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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

A FORTY-NINTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

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

 

 

 

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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