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A SECOND GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

by Philip L. Scowcroft

As with our previous garland, the presentation is alphabetical, which means we start with Ronald Binge, who was born in Derby on 15 July 1910 and was largely self taught, though he did have early lessons in piano, organ and harmony. His first job was as composer, arranger and organist to a silent cinema that had a small orchestra. He moved to London in 1930 and played in theatre, cafe and dance ensembles. His "breakthrough" came in 1934-5 when he became the arranger for Mantovani's orchestra. After war service in the RAF he returned to Mantovani; the once very popular Charmaine was his arrangement and the even more popular Elizabethan Serenade was composed for Mantovani in 1952. By this time Binge had gone freelance and was concentrating on composition. His first big compositional success had been the orchestral piece Spitfire in 1940. He had his own radio series with String Song between 1955 and 1963; he conducted his music both abroad and on records. His compositions were varied. Many were for light orchestra, novelty items like Entry of the Robots, the march Brief Case and Bowler Hat, Red Sombrero, Farewell Waltz, Coffee Cup Chatter, Mischievous Mac, Summer Madness, High Stepper, Flash Harry, Fugal Fun, Madrugado (Daybreak) (1947) - which featured four saxophones as well as the usual orchestra, - the serenade Love in a Mist, for harp and strings, Dance of the Snowflakes, Venetian Carnival, the prelude, The Whispering Valley, for piano and strings, Paramariba, Snakes and Ladders, Las Castanuelas, String Song, Miss Melanie, Faire Frou-Frou, Scherzo, the nursery fantasy Tales of the Three Blind Mice (1949), Trade Winds (1949), sets of variations on The Carnival of Venice (1957), Cockles and Mussels (1956) and The Keel Row and, probably the best known, after the Elizabethan Serenade, that charming miniature for oboe and strings The Water Mill. Rather longer items, though still light in character were Thames Rhapsody, A Scottish Rhapsody, the Concerto for alto saxophone which has a gorgeously warm Romance as its slow movement, (the complete Concerto was performed in Doncaster with orchestra, during November 1990), the Saturday Symphony (1966-8) and Duel for Conductors for brass band and orchestra (1976). The Water Mill was also arranged as a solo for cornet and band and this was not Binge's only connection with band music. Apart from Old London and Trumpet Spectacular for military band and the novelty item for trombones and brass band Trombonioso, his Cornet Carillon for four cornets and brass band was one of the most popular items ever composed for brass band (there is also a version for orchestra but this is not half as atmospheric). Binge indeed, who died in 1979, is not one of those composers remembered for just one work. Some of his music was published for piano like the Toccata Vice Versa of 1948 and arrangements of Caribbean Calypso and The Red Sombrero, originally for orchestra, and the rumba serenade Siesta, originally for dance band. Chamber works included The Windmill, for oboe and piano, and Upside Downside, "a musical palindrome" for descant recorder, violin and cello. He composed very little for voice apart from a late Festival Te Deum, although the Elizabethan Serenade was inevitably arranged for both SATB and women's voices almost as soon as it appeared and he published Sailing By also for women's voices and a solo song The Story of Cock Robin. His film scores included Desperate Moment (1953) and The Runaway Bus (1954). Marco Polo Records issued a representative selection of Binge's pieces in 1994.

