Ben Burrows Piano Music

recent update....some of Ben Burrows' music is being republished. Details at the foot of this page...


The expert on Burrows is Brian Daubney, who was his pupil. Burrows lived in Leicester, worked for the University and as a private music teacher, and at one time was famous in the Midlands for his correspondence course on Counterpoint and Harmony. Chris Banks (director of The Tempo Singers) was also his pupil.

Burrows was a precision engineer and musician. He wrote music for piano, piano duo, two pianos, organ, choir, and viola. He also wrote a collection of songs for female voice and piano.

I have played most of his piano music and offer the following comments:

i)Solo music: original works

Burrows was taught by C.H.Kitson, the well-known pedagogue. His student music is attractive and accessible, and shows an astonishing facility with imitative writing and fugue. His early piano music is published (mainly by Augener) as listed below. The Four Lyrics, Stillness, Close of Day and Summer Night are especially attractive, combining original ideas with economy of means. In these early pieces he would often place bits of poetry, in the manner of Ireland, but his writing was not on the same level.

His later pieces are technically more difficult and less approachable by the amateur. Only the early works were published commercially; the later pieces Burrows printed on a machine of his own design and construction, several decades before photocopying became available, under the title "Bodnant Press", and they received quite wide circulation. He was an able man.

The name "Bodnant Press" comes from where he lived - Bodnant Avenue, off East Park Road in Leicester. The Sonata is especially difficult and must have cost him many hours of labour - it runs to about fifty pages. I've heard it played, and it's good, but I was hopelessly defeated on trying to play it (and I am not a novice). The set of 12 Studies, in manuscript in Leicester University library, are of similar difficulty. I copied study no. 4, which appears the easiest, but could make nothing of it. The Valse in Eb is playable, but not as attractive to me as the early works. Note that the two-piano Valses are completely different to the solos. Brian Daubney adds: " The Twelve Studies includes some excellent pieces and we shall shortly be publishing the whole set. They are for me his best piano pieces. They were not sent to any commercial publisher. He was writing them whilst I was studying with him and I must have heard many a first performance when he played them for me after my lessons -wet with the ink, as it were". The Sonata owes a great deal to Liszt, and Ben described it as "extravagant". It has nothing to do with traditional Sonata form and it is a demanding work both intellectually and technically".

Solo music: Arrangements
There isn't much; "The Young Serving-Man" is a beautiful arrangement of an English folktune, with not a note out of place. "Leicester Tunes" is a set of four short arrangements of a Finnish tune also used by Palmgren. Two of them are superb. It's a pity he wrote so little of this sort. These pieces exist in manuscript only, apart from Leicester Tune no. 1, which received a Bodnant Press printing.

Piano duet
Both his suites are based on folktunes and appear as Bodnant press editions.

Suite 1 consists of Shropshire Round, I'm 17 come Sunday, The Broom, and Georgie, also known as "Banstead Downs". All of these show Burrows' ability to distribute the interest between the two players; the tunes are beautifully brought out, and there is a fugal, imitative texture throughout. There are also some good chromatic passages which add to the music without being discordant. I can't find a date on the edition but would put it around 1935-40. BD says about 1941

Suite 2 starts with "Under the Rose", a simple four-bar tune, which is amplified and worked up into a great climax before dying away. "The Northumbrian Bagpipes" imitates the drone of the pipes with octave F's appearing everywhere whilst a jaunty tune goes from the treble to the bass and back again. "The Beggar Boy" is in 6/8; always tricky for a duet writer because it can so easily degenerate into a "last-in-the-book" tarantella with which all learners will be familiar; Burrows avoids this by using a tricky rhythm and plenty of chromaticisms in the top part. The suite ends with "Gossip Joan", set as a splendid fugue; the tune is never complete, but we hear all of it, and by the time we hit the last chord it's clear that Joan is used to having the last word. The collection was printed in February 1940.

Two Pianos: Folktune Arrangements
This is the form where Burrows excelled. Nothing was published commercially, and only half of the pieces received Bodnant Press printings, but some of the arrangements are exquisite. The harmonies are reminiscent of Parry, Holst, Grainger, O'Neill, Delius, Quilter, but Burrows knew more than all of these about what works on two pianos and what does not, and, unlike Grainger, his economy of means allows any competent pair of amateurs to give a good performance. He never goes "over the top". Contrast this with Grainger's "Blithe Bells"....

"Gossip Joan" is set as a fugue. "Banstead Downs" is restful and satisfying. "Greensleeves" is short but captures the ethereal nature of the tune, dying away to nothing. Shackley Hay is a boisterous romp, and "The Young Serving Man", obviously a Burrows favourite, is even better than the solo. These pieces should be in the repertoire; it's amazing that they remain almost unknown. Perhaps the internet will help put things right.

Nigel Deacon / 2003

Ben Burrows piano music in ND Collection:

I have recorded four of the more accessible simpler pieces.

Nocturne in A
Intermezzo in D
Woodland Depths
Hidden Brook
Summer Night
Close of Day
The Brookside
Prelude in F
June Night
Chimes I & II
Still Waters
Day is Done
Pleasant Visions
Summer Musings
Among the Heather
4 lyrics
Dance Rhythms
Studies in Style & Expression

Bodnant Press (printed by Ben Burrows)
Sonata (late work; long and very difficult)

untitled piece in Db c1913
6 pieces from Spenser's Faery Queen
Prelude from unfinished suite 1913 (student work)
Walsingham variations
Stillness, early version
The Young Serving-Man
June Night-early version
The Sea
4 Leicester Tunes
Valse in Eb
Studies (late work; technically very demanding) 1947


Bodnant Press
Suite 1
Suite 2: Under the Rose


Bodant Press
Three Fugues
Gossip Joan
Three Irish Airs
The Young Serving-Man
Sweet Song
Shackley Hay
The trees, they are so high
The tavern hath two doors
O Waly Waly
Eggs in her Basket
Three Scottish Airs
Captain Grant
Valse no. 2
The Spanish Lady
Intermezzo in Ab

Gossip Joan
Under the Rose
The Broom
I'm 17 come Sunday
Banstead Downs
Shropshire Round
Admiral Benbow
The Young Serving-Man
The Beggar Boy
The banks of the Clyde
Northumbrian Bagpipes

New editions of many of Burrows' works are currently being published by Green Man Press, from whom they can be ordered. Address: 180 Sheen Rd, Richmond, TW9 1XD, UK. The email address is cedric.lee@virgin.net; he will be pleased to supply details. The editions will use Ben Burrows' own Bodnant Press imprint.

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