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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    

A FORTY-FOURTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

We continue, for the moment at any rate, with the distaff theme of the 43rd Garland. Louth (Lincolnshire) born MRS CHARLES BARNARD, nee CHARLOTTE ALLINGTON (1830-69) was known universally in a musical scene as CLARIBEL, her fame being enshrined not merely in her own published ballads but also in the Claribel Valse, put together by CHARLES COOTE and heard in mid-Victorian ballrooms all over the country. Her best known ballad was Come Back to Erin, publicised in 1866; other Claribel titles included Robin Redbreast and, all sung by Mme. Sainton-Dolby in concert in Doncaster in 1866, Silver Chimes, I Cannot Sing the Old Songs and Walter's Wooing.

CLARA NOVELLO DAVIS (1861-1943), Welsh-born, wrote many songs of the ballad type, such as A Voice From the Spirit, The Vigil and Comfort. She sang in public and conducted the Royal Welsh Ladies Choir, which she had formed and toured with world wide, earning prizes at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and the Paris Exposition of 1900. She also published a book about singing and an autobiography, but is best known as the mother of Ivor Novello.

EVELYN SHARPE (whom we should not compare with Evelyn Sharp, sister of folksong collector Cecil, writer and Suffragette) produced much vocal music, hundreds of songs and carol. Many of them were suitable for children; of her drawing-room ballads, best known were When the Great Red Dawn is Shining, Fionaphort Ferry, Hambledon Lock, When The World Was a Garden of Love, The Bubble Song, Water Meadows, Hushed Husho, Where the Milestone End and Go Down to Kew in Lilac Time. She also composed church music, piano pieces for children (e.g. Apple Harvest and Tales From Toyland) and three orchestral pieces of topographical character - Devon, Essex and Hampshire - though the orchestration is by other hands.

Pianist ENA BOURNE (1883-1974) was born in Australia but was active in England from around 1912 as a concert and recording artiste. Her compositions included lighter piano pieces: Caprice, Humoreske, Petite Valse Caprice, A Little Song, Cradle Song and performed by the composer in Doncaster in November 1915, Gavotte and Scherzo.

Two light orchestral female composers were DOROTHEA BANCROFT, who wrote an intermezzo Asinoe and the African Suite No 1: Swahili Sketches (I have not yet established whether there was a No 2) and MARIE DARE, born in 1902, whose output included Five Scottish Airs for light orchestra (they are still played) and Three Highland Sketches for strings, plus ballads (eg When My Love Comes), Le Lac for violin and piano, Serenade and Valse in G for cello and piano. She in fact taught the cello and worked for much of her life in Edinburgh. She died in around 1980.

There let us leave women light music composers, though there are many more. In two (unpublished) articles entitles "The Distaff Side" I listed over a hundred British exemplars and articles on such figures as Maude Valerie White, Amy Woodeforde Finden, Liza Lehman, Gertrude Wesley, Louise Deny and Madeleine Dring have also appeared mostly in "BMS News". Most of them composed at least some light music. So also did Ethel Smyth, dozen of them all, as I remember with great pleasure her intermezzo; Two Interlinked French Folk Melodies, popular with light orchestras in my youth.

For our finale we return to the ranks of male composers. JOSEPH (or Josef as he is sometimes styled) HOLBROOKE is not usually regarded as a purveyor of the lighter musical form, being remembered, if at all (and his music is notorious for its neglect, in his lifetime and since) for his major works, opens, concerts, symphonies, symphonic poems and chamber music. Yet his father was a music hall pianist and the young Holbrooke composed many comic songs for that medium from the age of about 12. In the early 1920s when fox-trots were all the rage, he penned several, one of them rejoicing in the title Let's Brighten Brighton. He wrote widely for brass and military bands, some two dozen compositions in all. His brass band works, mostly substantial, included a symphony; Wild Wales and Song of Llewellyn but they were not accepted into the repertoire, though Clive of India was adopted as the test piece for the 1940 Open Championship (the date suggests Holbrooke was unlucky in his timing). And prolific output includes much that may be regarded as being in or near the mainstream of "light music".

Of his many song titles like Autumn, Clown's Song, Come Not When I am Dead, The Garden, Summer Sweet, Sympathy, You Are in Love and The World's Fair are in effect ballads and he published at least a dozen drinking songs. Some of his large corpus of chamber music was, at least, light and entertaining: the Miniature Suite for wind quintet, a Trio, subtitled Fairyland, for piano, oboe d'amore (or flute or clarinet) and viola and most of his string quartets - the Second is subtitled Impressions of Belgium, Russia etc, the third is a "Humoreske",, The Pickwick Club, in 13 short movements with titles like The Amorous Tupman, The Picnic and Mrs Bardell (however its technical difficulty outweighed its humour and limited its popularity), the fourth is a Suite on National Songs and Dances, the fifth a Suite on Folksongs of Great Britain. The latter two could be, and in fact were, played by full string orchestra.

Holbrooke was a fine pianist and much of his later output was "serious" in character, but the charm of such movements as Valse Alsacienne, the valse caprice Three Blind Mice, the Three Bagatelles, the twenty Jamaican Melodies, the intriguingly titles Javanese Pepper Dance (even Albert Ketelbey did not go further in search of exotic colour), the Gavotte Elegante, Orientale, Scherzino, Clair de Lune, An Enchanted Garden, the rather satirical, epigrammatic Bogey Beasts, even the Juliet Nocturne I heard in recital recently, the valse de concert, Talsarnau and the Cambrian Ballades (entitled Dolgellau, Penmachno, Tan-y-Grisiau, Maentwrog: he lived in North Wales for many years) entitle us to count them as light music; the ten Mezzotints, which bear titles like Syracuse, Palermo, Eilean Shona (Spring Song) and Butterfly of the Ballet, are attractive musical picture postcards, some of which are reminiscences of a Mediterranean cruise, some of the Mezzotints were orchestrated.

Holbrooke's other lighter orchestral compositions included Souvenir de Printemps (arranged by H.M. Higgs), Triumphal March and Imperial March, Four Dances, Opus 20, Novelette, Suite Pantomimique and another suite, Dreamlands, Scherzo and Rondo for strings, a collection of Reels and Strathspeys, which was premiered at Bournemouth, and sets of variations on Auld Lang Syne, The Girl I Left Behind Me and, first performed at the Henry Wood Proms in 1900, Three Blind Mice. He composed music for several ballets, of which the best known in their day were The Moth and the Flame, a suite from which was again premiered at Bournemouth, in 1931-2, and the charming Aucassin et Nicolette in six sections. His Saxophone Concerto had a final in jazz idiom.

Thus it seen that Holbrooke, like almost all British (and doubtless other) composers, "serious" or not, made substantial contributions to light music. His are almost forgotten (though I have heard a few of the light piano pieces in live performances in Doncaster recently) but not really more so than his "serious" music. After all, he did write mostly in a diatonic idiom which did not get in the way of his tunes, which are pretty good. And his often whimsical ideas were as well suited to lighter music as to something more serious.

© 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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