The Crofter's Dream
- a fancy for harpsichord.
Gaynor Leigh, 1910
This piece was discovered amongst papers at Kirkleatham Manor in North Yorkshire. Accompanying it was a letter from a schoolfriend of Leigh's, Jane Hopper, who died in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the late 1960s. The letter reads:
Gaynor and I visited Kirkleatham Manor on a school trip from Henry Smith's School. We were both very taken by the box harpsichord there.
I remember it had the most intriguing underside of the lid - an ancient city, whose inhabitants had long since disappeared. The caretaker let
us both play on it a little. At the time, we found it funny that it sounded so out of tune. Later our music teacher taught us how these old
instruments were tuned in different ways, so that some keys sounded beautiful, and others sounded more mysterious, or even evil.
While Gaynor stayed in Seaton Snook, I moved to Manchester to study the piano. While there, my fascination with the Kirkleatham
harpsichord continued and, when I wrote to tell Gaynor I had been playing on a harpsichord at college, she responded with a piece she wrote
for me called The Crofter's Dream.
Gaynor's note said, "A cowherd living on the Wide Open told me of a dream he had. He was sat peacefully amongst his cows, looking over the
sea. A restlessness in the waves brought with it the factories that now stand at Seaton. With the factories came the staining of the land, the
asphyxiation of the children, the endless screaming fires. As the herd stared into the poisoned turquoise pools, Jacob Cox's Horse cried, and
the final destruction of Seaton Snook came crashing down. He awoke at peace, certain that the Earth would finally reclaim what was hers."
Sampled harpsichord tuned to Quarter Comma Meantone, base note C
The harpsichord at Kirkleatham Manor was apparently tuned to quarter comma meantone (click here for a superb video on tuning temperaments), which Leigh exploited to create some of the unusual sonic textures in The Crofter's Dream. An analysis of the piece follows.
Click the image to download a pdf of the score
NB: The titles of parts one and two are our own, not those of Gaynor Leigh.
b0: introductory phrase almost identical to the Winter Tempo. No key signature or obvious tonic until the second half of the bar, which has a plagal cadence ending on an E5 chord, and the E major key signature is added.
Part One - The Crofter, and the coming of the factories
b1: Left hand drones in Tonic, Dominant, Tonic 8ve configuration (E,B,e), as one would find on Northumbrian Smallpipes drones.
bb2-10: First Subject (1). A four-phrase subject in E major, which shows an obvious similarity to the "Pity Me" chorale, and the tune on Robson Booth's Tape Ballad entitled The Crofter. The melody is structured as A, A1, B, A2. One interesting difference at the end of the second phrase at b6, where the melody includes a major seventh leap, in accordance with the Snookish NSP conventions. However at the end of the fourth phrase in b10, the modal melody found in the 1928 Zinc Works Band recording returns. [In this case, the scale appears to be an Aeolian dominant scale, or the Hindu scale, following the intervals WWhWhWW]
bb12-19: (1) repeats, with a simple homophonic harmony underneath the right hand melody. This iteration of (1) ends with a G7 chord, modulating to C major.
bb25-28: (1) in C major, which although written in 6/8 has a distinct waltz-like feel to it. The light-heartedness of this section is interrupted with a rising chromatic figure in b27, finishing on a D dim7 b9 chord, allowing the piece to modulate to G#minor.
bb29-35: Now in G# minor, the left hand alternates between F diminished and F half diminished chords, over a B bass. This causes a chromatic oscillation between Dnat and D#, similar to that found in Leigh's later piece, Waves. This is, it seems, the "restlessness in the waves" of the Crofter's dream.
bb31-32: Second Subject (2). Not as fully formed a melody as (1), but the first five notes of this subject are similar to the NSP piece Watch Where You're Shooting, Jimmy Walls (SS013), written by Robson Booth
bb37-42: Return of (1), but this time in F#major. It is important here to take into consideration the tuning of the Kirkleatham harpsichord: F# major would have had an unsettled quality (or, to the modern ear more used to Equal Temperament, simply Out Of Tune).
bb44-56: jarring shift to G major, with a repetitive and mechanical G major scale in the left hand, and a slowed and shortened (2) in the right. Descending chromatic chords bring further disruption to the idyll. This, presumably, is the rise of the factories.
bb57-83: Now in E minor, fragments of (1) and (2) are accompanied by ostinati that evoke pistons and flywheels. The section ends with a sudden F#major tremolo and a few seconds of silence.
Part Two - The destruction of Seaton Snook, and the triumph of the Earth
bb84-87: Again in F#major - an uncomfortable-sounding key on this instrument - the right hand now plays pairs of chords with an internal chromatic oscilation - F#major to A#minor (the moving note being F#-E#). This once again refers to water, but now we are gazing into the "poisoned turquoise pools".
bb88-102: There is debate over whether these lines in the left hand are altered versions of (1) or (2). Rhythmically, they suggest (1), but melodically are certainly closer to (2). Arguments have been made on both sides by several experts of musical analysis, including Dr Karl Schenker, great-nephew of Heinrich Schenker, who himself was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
bb103-105: Three short rising and falling chromatic motifs. We presume these are the cries of Jacob Cox's Horse?
bb110-115: C minor. The 5/8 time signature, the chormatic left hand scale, and the swaying chords of the right hand evoke the destruction of the factories, which becomes more and more chaotic in the subsequent sections.
bb116-119: A minor, with a fragment of (2) - first heard in association with the coming of the factories, now being played over the chromatic left hand scale of destruction
bb120-123: more dense chromatic chaos
bb124-125: Ab major, but the left hand plays Db major; the right Gb major. With the Kirkleatham harpsichord's tuning, these would have been by far the most dissonant chords on the instrument. This figure is repeated at bb130-131
bb126-129: Altered version of (2), although it has been pointed out that this is also very similar to the B section of the folk song The Bonny Pit Laddie (see this video of the tune played by Chris Ormston, at about 40 seconds in).
bb132-138: complete chromatic chaos, ending with a slow rallentando, from which emerges...
bb139-154: A major (on this harpsichord, a perfectly settled and comfortable-sounding key), the Crofter's Theme of (1) returns, peacefully, with inoffensive harmony and a lilting left hand accompaniment. A pleasing iv-I cadence is played twice to conclude this section.
bb155-160: over an extended iv-I cadence, the motif reminiscent of the Winter Tempo returns, to complete the performance in accordance to the Snookish folk tune conventions.
The Winter Tempo, the smallpipes tune featured on the Tape Ballad called The Crofter, and elements of Watch Where You're Shooting, Jimmy Walls are both featured in this piece, at least a decade before Booth even arrived in Seaton Snook. Additionally, the convention of starting and finishing a performance with a Tempo may have already been established by the time this piece was written.
There are, however, various reasons why we are not rushing to accuse Booth of plagiarising Leigh's work, not least of which being that our investigations have already shown time to occasionally behave in a non-linear fashion in Seaton Snook, especially in matters of sound and music. Jules Braun's Indoor Market recording is a good example of this.