SHIPS AND HARBOURS IN BRITISH MUSIC By:- P. L. Scowcroft
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
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
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,
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
MUSIC, HARBOURS AND SHIPPING: FURTHER TITLES
By: - Philip L. Scowcroft
This is an update of articles written for the former Docks & Shipping
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
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
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