Tuesday 10 July 2012

Baroque Bows and the Bearded Lady

On a CD that I've recently received for review is a symphony by Peter Maxwell Davies but of more interest to me on the same disc is a piece by Davies called "Cross Lane Fair" which, written in 1994, was inspired by memories of a childhood fairground.

This composer is notorious for his dislike of pop music and will quickly leave places that pump out wallpaper musak. Minimalist music he dismisses as repetitive and having no interesting musical development. I'm afraid I always steered clear of his music, finding it too cerebral and difficult for me. I've changed my mind.

The old rebel of contemporary music is up to his ninth symphony which will be performed at this year's Proms for the first time on 23rd August. Nine is a particularly important number for the major symphonists, as you may well know. "Cross Lane Fair", an admittedly comparatively much lighter work than the symphonies, is scored for chamber orchestra, Northumbrian pipes and an Irish drum, the bodhrán. The pipes consist of one chanter, usually with keys, and four drones. Each note is played by lifting only one finger or by opening one key and the effect which is comparatively staccato combines with the small bore of the pipes to create a much quieter instrument than the full-blown bagpipes, hence they are less primitive in effect. The bodhrán is the most basic of drums. It consists of a circular frame on which is mounted a single skin. The player is usually seated with the drum held vertically and one hand placed inside the frame on the skin. This hand is then used to control both the volume and the pitch of the sound while the other hand beats the skin, either directly or with a "cipin" or "tipper".