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A FIFTEENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

This Garland takes up a number of themes announced in earlier Garlands. First, here are more people who are known for writing little tunes for television or mood music miniatures which after being incorporated in a publisher's library could indeed often find their way to becoming radio or television signature tunes. Examples of the "mood music library" composer from the decade or two after the last war are Colin Smith, whose titles included Looking Around (which became the signature tune to The Appleyards) and Haymaker's Holiday, Mike Hankinson, still alive in South Africa, remembered for his mood miniature Country Canter and ballet and film scores, and Eric Jupp, writer of Janetta, Enchanted Night and Bob Sleigh (all orchestral) and the song My Love is Venice. He emigrated to Australia many years ago. Of the famous TV signature tunes which have become light music "standards" we shall mention those for Coronation Street and Z Cars. The former is credited to Eric Spear who was involved with television in other directions (he devised a series of children's programmes in the 1960s) and whose musical titles include Meet Mister Callaghan (1952) and the songs Molly Macarthy and Mary Malone and Golden Grain, both published in 1951, music for films (Ghost Ship, The Limping Man, The Vulture), a musical Kookaburra (1959) and an earlier TV soap theme tune for The Grove Family. Z Cars' tune (Johnny Todd) is often credited to Bridget Fry, a respected arranger, but it appears to be a traditional tune and the version most often heard is by the flautist, writer, broadcaster and arranger Fritz Spiegl.

Next there are the theatre organists, all of whom had to be adept at arranging music, often "on the hoof", and many of whom composed light "miniatures" and sometimes used them as their signature tunes. South Yorkshire-born Harold Robinson Cleaver (1906-87) was noted in his day for his signature tune, An Earful of Music and his Shadow Serenade even achieved an orchestral version. Everyone connects Sheffield-born Reginald Dixon MBE (1904-85), for many years at Blackpool's Tower Ballroom, with I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside. Still another South Yorkshire native, Reginald Porter-Brown (1910-82) from Barnsley, achieved popularity with his Dance of the Three Old Maids. Sandy Macpherson completed 6000 BBC broadcasts in 1952 (many of these were in September 1939 when he was the BBC's only musician live on air for some weeks) as well as appearing in various cinemas including the Empire, Leicester Square; his 'marcia pomposo', Royal Edinburgh achieved publication in an arrangement for brass.

All these organists broadcast regularly and there are many other light music composers whom we may associate with broadcasting in one way or another; the BBC at one time consumed light music in enormous quantities. We may instance Carroll Gibbons (1903-54), American-born, who came to London in 1924 and immediately began a 30 year broadcasting career both with the BBC (initially with the Savoy Orpheans, later with his own orchestra) and with Radio Luxemburg. In 1928 he became Director of Light Music at HMV. His radio signature tune was appropriately enough entitled On the Air. Other compositions included music for the revue Shake Your Feet, the musical comedies Sylvia (1927) and, with Vernon Duke, Open Your Eyes (1929), the piano solos Summer Rain and Bubbling Over and various songs including A Garden in the Rain, Don't Close the Door and Running Between the Raindrops. Leslie Bridgmont was well known either side of the last war as broadcaster, radio producer, often of variety programmes, and even composer, of pieces like the tango Enchanting Eyes, the serenade Mitzi and Moonlight in Tahiti. Gideon Fagan (1904-80) was a BBC staff conductor, of the BBC Northern Orchestra (now BBC Philharmonic) for a period during the Second World War. South African born, he studied at the RCM and then conducted for films. He returned to South Africa for the last three decades of his life. Not all his compositions were 'light' but we may instance his Suite of Afrikaans Folk Tunes, in five movements, a Fanfare for Radio South Africa, various overtures, the orchestral intermezzo Pastoral Montage and even ballad-type songs, like I Had a Dove.

Four 'serious' composers can earn a mention here for their contributions on the lighter side. Peter Warlock, otherwise Philip Heseltine (1894-1930) one of the great British song writers of this century, included in his output a number of songs which may be reckoned as ballads, like the well known drinking song Captain Stratton's Fancy and the rather similar The Cricketers of Hambledon plus a few piano miniatures like the delightful Milkmaids. Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950), who of course knew Warlock, was brought up in Norfolk. His works included a Symphony and other orchestral music, chamber music and vocal and choral pieces but several of them may be categorised as 'light', like the short orchestral items Lonely Waters and Whythorne's Shadow and piano miniatures such as Stalham River, Fancies, Summer Valley, Windmills and Bank Holiday, especially the last two. Havergal Brian (1876-1972) an example of monumentalism in a composer if ever there was one, with his operas, large choral works and 32 symphonies, often for very large forces, could however point to compositions such as Dr Merryheart, an earlyish (1911-12) example of the British comedy overture, the English Suites, especially the first (the remaining four are either lost or unpublished) and perhaps the Four Miniatures for piano solo as his contributions to the heritage of British light music. Bernard George Stevens (1916-83), educated at Cambridge University and the RCM where he later taught, is mostly remembered for his more serious works but I recently heard and enjoyed his film music for The Mark of Cain (1947), one of several Stevens film scores. Passing his output in review subsequent to hearing that I felt I could add to it other light effusions like the Dance Suite for orchestra, A Birthday Song for piano duet and the piano solos Haymakers' Dance and The Mirror.

