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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

A SIXTY-THIRD GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

To begin with, a few more Victorian names. Five are dance composers: WILLIAM WILKES, whose Quadrille for piano of c. 1840 bore a picture of Wolverton railway viaduct on its cover but did not seem otherwise to have a railway connection; J.P. CLARKE; MICHAEL CONNELLY, who was Musical Director at the Princess Theatre and his galop The Lights o'London was performed nightly there; and W. BRIGHT, composer of a gavotte, The Butterfly and E. SUGG, composer of a dance, At the Forge, both being played in the 1890s by the Doncaster Volunteer (brass) Band. One ballad composer-though his titles mostly seem more suited to the music hall - was G.W. HUNT, who produced, among many other songs The Piano Girl, Beautiful Columbine, Awfully Clever, Johny the Engine Drive, which has been dated at 1867, Waiting for the Signal, We Didn't Want to Fight, The Gymnastic Wife, The German Band and Dear Old Pals. Hunt's Life in the Ballroom was later inserted in a film "Diamond City" and it exists in an arrangement by Ronald Binge.

A large number of cathedral and church organists have composed, usually church music and organ solos as one would expect, but quite a number of them have diversified into what we may describe as light music. Outstanding in this respect is WILFRID SANDERSON (1878-1935), discussed in the BMS Journal Vol 3, Organist of Doncaster Parish Church 1904-23 and composer of 170 ballads, many of which are still sung, and around a dozen short piano pieces. But we can also mention SIR EDWARD BAIRSTOW (1874-1946), Organist of York Minster 1913-46, one or two of whose shorter organ solos full within this category - he composed ballad-type songs, too, both for solo voice and for chorus - and HERBERT SUMSION (1899-1995), Cathedral Organist at Gloucester 1928-67, whose organ solos Elegy Intermezzo in D, Cradle Song, Pastoral and a virtual suite, Air, Berceuse and Procession. His Mountain song, composed in 1040, appeared in versions for cello and piano and string orchestra (with the cello still prominent) is a delightful tune very much in the English pastoral tradition. It has been recorded recently in its orchestral guise.

A Doncaster church organist, who composed a considerable amount of light music without contriving to achieve anywhere near the fame of Sanderson, was ALFRED TAYLOR (d.1915), successively Organist at St, Mary's and Christ Church in the town. Before that he had worked in the Manchester area and whilst there had married in 1885, a stage production of his light opera The Bachelors (he composed a later operetta, Amanda, a selection from which was performed by the Doncaster Orchestra Society, but I have traced no stage production). Taylor was an able pianist and he included a number of his compositions for piano solo, mainly light miniatures, with titles like Tarantella, Album Leaf, Concert Waltz, Melody in G, Sketch and Gavotte Rustique, in recitals. His Sandringham Waltz, "a light, pretty, entrancing tune", figured in Doncaster ballrooms during the nineties. A predecessor of Taylor's at Christ Church (1880-8) was WALTER SPINNEY (1853-94), whose output included lightish organ pieces such as Nocturne, Daybreak and several marches, ballads like The Abbey Organ and piano miniatures with titles Swiss Clock and Tuning Key Waltz, which suggest the metre of the music. His three act operetta The Whack'em Academy was staged in Doncaster in 1882. Spinney came of a family of church musicians; his father was once Organist of Salisbury Cathedral where Walter was for a time Assistant. Another Doncaster organist, HARRY MCKENZIE (1858-1915), of Oxford Place Methodist Church and like Taylor, Spinney and Sanderson active in Doncaster choral affairs, composed a Festival March In D, Gavotte in D, a "polka march" La Tambour and at least one other Polka, all for orchestra , plus some short violin pieces and more serious work.

MARGO WRIGHT was an accomplished composer and pianist who at times in the 1940s accompanied the legendary contralto Kathleen Ferrier; her attractive arrangements for cello and piano of Northumbrian songs like The Keel Row and Blow the Wind Southerly, both beloved of Ferrier of course, would grace any light music programme and have been recorded.

Finally the name of JAMES HORNER born in 1953 and celebrated as the composer of the music for the film Titanic (1997) (and especially its so called "Love Theme") but also of dozens of films for which he has written scores around 1980, may surprise those who would retort that he is American. So he is, by birth and present domicile, but he was brought up in England and even studied at the Royal College of Music. Now can anyone find an English connection for Leroy Anderson, so we can adopt him as one of our own?

© Phil Scowcroft

October 1999

 

 

 

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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