ALBUM: The Wagon of Life
ARTIST: Mark Rowlinson (baritone) & Peter Lawson (piano)

Sleeve Notes

Songs of Nature, Life and Love in Time and Place
performed by Mark Rowlinson (baritone) and Peter Lawson (piano)

The 2003 celebrations marking the centenary of Thomas Pitfield’s birth afforded the North West Composers’ Association an opportunity of adding its tribute to a remarkable man of many talents. Fittingly, the opening songs are his words and music - the first, written in 1944, is a translation by Alice Pitfield from Pushkin, which the composer adapted. It compresses Life into a single day: Pushkin’s horse-drawn wagon drives wildly through the morning without thought of the consequences; at midday more cautiously then, tired of the journey. Time arrives “at the bedchamber of night.”

In 1964 Pitfield composed one of his most evocative songs of time and place, “By the Dee at Night”, his text conveying the eeriness of this fascinating but dangerous estuary. The simple message of the third song, written in 1947, needs no explanation: the music of”September Lovers” is quintessential Pitfield.

Stuart Scott studied with Lennox Berkeley. Since winning a Stroud International Composers’ Competition prize at the age of 2l his music has been performed and broadcast in the UK, USA, Europe and Japan. He continues to live and work near Manchester and he became a close colleague and friend of Alice and Tom Pitfield. His "Two Cheshire Verses” have words by Pitfield describing familiar and much-loved landmarks in the nearby countryside. They were composed in 1992 — a 90th birthday gift for the author. “Songs of the Night” were written for Margaret Bicknell in l982 and first performed at a l985 BMIC concert in London. An autumnal reflection on the approach of winter to words by Emily Bronte is followed by a setting of an Amy Lowell poem revelling in the sight of racing storm clouds against a moonlit sky.

Geoffrey Kimpton’s three contributions betray his sense of gentle humour. “Noah” (Siegfried Sassoon) describes the sun-lit wastes and a rippling wind, but earth was saved and Noah danced a jig”. His second song sets Thomas Hardy — a train journey which might have ended differently had the traveller not kept his seat on seeing the girl of his dreams on a station platform. Finally a setting of Edmund Blunden’s words which describes a peaceful country scene of apple and plum blossom interrupted by an encounter with a lively and hungry pig dashing around the yard with grunts galore.

A career in pathology and a busy family life with two sons — she was the youngest of nine children — compete for time with her compositional talent, which was recognised whilst Joanna Treasure was still at school. A family affair finds Joanna setting the words of her father Wilfrid Samuel Treasure, which recall a 1940s dance-hall encounter with a young lady. The rhythm of the tango suggests more than a hint of nostalgia tinged with expectancy unfulfilled. The second song has verses by John Clare writing in despair of love remembered and lost.

The poems of A E Housman have been something of an obsession with John R Williamson: songs dominate his output. Here are just three from a list of almost a hundred: a touch of pastoral nostalgia is enfolded by two marching songs which remind us of the poet’s sometimes satirical commentary on the futility of war and the fateful destiny of the soldier.

Stephen Wilkinson sets words, with seemingly similar subject matter, by Louis MacNeice and Andrew Marvell. The first is a virtuoso evocation of dark days in time of war, gently voicing feelings of gratitude for companionship, but warning that “soon my friend we shall have no time for dances” whilst the second is an expression of joy — a catalogue of horticultural delights by a poet glad to be away from it all, although he has by no means switched off his brain as he lies in the long grass.

One of the most famous of all lyrics tempted Philip Wood to follow in the footsteps of others who could not resist Tennyson’s popular “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal”. It was sketched whilst the composer was on holiday in the Greek Islands — the atmosphere is that of a warm night with the moon shining on the calm waters of the Aegean.

The Holy Bible continues to he a source of inspiration for many composers. Verses from two psalms form the contribution from Sasha Johnson Manning: the first sings gently of mercy and judgement whilst, in the second, tolling bells joyously accompany a song of praise.

The choice of: Kevin George Brown is ancient and modern for his texts: an evening lament to words by Philip Larkin changes to optimism as the gathering light of Spring turns into the glow of Summer — the poem is by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Words by Steve Hobson and the music of David Golightly combine to confirm the potent reflection of Thomas Carlyle on the nature of the world and music — “see deep enough and you will see musically; the heart of nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it”. The composer says, “The imagery of these poems, with their strong reference to the natural order of life, mirrors past interest and research into the ancient mysticism of Hea. This old god of nature demanded nothing and gave nothing. His is the energy that spins the turning of the year — the core of the web of life. The poetic landscape of these words captures an essence that has an eternal logic”.

Powerful imagery marks the words and the music of Kathleen Collier and David Forshaw. The almost-noiseless accompaniment for the flight of the owl in a moonlit landscape gives way to the “sweet seductive siren songs” of the whale “in deep liquidity submerged”. In the final song, man’s debt to the horse is catalogued, culminating in a reminder of the animal’s promise “when first I took the rein I'lll keep forever faithful still”.


Mark Rowlinson - Baritone

MARK ROWLINSON followed his Oxford Choral Scholarship with a busy singing career based in London and was at various times a member of Brompton Oratory and Westminster Abbey during the 1970s. His is developing solo career included a diverse range of engagements baritone soloist in the "War Requiem" performed at Britten's memorial concert and as a backing vocalist in a legendary Duke Ellington concert.

The text 20 years were spent at the BBC as Music Producer in Manchester during which time he was responsible for some 3000 programmes working with many of the world's greatest artists as well as managing the affairs of the BBC Northern Singers. Mark also continued to maintain his singing career on an international basis as soloist with many leading orchestras and he has performed as a recitalist in concert halls and festivals throughout Europe.

Peter Lawson - Piano

PETER LAWSON was born in Manchester and he continues his strong local associations combining a busy performing schedule with teaching at Chetham's School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music.

Peter has appeared with most of the British orchestras as a soloist, broadcasting regularly on Radio 3, and touring throughout Europe, Russia and Japan in recent times. His commercial recordings reflect a passion for contemporary music and demonstrate particularly his support for regionally-based British composers. There are also two volumes of American Piano Sonatas (Virgin Classics), his silver disc award for the music of Satie (EMI) and the popular success of his collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Piano Concerto by Michael Nyman. He has been the recipient of the prestigious Churchill Fellowship to the USA.

The North West Composers' Association acknowledges the generous financial support received from: The Ida Carroll Trust and The Pitfield Trust

Peregrine Lavington. George McPhee, Tom Cogan, Robin Griffin. Martyn Brabbins, Steve and Gill Minett, Charles Schmidt, Isabel Schmidt, Benedict Schmidt, Michael Schmidt, Charles Metcalfe, Mr & Mrs G A Halls, Dr James Neuberger, Dr Alison Wray, Sir Humphrey Maud, Miss Jocelyn M Rix, Dr Paul W Kent, Sir David & Lady Madden. Sheriff David B Smith, Miss Anette Bogild, Jeremy Jackman, Mr & Mrs John White - and also from several anonymous subscribers.

For further information on North West Componer's Association:


Recorded at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester - 21 and 24 July 2003, Cover image - Willow by Thomas B. Pitfield.
Sleeve Design: Steve Plews. Produced by David Ellis. Recorded and Engineered by Richard Scott.
Edited and Mastered by Richard Scott and David Ellis.

This page was last updated on 25 July, 2005