Paul Reade: Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite


Paul Reade (1943-1997) was born in Liverpool, UK. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied piano performance with Alan Richardson. Whilst at the Academy, Reade had his first orchestral work, Overture to a City, premiered by the resident orchestra, as well as having it broadcast on Radio 3 – the first of many of Reade’s works. His natural ability on the piano, and his obvious flare for composition led him into a career as a repetiteur (a rehearser) at the London Opera Centre, and at Sadler’s Wells Opera. This kind of job developed Reade both in terms of performance, and his compositional practices.

Perhaps best-known for his work for television and ballet, Reade had an active career in composition. It was in the late sixties that Reade moved to BBC TV, where he worked as a pianist and songwriter for the children’s programme Playschool. His extensive work in children’s television early in his career enabled him to develop and perfect his style of composing. Reade composed works for children throughout his career, and composed notable works such as Cinderella (1980), and The Midas Touch (1982), both of which were broadcast on Radio 3.

Reade’s credits for television include the series The Victorian Kitchen Garden, Jane Eyre, The Flumps, and Antiques Roadshow. The music published for The Victorian Kitchen Garden is still used today for clarinet recitals and examinations. There are various arrangements for the suite, but most commonly it is heard in the original clarinet and piano format (and I will be referring to this version throughout). Reade’s Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite won the 1991 Ivor Novello Award for ‘Best TV Theme Music’.


The Music

Victoria Kitchen Garden was broadcast in 1987 by the BBC, which saw a kitchen garden recreated in the style of the Victorian era. Reade composed the score and dedicated it to clarinettist, Emma Johnson (who also played in the original recording). As previously mentioned, Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite was originally composed for clarinet and piano, but many performances replace the piano with a harp. There have been other arrangements for this suite, including an orchestral and chamber ensemble adaptions. The suite is in five movements:

I. Prelude

II. Spring

III. Mists

IV. Exotica

V. Summer 

To many, the main themes heard in some of these movements may be very recognisable if you have ever watched the TV series. Each movement’s title depicts what is happening in the music. Reade goes from Spring to Summer, and also to mist settling on the garden ground. The music of Paul Reade is very accessible and enjoyable to listen to, with or without the TV programme!


I. Prelude

The opening movement begins with the solo clarinet essentially ‘waking up’ and building up the initial theme for the suite. The clarinet and piano settle in together and create a long and flowing sequence, which is built up on arpeggios from the piano, and a melodic line from the clarinet. This movement is built up and sustained through scalic movement. The accompaniment is based on broken chords, and the clarinet melody has many flourishes and scalic runs, which keep the tonality at bay, but also offering some theatrics to the piece. This prelude represents the sun rising, the garden waking up and getting ready for a new day.

The opening solo clarinet line is head again, this time with slight variation and segue into the next sequence. This ‘second section’ is a development of the first. From the shift in key, to the inverted melody, this then leads us back into the well-loved first theme. A really lovely opening to the suite, Reade’s sound here is quintessentially British, and absolutely timeless.


II. Spring

As described in the title, Spring is the depiction of the season in the Victorian Kitchen Garden. The perky and quirky nature of this movement is a vast contrast from the previous. The fun nature of this movement is what makes it so full of character and instantly likeable. Reade’s extensive use of grace notes in the clarinet part add to the liveliness of the melodic line. This movement is very youthful and depicts Spring in a very favourable light.


III. Mists

Differently from the previous movement, Mists is a much slower movement. As the title suggests, this movement musically depicts mist settling on the garden ground. The delicate movement from both the clarinet and piano here show the fragility of the movement. Reade’s use of very quiet dynamics here also shows the atmosphere that is being created here. The lack of a proper sequence of melodic material also highlight the unpredictability of nature, and I believe that this is what Reade is trying to get across to us here.


IV. Exotica 

The fourth movement, entitled Exotica, is playful and faster, as you may have expected from the title. The use of fast scalic runs underpins this movement, similarly to the first movement. Reade’s use of a wide proportion of the clarinet’s range is utilised throughout, so for instance when the clarinet plays the theme for this movement, it then immediately is transferred up an octave, which packs more of a punch timbre wise. Due to all of the movements of the suite lasting not much longer than two minutes, it really is a snapshot of the garden.


V. Summer 

The finale movement of the suite, Summer, is the depiction of the summer season in the Victorian Kitchen Garden. Beginning with a broken chord accompaniment from the piano, which is similar to the first movement, this last movement is very similar to the first. This movement shows the progression made over the seasons, and this last movement is the ‘final product’ per se. Long flowing melody lines under arpeggios describe the garden in its full colourful glory.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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