Like Binge, Henry Ernest Geehl (1881-1961) is one who was known for his arrangements almost as much as for original compositions and who had strong associations with the brass band world. Yet his best known original work is a song For You Alone (1909) reputed to be the first song Caruso sang in English. Geehl's other songs did not quite enjoy the same popularity, though The Mountains of Allah, a cycle of six songs, was sung fairly frequently and Devon Mine recorded by Harry Dearth during the Great War, The Fairy Cooks, In Sunshine and Shadow, O Let the Solid Ground, Now Fades the Snow, Only My Love for You, In Your Arms Tonight, Sinners and Saints, The Vales of Kintore, When Spring Goes Shopping, A Hymn of Sunset, A Yeoman's Yarn and Youth the Fiddler and Zinetta were ballads somewhat above the average, while the male voice partsong Duty off Dunkirk (1941) exploited a war time incident which had caught the nation's imagination. He is credited with writing two operas which may not have been produced. Geehl studied the piano in early life in Vienna where he met Brahms and published a considerable amount for that instrument.: a four movement suite The Bay of Naples, a "Kleine Sonate" in A Minor (1912), Harlequin and Columbine (five movements), a Miniature Suite 1745 and the Caprice Concertante for piano and strings (1952) were a few of the more important titles. A Lament for organ also appeared. His orchestral works included short genre pieces like Harlequin's Serenade, Serenade to a Roguish Lady (1938), Indian Patrol, the intermezzo Mon Ami, A Moonlit Barcarolle, the Phantom Dance, (sub titled Pizzicato Morceau), 'Neath the Desert Stars, the waltz, Legend of the Sea and Mazurka Russe. More substantial scores were A Comedy Overture, premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937, the four Countryside Sketches, the Variations on a French Nursery Tune and the suites From the Samoan Isles and (premiered at the 1914 Henry J Wood Proms) Fairyland and concertos for piano and violin. Yet just as important were his many orchestral arrangements of songs by Chaminade, Easthope Martin, Landon Ronald and sundry others. Geehl's experience was wide; he conducted in theatres between 1902 and 1908, taught at Trinity College London from 1918 and was music editor for the publishers Ashdown and Enoch. He had a particular interest in brass band music and produced many of his most significant compositions in this field at a time when few serious composers gave it a second thought. It is a well known fact that he scored Elgar's Severn Suite from the composer's piano score (Geehl later arranged this for military band and, charmingly, Elgar's early Idyll and late Adieu, respectively violin and piano and piano works originally, for orchestra). The relationship over the Severn Suite between two rather prickly men was sometimes difficult. Geehl's own compositions for brass included a trombone solo, Romanza, the Festival Overture, In Tudor Days, Normandy, a Sinfonietta Pastorale, A Happy Suite, James Hook and Thames Valley a suite in three movements, its first depicting a colourful regatta. Oliver Cromwell was a test piece for the National Championships in 1923 and 1946 and at the Open in 1941, On the Cornish Coast at the Nationals in 1924 and 1948, Robin Hood at the Open in 1936 and 1941 and Scena Sinfonica at the Open in 1952. All, bar Robin Hood, have been recorded for the gramophone, together with Threnody, Bolero Brillante, Romanza and the Variations on Jenny Jones. Oliver Cromwell and On The Cornish Coast have become classics of the repertoire, highly demanding on bandsmen even today and admirably descriptive and dramatic as tone poems although the former, in six sections, was at first described as an overture.

Cyril Jenkins, born in Swansea on 9 October 1889, was 88 when he died at Hove on 15 March 1978. He, too, is associated with the brass band world, no fewer than four of his major works having been test pieces: Coriolanus at the National (1920), Life Divine (National 1921), Victory (National, 1929) and Saga of the North (Open, 1965). The first two remain popular even to this day and were among the first major original works to be commissioned for the brass band movement's major championships. They earned criticism at the time for being of technical, rather than musical, interest - but the fact that they are still programmed in concerts in the 1980s surely answers such a charge. Jenkins was appointed as Director of Music to the LCC in 1922 but his health compelled him to reside in Australia for some years. He had studied composition with Stanford and briefly Ravel and no doubt regarded himself as a "serious" composer. He composed indeed in all the main musical forms except opera. For orchestra he composed a Symphony, an Oboe Concerto, a Keltic Rhapsody and the Welsh Fantasia Op 27 for strings; for chorus with orchestra there was a setting of Young Lochinvar (1911), very popular in its time, the Easter cantata Calvary for baritone solo, chorus and piano and short partsongs like Deep Jordan's Banks, Faery Song, The Lee Shore, the Yarn of Loch Achray, A Shepherd Lullaby, Out of Silence, The Butterfly and Snowflakes (both the latter for women's voices) and arrangements of Welsh traditional tunes - for solo voice he set As The Moon's Soft Splendour and My Love is Like a Red Red Rose among many other songs, A Grecian Landscape and Ode to the West Wind were sung by Doncaster choruses between the wars. His published instrumental music comprises short pieces such as the Elegiac Poem of 1922 for string quartet, a Mood Phantasy for violin and piano, a Legend in D Minor for trombone and piano and a Serenata in G Minor for B flat baritone and piano, the latter two also from 1922. A major work for solo piano was a suite, The Seasons, Opus 136. For organ were published a Fantasia on an Old Welsh Hymn Tune (1916) and a Sonata in D Minor.

