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A FOURTEENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

In these Garlands we have alluded to a number of figures who are best-known to many of us as avant-garde composers rather than as purveyors of light music: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Dominic Muldowney are two who come to mind. Yet both have had their lighter moments. Going slightly further back in time we may also instance Walter Goehr (1903-60), who published some of his music under the pseudonym Georg(e) Walter. Berlin-born and of Jewish extraction he studied with Schoenberg, whose music he sought to popularise in England after he had arrived here in 1933, after which he conducted for the Columbia Graphophone Company (1933-9), the Morley College concerts (from 1943), the Orchestre Raymonde, the BBC Theatre Orchestra (1945-8) and much else. (I recall him conducting the Hallé Orchestra in a Sheffield Philharmonic Society concert in the late 1950s.) He made many editions of classical works, notably Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 and was one of many who transcribed Mussorgsky's Pictures from an Exhibition for orchestra. His own works included a Symphony, an opera for radio Malpopita and some chamber music. But he also made contributions to the field of lighter music, like the Three Sketches of 1948, though most of these contributions were incidental to radio features and films. The radio programmes he wrote for embraced subjects as diverse as Italy, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Radar, Mulberry Harbours and the 1920s and for them he often transcribed traditional or classical material; for example the Summer's Day Suite draws on Mahler, Schumann and Brahms as well as "trad" and his Travel Music derives from sundry, mainly traditional, North and South American, Yugoslav and Russian sources. Goehr arranged an enormous amount of individual traditional melodies and he was well known in the British film studios. His incidental music in that direction included some for Spellbound (the British film of 1940, not the Hollywood one of 1945 for whose music Miklós Rózsa was responsible) - a valse intermezzo was extracted from Goehr's score - and, most famously, at least some of that for David Lean's justly famous version of Great Expectations (1946).

Gerard Schurmann is another Continental-born composer (he was born in Indonesia of Dutch parents in 1928) who later made his home in England and who has combined serious composition with work for films and ballet. Schurmann now lives in America; his film scores include dozens of "originals" like The Lost Continent and, recently recorded, The Man in the Sky, but also several orchestrations of music by others (Lawrence of Arabia and Exodus). George Weldon (1908-65) may be described, not unfairly, as a good journeyman conductor - especially at home in British music - of the CBSO during the 1940s, and later as Assistant Conductor of the Hallé. He produced some attractive music on the lighter side, strictly, I suppose, arrangements rather than compositions, but we may mention the Mice Suite (various metamorphoses of 'Three Blind Mice') and a setting of the Welsh tune Suo Gan recorded on a Classics for Pleasure LP.

Thomas Mervyn Horder (1910-97), later (1955) Baron Horder, went into publishing after university studies and wrote many books and articles on his own account. He also composed, not only song settings of Burns, Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker, Housman and Betjeman but also one or two lighter vocal pieces (e.g. O Give Me Springtime and The Cool of Morning) to his own lyrics and a few instrumental items of which we may instance the Travelogue Suite and the Harlequin ballet. Eccentric but kindly and with an excellent 1939-45 war record, Horder was a many-sided personality. Will someone now revive some of his lighter music?

Several of the blossoms in these fourteen pot-pourris most usually cast their fragrance in more serious mode, but that is no reason why we should not notice briefly the Welshmen, Alun Hoddinott (1929-) and William Mathias (1934-92), as both have made attractive contributions in the lighter vein. Both have sought to introduce a Welsh flavour into these. Hoddinott's first set of Welsh Dances (1958, later arranged for brass band) was commissioned for a BBC Light Music Festival; it was followed in the 1970s by a second set and we may also mention his Two Welsh Nursery Tunes, the Investiture Dances for the Prince of Wales in 1969 and his music for a ballet on The Railway Children. Mathias matches these with his Celtic Dances (1972), along with Serenade for Small Orchestra, the Dance Overture and Holiday Overture, both examples of the British light, bright overture genre, and, for brass band, the suite Vivat Regina, which celebrated the Queen's Jubilee in 1977. Another "serious" composer with an interest in light music is the Yorkshire-born Patric Standford (1939-), who has taught both at the GSM and in his native county, and who is responsible for film and TV music, a ballet Celestial Fire (1968) and instrumental miniatures like the Peasant Songs (1970), for violin and piano, and the Suite Française for wind quintet. And, had Cornishman George Lloyd (1913-) not apparently confined himself mainly to large-scale works - operas, choral music, concertos and, of course. symphonies - he, too, would surely be a candidate for us as his gift of melody is both distinctive and delightful. Michael Kennedy, CBE once wrote that if Eric Coates had written symphonies they might have sounded like Lloyd's - and I think he was intending that as a compliment to the Cornishman! Among Lloyd's lighter pieces we can mention his Charade Suite and his brass band compositions, the march HMS Trinidad, named after a World War II cruiser in which Lloyd served with the North Russian convoys, the suite Royal Parks, presenting aspects of Regent's Park, Diversions on a Bass Theme, Evening Song and English Heritage. Lloyd, as a Cornishman, grew up with brass bands and he certainly writes brilliantly for them.

