Suite for Piano Op.4 – The Stourhead Follies

Composed: 1985
Duration: 16 minutes
First Performance: May 1987, at the Malvern Festival, given by the pianist Graham Lloyd

  1. Temple to Apollo
  2. Palladio’s Bridge
  3. Pantheon
  4. The Grotto

The four pieces which make up the suite The Stourhead Follies owe their genesis to a visit, by the composer, to Stourhead House and Gardens in 1983. Venables writes, “This memorable visit left a deep impression upon me and prompted me to try and recreate in music, the evocative and atmosphere of the gardens”

Temple to Apollo. The god of the sun, prophecy, medicine and poetry, is the most overtly romantic of the four impressions. A brief introduction containing a germ of an idea based on bare fifths, conjures up an age long past. A melody marked andante semplice begins a long-breathed idea that builds up to a passionate climax, only to find release in a short cadenza. The recapitulation of the opening material returns us to ‘the past’.

The influence the Italian architect Andrea Palladio has had on architecture since his death in 1580 has been remarkable. In breaking with the ornate style of the Italian Renaissance and replacing it with the Classical style of ancient Rome, he influenced future generations whose legacies can be seen all over the world. The House at Stourhead is a Palladian villa begun in 1717 by Colen Campbell, a leader of the Palladian revival.

Palladio’s Bridge is a lengthy movement which has as its main melodic idea, a rocking figure in 6/8. The undulating counterpoint and insistent siciliano rhythm is representative of the river that runs under the bridge from the lake at Stourhead. Its pastoral feel and evocative ending, provide yet another intimation of a time long ago, as ideas are presented in an almost dream-like state.

Pantheon is by far the liveliest of the Stourhead Follies, and is in every way a paean to all the Gods. Bare fifths conjure up an image of Bacchanalian excess as the music twists and turns, in spite of its constant pull towards the home key of A minor. A cascade of arpeggios ends this dance movement as abruptly as it began.

The Grotto provides a stillness, only fleetingly alluded to in the other movements. In this tripartite structure the outer sections convey a magical soundworld, where a trill-like figure is passed between both hands. The middle section acts as a commentary on those who enter the grotto, where the feelings of passion, resignation, acceptance and longing seem to exist. The return to the magical world of the grotto ends a musical journey that, as the composer says “… conveys the feelings and changing moods of structure that find themselves out of time and space.”

Music Sample: Stourhead Follies Op. 4 no 2

© Ian Venables.