William Baines Piano Music

WILLIAM BAINES (1899-1922)


by Katharine Eggar, in 1925 The compositions of the young Yorkshireman William Baines were launched upon the public with such extravagant commendations that a certain amount of reluctance was aroused in more sober judges, and his work was more or less consigned to obscurity. He was, in composition, entirely self-taught.

The period of his short life covered two World Wars. He was of very delicate physique; five times rejected for the army but finally accepted for it in 1918. But after three weeks of military training he was in hospital. He never really recovered his health and died in hospital of TB in 1922.

Leonard Hacking, 1932
A tablet has been erected in the Primitive Methodist Church, Horbury, near Wakefield. Horbury was his birthplace. It reads as follows:
On the ripened harvest of his fancy, high hopes were set, but at the early age of twenty-three his morning star drew into the Divine splendour, and the Paradise Gardens which he had glimpsed in dreams and shown forth in his music, became for him reality.

Baines' mother told me that he had been an assiduous student of Chopin and Scriabin, and the influence of the latter is very evident in his music. He was once inspired during a walk with his mother in York. One evening they came to a part of the city where the minster stood out in relief against a gorgeous sunset. On returning home he immediately wrote out his musical idea of Paradise Gardens. Baines spent much time at Flamborough, listening to the mighty seas, and afterwards wrote such pieces as Goodnight to Flamborough, Tides and The Lone Wreck. Other pieces include Twilight Pieces, Four Preludes, Coloured Leaves, Three Concert Studies (Radiance, Exaltation, Naiad), ; there are also many unpublished pieces.

William Varcoe, 1963
One can discern few influences on his music. Frank Bridge, and occasionally Cyril Scott and John Ireland are perhaps the only British composers with a similar piano idiom. Like Schumann, he requires large hands, and like Schubert or Chopin he needs a lyrical approach and a singing style.

In the Preludes he shows considerable emotional range. "Blackbird in the Convent Garden", the second of these, calls for a high degree of musical perception and that part of a pianist's technique which is not concerned with velocity and bravura but with tonal control. Finely-graded tone is also necessary in no. 5, "Poppies gleaming in the moonlight", a dreamy piece which catches the fragrance of a June night. The last prelude is a vigorous robust octave study requiring considerable pianistic skill.

A reawakening to such music is long overdue.

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My experience of Baines' music (N.D., 2003)
One of the biggest disappointments I have had as a pianist is that I am unable to play the music of William Baines. For the listener, Baines' music is interesting; one can hear echoes of Chopin and Scriabin mixed with something which is distinct and original.

A few years ago I acquired a printed score of the Seven Preludes, and some of the reputedly easier pieces "Silverpoints". I have played the piano for many years; I can just about manage the easiest of the Chopin Scherzos, or the violin-piano sonatas of Mendelssohn and Schumann. I've played Scubert's Trout quintet a few times, so expected the Baines to be within my grasp, if a little tricky.

The Baines looks straightforward enough on the page. It is anything but. In Prelude 1 I sounded like Stockhausen on an off day. I tried no. 2; this was worse. And so one, throughout the book; one disappointment after another. The easiest of the set is a piece of only 8 bars, in D flat. The problem with this one is that ordinary hands are not wide enough to reach the notes. There are no familiar chords, scale passages, or other familiar landmarks in this music. Show me an amateur who claims to play Baines and I will show you either a liar or an exceptional talent.

Baines' music should have a health warning -"For Professional Pianists Only."


MARTYN WADE has written an interesting biographical radio play about Baines, with music played by Eric Parkin. It's entitled GOODNIGHT TO FLAMBOROUGH, and details are given on Martyn's web page. (click on Radio Plays-Lists-Martyn Wade).

Nigel Deacon , Diversity Website

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