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This brief paper is a counterpart to previous articles of mine on "Railways and British Music" and "Road Transport in Music". England, indeed the British Isles in general, has owed much to the sea down the centuries and the sea as such looms large in our music from countless individual songs and ballads to major works such as Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony, Arthur Somervell's Thalassa Symphony, and Frank Bridge's symphonic suite The Sea and Stanford's Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet. To list all compositions having anything to do with the sea would be tedious and perhaps impossible to achieve. Let us instead point to a selection of works more particularly associated with ships, the men who sailed them, and harbours.

It is surprising how many British operas and other musical stage works are set aboard ship. One thinks of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd and The Golden Vanity, Gerrard Williams' ballad opera Kate the Cabin Boy, Bernard Herman's Moby Dick and of course HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan though not, I believe, Lennox Berkeley's Nelson.

One or two compositions associated with our great Admirals are, however, relevant, such as John Braham's once famous song The Death of Nelson, Montague Phillips' choral work The Death of Admiral Blake and Drake's Drum, which occurs in Stanford's Songs of the Sea; the poem was also set for chorus by Granville Bantock and Coleridge-Taylor, and as a solo by Adrian Beecham, Walter Hedgcock and Healey Willan.

Ships figure widely in British music, whether in the specific or the general. Specific titles include Drake's Golden Hind, the title of a march by the brass band composer William Rimmer (I think I am correct in saying that another of Rimmer's marches Southport Belle refers to a former paddle-steamer); Sir Hubert Parry's Prelude and Fugue The Wanderer for organ, is apparently named after Parry's own yacht; Sink the Bismarck, Clifton Parker's title march from the film; the Amethyst March (Leighton Lucas), also from a film; the Trinidad March by George Lloyd named after a cruiser which, like Lloyd himself, served with the Russian convoys in 1941-45; The Old Superb, the rousing final song from Stanford's Songs of the Sea, telling the tale of a ship of the line which fought at Trafalgar, and which was not in reality as decrepit as the song would have us believe; and Malcolm Arnold's Padstow Lifeboat march which reproduces several times the alarm hooter calling out the lifeboat.

Many titles allude to warships and operations of sea warfare, like The Battle of the River Plate march (Brian Easdale), yet again from a film, or Devon O'Devon, again from Stanford's Songs of the Sea which recalls the Spanish Armada, or the settings by Stanford and others of The Battle of the Baltic, or Haydn Wood's partsong (male voices) The Little Ships and Raymond Loughborough's similarly titled solo song which were inspired by Dunkirk. C. S. Forester's fictional hero Captain Hornblower is the subject of a suite by Robert Farnon. Malcolm Arnold wrote the music for the film tribute to the RAF Air Sea Rescue launches The Sea Shall Not Have Them. The canoeists Cockleshell Heroes are celebrated in Vivian Dunn's march of that name. But many titles are concerned with more peaceful sailors and their ships; Gilbert Vinter's tone poem James Cook Circumnavigator is a classic of the brass band repertoire. Howard Carr's orchestral overture Sir Walter Raleigh is rarely heard nowadays, but Wilfred Sanderson's ballad Drake Goes West is, sometimes. Sir William Walton wrote the music for a radio programme about Christopher Columbus in 1942, Sir Arthur Bliss for a film on the same subject around the same time, and a suite The Tall Ships was especially composed for the 1992 celebrations in Liverpool.

Thomas Wood's cantata Master Mariners, which I recall singing at school with pleasure, passes several sailors in review as do Hubert Bath's marches Admirals All and Sea Dogs of Devon. The tall ship and a star to steer her by, of Masefield's poem Sea Fever, set to music so evocatively by John Ireland would be a merchant ship, like The Windjammer of John Ansell's overture.

These old sailing ships of course produced their own music designed to facilitate routine operations and such shanties have countless modern choral settings and appear instrumentally, for orchestra (Haydn Wood's The Seafarer), wind quintet (Malcolm Arnold's Three Shanties) and concert band (Colin Hand's recent Shantasia); I could quote many others.

Some songs about merchant shipping we learned at school if we are old enough. That Masefield poem Cargoes ('Quinquiremes of Nineveh….dirty British coaster with a black smoke stack') was set for chorus by Henry Balfour Gardiner and Martin Shaw and for solo voice by R. Coningsby. There is Ships of Arcady by Micheal Head, Armstrong Gibb's The Ship of Rio and Alec Rowley's A Ship Sails up to Bideford (another dirty British coaster perhaps?), Clarke, Easthope Martin and Thomas Dobson, The Fishermen of England from Montague Phillips' operetta The Rebel Maid can still raise the roof. Kipling's poem Big Steamers found favour with Edward German and Elgar, who set it as a unison song in 1918 (the sixth part of Elgar's Pageant of Empire (1924) is entitled Merchant Venturers).

