Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
A 128TH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
We start with that eminent Victorian Henry Thomas Smart (1813-79), known nowadays mainly to (some) organists, though he also composed operas, choral works (The Bride of Dunkerron was particularly popular in its day with King Renée’s Daughter, The Fishermaidens and Jacob not far behind), anthems, hymn tunes and partsongs. But it is his organ music by which we remember him (he was an organist himself and he became an authority on organ design). His Andantes, seven or eight of them, are pleasingly lyrical and if they had been orchestrated, light orchestras might have seized eagerly upon them; his marches, particularly Grand Solemn March and Festive March in D, are rousing and the latter was orchestrated, by H. M. Higgs – another Smart orchestration (by Sidney Crooke) was of Moonglade, possibly a partsong originally.
Conductor/composer Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie (1847-1935) has not so far been Garlanded, but he wrote good tunes and there was plenty of lighter music to set beside his operas, choral works, chamber music and concertos for violin (he was a violinist) and piano. Overtures for example: Overture to a Comedy (1876), Cervantes (1877), Britannia (1894) and Youth, Sport and Loyalty (1922). Or marches, the Processional March (1899) and the Coronation March of 1902. His suite London Day By Day, premiered at the 1902 Norwich Festival, almost anticipated the title of Eric Coates’ better known, though much shorter, suite of 1932 (its movements are entitled Under the Clock, Valse, Merry Mayfair, Song of Thanksgiving and Hampstead Heath); La Savannah was a colourful orchestral number, while Mackenzie penned no fewer than four Rhapsodies, three Scottish, one Canadian. He made hundreds of arrangements of Scottish melodies, while his four pieces for piano In Varying Mood sound to be attractive pieces, too. Some of his music for stage counts as "light": Phoebe, described as a comic opera, was never produced; an operetta The Knights of the Road appeared in 1905; but most famously there was The Cricket on the Hearth, based on Dickens, of course, and described as a "light opera", produced at the Royal Academy (where Mackenzie trained) in 1914 and in Glasgow in 1923 – its attractive overture has been recorded.
We end with more composers from the English light music theatre of the 1920s. There were two de Rance sisters; Haidée, born in 1896, was singer, actress, violinist and composer, of two musicals, Jenny (1922, which achieved 66 performances at the Empire) and Scotch and Polly (1924, which toured provincially); and Hero, who wrote music for the revue The Punch Bowl and the farce The Whole Town’s Talking, not to mention the songs Homeward, When the Circus Comes to Town and You’re Mine. Geoffrey Gwyther, born in 1890, and an Oxford graduate, wrote various songs I Should Like a Bit of Naught, If You Believe Me and So Early in the Morning O, following that with a musical, Patricia, which achieved 160 West End performances in 1924-5. Harold Garstin’s music was described variously as undistinguished and (by The Times) as "reminiscent", but it was tuneful. The Island King (1922) managed 160 performances on the West End stage; Polynesia was a one-acter of 1924; and in The Wishing Well (1925) jazz idioms made a token appearance. Leslie Smith was in 1922 a serving officer in the Royal Engineers when he composed his one musical comedy, The Golden Dawn; but it was not successful, even in the provinces. Finally Louis A. Hirsch (1887-1924) was American but a number of his shows achieved success this side of the Atlantic either side of 1920, among them Going Up (1917), with its aviation background, The Rainbow Girl (1918) and Mary (1921).
Philip L. Scowcroft
Enquiries to Philip at
8 Rowan Mount
S YORKS DN2 5PJ
Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.
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