A 237th GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
I start, with appropriate chronological correctness,
with one or two Victorians. The ballad composer, Maria Lindsay,
otherwise Mrs J Worthington Bliss, was, in her day, especially known
for her setting of The Bridge, to words by Longfellow. The sheet
music, with its atmospheric cover of a wooden bridge, a river and a
church in the background, doubtless sold many copies. Other Lindsay
titles include Come Unto Me!, Excelsior (but Balfe’s famous
setting retained its primacy), Far Away, Tired and Home They
Brought Her Warrior Dead.
Meredith Ball was Musical Director at the Lyceum
Theatre, whose activities as a conductor continued into the 20th
Century. Like all, or nearly all, such musical directors, he composed
too and we may instance his dance suite In Days Of Old, whose
three movements were entitled Morris Dance, Danse (My Lady
Barbara) and Satyrs Round.
Luigi Denza (1846-1922), who is known generally
for just one song, Funiculi Funicula, which celebrated the inauguration
of the railway up Vesuvius, is normally reckoned as an Italian. He was
indeed born in Italy, but he settled in London and in fact died there,
having in the interim become Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy
of Music (in 1898). His output includes an opera, Wallenstein,
from his pre-London period (and unsuccessful), and 600 songs additional
to his famous one, a large proportion of them composed and published
in London to English words. Examples include Lily, Love in the Valley,
Love’s Own Land, When We Are Young (a duet), Marguerite, A May
Morning, A Rose Enchanted, Sing to Me, Call Me Back (1913) and Star
of My Heart.
The Worcester Cathedral Organist between 1897 and 1950
and a great friend of Elgar, (Sir) Ivor Atkins (1869-1953) is
often reckoned, if we think of him at all, as an editor and arranger
(respectively e.g. with Elgar indeed, of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion,
and of Elgar’s Severn Suite for organ). But I recently heard
three Atkins songs, The Shepherdess, The Years at the Spring,
and Elleen, which are very respectable examples of the drawing
room ballad and as such worthy of occasional revival.
More recently (the 1950s, say) we have Harold Perry,
arranger and composer of, for example, a Concerto for violin
and orchestra and a piece for strings entitled Recreation.
Finally, for a few composers of music-hall songs. Even
in their heyday these names had a low profile and only prolific ones,
like perhaps George LeBrun, whom we have discussed previously,
really had even a faint chance of competing in the public awareness
with those who sang these songs. However it is surely, worth remembering
the names of Alfred Lee (for Champagne Charlie) not to
mention The Gainsboro’ Hat, The Man On The Flying Trapeze, The New
Electric Light and Three Jolly Humbugs.
Joseph Tabrar (for Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me
a Bow-Wow, also for He’s Sailing On the Briny Ocean, Dear Old
Ned and Bid Me Goodbye For Ever) and Charles Tempest (for
Arfa Pint of Ale). Such composers hardly challenge the eminence
of Elgar or Vaughan Williams but the vigour of their, and their contemporaries',
invention enriched the musical heritage of this country.
Philip L Scowcroft
Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is
currently out of print.