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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

JOHN ADDISONS: ANCIENT AND MODERN

Here we discuss two composers with exactly the same name one of them born just six years after the death of Handel, the other still (1994) alive.

John Addison the first (1765-1844) showed considerable musical talent during his youth becoming proficient on flute, bassoon and violin but apparently he only made the decision he only made the decision to become a professional musician after his marriage to a Miss Williams a singer in 1793 (what he did for a living up to the age of 28 is not clear). The Addisons then performed together he playing cello which he had presumably added to his repertoire she singing first at Vauxhall Gardens and then on tour ending up in Dublin where John directed an amateur orchestra at a private theatre, for which he had to arrange the music. He had also taken up the double bass from scratch an instrument which he was to play with distinction thereafter. The Addisons returned to London in 1796; Mrs Addison appeared in Arne's Pasticcio Love in a Village and created something of an impression by singing at rehearsal a song by her husband, modestly described as one of Shield's. Soon afterwards the couple went on their travels again, to Bath, then back to Dublin where John set up as a singing teacher, and finally to Manchester where he forsook music for a time to go into the cotton trade, a venture which was not successful. He did however compose a little whilst in the North of England: a pantomime for Manchester and an opera for Chester. Returning to London he helped Kelly manage his music business and played the bass for many seasons both at the Italian Opera and the Antient and Vocal Concerts.

Compositions flowed more freely from his pen after 1800. Mostly they were for the theatre. With Kelly he wrote the music for The Sleeping Beauty, produced at Drury Lane in 1805 and followed this with Maids and Bachelors (Covent Garden 1806), False Alarms (Drury Lane, 1807: with John Braham and M P King), The Russian Impostor (Lyceum 1809), My Aunt (Lyceum 1815), Robinet the Bandit (Covent Garden 1815), Two Words (Lyceum 1816), Free and Easy (Lyceum 1816) and My Uncle (Lyceum 1817). In these pieces he contributed substantial amount of music, but the English "opera" of that period was essentially a "pasticcio", with two or more composers contributing and also Addison also provided a few songs for a revival of Shield's Robin Hood and for Henry Bishop and Thomas Attwood's For England Ho! both in 1813. In 1827 he brought out a version of The Beggars Opera which has attracted new editions for well over two centuries. Sometimes the opera contributed to was an English adaptation of a continental one, with added music by an English composerin this direction Addison "arranged" Boieldieu Rose d'Amour. He provided Shakespearean incidental music, notably for Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor; "Fie on Sinful Fantasy" from the latter which was once recorded by the counter-tenor John Whitworth interestingly sounds very like Arne as does the gorgeously shapely "O Mistress Mine" from Twelfth Night recorded more recently by Anthony Rolfe Johnson. Arne was Addison's senior by over a half century. Addison published many independent songs duets and glees plus Songs of Almacks (melodies by Bishop and Addison, accompaniments and "symphonies" by Addison) in 1831 and an instructional work Singing Practically Treated, in 1836. Long before Mendelssohn's more famous overtures he produced the "sacred musical drama" Elijah Raising the Widow's Son at Drury Lane's winter oratorio season in 1815, but much of the music was borrowed from operas by Peter Van Winter.

John Addison the first may be reckoned as an above average journeyman musician, both as a performer and as a composer and one associate primarily with the theatre. John Addison the second (no relation) born at Cobham in Surrey on 16 March 1920 will always be remembered particularly for his work for British films, even though more recently he has been writing for American films and as we shall see he has been active in other musical forms, too. He was educated at Wellington College and studied at the RCM either side of his military service in the Second World War, his teachers being Gordon Jacob for composition, Herbert Fryer for piano, Leon Goossens for oboe and Frederick Thurston for clarinet. Whilst there he won the Sullivan prize; he returned to the College between 1951 and 1958 as Professor of Composition. By that time however he had entered the world of films becoming Musical Director for Boulting Brothers for whom he wrote several scores. Since 1975 he has lived partly in Los Angeles and partly in the French Alps where he has indulged his enthusiasm for winter sports.

Addison's non film scores include many that may be reckoned as chamber music. Even many of his orchestral scores have chamber-like forces and clear textures. Several of them are for stings, like the 16 minute Partita, the 18 minute long Trumpet Concerto of 1949 and the Wellington Suite of 1961 for two horns and piano concertante and an orchestra of strings, timpani and percussion. Another concerto type score was the Variations for piano and orchestra of 1948. His best known orchestral score remains the ballet suite Carte Blanche; in similar mood were the Three Terpsichorean Studies (1948). In lighter vein was the march (Addison is famous for his marches) Carlton Brown of the Foreign Office. His idiom is generally speaking not dissimilar to that of his teacher Gordon Jacob. Like Jacob he has written much chamber music featuring wind instruments, many of the pieces playing for around a quarter of an hour, like the woodwind Sextet of 1949, the Trio for flute, oboe and piano, another Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon and the Serenade for wind quintet and harp (1958). Much shorter are the Divertimento for brass quartet (two trumpets, horn and trombone) written in 1951 and popular with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the Five Inventions for oboe and piano of 1959. Addison's interest in unusual sonorities is illustrated by his Conversation Piece for two sopranos, harpsichord, harp and organ. Three part songs for four part male choir (The Grenadier, Old Roger and Song of Bathsebe) were published as were a number of songs from his film score Tom Jones (1963). One of his few excursions into the theatre was his arrangement of the 18th century "ballad opera" Polly: a link with his 18th century namesake.

Of his 60 plus scores for films - not counting television documentaries - we may instance Pool of London (1950), The Red Beret (1953), Cockleshell Heroes (1956), Private's Progress (1956), Three Men in a Boat (1956), Barnacle Bill (1957), Reach For The Sky (1956), I Was Monty's Double (1958), School for Scandal (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), The Loved One (1965), The Honey Pot (1968), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Moll Flanders (1965), Sleuth (1972), The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976), Joseph Andrews (1977), A Bridge Too Far (1977) and the American Agatha Christie adaptation Thirteen At Dinner (1985): a varied selection, although it is probably that it is the war films and their music which are best remembered. Reach For The Sky, the Douglas Bader film had I recall a particularly attractive score, while The Charge of the Light Brigade had its moments. Most celebrated were the marches from I Was Monty's Double and A Bridge Too Far, both of which have enjoyed a life of their own in the concert hall. The heroic character of the latter upstaged the anti-heroic final scene of the film which was sufficient to reflect the waste and futility of war in general and the Arnhem operation in particular. This catchy march at least will carry Addison's name well into the 21st century; we must hope that some of his other orchestral works, now thirty or even forty years old or even more but rarely played nowadays, may be revived.

P L Scowcroft


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