Turning to orchestral music, Frederic Austin's overture The Sea Venturers was aired at the Proms in 1937; one of the finest film scores of the 1940s was Constant Lambert's for Merchant Seamen. J. T. Gardner's White Star Polka March (c. 1900) celebrated the Transatlantic shipping line of that name. Even smugglers are immortalized in song; examples came from The Rebel Maid and from the pens of Peter Warlock (Captain Stratton's Fancy) and Markham Lee (Seamates Bold and Smugglers: 'a seacraft and a free craft'). There is a folksong entitled The Press Gang.

Ships sometimes come to grief and this is reflected in songs like the folk ditty A Ship in Distress, arranged for solo (Cecil Sharp) and chorus (Reginald Redman) and The Ship on Fire by the noted Victorian singer/composer Henry Russell, who also wrote A Life on the Ocean Wave.

Now finally and briefly to harbours. Again references can be general, like Elgar's In Haven from his Sea Pictures, Wilfred Sanderson's ballads Harbour Night Song and Where the Port of Many Ships from Frederick Keel's Salt Water Ballads; Great Ships Ride, the settings of Harbour Lights by Alfred Scott-Gatty, W. H. Squire and others, and Martin Shaw's The Seaport and Her Sailors whose words are again by Masefield, or specific, Sir William Walton's overture Portsmouth Point was inspired by a Rowlandson painting; Ansell's Plymouth Hoe, also an overture, is based on sea songs. The Port of London may be represented by the settings of Limehouse Reach by John Clements, Michael Head and Humphrey Proctor-Gregg.

Reginald Redman's choral suite From the West Countrie includes movements entitled Plymouth Sound and Falmouth, the latter a harbour also noticed in R. T. Woodman's once popular choral ballad of that name. Cowes may be reckoned a harbour and we have Hubert Clifford's Cowes Suite; and there is of course Malta GC, the film of which name had superb music by Arnold Bax.

Ships are frequently built in harbours or docks, so we may also include the Victorian choral settings of Longfellow's The Building of the Ship by John F. Burnett, and Henry Lahee and Peter Yorke's brass band suite The Shipbuilders. But I have, I am sure, only scratched the surface; tell me what I have overlooked.

Philip L Scowcroft

In the two or three years since I wrote my first paper on this subject I have come across, or been reminded of, several further titles and I hope that you will forgive me if I share these.

English songs about the sea, ships and harbours must be legion. More ballads which may fall within our brief are A Dream of Plymouth Hoe and Where the Great Ships Ride, both by Wilfrid Sanderson, Grace Darling (late nineteenth century) Canadian Boat Song (Moore) and The Admiral's Broom (Bevan), the Admiral of course being the Dutchman Van Tromp. George Dyson's cantata The Canterbury Pilgrims (1931, based on Chaucer) includes a mainly boisterous movement on The Shipman.

Recently I heard Michael Head's The Estuary - a majestic song depicting not just an estuary (? the Thames) but the passage of a mighty ship. Elgar wrote a complete cycle for four baritones and orchestra called The Fringes of the Fleet under wartime pressures in 1917 and to Rudyard Kipling's words. One song from this, 'The Sweepers' describes quite strikingly the work of converted minesweeping trawlers; the names of five of them (? real trawlers) - Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock and Golden Gain - make a stirring refrain to the song. Another converted trawler is seen in 'The Lowestoft Boat' from the same set.

The Fighting Temeraire, by Granville Bantock, for male voice choir, celebrates a ship famous in history and art. Robert Farnon's Morning Cloud enshrines a more recent vessel - the yacht of one-time British prime minister, Ted Heath. On harbours I recently heard a stirring movement by Louise Denny, arranged for concert band, entitled Mulberry Harbours. While on warlike matters we may mention the song The Ironclads of England and d'Albert's Torpedo Galop, both popular in the 1880s.

An interesting work by the contemporary composer Gavin Briars is The Sinking of the Titanic first written in the 1970s and substantially revised in the 1990s. Fairly extended (it is about 30 minutes in length), this is based on the tune 'Nearer My God to Thee', supposed to be the last piece played by the resident orchestra of the doomed liner as she sank and, rather weirdly, represents what the orchestra's playing might sound like when heard under water. More straightforward is a movement from the New Zealand Suite by the popular light music composer Ron Goodwin which portrays an old paddle steamer. Our own Waverley has not been similarly favoured as far as I know, but there was a piece for light orchestra by Joyce Cochran entitled Paddle Boat (Joyce also composed a song entitled There's A Boat Coming Home) and another by King Palmer called Paddle Steamer.

