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A FOURTH GARLAND OF ENGLISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

by Philip L. Scowcroft

Many of the light music composers in these Garlands have receded so far into perspective that they have virtually been forgotten and information about them is not easy to uncover. Take, for example, two composers active in the early years of the 20th Century and whose music was much used in the cinema in silent days, Herbert E Haines and Percy Elliott. To look at Haines first, Thomas A Johnson, a cinema pianist in the 20s, has recalled with pleasure using his Three Woodland Dances for this purpose and no doubt other pieces scored for orchestra but also issued for piano solo, like Angela, Coquette, An Eastern Romance, Cinderella, A Shepherd's Idyll, and Folly Dance found a similar use. His march The London Scottish may well be a relic of the Great War and he also produced a quantity of quite successful musicals: The Catch of the Season, Back to Blighty, My Darling, The Talk of the Town and The Beauty of Bath.

Percy Elliott's music was also used in the silent cinema and a selection of his Ketèlbey-like titles suggest this: suites like Columbine Suite, Ballet Suite, In Sunny Spain, May Days and Grey Days, Vox Maris (three seascapes), Natalia: Five South African Impressions, 'Neath Azure Skies and the 'novelette' for strings, Cupid in Error and individual genre pieces such as By The Shrine of the Sun, the 'souvenir de ballet' Sonia, the solemn Curfew, the intermezzo Red Poppies, the waltz Youth and Spring and the march Garthowen. Elliott, who also wrote music under the pseudonym Godfrey Newark and Walter Bush, composed for voice, too: songs like the duet Beloved and the solos Isle of My Dreams and Mate o' Mine and the patriotic choral song (accompanied SATB), Motherland of Ours which appeared in 1922 in the aftermath of the Great War. Arguably his most popular piece was A Toi (Love Song), published in 1913 in versions for organ and for two violins with piano.

Trevor Duncan was the pseudonym of Leonard Trebilko (b. 1924) who produced a quantity of light orchestral music in a slightly updated Eric Coates style during the 1950s and early 1960s. His suite Children in the Park (1957) was scored for a small orchestra without brass and was in three movements: Dancing for Joy - a Polka; At the Pool; a pastorale slow movement, and a scherzo-finale Hide and Seek. This was attractively light in touch, but much better known was the slightly later Little Suite, primarily for its sprightly opening March (the other movements were Jogtrot and Lullaby), which became well known as the introductory music to BBCTV's 1960s series, Dr Finlay's Casebook and was arranged for many other instrumental combinations, including recorders. Apart from this, his best known single movement was High Heels (1950), which was, I recall, frequently played on radio during the fifties, but there were many other novelty pieces for orchestra like Vision in Velvet and Tomboy (both 1951), The Twentieth Century Heroes and the "pastoral soliloquy" Meadow Mist (both 1954), Still Waters for strings (1957), Enchanted April, La Torrida, Count Three and Jump, Maniac Pursuit and Little Debbie (all 1958), The Girl from Corsica and The Wine Harvest, both from 1959, Vigour and Tenacity and the Vigour march, Making Tracks, Panoramic Splendour, Grand Vista and Transitionals. The valse Mignonette (1962) achieved nearly as much success as High Heels and in the same year his music for the TV programme The Plane Makers yielded a concert march, Citizens of the World. The BBC also used his three rousing fanfares, Royal Command, Imperial Solemnity and Chivalry, three of several that he wrote. His scores for the large screen included Joe Macbeth (1953) and The Intimate Stranger (1956).

Harry Dexter, who should not be confused with Harold Dexter (b. 1920) sometime Organist of Southwark Cathedral and Professor of the Guildhall School, could well have been included in my series on English composers for amateurs as he produced a large number of arrangements for students, instrumental ones of Mozart, Haydn, Lehár, Grieg, Massenet, Johann Strauss, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Brahms and so on, for clarinet, recorder and flute, and vocal ones of traditional material from Britain, America (spirituals and others), France, Germany and Switzerland. Other instrumental music included the Variations on Au Clair de la Lune and the Twelve County Dialogues, both for treble instrument and piano, the Scottish Street Dances for recorders and piano (or strings), Occasions and Moods for organ and, for piano solo, Maria's Music Box, Barney be Blowed, Six Pieces in Costume, A Little Prayer and Wrong Note Polka. Original vocal pieces for schools included The Little Silver Bell; What is the Meaning of it All?, The Friend, What can I do for Thee, Careless Love, The Bold Hunter, The Old Maid, Parting, The Possum and the unison comedy song So You Want to be a Musician? But his vocal output included old-fashioned ballad style songs in one, two or three parts like Give Me Those Things I Pray, Mother and Daughter, Be Still and In Blackmore by the Stour (also a Vaughan Williams title) and anthems such as Ave Maria, Rejoice in Life (3 part) and Give Us O Lord (2 part). And he also produced a quantity of light orchestral arrangements - notably Ta-ra-ra-Boom-de-ay and Blow the Wind Southerly - and original 'novelties': Frankfurt Polka, Bavarian Polka, Budgerigar Polka, Pas de Trois, the marches New Town and Bang On, Pizzicato Playtime, the serenade Concetta, Waltz for a Bride, September Woods, Porta Roma, Still Waters, Sports Hero, Rosa, Marianina and, best known of all, Siciliano, lightly scored for just flute, oboe, two clarinets, piano and strings. This came out in 1953 and many of Dexter's most popular orchestral numbers date from the fifties, but as late as 1972 came Pizzicato for a Poodle. for strings.

