Piece of the Week 55: Suffolk Sketches, for solo violin

For as long as I can remember I’ve been attracted to the county of Suffolk and its environs. I grew up in London – but my grandparents lived in Gorleston-on-Sea, just over the Suffolk border into Norfolk, and we often journeyed from London to spend holidays with them. As small children, several of the Norfolk and Suffolk beaches were our playgrounds, the excitement competing with the fun of the steam-train journey from London’s Liverpool Street station to Great Yarmouth. And, when we were a bit older, and my parents had a car, visits en-route to quaint towns and villages and their ancient churches became part of the holiday – Lavenham, Southwold, Bungay, Aldeburgh, and more.

Then, when I was in my twenties, I moved to a village near Colchester, just south of the Suffolk border, and a few years later my parents moved to a village between Sudbury and Bury St. Edmunds, in the western part of the county. So I was able to renew my exploration of Suffolk, and have continued to do so ever since, and now feel that I have reverted to my East Anglian roots.  So it was not surprising that when I wrote a solo violin piece for Beth Spendlove (a fellow East Anglian) I found myself writing a portrait of various Suffolk landmarks! Suffolk Sketches has five movements, and ranges from the coastline inland to the border with Cambridgeshire.

The first movement is entitled Framlingham Castle, and a view of Suffolk – the ancient ‘castle on the hill’ (since made famous by local resident Ed Sheeran!) from whose high battlements you can look out over the town, and beyond to rolling countryside and farmland.

For the second movement we move to the coast: Orford Ness – a mysterious and unpopulated stretch of shingle isolated by the River Alde from the rest of the county. In the Second World War it was a secret military establishment, and now it is a national nature reserve, reachable by ferry-boat. In this movement you can hear the calmly undulating waves, and a stormy central section.

Next we move sixty miles to the west, to the other side of Suffolk, for Newmarket Races. Newmarket is among the largest racehorse training and breeding centres in the country, and is famed internationally for its race-meetings, and in this movement the horses canter into position, followed by a starting fanfare, the race itself, and a final fanfare before the horses trot back to the stables.

In the fourth movement we visit ‘Constable Country’ for Willows reflected in the Stour. The River Stour forms the southern boundary of Suffolk, and passes through Sudbury, Dedham, and by Flatford Mill where John Constable painted his picture ‘The Haywain’. The music is based around the idea of reflections in the water.

And lastly, a lively movement to conclude the suite: Felixstowe Holiday. As well as being a large commercial port, the popular seaside resort of Felixstowe provides many activities for holiday makers with its beach, its pier, its seafront promenade and its amusement arcades!

Suffolk Sketches has been performed a number of times, but I don’t have a live recording, so this Scrolling Score is a digital performance.

Details of how to purchase the music is here, and the picture accompanying this post is yet another view of Suffolk, the garden of our cottage a few miles from the sea.