Canals and other inland waterways have furnished a wealth of music, both traditional and more "modern popular", like The Gay Gondolier (Flanders and Swann), which is not about Venice's Grand Canal but the Manchester Ship Canal. That Canal's opening in 1894 was celebrated by a specially composed Song of the Ship Canal, with words and music by H. C. Miller. In this category are also Alec Rowley's partsong The Bargee, John Ireland's The Towing Path, inspired by the Thames at Pangbourne, and the same composer's song The Ferry. Twickenham Ferry was a song popular in late Victorian concerts; a waltz, At the Ferry (also a song) was played at a Doncaster ball in 1881, another, Ferryman John, at another in 1892. Victorian composer Albert Gaul wrote a partsong The Ferry Maiden. From near my home town of Doncaster there is the old, perhaps traditional ballad, The Old River Don.

Nineteenth century ballrooms not infrequently heard dance music inspired by ships. There was the P&O Polka from the 1880s, the White Star Polka-March (music by J. T. Gardner); and, played in a Doncaster-Mansion House Ball of 1865, the Great Eastern Polka by Charles d'Albert, a prolific contemporary dance music composer - the title may relate to the railway company but is more likely to refer to Brunel's great ship. Louis Jullien, inventor of the promenade concert, produced an Atlantic Galop.

Next, one or two more film titles concerning ships and boats which have music by well known composers. Richard Addinsell, of Warsaw Concerto fame, wrote music for Fire Over England (1937) based on A. E. W. Mason's historical novel about the Spanish Armada crises and Sea Devils (1953), Arthur Benjamin for Above Us the Waves (1955, about self-propelled torpedoes), Malcolm Arnold for The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954), about the RAF Air Sea Rescue Service, William Alwyn for A Night to Remember (1958), still the best film about the Titanic disaster, and also for The Ship That Died of Shame (1955), based on a short story by Nicholas Monsarrat. Robert Farnon for Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951), C. S. Forester's "Napoleonic Wars hero"; Arthur Ransome's children's classic, Swallows and Amazons, was screened in 1974 with music by Wilfrid Josephs. John Barry, well known for his music for James Bond films, did the honours for Raise the Titanic in 1980. And, so as not to ignore pop music, we must mention Yellow Submarine (1968), by Lennon and McCartney, of course.

  I must emphasise that these titles (and those mentioned in my earlier paper) are just a tiny selection and concern just British composers. One could list many more films if one considered American (and other foreign) films and composers, from The Battleship Potemkin (1952) onwards.

Finally, we turn to opera. "Opera" in the 18th and early 19th centuries was rarely "through-composed", after being what we would consider a play with incidental music. Often these pieces had a nautical flavour, like The Waterman by Dibdin which retained its popularity for nearly a century. John Braham, composer of the song The Death of Nelson previously mentioned, produced a patriotic piece The English Fleet in 1342 about the time of Trafalgar and this had performances in Doncaster's Theatre Royal in 1806-7. Doncaster in 1817 heard a piece entitled The Conquest of Algiers, with music by Joseph Mazzinghi, Edward Loder and one Cummins, preceded by A Grand Nautical Overture by Henry Bishop, of Home, Sweet Home fame, which may reflect Lord Exmouth's successful operation against the Barbary pirates of the year before.

It was by no means unusual for several composers or arrangers to be involved in the same work and for its music to be drawn from all manner of sources, the work being called a 'pasticcio'. This procedure enabled an "opera" to be assembled in very quick time as with one called The Glorious First of June, first performed on the London stage on 2 July 1794, barely a month after Howe's great victory. Coming nearer our own time, one can mention two fine operas by British composers with decided overtones of ships and the sea; Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers, revived at the Henry Wood Proms in 1994, and Britten's Peter Grimes.

From this article and its predecessor it may be seen that even if we confine ourselves to British shipping music we could, if we wished, make up an attractive concert or illustrated lecture. Has the National Maritime Museum ever thought of this, I wonder?

Philip L Scowcroft


By: - Philip L. Scowcroft

This is an update of articles written for the former Docks & Shipping Group.