Phyllis Margaret Duncan Tate (1911-87), the first of a group of five women composers we salute in this paragraph is also best known for her more serious works, notably opera (e.g. The Lodger adapted from a once-popular spine-chilling novel), choral, vocal and chamber music. But in 1958 she was commissioned to write for the BBC Light Music Festival of that year an orchestral suite London Fields (four movements, Springtime at Kew; Hampton Court, the Maze, with xylophone prominent; St James' Park, A Lakeside Reverie, a lovely sustained movement; and Hampstead Heath, Rondo for Roundabouts conveying a fairground atmosphere.) Very attractive it is too; she was not the first, nor the last, light music composer to find inspiration from London's sights and sounds. Other lighter Tate works include Songs Without Words for orchestra, Illustrations (1969) for brass band, the Lyric Suite for piano duet and much of her music for young students. Doreen Carwithen (Mary Alwyn, widow of William), happily still with us, is another who can point to a proportion of her generally 'serious' output as falling within the 'light' (or lightish) category: much film music, two overtures in the tradition of the rumbustious British light overture, Bishop Rock and ODTAA ('One Damn Thing After Another') and the delightful Suffolk Suite for orchestra (is there any corner of the British Isles which has not been the subject of a light topographical suite or a genre movement?). Going further back than Tate or Carwithen, two lady pianists and a lady violinist demand our attention. The violinist Ethel Barns (1874-1948), RAM-trained, composed major works including a Concerto, for her instrument, but her lighter effusions included a Humoresque for violin, said to resemble Dvorák's piece of the same name, long popular with salon orchestras, and ballads like Soul of Mine. Dorothy Forster (1884-1950), a pianist who made gramophone records in 'acoustic' days, wrote enough ballad type songs (examples are Roses of Memory, Rose in the Bud and Songs of the Highway) to attract the attention of H.M. Higgs, who put together one of his orchestral medleys of them, and not unnaturally composed, short piano pieces like Coquette and Happy Memories. Helen Perkin (1909-86) a pupil of John Ireland, whose piano concerto she premiered at the Henry Wood Proms in 1930, also composed many lightish piano solos like Four Preludes and The Village Fair; her Carnival, for brass band, was the test piece for the Open Championship of 1957.

Now for a couple more song composers. Alan Colville's ballads were popular in the years after the last war; we may instance The New World Over the Hill, Welcome My Dear and A Blackbird in the Dawn. Herbert Oliver, active from before the Great War, until after World War II, was one of the more prolific writers of popular songs around at that period. Among his popular titles were Down Vauxhall Way, London Pride, Spreading the News, The Sentinel, Gretna Green, Red Rose of England, Love Divine, Round the Galley Fire, Land of the Harlequin, The Call and The Ball at the Great St James'. Some of them were gathered into collections - London Echoes, Lyrics of London, Songs of Old London, The Cries of Old London, Songs of the Orient, Songs of the Devon Moors, Songs of the Northern Hills and Songs of a Vivandiere and the 'operette cycle' The Belle of the Ball - or, transcribed by other hands, became popular orchestral numbers. An example is Lady Betty's Gavotte, arranged by Sydney Baynes from Down Vauxhall Way.

Four pianists now. Norman Fraser, born in 1904, often, as in his Suite of Six Short Pieces, sought to include South American rhythms in his work. Other titles included Medaillon Retrouvé and the signature tune for BBC Radio's 'The Smith Family'. Robert S. Thornton, about whom I know little but who seems to have been active during the thirties, forties and fifties is worthy of mention not least for the intriguing titles his attractive piano miniatures bear: The Butterfly's Flirtation, Freddie Frog's Frolic, Wind Whispers, Peach Blossom, Mistress Blue Eyes, Jackanapes, Dance of the Dragonflies, Silver Shoes and Legions of the Air, this last a march. Walter Landauer, one half of the Rawicz and Landauer piano duo popular in the post-1945 period also composed, his output including Vienna Concerto for piano and orchestra and the piano solos Gamine, Summer Rain and Echo Waltz. The fourth pianist is Robert Keys, still alive and living in Dorset, who was repetiteur for the English Opera Group 1948-53 and subsequently worked for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He was involved at various times with light music either side of the Second War. His compositions, all early and originally mainly for piano, include Slumber Song, Temperamental Triplets, City Centre, Frenzied Fingers and 5.15, the latter being the signature tune, composed in 1936, of the pre-war North Regional Children's Hour programme, fondly remembered by the writer.

Our 'military band' representative in this Garland is Wing Commander Barrie Hingley OBE, recently retired as Principal Director of Music RAF, a post he assumed in 1989. He has produced many marches and arrangements for the service, also longer pieces like the Nativity ballet. Colin Hand (born 1929) has also composed much more music suitable for military or concert band (South Bank Sketches, Shantasia etc). His light, eclectic idiom has also been exercised in other music, vocal, choral and instrumental, and much of this is suitable for students. Recorders have been particularly favoured, in compositions like Petite Suite Champetre, Festival Overture and - yet another light topographical suite - the Fenland Suite.

Finally I revert to an organist composer, a cathedral organist this time, in the shape of Sir Alfred Herbert Brewer (1865-1928), latterly organist of Gloucester Cathedral (1896-1928) and friendly with Elgar, who scored one of his major festival cantatas. Besides this and choral music Brewer write many pieces of light music: for orchestra, Springtime and the two pieces Age and Youth; for organ, the Marche Héroïque, which has received a number of recordings recently; and for voice, ballads like The Fairy Pipers, Dolly, Ninetta, There Was a Lady and The Wishing Well.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount

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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 rob.barnett1@btinternet.com


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