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Aylesbury Games

23 January 1952

A challenge confronted the players for whom Boughton wrote his Aylesbury Games. These were completed on 23 January 1952 (his birthday) and inscribed with the words: ‘Written in the first place for my friend Charles Pope and the orchestra of Aylesbury, my native town’. Pope, who had founded the Aylesbury Choral Society in 1932 and a companion orchestra a few years later, was an enthusiastic supporter of Boughton’s music. But he was also clear-headed enough to recognise that the challenge was beyond the reach of his orchestra at the time, and it was not until 22 April 1978 that he felt able to tackle a first performance. Boughton therefore never heard his music in the flesh, but, as with many of his later works, seems to have been content with the performances he heard in his head.

Originally titled ‘Aylesbury Games round a Little Tune’, the work is, in effect, a set of three rhapsodic variations on a simple theme heard at the outset of the first movement. The first seven notes give the ‘little tune’ its character. The connection between the first and second movements is simply a matter of key change (C major to A minor) and time signature (4/4 to 6/8). The third movement, however, inverts and partially disguises the tune. Elaborate divisi passages and complex textures are again the order of the day. As for the tune itself, it is evidently Boughton’s own, though derived (probably unconsciously) from ‘The Seagull of the Land-under-Waves’, one of the Hebridean folksongs collected and published by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser that had already served Sir Granville Bantock’s remarkable Hebridean Symphony (1913). Boughton was a master of melodies so natural and unselfconscious as to be easily mistaken for genuine folksong and, as Vaughan Williams once found, could even mislead the experienced collector!

from notes by Michael Hurd © 2000


Boughton: Aylesbury Games & other works


Movement 1: Tempo giusto
Movement 2: Allegro
Movement 3: Allegro moderato

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