The last year or two has seen an outbreak of "Titanic fever", arising of course out of the award-winning film - spin-offs have included many books and a quantity of popular music. The musical score for the film itself, which includes at least one haunting melody, is by James Horner, and has yielded not one, but two CDs. Then there is a Titanic musical with music by Maury Yeston, and Ronan Magill has published for solo piano some Titanic Waltzes and also Titanic, an atmospheric poem in "five pictures". There may be more to come in this direction: one rather moving CD I have heard is an American one re-creating the repertoire played by the doomed liner's orchestra which, as is well known, perished to a man. We should not forget, either, the music incidental to earlier films on the same subject: Titanic (1953, music by Sol Kaplan), A Night to Remember (1958, music by William Alwyn) and Raise the Titanic (1980, music by the York-born John Barry).

Not that the Titanic was the only maritime disaster to inspire music. The American composer Charles Ives wrote an orchestral piece entitled General Slocum, recalling a famous tragedy to an American ship of that name.

Many films on nautical subjects have been enhanced by noteworthy music. We have previously mentioned several of these but here are a few more titles. The African Queen (1951), after the novel by C. S. Forester, had music by the Polish-born Allan Gray; the music for The Gift Horse (the "gift horse" being a clapped-out ex-US destroyer in World War II) was by Clifton Parker, of Sink the Bismarck fame. The American John Williams wrote the rousing score for Midway (1976), the Englishman Philip Sainton that for Moby Dick in 1956, a fine piece of writing. There were Ghost Ship, with music by Eric Spear who composed the "Coronation Street" title music, Cockleshell Heroes (music, John Addison) and Whisky Galore (music by Ernest Irving, a conductor of film music much in demand in the 1940s). Jack Beaver, who died in 1963, was a prolific film composer, his titles including Admirals All (1935), Dry Dock, a documentary of 1936, and The Queen's Navy, another documentary, this time from 1954. From the small screen we can cite HMS Brilliant (music by John Harle, the saxophone virtuoso) and the very recent music by John Keane for the fabulously costly Hornblower - also C. S. Forester - whose first installment was shown in October 1998. Years ago Elisabeth Lutyens composed music for a BBC Radio feature on the Port of London, music which is more approachable than her often "tough" concert music.

Nautical music does not however need the impetus of visual pictures. Popular in the second half of the 19th century were a song, The Ironclads of England, and, all used in Victorian ballrooms, Atlantic Galop, by Louis Jullien who introduced the promenade concert to this country, Torpedo Galop by Charles d'Albert, a P&O Polka and the White Star polka march by J. T. Gardner. Many of the mood music miniatures written primarily for music publishers' recorded music libraries (and often used subsequently for films or as title music for radio and television) had nautical titles like Harry Rabinowitz's Ocean Pride; Charles Shadwell's Lulworth Cove (Lulworth used to be a port of call for paddle steamers); Ronald Binge's Sailing By; Naval Development and Yacht Race, both by Jack Beaver; Heinz Herschman's The Galleon; Joyce Cochran's Paddle Boat; Cedric King Palmer's Paddle Steamer; Peter Dennis's Atlantic Seaway; Charles Kenbury's Channel Ferry; Anthony Mawer's Mediterranean Cruise; Ronald Hamner's Heavy Seas and Mighty Ocean; the recently deceased Clive Richardson's Saga of the Seven Seas and Ocean Idyll; Wilfred Burns' Salt of the Sea; Pleasure Cruise by Geoffrey Henman; and Morning Cloud, celebrating Sir Edward Heath's yacht.

Other light orchestral (or brass or military band) compositions recalling ships, seamen or harbours are Ron Goodwin's orchestral suites Drake 400 and Armada 400, Howard Carr's overture Sir Walter Raleigh, Felton Rapley's overture, Down the Solent, Herbert Osgood's brass band piece The Buccaneer, Yorkshireman Arthur Butterworth's overture for brass Solent Forts and the marches Atlantic Patrol by George William Hespe, Zeebrugge by Peter Sumner and Viscount Nelson by Zehle. The suite Holiday Cruise, by Gerald Crossman for accordion or organ has five movements - Southampton, Vigo, Haifa, Athens and Lisbon. The American Morton Gould composed a piece called Windjammer.

We have previously cited many nautical songs and here are a few more, all popular in Victorian times; Grace Darling, composer unknown, Crossing the Bar, by Charles Willeby, The Death of Nelson by John Braham and The Ship on Fire and A Life on the Ocean Wave by Henry Russell, the last adopted later as the quick march of the Royal Marines.

Britain is a maritime nation and it is not surprising that it has produced - for most of the titles cited here and earlier are British - so much music of a maritime character. The subject could easily form the basis of a PhD thesis sometime; until then my fugitive notes will have to serve.

Philip L Scowcroft

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