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Classical Editor in Chief: Rob Barnett
A FORTY-THIRD GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT CLASSICAL MUSIC COMPOSERS
The number of light music composers who we known for just one piece is of course legion and a number of them have figured in this essay's 42 predecessors. Another is JOHN TREVALSON, whose ballad My Treasure, which appeared in 1903 - and even that is quite for all it was recorded by soprano Lilian Stiles Allen and tenor Count John McCormack. I have found no record of the titles of any other Trevalson ballads.
We continue with a few women composers. SUSAN SPAIN-DUNK (1880-1962) is now a forgotten figure, but she had considerable exposure at the Henry Wood Proms in the 1920s and mostly with pieces we would reckon as light music. Born in Folkestone, she was educated at the Royal Academy of Music (where she later taught harmony and composition) and initially earned some success in the sphere of chamber music. However it was mainly music in lighter mode that she made her reputation. At the Proms she was represented by a Suite for strings in 1924, an Idyll also for strings and the Romantic Piece for flute and strings in 1925 and the Kentish Downs overture in 1926. She indeed never forgot her Kentish roots, for she composed a "fantasia", Weald of Kent and an overture Andred's Weald was broadcast in 1927. Other concert overtures included The Farmer's Boy, for flute and strings, premiered at the Eastbourne Festival in 1929 and two for military band. Her gift for orchestral melody was also exercised in The Water Lily Pool for flute, harp and strings, premiered by the British Women's Symphony Orchestra, the two Scottish Pieces, respectively titled "By St. Mary's Loch and "Kerrera", the four Spanish Dances, originally for piano solo when there were six of them and a Cantilena for clarinet and orchestra. Her largest orchestral works were the symphonic poems Elaine, heard at the Proms in 1927, and Stonehenge. Several of her instrumental pieces are light music, too: a Spanish dance, Jumba, for violin and piano, pieces for violin and viola, a Petite Serenade for flute and piano and Winter Song, for cello and piano. The only Spain-Dunk composition to be revived recently - on the BBC actually - was the concert march Kentonia; this and many of the other orchestral pieces we have mentioned were also performed at Bournemouth in Sir Dan Godfrey's time.
TERESA DEL RIEGO (1876-1968), apart from one or two instrumental miniatures, was primarily a ballad composer of which much the best known (of some 300 examples) was the still-popular Homing (1917); of the rest, O Dry Those Tears sold 33,000 copies in six weeks - it, along with Happy Song, To Phyllida, Sink Red Sun and Thank God for a Garden, were recorded and other popular del Riego titles included Harvest, Sleep My Heart, King Duncan's Daughter, A Land of Roses, A Garden is a Lovesome Thing, Happy Song, Slave Song, Remembrance, Resurrection, A Star Was in His Cradle, Spring Gardens and The Reason. Her parents were Spanish, but she was born in London, became THERESA LEADBITTER on her marriage in 1908 (her husband was killed in the Great War). She played her part in the war effort, singing for charity in both World Wars and composing The Unknown Warrior for Armistice observance after 1918.
Now for a group of lady composers noted for their work in the syncopated idiom made especially popular by Billy Mayerl. Not that DESIREE MACEWAN confined herself to that style - her orchestral piece Claarn Var received its premiere at the Henry Wood Proms in 1921 and her Summertime Fancies for piano solos, which had the movement titles "July", "Peaseblossom, Dances", "To an Old Doll" and "The Dream Fairy", seems like more mainstream light music. But Sweet Lavender, also for piano, was in the syncopated style and, like so many of Mayerl's genre pieces, had a horticultural title. Both RAIE DA COSTA (1907-34), born in South Africa of Portuguese extraction, and the Irish-born PATRICIA ROSSBOROUGH (1900-92) made syncopated piano recordings which in each case ran into three figures. Mostly these were of other people's compositions but da Costas included her own Kute and Kenning, Parade of the Pied Piper, Razor Blades, A Toyland Holiday and the scintillating At the Court of Old King Cole, Rossborough's her Hong Kong Haggis and Darts and Doubles. Both composed songs, da Costas' output included Mandragora Rossborough's You Wouldn't (she also published an Irish Country Dance for piano solo).
By no means all of women composers of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods confined themselves to writing ballads, though many did, as we shall shortly see (and indeed already have). DORA ESTELLA BRIGHT (1863-1951) composed operas and ballads and had a piano concerto which was played at a Henry Wood Prom, as were lighter-effusions like a Suite Bretonne for flute and orchestra (1917), a Liebeslied (1897) ands a Theme and Variations. Suites for flute/piano and violin/piano and a Polka a La Strauss, for violin and piano were published. Born in Sheffield, she settled in Somerset. ELSIE APRIL, who composed a suite, The Village Green (orchestrated by Sydney Baynes) and ballads like Here Lies a Vagabond (1908), was surely a pseudonym? For a time during the 1920s she was musical assistant to Noel Coward and helped him with Bitter Sweet (1929).
Now for a few female ballad composers. GUY D'HARDELOT (1858-1936), born HEATHER GUY in Dieppe of French parents, married a Mr. Rhodes was settled in London, so we can, not unreasonably, claim her as English. Apart from an operetta, her output comprises almost entirely ballads, of which much the best known is Because, a "chart-hit" of 1902, though When the Dream is There, Roses of Forgiveness, My Message, Wait and Three Green Bonnets were all recorded for the gramophone in "acoustic" days. Other popular titles were The Curtain Falls, I Had My Love, The Day, I Know a Lovely Garden, You Came to Me, Dreams and In England Now. Some d'Hardelot songs had French words.
FRANCES ALLITSEN (1848-1912) had wider horizons though she too is remembered now for just one ballad The Lute Player(others of around 130 titles, included A Song of Thanksgiving, Love's Despair, There's a Land, Love is a Bubble, Since We Two Parted and a cycle, A Lute of Jade; had some German words) but she also brought out a Piano Sonata, an orchestral Suite de Ballet and the overtures Slavonique and urdine, plus a Contata for the Queen in the Coronation year, 1911 and the romantic opera Bindra the Minstrel. She was a concert singer, having previously studied at the Guildhall School.
FLORENCE AYLWARD, born in Sussex in 1862, survived until 1950 and like Allitsen studied at the GSM but so far as I know composed only ballads: Flower Songs (a four piece ballad cycle), The Bird I Love the Best, King Winter, Rose Song, Roses of England, Song of the Bow I and especially popular in their day, Love's Coronation, How Dear You Are and Beloved, It is Morn.
Finally in this all-distaff Garland, MAY HANNA BRAHE, born Mary Hanna Dickson in Australia (1885-1956) earned fame for her Bless This House as recently as 1927 and much arranged for various choral and instrumental forces since then. She lived in England after 1912 but later returned to Australia and died there. She wrote well over 100 songs, some of them Australian folksong settings, others suitable for children and song cycles including The Fish Shop. She used no fewer than nine pseudonyms. After Bless This House, perhaps Down Here, I Passed By Your Window, A Japanese Love Song, A Little Green Lane, A Prayer in Absence, Meadowsweet were her most highly regarded titles Close Thine Eyes.
© Phil Scowcroft
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