Piece of the Week: Spring Pictures, for violin and piano

My Spring Pictures was written for two excellent musician friends for their Purcell Room concert just over twenty-five years ago. My focus on writing the piece was to celebrate Spring, and to do this in a lyrical and tuneful way which challenged the performers to demonstrate their musical and technical skills.  And the performers, Beth Spendlove and Nigel Clayton, demonstrated those skills admirably!

Spring is a time of blossoming and re-birth, and these three pieces are unified by a motif of a rising sixth followed by a falling second which to me suggests that feeling of burgeoning growth.

This ‘growth’ motif is heard from the outset of the first movement, ‘Awakening’ in a rising piano figuration, and then expressively sustained in the high register of the violin. A central fast section turns the motif into a rhythmic dance while not losing sight of the more expressive, sustained, version – finally subsiding into the opening mood, but with distant memories of the rhythmic dance as well.

The second movement, ‘Bluebell and Celandine’ is characterised by a slowly winding and stepwise violin melody, supported by chords derived from a combination of the notes of the ‘growth’ motif – which soon becomes more obvious when the violin takes it up melodically. A central section features the piano rather more, with a melody which grows from the winding stepwise melody, and a new rhythmic figure shared between both instruments in a passage which sounds to me as the players have come out of the sun into a shady wooded path. Then, towards the end, we burst into a patch of glorious sunlight before dying away in the final bars.

The last movement, ‘Merry-making’ suggests a kind of rustic dance, with violin open strings chords alternating with the ‘growth’ motif in the piano – but soon the violin takes flight with the motif, turning it into a more extended and soaring melody which is developed and shared between the two instruments. There is an episode in which the open strings, now pizzicato, provide a background to flights of fancy in the piano, but finally it is all pulled back together again with the soaring violin melody and a certain amount of fireworks designed to achieve an exciting conclusion and elicit maximum applause!

The work has been played by several excellent players, and you can hear a recording of the first performance, played by Beth Spendlove and Nigel Clayton, here.

A digital download (pdf) of the piece can be obtained from Sheet Music Direct, or Sheet Music Plus, and there are more ordering details, including a printed version, here.