Programme Notes – Silk Impressions (2005) (Premiere)

Having moved to Cheshire from London some years ago I thought it would be an enjoyable challenge to try and write a work inspired by events from local history and folklore. Some of the ideas behind this piece are local legends; for others I am indebted to a book by Doug Pickford: Macclesfield Mysterious and Macabre, which is full of vivid and bizarre stories and anecdotes, all of them apparently true.

Silk Impressions is in five movements:

1. Maggotty Samuel ’Maggotty’ Johnson is said to have been the last court jester in England. He worked for most of his life in London, then lived at Gawsworth Hall near Macclesfield and is buried in ‘Maggotty’s Wood’ in Gawsworth. He died in 1763, and it is said that if you walk three times round his grave his ghost will appear. The opening of the piece pays mock homage to the pompous 18th century ‘French Overture’ style of many suites by Bach and Handel with prominent dotted rhythms. This is soon rudely interrupted by a cry from the wind and brass. The movement is an eccentric burlesque that respects no particular style.

2. The Dark Lady The lady in question is Mary Fytton of Gawsworth Hall, who may have been the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s 152nd sonnet. She is alleged to have fallen in love with the young William Shakespeare and followed him to Stratford-upon-Avon. They had a passionate affair then she left him. He expressed his feelings in the heartfelt and embittered sonnet: To the Dark Lady. This movement is a subdued swaying waltz, enshrouded in mystery.

3. Pex Hill Otherwise known as ‘The Hill of the Pixies.’ There have been alleged sightings of ‘little people’ around the Macclesfield area through the centuries. One day in the early 19th century in Pex Hill, near Hurdsfield a group of schoolgirls claimed to have seen ‘a group of thirteen small people, no larger than rabbits, holding hands and dancing in a circle.’ One girl shouted something, which startled the group and they dispersed, never to be seen again. This movement is a miniature tone poem: blink and you’ll miss it.

4. The Guildford Chimes A melody for bells originally written by George Wilkins, organist at St. Nicholas’s Church, Guildford. This melody has been taken up in various parts of the country, including the now redundant but atmospheric Christ Church in Macclesfield. This is the slow movement of the work and is dedicated to my two children: Ben, who is fast becoming an expert bell ringer, and Juliette, who thought up the melody which is heard on the muted trumpet towards the end of the movement.

5. Silk Heritage The town of Macclesfield is, of course, most renowned for its silk industry. This movement celebrates a once proud tradition. I have attempted to give an impression of the intricate machinery of the silk factories by somewhat unorthodox means, before the ‘French Overture’ theme from the start of the work brings everything to a suitably grandiose conclusion.

Silk Impressions was commissioned by the King Edward Music Society with Funds provided by the Anne Thomson Foundation.