MUSIC INSPIRED BY WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
Thackeray was a contemporary of Charles Dickens but
the music associated with him is nothing like as diverse. However this
has cropped up from time to time over the last century and more, most
notably, it seems, in musical versions of his Christmas play. The
Rose and the Ring. The first of these appeared at the Prince of
Wales Theatre in 1890 to music by the London theatre composer and conductor
Walter Slaughter (1860-1908).
A generation further on and there was another version,
with music by Robert Cox, which earned 42 seasonal performances
at Wyndhams Theatre in 1923. A mere five years after that, still a third
version, with music by Christabel Marillier was put on at the
Apollo Playhouse, where it managed 52 performances – this featured among
its cast Frederick Ranalow, Nellie Briercliffe, Megan Foster and Lawrence
Baskcomb and a certain Dr Malcolm Sargent was the conductor. The following
Christmas/New year season (1929-30) this version transferred to the
Lyric, Hammersmith where its Musical Director, Alfred Reynolds, conducted
it. Finally a much more up-to-date version of The Rose musically
speaking, saw the light of day at the Theatre Royal, Stratford east
in 1964, with a score provided by John Dalby.
Not only The Rose and the Ring among Thackeray’s
literary output was turned into a musical comedy. The same fate overtook
his most famous novel Vanity Fair, twice in the early 1960s:
in 1960 at Kidderminster to music by Kenneth Rose, and in 1962,
with music by Julian Slade, of Salad Days fame. This latter
version toured the provinces, then had a shortish run at the Queen’s
Theatre in the West End.
Vanity Fair has been adapted a number of times
for both large and small screens. Hollywood’s 1935 version, entitled
Becky Sharp, had music by Roy Webb. Of television adaptations
I cannot recall who furnished the music for a 1960s version. More recently,
Nigel Hess did the very tuneful music for the 1987 adaptation
and Murray Gold – a brash, rather jazzy score rather in keeping
with the adaptation generally - for the most reason 1988 showing.
What of musical settings of Thackeray’s shorter writings?
Most notable of these were perhaps the Five Songs From Thackeray
by Richard Walthew, who died in 1951. More recently we have had
settings of A Tragic Story by Ann Hamerton, for two-part
voices and piano (1958), and from the same year a solo with SATB accompaniment
by the American Joseph Roff. Little Billy (sometimes Billee)
has been set as a song for baritone (or tenor) and two basses by William
Bowie in 1965 (one of several Songs For the Use of Harmonious
Young Men), as a solo by Harold Sykes in 1970 and as an operetta
by Michael Hurd in 1966.
The foregoing adds up to a far from contemptible musical
extension of Thackeray’s music; but I think he may have been disappointed
that this extension was not more extensive.
Philip L. Scowcroft