Leighton Lucas, born in London on 5 January 1903, is another like Jenkins and like so many other British composers from Sullivan and Elgar, through Edward German, Hubert Bath, Haydn Wood and Montague Phillips to Malcolm Arnold and Richard Rodney Bennett who have sought and in varying degrees obtained, recognition as serious composers but who are at least as equally at home in the lighter style. Like Ronald Binge, Lucas was largely self-taught though later he became a Professor at the RAM. Experiences with Diaghilev's Ballet Russes (1918-21) and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (1921-3) was followed by his conducting a performance of Rutland Boughton's opera The Immortal Hour in 1923. He later had further experience conducting for the ballet and after coming out of the RAF in 1946 formed his own orchestra, giving concerts of unfamiliar and modern, especially French, music. He broadcast and lectured on ballet, music and the theatre. And he composed. For the ballet he wrote: Death in Adagio (after Domenico Scarlatti) produced in 1938; The Horses, produced in 1945-6; and Tam O'Shanter, which remains unperformed. Film scores include those for Of Love and Destiny, Son of Robin Hood (1958), Target for Tonight, Ice Cold in Alex (The Road to Alex from this was published separately as a stirring march) and Yangtse Incident (The Amethyst from this is another rousing march). He also composed the score for The Dam Busters except of course for Eric Coates' famous march, which Lucas quotes elsewhere in the film.

His orchestral works are often serious in intention though they incline towards brevity. One thinks of the Cello Concertino of 1956, the Clarinet Concerto of 1957, the Concert Champetre for violin, whose English premiere was at the Proms in 1956, the Prelude, Aria and Finale for viola d'amore (1956), the Sinfonia Brevis for horn and eleven instruments, A Litany (1942) and the Birthday Variations of 1970. But he composed his share of lighter suites like the Ballet de la Reine, for strings, the Suite Française of 1940 (premiered at the Proms in 1942; the BBCSO also gave the premieres of the Sinfonia Brevis in April 1937, A Litany in September 1947 and the Chaconne in C sharp minor in August 1949) and L'Europe Galante, after Campra (1939) plus various arrangements, incidental music, etc. His chamber music is often in single movement form and many of the examples I have found are for unusual instrumental combinations: Meditation (1956) for cello and piano, Aubade for horn, bassoon and piano (1959) Three Dances for 3, the latter "three" being two harps and oboe - clearly the Goossens family - and Disquisition for two cellos and piano duet (1966) plus Soliloquy (1960) and Tristesse (1961) both for viola and piano and Orientale for bassoon (or cello) and piano. For voices Lucas wrote relatively little, though I have found the part songs To Men and No More and a madrigal My True Love hath my Heart, all for women's voices and the SATB partsong Sleep and Death - the latter two both dated 1953; for the church he has written a Mass in G Minor (1967), available in mixed and women's voices versions, and a Parish Mass (1969). However he made his contribution to the now very important corpus of brass band music in the shape of a Choral and Variations (1968), which has been recorded, Spring Song (1962) A Waltz Overture (1973) and a Symphonic Suite (1960). He was clearly a composer stimulating in his output; I recall the Leighton Lucas Orchestra's broadcast concerts back in the late 1940s and early 1950s having that same quality. Lucas died in 1982.

