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Lionel Monckton (1861-1924)
Songs from the Shows
The Arcadians
(1909): Charming weather; All down Piccadilly
A Country Girl (1902): Under the deodar; Yo ho, little girls, yo ho!; Try again, Johnny
Runaway Girl (1898): The sly cigarette; The boy guessed right
The Toreador (1901): When I marry Amelia; Keep off the grass

The Messenger Boy (1900): Maisie
The Orchid (1903): Liza Ann
The Cingalee (1904): My cinnamon tree; Pearl of sweet Ceylon
The Circus Girl (1896): A simple little string
The Mousmé (1911): The temple bell
The Quaker Girl (1910): A bad boy and a good girl; The little grey bonnet; Tony, from America
The Girls of Gothenberg (1907): Two little sausages
Our Miss Gibbs (1909): Mary; Moonstruck

Catherine Bott (soprano); Richard Suart (baritone)
New London Light Opera Chorus; New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 2-3 July 2007
HYPERION CDA67654 [77:31]

 

Experience Classicsonline


After so many years of shameful neglect, recordings of the delightful music of Lionel Monckton are beginning to appear at last. In 2004, Divine Art released an album of excerpts from La Cingalee, The Arcadians and The Quaker Girl performed by the Théâtre Bel-Etage which is a leading company in Estonia, who have dedicated themselves to the English stage musical and "Variety" style of Victorian and Edwardian days. Raymond Walker’s review of this recording prompted me to acquire a copy. I was impressed enough to include it in my list of Recordings of the Year. Now at last a British company has woken up to the delights of Monckton: so cheers to Hyperion! This is a first class production not only because it contains so much material from so many of the Gaiety hits (see header list above), most of them little known, but also because the soloists are so good. Bott’s and Suart’s singing is characterful and engages fully with the often coy and innocent spirit of these little period ditties.
Monckton’s Gaiety productions were quite inconsequential – not dissimilar to variety shows, with a rudimentary plot, pretty chorus girls and catchy tunes.

 

Born in London, Lionel Monckton was educated at Charterhouse School and at Oxford University, where he composed music for amateur productions. Initially in the legal profession, he nevertheless gained part-time work as a theatre and music critic, first for the Pall Mall Gazette and, later for the Daily Telegraph. At the age of 29, in 1891, he had a song placed in a professional musical show co-written with lyricist Basil Hood. Thereafter Monckton became an increasingly regular composer - and often lyricist, as on 10 of the 22 tracks of this collection - of songs for the musical comedies performed at London's Gaiety Theatre, under the management of George Edwardes, which premiered popular shows throughout the 1890s and into the first decade of the 20th century. In 1902 Lionel married Gertie Millar, one of the most successful actresses of the period, who starred in many of his shows, many of which had “The Girl” in their titles. Monckton's songs became very popular and continued to be performed long after the shows closed -some of them remaining popular into the 1960s. Those of us over seventy (and perhaps some over sixty) might recall them from post World War II radio broadcasts - BBC Light Programme variety shows and request programmes.

 

Monckton’s work that is probably best remembered is The Arcadians. The complementary Divine Art recording features six numbers from this show including the well known The Pipes of Pan but the two included here are quite delightful: the opening famous number, with a racecourse setting, Charming Weather, being a trivial conversational escape when a couple’s amorous chatter is interrupted by friends crowding around them at the end of each race; and All Down Piccadilly, is one of the several ditties sung by young toffs and rendered in superbly comic, terribly disdainful upper class tones by Richard Suart – “I’m London’s latest whim! I’ve been a hit, in fact I’m it … All down Piccadilly , dilly dilly dilly, Round by the Park, You’ll see ladies running after Little Willie Till it gets dark!”. You get the sort of thing? Another Monckton hit show, The Quaker Girl is represented by three hits: “A bad boy and a good girl” has the coy Miss Bott being pursued by the bad Mr Suart (“May the bad boy please give her hand one squeeze …”) but inevitably the good Miss Bott succombs (“Oh I fear thee’s a lad who is very, very bad now really thee must be good”) – all innocent fun; The little grey bonnet has Miss Bott’s admirer, Tony, daring to lunge beneath her bonnet to plant a kiss – the cad!; but by the time it’s Tony from America the captivated Miss Bott is yearning for his return. Our Miss Gibbs was another great hit show and two well known numbers are included, both giving Catherine Bott the opportunity to show off her charm and skills, first with in an excellent Yorkshire accent for Mary who can’t abide southern pretences and insists her admirers call her, formally, Miss Gibbs; and the famous catchy melody of Moonstruck in which she admonishes the orb because “I’m such a silly when the moon comes out.”

 

There is much fun to be had from all the rest of the numbers featured here and it would make this review interminably long if I rattled on about them but I must mention the wonderfully politically incorrect The sly cigarette which has a chorus that would infuriate today’s ’Elf and Safety brigade, “Oh fie, cigarette! Why did you teach me to love you so, When I have to pretend that I don’t, you know?”

 

Monckton's last big hit was The Boy in 1917 (produced after Edwardes's death), a musical-comedy version of Pinero's 1885 play, The Magistrate. Tastes were changing and Monckton felt adrift: he had little enthusiasm for the modern revues to which he was asked to contribute and he was unwilling to adapt his style to the newly popular dance rhythms. He ceased composing. Monckton died at the age of 62.

 

A wonderful old-fashioned treat especially if you like Gilbert and Sullivan. This will be a strong candidate for my Recordings of the Year list. Now Hyperion what about an album dedicated to Ivor Novello with the same soloists?

 

Ian Lace

 

 




 


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