Classical MusicWeb

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Our first three blooms all have connections with musical education. Ernest Markham Lee (1874-1956), a Professor at the Guildhall School, author, examiner, pianist and organist, produced a large quantity of instructional music for young pianists and singers, also the light concert suites Moorland and Torland, West Country Suite, Rivers of Devon (Tamar, Dart, Torridge and Lyn), Round the North Sea and Light Heart, intermezzi (Florestina enjoyed some popularity) and vocal ballads like Rainbow Time. His operetta Paris in Spring did not achieve much success.

Thomas Arnold Johnson (1908-89), whom I knew in his last few years, lived in the Wirral (Cheshire) all his life. He studied at the Royal Manchester College; a pianist, he worked in the "silent" cinema, in recital and on radio. His composition apart from a few instrumental solos with piano and some songs were for piano solo or duet. They ranged from two sonatas to Whispering Zephyr, played by Billy Mayerl, and Cut Glass, used by the TV Toppos. He wrote much instructional music and several suites in the British light music tradition - one on Greyfriars School characters, Pantomime People and Punch and Judy - plus Concert Valse, Lady of Brazil (a samba) and the march Total Victory, later scored for military band.

W.S.Lloyd Webber (1914-82), sometime Principal of the London College, was father of Andrew, stage composer extraordinary, arguably a late 20th Century Sullivan (whose Requiem of 1984 was dedicated to W.S.'s memory, and cellist Julian. W.S. composed prolifically, organ, church and other choral music, but much of his output is "light". Many of his songs (The Call of the Morning, To the Wicklow Hills, Thank God For Life, So Lovely the Rose, To Mary and Four Bibulous Songs) are ballads of one sort or another. Piano pieces, like Bagatelle Gracieuse, Romantic Evening and Song Without Words recall the great days of salon music, as indeed do the orchestral Three Spring Miniatures and a Waltz in F Minor.

Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921-78), educated at Merchant Taylors' and Oxford University, wrote much vocal music of a more or less serious character (though Montgomery rarely took himself seriously. On the lighter side he composed 38 film scores including three for the Richard Gordon "Doctor" films, Escapade, Eye Witness, the British Transport documentary Scottish Highlands (1953) and, most notably maybe, for some of the earlier Carry On films, and a ballad opera John Barleycorn (1965). He was as much a writer as a composer and his ingenious and highly entertaining detective stories under the name Edmund Crispin have many musical references, two of them to film music.

Harold Noble, who flourished either side of the Second World War, is particularly associated with vocal music (a radio opera, a cantata, church music, folk song arrangements and the very popular Do You Remember an Inn, Miranda?), but we may also point to the elegy Tintern Abbey for brass, The Blue Train for piano and Arietta for horn and piano - all more or less "light".

William Leonard Reed, (born October 16 1910, died April 15 2002), studied at the Royal College of Music and is best known, certainly by me as and entertaining lecturer/teacher. But he has also composed in a wide variety of musical forms and several of these are light in character: musicals (The Vanishing Island, 1955; Annie, 1967; and Love All, 1978); orchestral pieces like the Concert Overture (1950), the Mountain House Suite, Festive March, Three Dance Movements, Idyll, Scherzo and High Diplomacy (1969); and, for solo piano Three Surrey Impressions, Nocturne and Four Child Portraits.

The recently deceased Inglis Gundry (1905-2000) is remembered for his operas (though no all of them have yet been staged), church music, songs and two symphonies, but his idiom, which often makes use of folk or folklike melody, is not unsuited to lighter music. He made many arrangements of folk tunes from Cornwall, a county very close to his heart, while his suites Heyday Freedom, premiered at the Proms in 1943, Five Bells (for chorus and orchestra, written in 1942 while serving afloat with the Royal Navy) and others arranged from his own operas are arguably light music. His overture Per Mare Per Terram was composed in 1943 for the Royal Marines.

Sir George Henschel (1850-1934), the German-born singer, pianist and conductor, settled in England as a young man. Many of his compositions are classical - operas, choral works, art songs, etc. - but he also wrote incidental music for the theatre (e.g. Hamlet) while many of his solo piece compositions are short and accessible and not a few of his songs (O Hush Thee My Babie, No More, She Comes Not and Tomorrow, perhaps also The Lamb, most popular of his vocal pieces) are reckonable as ballads.

Another ballad composer, active on the first three decades of the 20th Century, was Jack Thompson, sought after for titles like Come Sing To Me, An Emblem, My Only Gift, published in 1912, I'll Live For You, My Little Cottage Home in Sweet Killarney (1917), I'll Sing to You and You - Just You.

Louis Revel, a composer and arranger of light orchestral miniatures is worth a mention; his version of the much arranged The Londonderry Air (1938), for piano and strings is certainly attractive.

Antony Hopkins, born in 1921, a one-time RCM student, is best known for his brilliant broadcasting and lecturing about music. His compositions are considerable, and mostly date from earlier in his career. Frequently they are in lighthearted, accessible vein; choral music, piano music, incidental music for radio productions, plays (including The Birds of Aristophanes, Dorothy L. Sayers' The Just Vengeance (1946) and several by Shakespeare) and films (Billy Budd, Vice Versa, Seven Thunders and The Pickwick Papers). Works for the stage include two ballets, operettas for children, Johnny the Priest (1960, after R.C. Sherriff) and several "mini-operas"for the Intimate Opera Company with which he was associated for several years in the 1950s.

Our brass band representative is the Yorkshire-born Roy Newsome, long associated with bands as conductor (of several of them including Black Dyke), adjudicator, broadcaster, lecturer (at Salford) and composer. His pieces include the concert overture, The Legend of the Chateau de Chillon, the marches Tredegar Castle, King Size and BBC March, the suites Westward, Two London Sketches and Suite For Switzerland, the single movements North West Passage, Roller Coaster, Father Neptune, Sylvia and Hat Trick and solos for cornet (Concorde, named after the aircraft presumably, is brilliant), soprano cornet and E Flat bass (Bass in the Ballroom has had a certain popularity probably because there are not too many solos for bass tuba in the brass world or anywhere else).

Finally we come to the Scotsman Gavin Gordon, born in Ayr in 1901 (he died in 1970), but educated south of the border at Rugby and the Royal College of Music where he studied with Vaughan Williams. This multi-talented man was actor, singer and cartoonist as well as composer, of songs, the ballets A Toothsome Morsel, The Scorpions of Ysit, Regatta, The Death of Hector and, most importantly and popularly, The Rake's Progress, produced at Sadler's Wells in 1935 and later revived, also issued on 78rpm records, which I remember, and a number of orchestral pieces. Of these, the four Caricatures and the so-called Work in E Major for strings both parody old-style dances and thus may definitely be reckoned as light music. It could be that Gordon's music is ripe for modest revival.

Philip L. Scowcroft

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount



Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.

E-mail enquiries (but NOT orders) can be directed to Rob Barnett at

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