Aureole etc.




Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

A TWENTIETH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

To begin with here are a few composers associated mainly with the light musical stage in Queen Victoria's reign. First let us briefly remember the Cellier brothers, Alfred (1844-91) and Francois, sometimes called Frank. Alfred (and presumably Francois too) was born of French parents in London. As he has an entry in The New Grove we need not say too much about him. He conducted for the Philharmonic Society, the Opera Comique, the Covent Garden Promenade Concerts and later on in America, G&S operetta especially and Australia. His compositions apart from a setting of Gray's Elegy for the Leeds Festival of 1883, a Symphonic Suite and many songs, were primarily operettas, about fifteen of them in total. Best known of them in its day, although it is nearly forgotten nowadays and almost never heard, was Dorothy (1886), whole initial run outmatched that of any of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. The best known of the remainder were perhaps Doris and The Mountebanks, to a libretto by Gilbert (this was after the "carpet quarrel" had parted him from Sullivan) and produced posthumously, as far as Cellier was concerned, in 1892. It is ironic that Cellier's now best remembered and most often heard work is the overture he strung together from Sullivan's tunes to The Pirates of Penzance (he may have been involved in one or two others).

Francois Cellier outlived his brother by many years and died in 1914, having retired from the Savoy company in 1902. His conducting and indeed his composing were largely confined to the Savoy. He was the resident conductor of all the G.&S. operettas from 1878 onwards doing their initial runs (except of the first night which Sullivan usually conducted himself) and also of other Savoy operettas like Alexander Mackenzie's His Majesty and Ivan Caryll's The Lucky Star. Francois' compositions were less high in profile than those of his brother, but they were scarcely negligible. He contributed music to the Savoy curtain-raiser Mrs Jarammies' Genie (1888), jointly with his brother. Other one-act curtain-raisers for that theatre, Captain Billy (1891) and Old Sarah were entirely his own work. He was suggested as the person to complete Sullivan's The Emerald Isle when he died leaving it unfinished but that task was eventually given to Edward German. Perhaps we may on the whole be glad that that decision was made, as it brought German into the world of operetta, which had not known him previously and was to produce in Merrie England his best remembered piece. Francois may have known Sullivan's style more intimately but - as far as possible to judge (and the same goes for his brother as well) - his music however superficially it might have resembled Sullivan's, lacked his colleague's essential sparkle and indeed genius.

Jules Riviere (1819-1900) has much in common with Louis Jullien as he was French-born, English-domiciled and a conductor in whom showmanship sometimes took precedence over musicality. His influence was however much less. Sir Henry Wood in his memoirs My Life of Music recounted a reminiscence of Riviere as a conductor at Llandudno which suggests a somewhat startling incompetence. That reminiscence may have gained something in the telling, because Riviere was an experienced military bandmaster and conductor, at, for example, the Adelphi and Alhambra Theatres, Cremorne Gardens, perhaps the last of the old pleasure gardens to flourish in a musical sense, and the Covent Garden Promenade Concerts. His compositions were mostly for the stage and included much incidental and ballet music; an Overture on Soldier's Songs was performed in a Doncaster concert of 1875. His biggest "hit" was apparently his contribution to the operetta Babil and Bijou in 1872, for which most of the music was written by Frederic Clay and the Frenchman Herve, and specifically one single air Spring Gentle Spring. Riviere was offered £20 for this by a publisher, fairly generous for the time, I suppose, but the composer decided to self-publish and waltz, quadrille, lancers and march versions of it earned him, so he said, £2,000. Other Riviere dance music was popular about that time, too. I have discovered a Clicquot Galop attributed to him in a Doncaster dance programme of 1875 and the Babil and Bijou waltz in another one of 1876.

Another of Sullivan's theatre contemporaries and one who survived him - unlike Arthur Goring Thomas (1850-92), remembered for stage works like the opera Nadeshda, much ballet music and the operetta Esmeralda, from which the air "O Vision Entrancing" achieved fame, and Frederic Clay (1838-89), a particular friend of Sullivan, whose ballads She Wandered Down the Mountain Side and I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby are still sung in our day and whose stage works like Ages Ago and Princess Toto (both to words by W.S. Gilbert) were popular in his time was James Hamilton Siree Clarke (1840-1912). Like Alfred Cellier he is perhaps best remembered nowadays for having arranged, from Sullivan's tunes, one of the overtures to a Savoy operetta, that for the Mikado. Again like Cellier, like both the Celliers indeed, Hamilton Clarke was a significant conductor though he began his career as an organist and occasional conductor, only becoming a full-time conductor in London theatres such as the Opera Comique, Gaiety, Haymarket, and Lyceum and among others during the 1870s. He toured with the D'Oyly Carte Company in 1878. He went to Australia for the years 1889-91, returning to England to conduct inter alia the Carl Rosa Opera Company in the 1890s and retired on account of failing eyesight in around 1901. To call him a full-time conductor is perhaps inaccurate as he was credited, even by 1889, with some 600 compositions, 500 of which were published, and he doubtless added to that tally subsequently. Many of these may be reckoned light music. He composed much theatrical incidental music, notably for Sir Henry Irving's Shakespearean productions, three ballet suites, marches, songs, some of the ballad type, dozens of overtures and six operettas, some for the German Reed Company, another, The Outpost, produced at the Savoy as a companion piece to The Pirates of Penzance and later to Patience. That was all in addition to organ, piano, flute and violin solos, chamber music, cantatas, church music, one 'grand' opera, three symphonies and a piano concerto. He wrote books, even fiction, and articles on orchestration and composition. All this industry has sunk without noticeable trace except for The Mikado Overture, which is undeniably a competent piece of work (he also put together overtures for productions of The Sorcerer and Ruddigore but both were later superseded).

