A 35TH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
A considerable number of these composer bouquets have featured figures active in Britain in the light music theatre and this one is to be no exception. Not all of them were British born. One such was NAT D. AYER (1882-1957), an American singer and song composer who earns mention here for his contributions to the stage in England whilst over here between 1916 and 1922: Houp-La (1916), Oh Caesar! (1916: jointly with Arthur Wood), Yes Uncle (1917), Baby, Bunting (1919) and The Smith Family (1922). After his return to America he composed widely for films and revues. Another "alien" was VERNON DUKE, Russian-born (his real name was VLADIMIR DUKELSKY, whose activities included the composition of the "musical comedy drama" The Yellow Mask (1927), whose lyrics were by Elgar Wallace, the prolific crime writer, and which ran to 218 performances on the London stage, and the musical Open Your Eyes (1929), jointly composed with CARROLL GIBBONS but which was plagued with litigation. J.A. ROBERTSON was Australian by birth, he was involved with the English musical stage in the period prior to the Great War, as conductor and composer, of In Sunny Scotland (1901), Winnie Brooks, Widow (1904), Moll the Rogue (1905) and most successfully so - Butterflies (1908)
Coming more up to date, MALCOLM SIRCOM conducted in the theatre from the 1950s onwards; his musical comedy compositions including Ernest (after Oscar Wilde), Pineapple for children (also 1959) and Pardon My Language (1963) . DAVID WOOD, born in 1944 has been lyric writer and director as well as a composer. An Oxford graduate, A Life in Bedrooms appeared while he was still "up". He soon found he had a gift for writing musicals aimed at children and these proved to be very successful. Most of the earlier of these were written for the Seven?? Theatre, Worcester: The Tinderbox (1967), The Owl and the Pussycat Went to Sea (1968), Flibberty and the Penguin (1971), The Papertown Paperchase and Hijack over Hygenia (1973). Other "young" musicals were Toytown (1969), The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner (1970), Maudie (1974), Old Father Time (1976), Nutcracker Sweet (1977), There Was an Old Woman (1974), The Ideal Gnome Expedition (1980), Robin Hood (1981) appropriately premiered in Nottingham, Jack's The Lad (1984), Old Mother Hubbard, The Gingerbread Man, Babes in the Magic Wood and The Selfish Shellfish.
The recently deceased ROBIN RAY (1935-98), actor, writer and broadcaster was involved with the musical stage as compiler rather than composer, though he composed effective pastiche music for Jean Anouilh's Waltz of the Toreadors in 1974. His knowledge of music, as paraded on TV over many years, was legendary. ALAN BLAIKLEY and KEN HOWARD were involved with the light musical theatre in Mardi Gras and The Secret Dairy of Adrian Mole 13 ½, in the 1970s. Previously they had worked in the BBC and had become known as song writers. But their best known music are the TV title themes from The Flame Trees of Thika and, known of all, the Miss Marple adaptations from Agatha Christie's novels about that character.
Talking of song writers, here perhaps in the place to mention NORMAN HACKFORTH whose ballads included My Little Girl, Sleepy Head, Today's a Sunny Day For Me, God Bless You, Singing For You, Down Came the Rain, Anne Hathaway's Song, Too Disappointing for Words, and from the 1931 film The Co-Optimists (probably the earliest British film musical), Imagination Goes a Long Way. He is also credited with a few instrumental miniatures of which we can instance Summertime in Fontainebleau.
Two composers of "mood music" miniatures may be noticed next: HENRY CROUDASON, whose compilations and compositions include the fantasy, Up North, Little Boy Blue, Holiday Time, Sound Barrier, Rhapsody in Rhythm, Vision of Delia, Serenade to the Moon and the miniature overture Jack and Jill. Croudason's floreat was the 1950s as was also the case with JOYCE COCKRAN. Her best genre piece is Paddle Boat (in a arrangement by Sidney Torch); Orchids and Roses was another. Joyce also composed songs: There's a boat coming Home, You're Only Dreaming (from the film Dance Hall) and Mona (from the film Landfall). Reverting to the early 20th Century for a moment, PHILIP BRAHAM was like Robertson, and later Sircom, both conductor and composer. He began modestly, contributing songs to various pre 1914 musicals; post-war he took a larger part in such musical comedies as Telling the Tale (1918), The Officer's Mess (1918), Now and Then (1921), Battling Butler (1922), Boodle (1925) and Up With The Lark (1927). From much the same period J. AINSLIE MURRAY conducted light orchestras and made arrangements for them, e.g. one of Ye Banks and Braes: his song titles included Philina.
Not all light music composers write for orchestra or the theatre, or for the ballad market JANET BENNETT, who lives in Newcastle, is a fine harpist who also sings to her own playing. She is both arranger (i.e. of harp accompaniments to her songs, mostly folk songs and composer. Her harp solos are indented for teaching as well as concert use; their brevity and their tunefulness entitle us to regard them as light music. Examples are Lindisfarne Fantasy and Children's Dreams.
Finally, these Garlands have included many who are best known for more serious work. It is time to notice the Australian-born Master of the Queen's Music MALCOLM WILLIAMSON, whose gift for melody makes him a good purveyor of light music which in his case ranges from the musical comedy No Bed for Bacon (1959), the "cassation" The Stone Wall for audience and orchestra written for the Last Night of the Proms in 1971, much incidental music for radio and theatre and the two pieces for strings Timid Pink Flamingos and Parade Cockade.
© Phil L Scowcroft
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