of the ‘old’ music - which makes these dances unique.
appears to be very little in the way of reviews of this work.
However, I understand that the performance of these dances at
the eponymous venue was a considerable success.
remarked in the pages of MusicWeb
International that these Dances of “Peter Hope, [were]
a mixture of modern and mediaeval with a Prokofievian ostinato
and final Galop”. This was in fact part of a review of
the original edition of this piece for recorder and guitar that
appeared on the Campion Cameo CD release Hatbox.
A certain Mr. Cook
in the American Record Guide was more fulsome in his review
of the Dutton Epoch CD with the version of Bramall Hall Dances
for recorder harpsichord and cello. He noted that “everything
here resonates of the song, the lyric [and] the delightfully
phrased melody.” He felt that the Dances truly did ‘dance.’
Cook suggested that Peter Hope did not resort to the use of
genuine English folk melodies; in fact he considered that the
music did not sound particularly British. He noted that this
work consisted of “unabashed dances driven by a capering recorder
with a dainty (but not baroque) harpsichord in the background”.
His only criticism, with which I do not agree is that the “cello,
here, is for depth, but is sometimes more recessed than I think
was intended”. However, he concludes, that “fact does not detract
from the pleasure of this piece (which in [the first movement]
threatens to launch into a pop cadence that reveals just how
much Hope knows the music of the 20th Century—all of it)”.
The balance of Mr Cook’s opinion is that in spite of the instrumentation
this work is totally contemporary. (Cook, American Record Guide,
May/June 2008, Vol. 71 Issue 3, p.127)
When I hear the
Bramall Hall Dances I see the Hall itself in my
mind’s eye and I cannot help feeling that this work would make
a fine film score for a play or documentary set in that place.
The stylistic balance between the baroque and the modern is
well made. The bottom line is this: the actors, who are enjoying
this setting and this music in my dramatic fantasy, are dressed
as we are in 2009 not as they would have been in the past. And
that is as much as one can ask of a piece of music such as this.
Hall Dances are currently available in two versions:-
For recorder and
guitar: Hatbox Campion
For recorder, cello
and harpsichord: Peter Hope: Songs and Chamber Music Dutton Epoch
Photo of Bramall
Hall from Historic