Who else? Carlo Martelli's works for strings are often light in character. From the 1950s date a Terzetto for violins and viola and a Serenade for Strings. More recently he has produced some popular arrangements for string quartets to enjoy when they are in un-buttoned mood: Irish Sherry, a suite of well known Irish melodies and Cock Linnet, a jaunty setting of a once popular music hall song hilariously incorporating the "Toreador's Song" from Carmen. I have heard both with enjoyment in live concerts recently. Stanton Jefferies (1896-?) was active in the years after World War Two as a composer of ballads like Heart of Mine, As Friends at Eventide and My Love for You and instrumental miniatures for piano and orchestra: Apples and Pears, a country dance; Silks and Satins; and Song of the Plough. The last was extracted from a film.

It gives me pleasure to recall the work of Phillip Lord (1930-69), a brilliant lecturer at Sheffield University (I remember it was a talk for its Extramural Department by him which kindled my conversion to Delius's music) who died sadly young. Many of the relatively few compositions of his which did receive performances (even fewer were published it seems) seem to be in the traditions of British light music: Variations on a Sea Shanty, Concert Scherzo and, probably the most popular of them, the Court Dances.

We should briefly note the highly amiable work of Paul Reade (1943-1997) who sadly died of leukaemia recently, when he still had much to offer. He studied at the RAM and made his reputation in several areas more or less to do with light music: music for children (including a version of the David and Goliath story); music for children's TV, including cartoons and for several TV classic productions - Jane Eyre from which a suite was published, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, The Victorian Kitchen Garden, Far From the Madding Crowd and Great Railway Journeys; instrumental miniatures (e.g. Aspects of a Landscape for oboe, 1987, a Waltz for strings and a Saxophone Quartet); and, perhaps most of all, his highly approachable, rounded ballet scores for example, Hobson's Choice (from which a 'Clog Dance' has achieved considerable popularity), The Match Girl, Cinderella and Byron, one or two of which are happily recorded. In these ballet scores Reade often incorporated popular melodies into the musical fabric, amusingly and effectively so.

David Lyon, born in 1938, in Walsall, educated in London and now living in Dorset, has been responsible for a considerable number of substantial, "serious" works (including a String Quartet, a Piano Concerto, choral music and music theatre) but his output also embraces much that can properly be regarded as "light": the Three Miniatures for flute and piano, a Little Suite for brass trio, several orchestral works (e.g. Dance Prelude, Divertimento, Fantasia on a Nursery Theme, Overture to a Comic Opera, Country Lanes and the Fairytale Suite in no fewer than seven movements) and others for brass band such as the Rhapsodic Prelude and the march God's Wonderful Railway (translatable, to those who are supporters of others among the old railway companies, as Great Western Railway). A CD recording of Lyon's music is in the pipeline.

One major figure of British light music who has not yet been discussed fully in the pages of BMS news is Charles Williams, who was famed almost equally as conductor and composer. Born in London in 1893 (he lived until 1978, latterly near Worthing); his studies at the Royal Academy of Music were interrupted by service in the Great War. After this he pursued a career as a violinist in symphony and cinema orchestras and, in the fullness of time, passed to conducting again, initially at least, in the cinema, at the New Gallery Cinema, Regent Street in London. In fact he worked on the first British talkie, Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929). Other films Williams was associated with, either as conductor or composer (he was resident composer for Gaumont-British 1933-9) were the Will Hay comedies, The Thirty Nine Steps (Donat version, of course although Jack Beaver and Hubert Bath have been variously credited with this), The Way to the Stars, Kipps and The Young Mr Pitt. Away from films Williams conducted both the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra (Chappell's 'house' orchestra) and his own Concert Orchestra; with these ensembles, which were no salon groups but could muster up to 50 players, he not only appeared in the concert hall, but recorded both commercially issued gramophone records (mostly for Columbia) and for Chappell's whose recorded music library, instituted in 1942, was a source of mood or incidental music for radio, film, newsreel and later television. Its scope may be judged by the fact that Chappells archives collection currently embraces 31 CDs.

