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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

A SIXTEENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

The number of those who have composed what I reckon to be light music in this country grows and grows, in my experience. Perhaps it is no surprise that few, if any, were willing to take on the task of writing a study of British light music across the board until, fool-like, I rushed in to do my 'British Light Music' published by Thames in 1997.

Writing light music can often run in families. In serious music we have the Bachs, the Mozarts and the Lehmanns (Amelia and Liza)/Bedfords (Herbert and Stewart) - although the two Lehmanns may just as plausibly be considered as contributors to the light music scene, especially if we reckon (as I think we must) ballad-type songs as falling within the light music domain. In the various fields of light music we can readily point to several "families". The Godfreys were pre-eminent examples of this and we have already discussed them at some length in Garland 6; we have similarly alluded to two of the Bucalossis (Garland 7: News 71). The three O'Donnell brothers we discussed in Garland 3 (News 67). The three Wrights, Denis, Frank and Kenneth, the first two pre-eminent in brass band circles, the later associated with the BBC for many years, were not related, but several generations of Winterbottoms graced the world of military band music. Most eminent of them was Frank (1861-1930), Director of the Royal Marines, Plymouth Band 1890-1910 and later an instructor at Kneller Hall. Many of his fine military band arrangements are still used (I recall especially that of Elgar's Crown of India march, a valuable transcription as that movement curiously did not appear in the published suite from that Imperial masque); Winterbottom's original compositions included the ballets Jorinda and Phantasma and the suite Seven Ages, inspired by Shakespeare.

Military and brass bands are particularly fertile soil, it seems for family connections Geoffrey Brand (1928) and his son Michael, for example. The former, trained at the RAM, played trumpet in the RPO and at Covent Garden after which he achieved distinction as a conductor, notably with Black Dyke, as adjudicator and as producer for the BBC on both radio and TV. Both father and son are known primarily as arrangers; but some of Michael's original compositions (like Tuba Tapestry, which is quite popular, as there are relatively few solos for bass tuba, and Rag'n Bone for trombone) are well known to brass players. William Rimmer (1862-1936) was renowned in the brass band world as composer, conductor and trainer, no doubt inheriting some of his aptitude in this respect from his father Thomas, Bandmaster of the Southport Rifle Band. The younger Rimmer achieved remarkable success with brass bands, especially Irwell Springs, Wingate's Black Dyke, Foden's and Besses o'th'Barn; he trained and conducted five of the six prizewinners at the 1909 Open Championship. After 1910 he concentrated on arranging and composing, combining this with music editorship for the brass band publishers Wright and Round. His many marches included Knight of the Road, The Australasian, Slaidburn, Cross of Honour, Viva Birkenshaw (named after a celebrated one-time Black Dyke cornettist), Punchinello, The Cossack (adopted by the Foden Band as their signature tune), Dawn of Freedom, Irresistible, Ravenswood, For Freedon and Honour and The Comet. Many of them are still played, as are his instrumental solos Cleopatra, Hailstorm and Silver Showers and the overture Rule Britannia. Rimmer's orchestral music, like the march Southport Belles, Wedding Bells and The Bells of St. Malo, has survived much less well, if indeed at all. His nephew Drake Rimmer, who trained in Edinburgh, Manchester and Hamburg and like his uncle was both a brass band conductor and a music editor, is nearly as well known as an arranger and composer though, apart perhaps from the suite Holiday Sketches, his original compositions, all for brass band, seem to be on the "serious" side; examples are the tone poems King Lear, Othello, Rufford Abbey, The Golden Hind, Quo Vadis, The Flame of Freedom and Macbeth.

Fathers and sons are common in other spheres of light music. Henry Russell (1812-1900), much in demand as a singer in mid-Victorian Britain (and America) and composer of popular ballads such as A Life on he Ocean Wave, Cheer, Boys Cheer, To the West, The Mighty Niagara, The English Emigrant, Woodman Spare That Tree and The Ship on Fire all sung by him at his recitals, was the father of Sir Landon Ronald (Russell) (1873-1938), conductor, especially of the New Symphony (or Royal Albert Hall) and Scottish Orchestras, a pioneer recording artiste and Principal of the Guildhall School of Music between 1910 and 1938. Despite all this activity he found time to compose some 300 songs, mainly ballads (the most popular were Down in the Forest, June Rhapsody and O Lovely Night), two ballets and incidental music to The Garden of Allah which yielded a concert suite aired at the Henry Wood Proms in 1920.

