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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

A THIRTIETH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

I little thought when embarking on the first of these Garlands devoted to those who have enlivened and enriched the heritage of British light music that the series would ultimately rum to thirty. However, enough is perhaps enough and it would surely be sensible to make this one the last. These Garlands have so far alluded to 411 British Light music composers and this final one will add a few more. There are doubtless still a number of other names which are too well known in publications by others to need treatment (I think of names like Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Eric Coates and Vivian Ellis) or which are the subject of articles individually devoted to them in the BMS News or Journal (for example Frederick Curzon, Albert Ketelbey, Haydn Wood, Alfred Reynolds, Wilfrid Sanderson, Montague Phillips, Leslie Woodgate, Victor Hely-Hutchinson and W.H. Reed).

Let us begin the 30th instalment with Gordon Langford, born in Edgware in 1930 as Gordon Coleman. He showed precocious talent at an early age and then studied piano, composition and trombone at the Royal Academy. This was the prelude to a highly varied career - embracing the Royal Artillery Band, jazz bands, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and much else. He is perhaps better known as an arranger rather than as a composer. Brass Bands lovers would doubtless envisage him as an arranger or composer for brass bands but his skills as an arranger, at least, have also been used for example in films, on the West End stage and by the King's Singers. To list all his transcriptions and arrangements, whether for brass, orchestra, military band or voices would need a book. His 'fantasies' for brass perhaps occupy a half-way positions between 'pure' transcriptions and original compositions: Christmas Fantasy, West Country Fantasy, North Country Fantasy, New World Fantasy, Sullivan Fantasy, Rhapsody on Sea Shanties and many more. Original compositions for brass include the marches Merry Marchers, The Pacemakers, Titan and The Seventies Set, Carnival Day Dance, Harmonious Variations on a theme of Handel, the overture Metropolis, Prelude and Fugue, a Rhapsody for trombone and band, a Sinfonietta and Salute to the Six (the six being three cornets and three trombones).

Philip Sparke, born in 1951, is another who has been particularly associated with bands, whether "concert/symphonic" (for which he has written Gaudium and other things) and, particularly so, for brass, the overtures The Prizewinners, A Tameside Overture, A London Overture, Concert Prelude and Jubilee Overture, suites like A Celtic Suite, A Malvern Suite, Music for a Festival and Fanfare, Romance and Finale, and individual movements such as Orient Express (Sparke is one of many composers to try his hand at writing "train music" for band), Skyrider, Pantomime and Endeavour and the pieces for euphonium and band entitled Fantasy, Aubade and Song for Ira. Like Langford and many others his arrangements for brass band are legion.

We move away from the brass band world and back in time to consider the Yorkshire pianist Samuel Liddle (1867-1951). Born in Leeds and sometime organist there early in life, he studied with Stanford at the Royal College. As he worked for many years as a pianist to concert parties which included singers like Clara Butt, Ada Crossley and Plunket Greene and the cellist W.H. Squire among many other names it is hardly surprising that his compositions (apart from an Elegy for cello and piano, possibly for Squire) consisted of songs of the ballad type. Best-known of these were Abide With Me, often sung by Butt, How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings, The Lord is My Shepherd, Like as the Hart, Arabic Love Song, Sung by John McCormack, A Farewell and an arrangement of The Garden Where the Praties Grow, which I was pleased to make the acquaintance of quite recently. Liddle appeared in Doncaster four times with various concert partied, in 1902, 1904, 1906 and 1912. Other of his ballad titles included A Farewell, At Last, Home Song, Lovely Kind and Kindly Loving, My Lute, The Gay Gordons and The Young Royalist; there were also slightly more upmarket compositions such as the Seven Old English Lyrics and the duet Now is the Month of Maying

Maryan Rawicz (1898-1970) and Walter Landauer (1910-83), respectively Polish and Austrian by birth, established their formidable reputations as a two piano team (for approximately three decades from the mid 1930s) in this country and both men eventually became British subjects. They did not only have to play their pianos - and their understanding and precision of ensemble were legendary - but they also had to arrange most of their considerable repertoire included the delightful Spinning Wheel for duo; Landauer's original pieces included the Vienna Concerto (for piano and orchestra) and the genre movements Gamine, Summer Rain and Echo Waltz, all for piano solo.

The light music figures Jack Byfield and Frederick Bye, appear very closely in any alphabetical listing. Such closeness extends to other, purely musical matters as well. Both, like Langford and Sparke, were better-known as arrangers than as composers and the music of both was at one time heard frequently on the BBC. Byfield was a pianist, associated not only with broadcasting ensembles, but also with those at the seaside, notably Scarborough. His works include A Nocturne and countless arrangements, not always recognisable as such by their titles, for example Song of the Green Valley, which is a version of the Welsh tune Watching the Wheat, and A Cornish Pastiche, which incorporates the Helston Furry, or Floral Dance. Bye's output included rather more original works, although A Netherlands Suite and Old French Songs, both suites for string orchestra, were based on traditional material; we can also mention the Puppets suite, similarly scored for strings, and the march Parade of the Regiment.

Many conductors and directors of light orchestras at the seaside, in London theatres and restaurants and on the BBC also composed as well as arranging music, copiously. We have noticed some of these in previous Garlands and more appear in "Some British Composer-Conductors". Here is another Fred Alexander (1910- ), violinist and director of various orchestras. Two of these frequently heard on the radio were Fred Alexander and His Players and the considerably larger Portland Light Orchestra. Alexander use the pseudonym "Allessandro" for his orchestral genre compositions, of which perhaps the most popular was Sarda.

We conclude with two composers known for their film and TV music. Much the less well known of the two is Adrian Johnston whose latest score is his perhaps deceptively understated one for the BBCTV's March adaptation of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, the very latest in a long line of musical pieces inspired by the great novelist. Then, finally, we have Howard Goodall, born in 1958, who studied at Christ Church, Oxford and whose roll of compositions includes choral music and operas, including a version of Silas Marner (1993). He has also written lighter music for the stage, notably The Hired Man (1984) in collaboration with Melvyn Bragg, which was a modest success financially and won a Ivor Novello Award. Later Goodall forays in the same field were Girlfriends (1987) and Days of Hope (1991). Also bringing him into the sphere of light music in Goodall's music for sundry off-beat TV comedies: Not the Nine O'Clock News, Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Red Dwarf and The Vicar of Dibley. His orchestral output includes the suites The Borrowers - also inspired by TV, presumably - and Land of Lakes.

As I have said on many occasions recently: films and TV provide most of the main outlets currently for what may be reckoned as light music. The BBC has been criticised, and perhaps rightly so, for largely turning its back on classical light music for which it once did so much - possibly because that repertoire lies rather uneasily between Radios 2 & 3 and the BBC's radio provision is nowadays much more "compartmentalised" than it was in the period after the Second World War when light music could be heard in profusion on Both Home and Light Programmes (and even occasionally the Third). But as one of the main providers of television it is still encouraging the composition of light music, possibly without realising it. This is not to say that it should not do more for classic light music than it does at present, for there is a considerable body of evidence that this is enjoyed by a substantial population of the listening public when it has the opportunity. One can also point the finger at concert promoters, too, for their compartmentalisation in recent years. At one time light music and popular classics happily took their place beside symphonies, concerts and other serious pieces but much less so nowadays even in the Proms which began a century ago as a light music institution of course, but they are run by the BBC and this brings the argument full circle.

© 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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