Instrumentation

fl.bcl.vln.vlc

Availability

Score and parts in preparation

Programme Notes

In the early- and mid-19th century, the streets of Manchester were the home of ‘broadside ballads’ – topical and/or bawdy songs printed on cheap paper and sold for a penny for people to sing at home.

The vendors would often sing the songs to advertise them, whether or not they were welcome (in 1819, Oldham Street householders complained to the magistrates about ‘profane and debauched ballad singing’ – sadly I never saw any of this during the period I lived in that area).

The songs usually concerned local or national news, fictional heroes, love, and the lascivious and seedy corners of Manchester. Many others were satirical or polemical – referencing factory conditions or trade unionism, or events such as the Peterloo massacre, the Cotton Famine, or the great flood of 1872.

Ryley’s Ramble, or: the Humours of Manchester Races was one such song – it mentions a number of Manchester pubs, some of which (unlike the Heaton Park racetrack referred to in the title) remain there to this day:

They’ll eat and they’ll drink at a pretty pace, 

Bridgewater, Bull’s Head i’ th’ Market Place,

White Horse and Spread Eagle, Hanging Ditch, 

Landlords are all growing very rich,

Then to Manchester Races we’ll go

The first of these, the Bridgewater Arms, is where the Manchester Mechanics’ Institute was formed in 1824, for the purposes of educating working class men in the sciences. Over the next 200 years and through many changes (in both society and in the Institute’s name), this grew into the modern University of Manchester.

The song’s melody forms the backbone of this piece – a ‘theme and variations’ of sorts, or perhaps a particularly unfaithful cover version. Like the University has, the melody goes through many transformations, landscapes and forms. Though the piece sounds perhaps a little sadder than I had intended when I started, it forms some kind of love letter to the city where I decided to become a composer.