Fiona Bennett: ‘A Lad and a Lass’
Fiona Bennett (1962-present), is a Welsh composer. Born and raised in Cardiff, Bennett began receiving piano lessons at age 4. Ten years later, Bennett was awarded a scholarship to study piano performance and music theory at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. From this young age, Bennett was a regular performer on radio, television and in concert halls, where she sung and played both her own material, and other pieces of classical music. Bennett then attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she studied piano, trumpet, orchestration, conducting, and musicology.
Since the completion of her degree, Bennett has worked as a performer, bandleader and composer. In 2006, one of Bennett’s sons was diagnosed with high functioning autism, so Bennett put her music career on the side lines, so that she could care for him. When he began attending primary school in 2011, Bennett started having to drive further away, which meant going through some picturesque landscapes. This is where a lot of her inspiration for ‘A Lad and a Lass’ came from. Bennett began composing small pieces for piano in 2011, around her busy life schedule. During 2011, Bennett composed the album A Country Suite, which features the solo piano work ‘A Lad and a Lass’.
The music on A Country Suite are inspired by Bennett’s love of costume dramas, such as Lark Rise to Candleford and Downton Abbey. Whilst she spent lots of time driving through the Berkshire countryside to get to Hamstead Norrey’s, Bennett was taking note of the change in seasons, the community spirit in this small village, and harvest time. Each track on A Country Suite is essentially a snapshot of country life. Bennett recorded the album, and also played on every track. Three tracks from A Country Suite were voted into the Classic FM Hall of Fame Top 300 in 2015, including the piece this blog is based on.
‘A Lad and a Lass’ is a solo piano work, and it aims to evoke nostalgia from the listener. The overall innocence of this piece is what makes it so charming. Perhaps reminiscing about an old flame, or of times gone by, this work is quaint, yet powerful in its emotional message. Beginning with an arpeggio to a chord progression to establish both the key and the melodic material, a melody is borne from the right hand. The left hand stays with the opening theme, and grows into a sequence of arpeggios to support the melodic line. A scalic run leads us into the next octave up, giving a sweetness to the music, and the main melodic material is used as a variation here.
The innocent nature of this work is at its height in this section where the music shifts up an octave. The openness and fragility of the melody could be reminiscent of a past love that changed your life. The music then shifts back down an octave, where the rich middle range plays a developmental section. This then leads us back into the main theme, which has now changed key to create an emotional effect. The repetitive nature of this melody, and the way it begins to shift through multiple keys, highlights perhaps the change in seasons, but the melody remains the same to represent the strong community spirit. The piece ends with a small quotation from the main melody, which is left to ring out into the atmosphere.
This quaint piano work is reminiscent of times gone by, and the theme of nature is certainly at the forefront of this work. Bennett’s style of composing is accessible and enjoyable, making A Country Suite a real gem of an album. My favourite piece on the album has to be ‘A Lad and a Lass’, purely down to its evocation of nostalgia, the countryside, and community spirit – it really is inspired in places. A wonderful work, that should be enjoyed by the masses!