Harry Thacker Burleigh: Southland Sketches
Composed in 1916, Harry Thacker Burleigh’s Southland Sketches is a great example of Burleigh’s quintessential American style. Scored for violin and piano, Southland Sketches takes the listener on a journey through various quirks of the American style that Burleigh pioneered in the early 1900s.
Opening with a melodic piano introduction, the violin enters and shadows the dotted rhythms from the piano. The two move together through certain parts of phrases to emphasise the subtle changes in rhythm. As the violin part becomes more decorated and rushed with notes, the piano accompaniment always provides a supportive foundation for the soloist. As the melody flourishes near the end, Burleigh reintroduces the opening simple theme that leads the music to its sweet end.
Another piano introduction opens the second sketch, which is marked slower than the previous movement. The lilting violin theme is supported by chordal movement from the piano, as well as the odd quaver movement that aligns the two voices together. As the climax is met as the violin soars into its upper range, the dynamic begins to drop as the opening theme is heard once more, although this time as a fully-realised theme. The piece ends with the two voices uniting on the final chord.
An energetic third movement opens with a truly memorable theme. The fluctuation between semiquavers and dotted quavers gives a bounce to this theme which is threaded throughout this whole movement. Burleigh’s harmonic language in this sketch really hones in on the old American style of the early 1900s that was very popular. His use of dissonance is also prevalent here, as the voices clash as they play the same rhythms. After a recap of the opening material, this sketch ends with a spring in its step.
The fastest of the four movements, the intricate melodic writing is showcased from the very start. Quick changes in style are paired with big interval jumps to create excitement and joy. As the opening material is heard once more, an even quicker version of the theme is heard, with Burleigh moving between lyrical and jaunty sections at the flip of a coin. The harmonically-exciting final few bars creates intensity as this suite of sketches comes to its fiery close.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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