Ernest Tomlinson born at Rawtenstall, Lancs. on 19 September 1924 is an exceptionally well qualified musician who has made a valid contribution mainly in the field of light music. A chorister at Manchester Cathedral pre-War, his studies at Manchester University and later at the RMCM where he studied organ, clarinet, piano and composition were punctuated by war time service in the RAF. Work as an arranger for Arcadia and Mills Music and as an organist in London was followed by the formation of the Ernest Tomlinson Light Orchestra and Singers in 1955 and later the Northern Concert Orchestra. The latter was inaugurated in 1969. Yet many of his orchestral compositions have an 'old-fashioned" look about them, Tomlinson showing that traditional light music could hold its place even in the world of pop. He composed light suites by the dozen: Festival Suite (1956), Three Gaelic Sketches (1958), Two Miniature Dances, Aladdin Dances, Lyrical Suite, A Mediterranean Suite (1969), with parts for glockenspiel, xylophone, banjo and guitar, Three Pastoral Dances, two suites of English Folk Dances (Dick's Maggot from the first one became a radio signature tune), Silverthorn Suite, a Georgian Suite arranged from Dr Arne's music, Light Music Suite (simply) and the suite English Pageant (1961). It was as if Eric Coates, with whom Tomlinson had once collaborated in Cinderella, a pantomime for radio, lived again. Tomlinson's Little Serenade was another radio signature tune and other single movements - Cantilena, Passepied, Canzonet, Spanish Festival Dance, Concert Jig, A Georgian Miniature, Marionette, Soliloquy and sundry traditional arrangements - had an instant attractiveness.

A Comedy Overture, An English Overture and The Merseyside Overture of 1971 could be relied on to start a programme with the greatest ebullience. Sinfonia '62 and Symphony '65 both opposed a symphony orchestra and a jazz band and concerted works of distinction were the Rhapsody and Rondo for horn and orchestra and a concerto for five (!) saxophones. The Fantasia on North Country Folk Tunes involved audience participation. Another potpourri was the clever Overture on Old English Tunes, for brass band. Tomlinson has tried most things: film music, choral music, an opera, Head of the Family, after W W Jacobs, a ballet Egyptian Princess, the choral work Legend of the Sea (1957), the Three Lyrical Pieces (1958) for organ solo and a number of pieces for brass band, marches and most notably a Concerto for cornet. He did valuable work as Chairman of the Composers Guild of Great Britain, in 1964 as Chairman of the Light Music Society and from 1966 as Director of the Performing Right Society. As conductor and composer he has accomplished much in a variety of different musical fields. In recent years the ever-enterprising Marco Polo label has issued two CDs of Tomlinson's music.

Finally in this group of six we come to Kenneth Anthony Wright (1899-1975) who more than any of the others devoted the years of his prime to the BBC. Norfolk by birth, and educated at Sheffield University he joined the BBC in 1922 when he became the first Director of BBC Manchester 2ZY. From there he progressed to be Personal Assistant to Percy Pitt (1923-30) and to Sir Adrian Boult (1930-37) and successive conductors of BBC orchestras, Overseas Music Director (1940-3), Deputy Director Of Music (1944-7) and Acting Director in 1947 for a time after Victor Hely-Hutchinson's death, Artists' Manager (1948-51) and Head of TV Music from 1951. After he was forced to retire from the Corporation on reaching the age of sixty (something even Boult, absurdly, had to do) Wright went into films. His prolific list of compositions included for orchestra a fantasy, Bohemia, many single movement genre pieces (Daddy Long-Legs, the jaunty intermezzo Dainty Lady, Dancing with the Daffodils and Perky Pizzicato for strings), a Scherzo on a Newfoundland song, The Killigrew's Soirée and a Tobacco Suite written for the BBC's First Festival of Light Music in 1949 with five movements Military Shag (a march of course); Old Havana (a tango); Snuff, the scherzo of the Suite; Virginia, a lullaby; and finally Irish Twist. I recall it as a most engaging contribution to the Festival. Another suite, Six Fantasy Pictures from a Pantomime, was published for piano, as were things like The Juggler and Policeman's Foxtrot; a caprice, The Brushwood Squirrel was issued for violin and piano. while a considerable list of songs included Pierrette in the Moon Garden, Love's Worship and the cycles Familiar Things, The Phantom Castle and Songs of the Little Brown House. He, like Tomlinson, produced music for films and for band. Various rhapsodies appeared for both brass and military bands - for brass Pride of Race was test piece at the National Championships in 1935 and at the Open in 1945, Peddar's Way at the Open in 1970 and Dancing Valley was recorded by Fairey. But these have caught on less well in that repertoire than works by Hubert Bath, Leighton Lucas and Cyril Jenkins, which seems a pity.

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

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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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