At the Grave of William Baines

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Saturday 22nd January 2000

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William Baines, 1899 -1923 WILLIAM BAINES, the composer and pianist, was born a hundred years ago, in November 1899, at Horbury near Wakefield. When he died aged 23 in 1922 he had written about 150 pieces, mostly for piano. He had an eye, and an ear, for the natural world. Compositions such as Twilight Woods, Paradise Gardens and Purple Heights capture the mood and mystery of the Yorkshire landscapes he knew so well.

snowdrops I've been invited to a recital this evening which includes his Tides; The Lone Wreck and Goodnight to Flamboro', so, while I'm in Horbury, I visit the grave. I'm looking for something Bainesian; a couple of clumps of snowdrops are in flower and somewhere theres's what I think must be a Jackdaw calling raucously . . . which certainly doesn't remind me of his music!

black-headed gull But then a lone gull glides above the bare branches of the lime trees and turns in the wind against the blue sky. That does remind me of Baines.

Here's his his diary for December 3rd, 1920. By that time he was living in York, at Albemarle Road, and still playing the battered family piano;

Great Stack at Flamborough

'Oh, it is windy today . . . I was playing my Goodnight to Flamboro' this afternoon - and what with the tremendous wind - smoke - and rattling windows - it was realistic indeed! I could imagine myself in the tall cold dripping caves (shivering of course!) listening to the rumbling sea . . . and feel the serene silence which causes a wonderful atmosphere (above the noise!) about such places. So rugged and wild - the great banking waves tearing mountain high. What a scene - the lonely seagulls the only sign of God!'

At the recital, at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester, Peter Lawson plays Tides with exactly the effect that William suggests. If you know Flamborough you'll recognise the atmosphere of the place in these pieces. On the score the notes sweep like waves across the staves. You can hear the surge and backwash.

the grave of William Baines, Horbury Following the Tides there's the first performance of Robin Walker's new composition At the grave of William Baines. I'm expecting something elegiac and ruminative, so I'm surprised at the energy of the piece. There are bells in the background, intervals of playful exuberance and, as in Baines' music, a touch of the exotic. In a way it's like seeing a flashback, a movie, of Baines life. There's so much of Baines in there, but seen afresh through Walker's imagination, with no hint of pastiche or nostalgia. I find myself thinking that this could be what Baines would have written himself, had he lived.

I wish he could have heard it.

As a boy, Robin Walker lived just a few doors from the house in York where William had lived and died. He feels that the spirit that compelled Baines to compose, is something that we can all tap into. Not that the spirit is something to use and exploit, it's the spirit that uses us, and impels us to create, in this case, to compose.

The Steinway at the Chetham School As an illustrator I'm envious of the direct way in which musicians can explore and manipulate time, something I can only suggest in my drawings.

This live performance by a single performer makes me feel that I'm getting directly in touch with the musical, and emotional, world of the composer. I haven't been to a recital for years, and I find it a refreshing change from the mega-musical events that are so popular today, with their fireworks, lasers and an amplified orchestra belting out the 1812. While I enjoy the excitement of such events, they can seem a little hollow. I'm just a spectator, I'm not drawn into the world of the music as I am when listening to the single performer. The travelling circus can be a distraction.

Great Stack at Flamborough My drawing of Flamborough above shows the Great Stack, known as Adam, as it was in Baines' day. Adam is no longer standing, but its companion, Eve, survives. The illustration is one that I drew for Roger Carpenter's Goodnight to Flamboro', the life and music of William Baines, published by the British Music Society in 1999 (ISBN 1 870536 18 5).

CD; Piano Music of William Baines, played by Eric Parkin, Priory Records (PRCD 550).

The Yorkshire of William Baines, is a leaflet I prepared as part of my Diploma studies in 1972, please e-mail me if you'd like me to send you a copy, for the cost of the postage.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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