recent update....some of Ben Burrows' music is being republished. Details at the foot of this page...
BENJAMIN BURROWS (1891-1966)
Burrows was a precision engineer and musician. He wrote music for piano, piano duo, two pianos, organ, choir, and viola. He also wrote a collection of songs for female voice and piano.
I have played most of his piano music and offer the following comments:
i)Solo music: original works
Burrows was taught by C.H.Kitson, the well-known pedagogue. His student music is attractive and accessible, and shows an astonishing facility with imitative writing and fugue. His early piano music is published (mainly by Augener) as listed below. The Four Lyrics, Stillness, Close of Day and Summer Night are especially attractive, combining original ideas with economy of means. In these early pieces he would often place bits of poetry, in the manner of Ireland, but his writing was not on the same level.
His later pieces are technically more difficult and less approachable by the amateur. Only the early works were published commercially; the later pieces Burrows printed on a machine of his own design and construction, several decades before photocopying became available, under the title "Bodnant Press", and they received quite wide circulation. He was an able man.
The name "Bodnant Press" comes from where he lived - Bodnant Avenue, off East Park Road in Leicester. The Sonata is especially difficult and must have cost him many hours of labour - it runs to about fifty pages. I've heard it played, and it's good, but I was hopelessly defeated on trying to play it (and I am not a novice). The set of 12 Studies, in manuscript in Leicester University library, are of similar difficulty. I copied study no. 4, which appears the easiest, but could make nothing of it. The Valse in Eb is playable, but not as attractive to me as the early works. Note that the two-piano Valses are completely different to the solos. Brian Daubney adds: " The Twelve Studies includes some excellent pieces and we shall shortly be publishing the whole set. They are for me his best piano pieces. They were not sent to any commercial publisher. He was writing them whilst I was studying with him and I must have heard many a first performance when he played them for me after my lessons -wet with the ink, as it were". The Sonata owes a great deal to Liszt, and Ben described it as "extravagant". It has nothing to do with traditional Sonata form and it is a demanding work both intellectually and technically".
Solo music: Arrangements
Suite 1 consists of Shropshire Round, I'm 17 come Sunday, The Broom, and Georgie, also known as "Banstead Downs". All of these show Burrows' ability to distribute the interest between the two players; the tunes are beautifully brought out, and there is a fugal, imitative texture throughout. There are also some good chromatic passages which add to the music without being discordant. I can't find a date on the edition but would put it around 1935-40. BD says about 1941
Suite 2 starts with "Under the Rose", a simple four-bar tune, which is amplified and worked up into a great climax before dying away. "The Northumbrian Bagpipes" imitates the drone of the pipes with octave F's appearing everywhere whilst a jaunty tune goes from the treble to the bass and back again. "The Beggar Boy" is in 6/8; always tricky for a duet writer because it can so easily degenerate into a "last-in-the-book" tarantella with which all learners will be familiar; Burrows avoids this by using a tricky rhythm and plenty of chromaticisms in the top part. The suite ends with "Gossip Joan", set as a splendid fugue; the tune is never complete, but we hear all of it, and by the time we hit the last chord it's clear that Joan is used to having the last word. The collection was printed in February 1940.
Two Pianos: Folktune Arrangements
"Gossip Joan" is set as a fugue. "Banstead Downs" is restful and satisfying. "Greensleeves" is short but captures the ethereal nature of the tune, dying away to nothing. Shackley Hay is a boisterous romp, and "The Young Serving Man", obviously a Burrows favourite, is even better than the solo. These pieces should be in the repertoire; it's amazing that they remain almost unknown. Perhaps the internet will help put things right.
Nigel Deacon / 2003
Ben Burrows piano music in ND Collection:
Bodnant Press (printed by Ben Burrows)
NEW BURROWS EDITIONS
Nigel Deacon / Diversity Website
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