Now we return to the early days of this century and turn from composers whose output was primarily instrumental to one whose works were primarily vocal, indeed choral. George Rathbone, born in Manchester in 1874 and trained at the RCM, a pianist and organist, produced unison songs (e.g. Adventure, Pigeons, Shadow March, The Bantam Hen, Ships of the Air, The Windmill, The Shell and the Christmas Song of 1928) and two-part songs such as Dream Song, How Sweet the Moonlight Sleeps, Anemones, The Lights of Home, On a Merry May Morn, The Scissor Man, the extended Vogelweide the Minnesinger (performed in Chicago by 1500 children in 1920) and sundry canons of which Up The Airy Mountain was used as a test piece in a children's singing competition in Doncaster in 1922. These were primarily for young voices; for more adult choirs there were Music (SATB, 1929), I Love a Lass, There Be None of Beauty's Daughters (both TTBB), Come Away Sweet Love, The Fair, composed in 1932 and Easter Morning and My True Love Hath my Heart (SSA). Church choirs sang his anthems God Sends the Night, Rejoice in the Lord Alway, Christians Awake and The Strife is O'er also a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in B flat and the carol His Dwelling; these are still sung at Cartmel Priory in Furness, where Rathbone played a number of times. More ambitious were his cantatas with orchestra, Orpheus for female choir, Singing Leaves and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1923) for soprano solo and mixed chorus which at one time challenged in popularity Parry's cantata on the same subject. It was sung in Doncaster, I recall, as late as the mid-1970s.

We now travel north to Scotland and encounter Allen Macbeth, born in Greenock on 13 March 1856, remembered (if at all) nowadays for his light intermezzo Forget Me Not Opus 22, which quickly made a hit with professional and amateur orchestras (the Doncaster Orchestral Society performed it at a concert on 10 March 1891) and remained in their repertoires for generations. It comes as something of a shock to find that the composer of such a Grand Hotel lollipop studied at Leipzig Conservatory with Reinecke and Jadassohn, conducted the Glasgow Choral Union between 1880 and 1887, held organist's positions in Glasgow and Edinburgh and from 1890 directed the Music School of the Glasgow Athenaeum. His compositions included chamber music, piano music, songs, like Old Antwerp Town, and partsongs including a Jubilee Chorus, two sets of arrangements of Scottish Airs for SATB, an operetta, The Duke's Doctor, sundry cantatas, like Silver Bells and The Land of Glory (1890) and incidental music to Bruce, Lord of the Isles, a play after Sir Walter Scott. But most popular were the light orchestral miniatures: Forget-me-Not (arranged for violin/piano, cello/piano and other combinations), Heart's Ease (nearly as popular as Forget-Me-Not), Romantic Melody, the Serenata, Love in Idleness, the novelty Danzi Pizzicato, the march Gaily Through the World, and an Intermezzo and a Serenata Op 23, both the latter for strings which had its London premiere in the second season of Henry Wood Promenade concerts in 1896. He died in Glasgow on 25 August 1910.

Finally we turn to Cedric King Palmer, born on 13 February 1913, whom we could just as easily have included in our series on Composers for Amateurs or in my article on Conductor-Composers. A native of Sussex and educated at Tonbridge School but for a long time resident in London, Palmer had been composer, author, pianist, violinist, cellist, oboist, baritone singer, lecturer and conductor of the King Palmer Light Orchestra on the BBC and of other bodies like the Euphonic Symphony Orchestras, the North London Orchestra, the City Literary Institute Orchestra, the Sevenoaks Music Society and various theatre and film orchestras. His stage shows have included Gay Romance (1937) of which the number The Man for Me achieved popularity, The Film Opens and The Snow Queen (1969), with music adapted from Grieg, and, for children, music for the pantomimes or plays Hop o' my Thumb (1958), Aladdin (1965), Dick Whittington, Coalblack and the Seven Giants (1965) and with his wife Winifred, Two Weeks to Californiay (1962). He composed music for the films Dark Eyes of London, Signs of the Times, Secrets of the Stars, Rhythm of the Road and Holiday Time. He was responsible for a large number of classical arrangements especially for orchestra which were played by the King Palmer Orchestra, (Galopade, a pot-pourri of galops and can-cans, was especially popular back in the 1940s and 1950s and Sousa on Parade remains so) and a large number of original orchestral compositions like the suites Down a Country Lane, Out of Doors, Eight Period Pieces, Studies in Motion, and Studies in Happiness, the genre movements Fairy Cobweb, Golden Harvest, Blue Days at Sea, Country Market, Hackney Carriage, Paddle Steamer, Enchantment, Feather on the Breeze, Paul Pry, Frivolity, Procession, Gala, Spindlelegs, Stormy Passage, Softly She Sleeps, Busy Life, Tomorrow the World and March of the Astronauts, some of which were originally written with the large screen in mind, the intermezzi Tinkerbell (1937) and Springtime and the marches With Pomp and Pride and Kingsway whose instrumentation included three saxophones. Palmer composed various pieces of utility music for use in film and radio. Some of these appeared in piano versions; a more serious work for piano was the Three Atonal Studies and he also published individual songs like For The Sake of a Song and Lonely Star. Palmer has also been a popular writer on music, especially in the Home University Library's Teach Yourself series: Music (four editions, the last in 1978), Compose Music (2nd edition 1973) and Play the Piano (1957). Other publications were Your Music and You (1938), a study of Granville Bantock (1939), The Musical Production (1953) and, with Stephen Rhys, The ABC of Church Music (1967). In a number of ways Palmer has made a substantial contribution to the popularising of music and for this he earns our respect and gratitude.

© 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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