Peter Warlock: Capriol Suite

Context

Composed in 1926, Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite is one of his most popular orchestral works. Although originally composed as a piano duet, Warlock soon orchestrated the suite for both a string orchestra and a full orchestra set up. Based on a manual of Renaissance dances, Capriol Suite explores six different dances from the Renaissance period. Although each movement is short, Warlock is able to portray the mood and style of each movement with ease. 

 

The Music
Movement I – Basse-Danse

Inspired by the court ‘low-dance’, the stately string theme sees the upper strings take the clean melody as the lower strings build the foundations of the piece. Set in D minor, the dark undertones of the harmony add some colour into the music. Warlock’s use of contrapuntal themes as well as unison playing creates some impactful sequences during this short opening movement. 

 

Movement II – Pavane

Based on the delicate pavane dance, Warlock’s slow and stately second movement introduces the theme before a sequence of unison playing occurs. Quiet in dynamic throughout, the music is sensitive and fragile, as it would be if played in an Italian court. The dynamic does rise near the end of the dance, however this soon trickles off into silence. This movement is set in G minor. 

 

Movement III – Tordion

A tordion dance, often heard in 15th century French courts, makes up the lively third movement. The bouncy pizzicato opening lays the foundation for the melody as Warlock begins to layer in arco playing. The most playful movement yet, Warlock’s use of the harpsichord really hones in on the style of this French dance. Similarly to the Pavane, Tordion is also in G minor.

 

Movement IV – Bransles 

The quick fourth movement, based on the pairs dance ‘bransle’ is full of dynamic changes. Also set in G minor, Bransles uses some powerful unison playing to portray Warlock’s bold themes. Excitement is raised with the addition of pizzicato passages and the harpsichord, who really plays into the ‘Presto’ tempo marking. 

 

Movement V – Pieds-en-l’air

The most lyrical movement of the suite, Pieds-en-l’air takes inspiration from the galliard dance. The sweet upper violin melody sits on warm lower strings who emphasise the most sensitive parts of the melody. Very English pastoral in style,  a solo violin emerges near the end to conclude the melody effectively. 

 

Movement VI – Mattachins

This lively sword dance, originally played with men dancing and clashing their swords on different beats, sees the melody offer strong beats where the sword clashing may have happened. The shortest of all six movements, but perhaps the liveliest, Mattachins closes Warlock’s Capriol Suite with excitement and flair.

 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Gustav Holst: St Paul’s Suite

 

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