Sonatina for Piano
May 5th, 1975, 12pm
Recital Hall, Birmingham School of Music
Piano Sonata No.1
May 3rd, 1978, 7.30pm
Recital Hall, Birmingham School of Music
Piano Sonata No.2
March 10th, 2003, 1pm
Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
7 Preludes for Piano
April 20th, 2007, 6.30pm
Chapel of the University of Chichester
In Memoriam Herbert Howells
July 11th, 2008, 8pm
Lydney Festival, St Mary' Church, Lydney, Gloucestershire
7 Postludes for Piano
October 30th 2016, 3pm
St Lawrence Chapel, Ashburton, Devon
'Une Promenade' for Piano
30th April 2020
Contemporary Piano Soundbites: Facebook
Kinver Landscape: Tone Poem for Solo Piano
Premiere postponed due to Covid-19
The Birmingham School of Music/Birmingham Conservatoire built in 1974, demolished in 2017 (Photo by Bs0u10e01)
An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, first posted on April 24th, 2018
Andrew wrote his Sonatina for Piano when he was studying composition at the Royal College of Music with Herbert Howells, who said of him in his report: "One of the most effective composers coming to me these days. I have very considerable hopes for him."
The first performance of the Sonatina was given on 5th May 1975 by Malcolm Wilson in the Recital Hall of the Birmingham School of Music (now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire).
I recorded this performance (and quite a few others at that time) on a portable cassette player on my lap and afterwards listened to it over and over again, because I loved it so much. It has always remained one of my favourite pieces, so I was delighted when Duncan Honeybourne recorded it twice for CD - in 2005 (sold out) and 2016 - and when Simon Dinnigan and Fred T. Baker recorded the second movement, which they entitled 'Cool Largo', on acoustic guitar and electric bass guitar (1999).
Memorable also was a performance by Duncan Honeybourne broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2001. In that same year, Duncan played the work alongside Herbert Howells' own Sonatina for Piano and Andrew's Sonata for Violin and Piano in Birmingham Cathedral. Our daughter, Anna, played the solo violin part in the recital.
I asked Malcolm Wilson after the premiere if the piece was difficult. He said: "No, It's quite easy really." Here is a mini extract from Duncan Honeybourne's 2005 recording to illustrate how "easy" it is!
2 years after composing his Piano Sonatina, Andrew wrote his Piano Sonata No.1, another stunning piece, again beautifully premiered by Malcolm Wilson at the Birmingham School of Music.
Birmingham Post Review:
A lot of the students of Beryl Chempin won prizes playing this work, particularly Richard Wise, who won the BRMB Young Musician of the Midlands with it.
The early performances of these and other works were played from Andrew's handwritten scores. The biro didn't photocopy well, so I eventually got Andrew's early works typeset, or did them myself. The proof reading was a time consuming job!
Later on, in August 2000, Duncan Honeybourne performed the Piano Sonata No.1 at the Three Choirs Festival, while he was still a student.
Duncan went on to give numerous further performances in his recitals championing British composers.
American pianist, Anne Madison, gave a number of performances in Vienna, England and the USA and recorded the work in Vienna on CD, entitled 'Messen und Sonaten', in 2001. Being a linguist and German speaker, I loved thd trips we made to Vienna for various concerts given by Anne and horn player, Jim Lowe, and talks given by Andrew.
Cynthia Downes in Vienna
Right to left: Jim Lowe, Andrew Downes, Anne Madison
We also went to Stratford upon Avon on two occasions to hear excellent performances by Jonathan French, as part of the English Music Festival.
Duncan Honeybourne also recorded Piano Sonata No.1 on the CDs he made in 2005 (sold out) and 2016, and he has organised performances by his pupils.
Andrew wrote his Piano Sonata No.2 specially for Duncan, who premiered this work in March 2003 at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin and gave a second performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Andrew and I took this opportunity to make our first visit to Dublin, staying in the George Frederic Handel Hotel (where the Messiah was first performed), visiting Trinity College and enjoying Guiness, with Irish Dancing, in a riverside pub. (I normally don't drink alcohol, but that Guiness was like nectar!)
The phenomenal Duncan Honeybourne performed the Piano Sonata No.2 in many recitals after that, including a recital tour of Scotland in August 2003. We went to hear him play the Sonata in Oban Cathedral, Elgin and also Woodwick House, Orkney!
