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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

A FORTY-FIRST GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

 

It is surprising that JAMES BERNARD, born in 1925, should have had to wait until the 41st of these compendia to be noticed. Bernard published a considerable number of short choral works and a Sonatina for B flat Clarinet and piano, but he is known for his work in what we may loosely reckon as light music forms. His film music was primarily written for the Hammer horror movies (examples are Dracula from 1958 and The Hound of the Baskervilles of the year after but there were many more). Bernard's TV music includes that for Murder Elite (1985), his scores for radio productions those for The Death of Hector, Dog in a Manger (1954), The Duchess of Malfi (1954) and The Dreamers (1955). The theatre has known him, too and here we may exemplify this with the incidental music for Twelfth Night and the musical comedy Virtue in Danger, based on Vanbrugh's The Relapse, which had 121 performances in a run divided between the Mermaid and Strand Theatres.

Talking of the Hammer films we may note HARRY ROBINSON's excellent March from Twins of Evil; several other composers were involved with them, among them Franz Reizenstein, Malcolm Williamson, Carlo Martelli and Laurie Johnson.

LIONEL SAINSBURY, composer of a respected Piano Concerto, may perhaps be reckoned as a "serious" composer but we may reasonable argue that several of his shorter compositions for piano solo are light music: the Twelve Preludes, with their echoes of Gershwin and Mayerl, Cuban Fantasy, Andalusian Fantasy, a Nocturne and the South American Suite.

We now move to the light musical theatre. JAMES STEVENS, whose floreat as a composer was in the early 1960s, had modest successes with his musicals Mam'zelle Nitouche (1961) and The Pied Piper (1962) and wrote music for the radio productions Echo and Narcissus, Ghost Story and The Salvation of Faust (both 1960), IWAN WILLIAMS was during the 1960s musical director at the Nottingham Playhouse and as such provided the music for Moll Flanders (1966), after Defoe, which I remember seeing and enjoying. He moved later, to Leatherhead and then Newcastle, but his only other score I have discovered is Maudie, from 1974.

One or two further light theatre conductors/composers merit brief mentions. ANTHONY BOWLES, whose conducting career began in the late 1950s and subsequently was involved with several of Andrew Lloyd Webber's earlier successes, earned a modest success on his own account with Mandrake in 1969, IAN ARMIT's shows were mainly in experimental, less fashionable theatres and included Gentlemen Prefer Anything, Land of the Dinosaurs (both 1974), The Curse of the Werewolf (1976), Mafeking (1977), The Mummy's Tomb (1978, with STEPHEN WARBECK, noted already in this series) and a West End run The Three Musketeers (1979, jointly with ROGER HAINER, who had earlier achieved success with Shylock, 1974 and Fiery Angel, 1977). Armit's titles almost suggest stage equivalents of possible Hammer films! JOHN GOULD, educated at Oxford University, had his first success while he was still "up": Sweet Fancy (1965) and A Present From the Corporation (1967). He was still writing musicals in 1893 with the Aristophanes-inspired The Frogs.

Other latter-day composers of musicals were NICK BICAT, who had two produced in 1981, Eastward Ho! and Restoration, and JOHN TAYLOR contributed to two major successes, Charlie Girl (1965) and Strike a Light (1966); his own Mr. & Mrs. (1968) and The Water Babies (1973) were less successful.

STEPHEN OLIVER's composing career was also up to a point in the theatre with the musicals Tom Jones (1976) produced when he was 26 and Blondel (1983), certainly a success measured by West End performances (87 at the Old Vic, plus 278 at the Aldwych) and excerpts achieved publication, too. Another musical, an adaptation of Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, yielded a published concert suite. Other stage titles included Britannia Preserv'd (1984) and Timon of Athens (1991). He worked for the BBC, too, with his music for Lord of the Rings in 1980. Oliver's more serious music (he studied electronic music at Oxford) included a Sonata for guitar and a quantity of church music. He was a popular teacher and broadcaster. His death in 1992 at the early age of 42, was a sad loss to British music.

Finally, a couple of fleeting references to Victorian dance music composers. In 1868 H.P. SWALTON's dances for piano appropriately called The Light Fantastics were advertised for sale. Slightly earlier, during the 1880s a Sheffield "Professor of Music" J. DIGBY PALMER, who kept a music shop in West Street there published for piano the dances Friston Quadrilles, Alise Mazurka and Sheffield Polka, Do any of these still survive, I wonder.

© Phil Scowcroft

 

 

 

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount

DONCASTER

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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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