HORSE RACING AND MUSIC
Many of us learned to sing Stephen Foster's Camptown Races at school and Blaydon Races, known today in arrangements for voice, orchestra and brass band is almost a national anthem for Geordieland (those Races were last run in 1916), but what other musical connections are there with horse racing? Decidedly fewer certainly than with another horsey activity, hunting, which can point to works by Vivaldi (Autumn) from The Seasons), Haydn (Symphony No 73), Berlioz (Royal Hunt and Storm from The Trojans) and Dunhill (his operetta Tantivy Towers), among much else. We can however offer a few observations.
The oldest English classic race in the St Leger, run at Doncaster since 1776; the September St Leger meeting was in former times an opportunity for musical celebration, notably a choral festival in 1787. Furthermore, that meeting was usually the signal for the town's Theatre to open its doors for an annual four to six week season, the programmes at which had a substantial musical content. I have as yet discovered no St Leger Galop or Quadrille, or whatever, but when Louis Jullien's Orchestra gave a Promenade Concert at Doncaster's Guildhall during the Race Week of 1850, the programme including Jullien's own Galop, The Derby! However Ken Jackson's recent song tribute Doncaster 800 Festival Music (1994, for female choir) did fleetingly introduce recollection of Prince Monolulu's visits to Doncaster races.
The Derby was, and is, a great spectacle something the composer Alfred Reynolds and his librettist A P Herbert tried to exploit in their operetta Derby Day, produced at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith early in 1932. Its dramatis personae included tipsters, jockeys, even a chorus of "Pearly Kings". The story is sentimental, but the music is attractive and I am surprised that it has not had a stage revival since the war. Here is lso the place to mention William Alwyn's rumbustious Derby Day overture, inspired by Frith's painting rather than the event itself. However, perhaps the race scene in Lerner and Loewe's musical My Fair Lady and particularly its elegant Ascot Gavotte is an echo of this. Another musical with a horse-racing background is Sporting Love, with music by Billy Mayerl - among its performances were six given by a Doncaster amateur society during one week in 1948.
Elgar (and doubtless other composers) liked going to the races but he never overtly mixed racing and composition. We can however mention two popular songs - The Jockey (Leo) and The Racecourse Sharper (A H West) - and the incidental music for some racing films: that for The Galloping Major (1951) was provided by Georges Auric, one of "Les Six", who wrote for several British films in the post-1945 era, Anthony Collins, conductor and composer, composed that for Derby Day (1952: nothing to do with the Herbert / Reynolds operetta alluded to above) and John Greenwood for the thriller Grand National Night (1953). And there was the catchy theme music for BBCTV's early 1990s series Trainer, composed by Simon May.
I am sure readers can advise me of titles I have missed.
© P L Scowcroft