Andrew Downes on Orkney
Andrew and I had a wonderful holiday in beautiful Scotland in between these recitals. Orkney has such a small population, that we were amazed how many people came to the concert at Woodwick House, which was packed with a very enthusiastic audience. I take CDs of Andrew's music to sell at his concerts if I can, and I sold lots that night. I even sold the sheet music copy of the Piano Sonata No.2, which I had taken in case Duncan lost his music! This Sonata was also recorded by Duncan for his CDs in 2005 (sold out) and 2016.
A copy of Andrew Downes' Piano Sonata No.2, published by Cynthia Downes @ Lynwood Music
We are very lucky also to have a fine pianist for a son-in-law: David Trippett. David has accompanied our daughter, Paula, in innumerable performances and recordings of Andrew's Song Cycles and has also given performances of the Piano Sonatas and Sonatina in The National Portrait Gallery, on the 'Festival Musiques en Mer' Mediterranean cruise, and in the Markson's Pianos concert series, London.
Andrew's next 3 works for solo piano were all written for Duncan Honeybourne. In 2006 Andrew composed 7 Preludes for Piano. On hearing the first 3 Preludes, I suggested a title for each, according to the images conjured up by the music: Solitude, Leaves in Autumn and Winter Lanes. Andrew naturally progressed through the seasons to write Spring Lambs and Summer Calypso. The 6th song suggested Daybreak in the Fields to me, and I immediately thought of Storm Force as soon as he started the violent semiquavers at the start of Prelude 7.
Duncan's first performance of the Preludes, in the Chapel of the University of Chichester, was recorded and made into a CD. Duncan also included them on his set of 2 CDs of piano works by Andrew Downes (2016), for which we chose the title, "Daybreak in the Fields", after the 6th of the Preludes.
In 2008 Andrew wrote In Memoriam Herbert Howells for a concert which Duncan gave in Lydney, in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, Howell's birthplace, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Howells, with whom Andrew had studied composition at the Royal College of Music between 1972 and 1974. Andrew loved his studies with Howells, who said of Andrew:
" In a quiet, but strong way, one of the most effective composers coming to me these days. I have very considerable hopes for him."
As with all Andrew's piano music, Duncan has played this work many times.
Andrew himself tragically died on 2nd January 2023. Our daughters, Anna and Paula, organised a special 'Year of Remembance', for those who wanted to perform works by Andrew as a memorial to him. Duncan Honeybournes's tribute was a performance of In Memoriam Herbert Howells in his recital in St Alphege Church, Solihull:-
In 2016, Duncan had recorded In Memoriam Herbert Howells as part of his set of 2 CDs of piano music by Andrew, entitled "Daybreak in the Fields" (after one of Andrew's 7 Preludes for Piano).
In 2023, also during Andrew's 'Year of Remembrance', our daughter Paula combined Duncan's CD performance of In Memoriam Herbert Howells with films of the Forest of Dean, Herbert Howell's birthplace, and posted the film on YouTube.
Towards the end of Andrew's 'Year of Remembrance', Michael Jones performed the work as part of his recital in St Mary's Church, Moseley, Birmingham.
Andrew composed his 7 Postludes for Piano in 2015. Again the titles suggested themselves as soon as I heard each one: Dusk, Twilight, Evensong, Owls, Nightfall, Flight of the Bats, At Midnight.
Andrew's health had deteriorated by this time. He had broken his back in 2009 (caused by his ankylosing spondilitis), and he had suffered a brain haemorrhage, in 2015, from which he miraculously recovered. I wondered if Andrew was thinking the Postludes would be his last work. They are more profound than the Preludes, but they are just as lovely. The world premiere took place in the beautiful acoustics of St Lawrence Chapel, Ashburton, Devon. Unfortunately we couldn't go, because of the distance and because we thought the Chapel wasn't wheelchair friendly. Afterwards we found out that it is!
Andrew's piano music up to 2016 can be heard on Duncan Honeybourne's's set of 2 CDs made in 2016, entitled "Daybreak in the Fields".
Fortunately, the Postludes weren't Andrew's last work for solo piano: he completed two more works for solo piano during the covid-19 pandemic: 'Une Promenade' for Piano and Kinver Landscape - Tone Poem for Solo Piano. I talk about these works more fully in my blog post entitled Works composed during the Pandemic.
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