I began this latest bouquet with something of an enigma.
In the Henry Wood Prom season of 1898 all six concerts in the week commencing
Monday 10 October featured a "New Vocal Waltz" entitled Love Me
and conducted by its composer who was one J.M. COWARD. Information about
Coward has been hard to find. The BBC Music Catalogue does list a piano
solo, Berceuse Paysanne ("Country, or Rival, Lullaby") by JOHN
M. COWARD but it gives his dates as 1824-80. Are those dates wrong or
were there two J.M. Cowards? The first is luckier; but watch this space.
Born in the same year as Coward aired his "new vocal
waltz" and still (May 1999) alive and active, is CONRAD LEONARD, pianist,
arranger and composer. Although he contributed songs to a revue wittily
entitled Beyond Compere, his most popular compositions appear
to be ballads or at any rate songs of the lighter kind, many of which
were published in the decade after the Second World War. Their titles
include Love'' Melody, My Love is Only For You (1946), Shelagh
(1948), A Man's Song (1948), The Dream Waltz (1954),
If I Were Sure, Living a Love, Song of the Tritsch, Tratsch (1950),
an arrangement of Johann Strauss the younger's celebrated polka) and,
much the most popular, I Heard a Robin Singing, published in
1948 and arranged, by another hand, for female voices (SSA) a year later.
It is astonishing , incidentally - or, on reflection, maybe no - to
remember how many ballads are inspired by birds.
Few English-born composers have been successful on
Broadway, but JULIAN EDWARDS was one such during the early years of
this century. His shows included Dolly Varden (1902), produced
in London at the Avenue Theatre 1903), which despite its title was only
remotely Dickension, and The Motor Girl (1909), one of many musical
comedies at that period, and on either side of the Atlantic, entitled
"The Motor Girl".
To add to the considerable list of organist composers
of light music we may briefly mention NORMAN COCKER (1889-1953), Organist
of Manchester Cathedral between 1943-1953. He was also Organist of Manchester's
Gaumont Cinema; one may almost compare him with PERCY WHITLOCK, who
for some years combined the duties of Organist at both St. Stephen's
Bournemouth and that resort's Pavilion. Cocker however composed much
less than Whitlock, but his jaunty Tuba Tune which remain popular,
would doubtless have sounded equally well at the Cathedral and the Gaumont.
Now for an even briefer mention for a composer from
the post-1945 mood/production/library music" era. One or two of those
were virtually "one work" composers - we have alluded to them - and
another was BYRON LLOYD, who was responsible for the tune adapted in
around 1948 to introduce the radio programme "Music in the Air".
Another ballad composer now, although her horizons
stretched a little further, DOROTHY ATKINSON was born in 1893 (I have
no note of the date of her death); her lighter song titles included
The Harvester, The Ploughman, Winklepicker Bill, When Grannie Was
a Girl, O Golden Dawn, Homage and Up With the Lark, the last
incorporated into a radio show "Watch Your Fancy". Atkinson also composed
light suites such as the Summer Sketches, whose individual movements
were Thistledown, Wild Rose, Golden Bees and Swallows, and sundry
individual orchestral geve movements of which I many instance the "valse
caprice", Moths Around a Candle, Indian Summer, Dance of the May
Flies and Sentry Go.
Captain H.G. AMERS, who died in 1936, was sometime
conductor of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra in the 1920s and 1930s
before he was forced to retire though ill-health in 1935. The Eastbourne
festivals at that period bought famous conductors and composers to the
town. Born in Newcastle, Amers conducted at Brighton either side of
service in the Great War. His novelty items, compilations rather than
compositions - All on a Christmas Morning, The Wee MacGregor: A Highland
Patrol and Bhoys of Tipperary - were quite popular. He should
not, by the way, be confused with Flight-Lieutenant J.H. Amers (1866-1946)
conductor of the RAF Central Band 1920-31 and also as a manager.
We conclude with another "seaside" conductor/composer
MONTAGUE BIRCH (1884-1947) is especially associated with the Bournemouth
Municipal Orchestra, although he came from a Leamington family and as
a young man he held an organist's position in Warwick. A violinist as
well as a pianist, he played in the orchestra at Colwyn Bay before going
to Bournemouth initially as a 2nd violinist, in 1912. After
service in the Great War he returned there to become Deputy Conductor
and Accompanist. In 1940 he achieved the status of (Acting) Conductor
when Richard Austin, frustrated by the drastic reductions in the Orchestra's
size, resigned; Birch kept things going throughout the War in conditions
of the greatest difficulty. He may have had a chance to conduct the
Orchestra post war (though the meek do not inherit the earth)
but sadly he died early in 1947 and Rudolf Schwarz "got the nod". Birch,
a loyal and modest man, deserved better of Fate. Incidentally he composed,
and had performed, a considerable quantity of basically light music,
but little of it was published. However, his Dance of the Nymphs
was recorded in 1933 and Intermezzo Pizzicato in 1935. During
the Second World War he conducted the Bournemouth Home Guard Band and
wrote a march, The Carabiniers, for it.
© Philip L. Scowcroft
Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is
currently out of print.