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A TWENTY-FIFTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

Amazingly these Garlands have now arrived at their Silver Jubilee! This time we begin with two composer-conductors, though it must be admitted that these two men's careers and achievements were not otherwise particularly similar, apart from their dates of birth.

Herbert Bedford (1867-1945), who trained at the Guildhall School, was part of a musical dynasty as his wife Liza Lehmann, whom he married in 1894, her mother Amelia Lehmann and his grandson David Bedford are, or were, all composers; another grandson, Steuart Bedford, is a conductor. Herbert was decidedly a man of parts because he was a writer, not just about music but on literature and the visual arts, he was a respected painter of miniatures and during the Great War he invented a ranging device for anti-aircraft guns which was adopted by the War Office. Much of his oeuvre as a composer was "serious": two operas, chamber music, sundry orchestral tone poems and fantasies and a wide range of vocal pieces, most of them art songs with a few of them reflecting his theories on sprechgesang but a few being classifiable as ballads - The Coming of Love, Homecoming and To a Waterlily at Evening are perhaps examples, though the accompaniment of one or two of them was, unusually, for a "chamber" ensemble. Some of Bedford's orchestral miniatures, like the Lullaby for small orchestra, the Melodie Solenelle for Strings, the oriental dance The Lonely Dancer of Gedar (inspired by Ketèlbey, perhaps?), the Chinese Comedy Suite, composed for a festival in Hastings in 1931 and later played at Bournemouth, where many of Bedford's more serious compositions were performed under his own baton, and maybe even the music for the two ballets Peribanoa and, yet another oriental imagination, The Mask of Gold. Most importantly he produced music for military band (Three Roundels and Over the Hills) during the early 1920s when "serious" composers (apart from Gustav Holst, whose suites pre-dated the Great War) were only just beginning to explore the medium.

We move on to consider the Scotsman Hamish MacCunn (1868-1916), trained at the RCM (he was later a professor at the RAM where he taught Liza Lehmann): composer, conductor and teacher. His compositions are remarkable wide in range between serious and light. His stage works range from a grand opera, Jeanie Deans, after Sir Walter Scott, to the musical comedy The Golden Girl - which had a provincial, rather than a London, success, and numbers for another musical The Talk of the Town (both 1905). MacCunn's songs embrace settings of Shelley and Burns to ballads, arrangements of Scots traditional songs and even music hall numbers like Are Ye Comin' Mr Atkins?, which was probably a recruiting song for the Boer War, perhaps a kind of companion piece to Sullivan's The Absent Minded Beggar. Among his orchestral pieces, his best known work, the once very popular overture The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, written at the age of 19, has been used in our own day as a signature tune for T.V. Lighter orchestral works included the suite Highland Memories and Five Dances. He was a proficient pianist and compositions for piano on the lighter side were Hornpipe, Valse Gracieuse and Six Scotch (sic) Dances, the latter being orchestrated much later by Guy Warrack, sometime Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra. As a conductor MacCunn was much involved in lighter theatre repertoire, especially in the first decade of the present century. He conducted for the Savoy; all of Edward German's operettas (Merrie England, A Princess of Kensington, Tom Jones and Fallen Fairies) were conducted by him during their initial runs.

J. Airlie Dix, like MacCunn, contributed numbers to English musical comedies during the decade after 1900, but he is best remembered for his ballad The Trumpeter, although even this was much more often heard in my youth (say 50 years ago) than it is nowadays. Other Dix ballad titles included A Soldier's Toast, A Jolly Old Cavalier and The Ould Side Car.

During the course of these Garlands we have alluded to many "seaside" conductors, all of whom composed or arranged music for their orchestras. One that we have not so far mentioned is Kneale Kelley, once of Scarborough and Eastbourne and also the first conductor (1934) of the BBC Variety Orchestra, though I have not so far been able to track down the title of even one original composition by him.

And so finally to three more brass band composers. One of the pioneers of the brass band movement was Enderby Jackson, born Hull in 1827, who organised the Crystal Palace band contests of the early 1860s. Prior to these he organised several contests at Burton Constable Hall (East Riding) in 1845 (he was then 18!), at Hull in 1856 and others in Sheffield and elsewhere, including Doncaster, in 1859-60. He was often known to conduct the massed contesting bands, up to 1,000 players, at such events. His interest had faded by the late 1860s but in two decades he had done much. It is not so widely known that he also composed for bands; his Grand Prize Quadrilles, doubtless an essay in the manner of Louis Jullien, was performed by one of the competing bands at the Doncaster contest of 1860 and his Yorkshire Waltzes was the test piece in the Hull contest of 1856.

Haydn Morris, who died in 1965, was educated at the Royal Academy of Music. He was Welsh; he played the organ and conducted choirs in Llanelli and adjudicated at the National Eisteddfod and at other Welsh festivals. His works included an opera but mostly were for orchestra or brass band; among the former we may instance the Playtime Suite for strings; of the latter the best item was undoubtedly the Springtime Suite, commissioned as the test piece for the 1931 Open Championship.

George William Hespe, born in London 1900, served in the Army as bandboy and bandmaster between 1914 and 1933, in which latter year he retired. He then turned his hand to conducting brass bands, including the Sheffield Police Band and Ferodo Works Band and briefly Grimethorpe, and for a time played tuba in the BBC Northern and Hallé orchestras. Hespe's compositions include the marches King O'the Clouds, Lone Pilot, Kinderscout, Atlantic Patrol and Men of Steel, the trombone solo Melodie et Caprice (sometimes anglicised to Melody and Caprice), a Welsh Fantasy, no fewer than eight suites for military band and bagpipes and, most notably, the suite The Three Musketeers, adopted as the test piece for the British Open Championships in 1953. Hespe's music is unfortunately rarely heard played by the brass bands of the 1990s and this may be a pity.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

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

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