The number of British musicians (and at least occasional composers) bearing the name Wood is confusing to the lover of British music (at least one or two Woods are probably American). I have previously alluded to and discussed, in greater or lesser detail, Haydn Wood, a splendid practitioner of British light music, his brother Daniel, Frederic Wood and George Scott-Wood. Arthur Wood is the subject of an article by me for the magazine 'Vintage Light Music' and available for reprint by the BMS if desired; his Barwick Green - part of the suite My Native Heath, which was Yorkshire - heard every time an episode of 'The Archers' is broadcast and brass bands sometimes revive his Three Dale Dances. I have recently encountered some other Wood gems, a setting of Greensleeves and another of Drink To Me Only and Ballerina from the Curtain Up Suite.

We can put on one side I think the more 'serious' Woods: Charles (1866-1926), despite his four bits of incidental music for the theatre and a handful of ballads among his song output, and the more recent R.W., Hugh, John and James. Similarly we may pass over Henry J (1869-1944), one of our foremost conductors (and of light as well as serious music especially in the early days of the Promenade concerts which bore his name) and even if he did compose (mostly early in his life) and also compiled one of the most popular of all light music potpourris in the shape of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs and Christopher better known as a keyboard player than as a composer.

That still leaves us with plenty of Woods to pass briefly in review. Several of them, I confess I know very little about. I have come across M.L. Wood's My Mary Veen or the Manx Sailor's Farewell for cornet and orchestra - in view of the Manx connection is or was M.L. a relation of Haydn? - Percy Wood composer of The Cragman's Song and Ernie Wood credited with the attractive instrumental music incidental to the ongoing animated TV feature for children Brambly Hedge. There was a Frank Wood, who seems to have specialised in writing light songs of the music-hall type with titles like I Don't Feel at Home in 'igh Society, My Wife's Cake, My Sporting Guide, Mirthful Moments and jointly written with another, Why Does the Hyena Laugh? David Wood, born in 1944, is known especially for musicals suitable for children (some of them are actually called 'family musicals'): Babes in the Magic Wood, Flibberty and the Penguin, Hijack Over Hygenia, Old Father Time, Old Mother Hubbard, The Gingerbread Man, The Papertown Paper Chase and - the words only (the music is by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent) - Rock Nativity.

Gareth Wood (1950-) writes often for brass instruments and has in his output generally contributed considerably to the sum of light music. A Welshman, he was educated at the RAM and was for many years a double bass player with the RPO. His orchestral compositions include Fantasy on a Welsh Song and an overture Cardiff Bay; of his compositions for brass we may instance Culloden Moor, Coliseum, Aubade, Capriccio, for euphonium, cornet and band, Four Pieces for trombone quartet, Introduction and Allegro, Lullaby for euphonium and piano, The Margam Stones, Nocturne for flugel horn and band, a concert overture, Tombstone Arizona, and This Happy Island. Like so many of our lighter composers Gareth Wood's output has a pronounced topographical flavour; he travels widely in his music at any rate as some of the foregoing titles show but he does not forget, as his namesake Arthur did not, his 'native heath'.

Thomas Wood, born at Chorley, Lancs in 1892, stands perhaps at the watershed between being a serious and a light composer. He was trained at Exeter College, Oxford and the RCM. After taking a D. Mus at Oxford he occupied teaching positions at Tonbridge School, where he was Director of Music (1920-4: two cricketing ballads of his date from this time) and at Exeter College (1924-8) before going 'freelance'. He died in 1950, aged almost 58. Much of his music was choral, short partsongs suitable for competitive festivals or cantatas which were up to half an hour in length. There were at least eight of the latter but most popular of them were those on nautical themes (Wood's father was a seaman): Forty Singing Seamen, Merchantmen, The Rainbow: A Tale of Dunkirk, published posthumously, and Master Mariners. I have happy memories of performing the latter during my last year at school, coincidentally at about the time the composer died. Its idiom I recall (though I have not heard it since 1950) is basically that of his teacher Stanford (a composer also inspired by Britain's nautical heritage) with the occasional more tangy harmony.

Wood's instrumental compositions are comparatively few but by and large they are evidence for reckoning him a light music composer: a concert overture, Suffolk Punch (1930); a couple of marches, St George's Day, which has parts for bugles, and, for brass band, Six Bells; an arrangement of Greensleeves; two Fanfares for an ensemble of mixed wind, brass and percussion; The Brew House at Bures for woodwind quartet; perhaps Waltzing Matilda, A Frolic Founded on an Australian Tune for two pianos (Thomas made a choral setting of that same tune); and one or two lighter organ pieces. Wood wrote books, too, on music in schools ('Music and Boyhood', published in 1925), a travelogue and an autobiography. It is a pity that his work, literary and musical, seems in general to have disappeared without visible trace. Yet this is not large enough to deter or intimidate possible revivalists.

We could now pass on to consider the Wood collaterals Woodhouse (Charles), Woodfield (Ray), Woodgate (Leslie) and Woodforde-Finden (Amy), all of whom have claims to be reckoned as light music purveyors; but I am reminded that I have written up most of these already and in any case enough is enough - at any rate until the 21st Garland

© 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


Return to:   index page
                              Classical Music on the Web