Hubert Bath (1883-1945), composer of the Cornish Rhapsody and much else, we have discussed at some length in an earlier Garland (1: News 65); his son John conducted the 25 strong BBC West of England Light Orchestra for a short time around 1950 before illness (or was it a personality clash with Reginald Redman, Head of the BBC's Western Region's Music Department) forced his retirement. At any rate, ill or not, he survived for over 30 years, latterly in America. Like his father he composed much for films, plus a Spanish Serenade for small orchestra and Fiddler's Fancye, a suite of 18th Century dances for string quartet and string orchestra. Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1901-47), South African born and involved in BBC music, on and off, for the twenty years prior to his death, has also been covered at some length in BMS News 39 (his lighter works include Overture to a Pantomime, a South African Suite, the popular Carol Symphony, really a suite, and many light hearted song settings of comic verse by Belloc, Carroll and Lear and the Handelian parody Old Mother Hubbard, one of several such). His son John who lives in South Africa, also composes songs and a rather attractive Swellendam Suite.

It is confusing when father and son bear the same name, as is the case with Julian Clifford, senior and junior. The elder (1877-1921) conducted resort orchestras at Harrogate and Hastings and was a fine pianist, his compositions including a Piano Concerto and the piano solos Three Episodes and Valse Caprice (both early works as he played them in a Doncaster recital in 1899). Other Clifford works included songs, a choral ode, a orchestral Ballade, a tone poem Lights Out and the intermezzi Fairy Fancies, Midge and Meditation, but it is possible that the son, who also conducted resort orchestras and on the BBC may be responsible for some at least of the latter three pieces. He certainly was a composer.

Then there are the Engelmans. Joseph had a lengthy career in light music, being involved with light orchestras in the Midlands during the Second War and afterwards. He was a prolific composer of light suites and genre movements and their very titles are replete with interest. The suites included Three American Sketches, A Cocktail Cabinet (Maiden's Blush, Orange Blossom and Manhattan), A Doll's House, Four Olde English Inns, In a Toyshop, A Voyage to Lilliput (which includes a "march grotesque", "The Lilliputian Army"), Tales From a Fairy Book (Babes in the Wood, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella and Ali Baba, a "march orientale") and Suite Rustique. His single movements include several concerted items: Bass Business, a novelty intermezzo for double bass or bassoon or baritone saxophone (with orchestra), Fiddler's Folly, for violin and orchestra, and Cat and Mouse, a "humorous interlude" for piano and orchestra. Other titles included the descriptive scene, Bells Across the World, the march Blarney Stone, Incognita, Pizzicato Caprice, the descriptive interlude Riviera Express, The Spectre, the galop Yankee Doodle, The Wedding of Punch and Judy and a collection of twenty fanfares. His son Harry (born in 1912) may be reckoned as a major successor to Billy Mayerl as a syncopated pianist. He has composed songs (e.g. Melody of Love) and of course syncopated piano solos, among which we may instance Cannon off the Cushion, Snakes and Ladders, Skittles (these titles surely showing a preoccupation with games in the same way as Mayerl favoured flowers), Summer Rain and Finger Prints.

Finally an intriguing "three decker", Charles Donald Maclean (1843-1916), composer of light orchestral works and other music, sired Alexander Morvaren Maclean (1872-1936), usually known as 'Alick', who became best known as a conductor, especially of the Scarborough Spa Orchestra (1911-35) - he was affectionately dubbed "the God of Scarborough" - and was probably, after Sir Dan Godfrey, the best of the resort conductors. His compositions, which included an oratorio and nine operas, some of which were produced in Germany, were by no means all "light", though his incidental music to the plays Cyrano de Bergerac and The Jest and his contributions to the musical farce The White Silk Dress would doubtless fall within this category. Alick's son Quentin Stuart Morvaren Maclean (1896-1962) was an organist, both in London churches and in theatres like the Trocadero and the Elephant and Castle, where he made recordings in the 1930s. Later, he went to the United States. He composed, too, miniatures like Bubbling, Rondolet and, most popular of all the charming Parade of the Sunbeams, which was known both in its original version for organ and in an orchestral arrangement by Herman Finck.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount

DONCASTER

S YORKS DN2 5PJ

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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