Piece of the week 63: Hilly Fields

Hilly Fields is a beautiful local nature reserve, with woodland, open land, and wide-ranging views, providing a green lung close to Colchester city centre. In 1982 I was commissioned by Colchester Youth Chamber Orchestra, conductor Nigel Hildreth, to write an orchestral suite celebrating Colchester past and present, and Hilly Fields became the second movement of four. I knew the area well because I taught in the Music Department at Colchester Institute and walked through Hilly Fields to and from work every day, sneaking into the college grounds through a hole in the fence.

I’ve recently revisited these pieces, and, although they have had live performances by several orchestras (and were also featured on an Anglia TV film which I have a video of, but can’t find), all were performed quite a long time ago and I thought it would be fun to recreate them using modern digital technology (NotePerformer and Sibelius) and add images to the music.  For this piece there was no difficulty in simply walking around and taking photos, and you can see from the opening and closing images how close Hilly Fields is to the town centre, as the Moot Hall spire and the Water Tower (popularly known as Jumbo for reasons I won’t go into now) are visible in the distance.

Musically, the pastoral scene suggested a simple folk-tune-like melody, which is stated firstly by the strings, and then taken up by the woodwind and horns – then both sections are combined for the second half of this melody. Then there is a more decorative middle section – perhaps birdsong and rustling leaves – for the woodwind, and as this recedes into the distance the main melody enters again in the strings, while the horns and clarinets echo it in canon – the music swells as the other instruments join in too, and then quietens as the strings bring it to an end. So that’s it, really, and I hope you enjoy it!

Here is the recording, with visuals, on YouTube.

You can also find a complete performance with visuals of A Colchester Suite there too, with the other three movements, Saturday Market, The Hythe, and Old King Cole.
You can find all these on SoundCloud here, and a live performance here, too.
There is some more information here.