For Chappell's RML Williams recorded an enormous amount of catchy music both by himself and, often arranged by himself, other contemporary masters of the mood music genre. Most famous of all these tunes was surely Devil's Galop, adopted in October 1946 as the signature tune of "Dick Barton-Special Agent", whose adventures ran for almost five years. This was later expanded into a fuller length piece for concert or recording use. Other Williams "standards" which were adopted as signature tunes were Voice of London (for the QHLO's broadcasts), The Old Clockmaker ("Jennings at School"), A Quiet Stroll ("Farming"), Rhythm on Rails ("Morning Music"), Girls in Grey ("BBC TV News", but originally dating from the war years), High Adventure ("Friday Night is Music Night") and Majestic Fanfare (Australian TV). Some of Williams titles, like The Nursery Clock, Sleepy Marionette and Model Railway, as well as Rhythm on Rails, suggest a preoccupation with mechanical objects. Other popular titles by him were Jealous Lover, Side Walk, The Young Ballerina, The Starlings, Big Ben, Heart-o-London, for the Coronation of 1953 and conveying well the bustle of the capital, and the marches Kensington and Blue Devils.

Williams music never lost its connection with the cinema. He provided music for over one hundred films although by no means all of it was especially written for a particular film, much of it coming through the "library" system. Thus Jealous Lover was, long after it was composed, adapted for The Apartment. The music for The Noose (1947) achieved considerable popularity, but much the most popular piece of Williams' film music was written for While I Live, also in 1947 - the haunting tune The Dream of Olwen achieved enormous popularity, whether in concert, on the radio, on record and, where it sold over a quarter of a million copies, in sheet music. Williams' ability at catching a particular mood ensured popularity in his day and his work's qualities of cheerfulness and character has ensured its modest revival in our own day. We may fairly dub him the Mogul of Mood Music.

One light music composer worth brief mention is H. Baynton-Power, who was particularly active between the wars, producing several lighter works for that archetypal light music ensemble of piano, violin and cello. His Nursery Rhyme Suite and Bluebells and Bracken suite appeared for orchestra, the latter scored by Ernest Irving. Ballads came from his pen in some profusion: Absent From Thee, By the Yang-Tse-Kiang, Harvester's Night Song, Rest at Eventide, The Song of the Golden Grain, to celebrate Harvest Festival, The Street of Quiet Windows and The Wonderful World of Your Heart. He even contributed some numbers to Harold Kingsley's Oriental musical play Kong, an unsuccessful attempt (it ran for just two weeks - 20 performances - at the Cambridge Theatre in 1931) in an attempt to emulate the success of Frederick Norton's Chu Chin Chow, a decade or so earlier. His slightly earlier musical Daphne (1930) did slightly better.

Organists whether on pipe or electronic instruments, often contributed considerably to light music as players and composers. One thinks of broadcasting organists like Reginald Foort or Sandy MacPherson in the years astride the Second World War, or the travelling concert organists of a rather earlier age, like Alfred Hollins, William Wolstenholme and Edwin Lemare. These latter three merit articles to themselves (many years ago I did write up Wolstenholme in Musical Opinion) and only a little behind them in popularity was William Fawkes. Born in Liverpool in 1863 and active in that City as organist and teacher until his death in 1933, his output, mostly published between 1900 and 1930, was prolific and included, like Hollins' list of compositions, three Concert Overtures (in A, D and E Flat) and a Spring Song, plus a Fantasia on Old Welsh Airs, a Rhapsody on Old French Carols and ingratiating miniatures like Gavotte and Musette, Berceuse in G, Melody in E minor, Minuet and Trio in B minor and several Pastorales. As I heard recently Fawkes' music still sounds well today.

Some of my readers may be surprised to find here the name of Patrick Moore (born in 1923), of "The Sky at Night" fame but music ranks first among his "other" interests and has made a not inconsiderable contribution, as performer (not least on the xylophone) and composer. His compositions include the operas Perseus and Andromeda, from 1982 and Theseus, but many, including instrumental excerpts of them, are light and pleasingly tuneful in character. Several have been arranged for brass band and other instrumental combinations. One or two of his titles reflect his cosmic interests, like for example the Halley's Comet March and perhaps even King Neptune; others include Ariadne, March of the Centaurs, Penguin Parade, Sunrise Polka and Vienna Clouds.

And so we conclude this fourteenth remembrance of those composers who have sought to give pleasure to listeners. Light music, it is said, is making a come-back and this may well be so. But it has never really died, and many of the figures we have discussed and may discuss in the future, have made their own relatively recent and distinctive contributions to the proud heritage which is British light music.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

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

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