We begin in the early Victorian era with JOSEPH ASCHER
(1829-69), Dutch by birth but later resident in Paris, where he was
tutor to the Empress Eugénie, and London where he died. He is
best remembered for Alice Where Art Thou? very popular
in Victorian England as a ballad-type song, though Ascher made a
version of it for solo piano. He was in fact particularly renowned for
his salon pieces for piano: etudes, nocturnes, gallops etc. Other titles
besides the ubiquitous Alice were La Cascades Roses, Danse
Nègre, Mazwka des Traineaux ("Mazurka of the Sleighs"),
the gallop de bravure Sans Souci and the Grand Paraphrase
de Concert, Opus 50 on God Save The Queen and Partant Pour-La-Syrie.
From a much later period we must allude to DENNIS
DREW ARUNDELL (1898-1988), educated at Tonbridge and St. John's, Cambridge
where he was a Fellow 1923-9, lectured in Music and English Drama and
was Deputy Organist of the College. He then played many stage parts
at the Lyric, Hammersmith (including a singing role in Dunhill's Tantivy
Towers), the Old Vic and elsewhere, in plays as diverse as Shakespeare's
Measure for Measure, Congreve's Love for Love, the villain
in Patrick Hamilton's melodrama Gaslight and Dorothy L. Sayers'
Busman's Honeymoon, in which he created the role of Lord
Peter Wimsey in stage (1936). After 1945 (though not exclusively
so) his major contribution was to opera. He calculated he had produced
or directed over fifty of them - for Sadler's Wells, the BBC, the Royal
College of Music, the RNCM and in Australia - and translated fifteen.
He wrote books on Purcell and Sadler's Wells, produced opera editions,
wrote countless essays and lectured widely. This remarkably wide ranging
man also composed music: incidental music for the stage (The
Tempest for the Old Vic, J.B. Priestley's Ever Since Paradise
(1947) and a song for the 1926 Lyric Hammersmith revue, Riverside
Nights) and radio (The Winter's Tale and Nicholas Nickleby,
notably a ballet excerpt, "The Indian Savage and the Maiden", for two
violins, bassoon and brass drum); and orchestra genre pieces with titles
such as Reporting Progress, dated 1946, Saturday Night
and Loganberry Lammas. He was awarded the OBE in 1978 and attained
"four score years and ten" before de died, in London, on 10 December
DEREK SCOTT is currently Professor of Music at Salford
University and is an authority on Victorian music-hall songs on which
he lectures hilariously. His own compositions do not come quite that
light in character, but they are approachable. Some are for brass instruments,
including two Symphonies for brass band and a piece for horn and piano,
entitled Salisbury Plain.
Three composers now from the turn of the 19th
Century, who composed, to a greater or less degree, in various of the
lighter forms. WILLIAM HENLEY, born in 1876, was a violinist
but whose compositions, mainly for the salon, extended beyond his own
instrument. There were, for example, a Pizzicato Caprice for
string orchestra and a Pensée Melodique for piano solo
as well as an Air de Ballet and a number of Hungarian Rhapsodies
for violin and piano. ARTHUR COOKE appeared from time to time on
the same "bill" as Henley (I have discovered one instance in Doncaster
during 1901). He was a pianist and his salon miniatures included titles
like Rêve d'Aout ("Dream of August") and Sempre Staccato.
A Late Victorian ballad composer was C.B. HAWLEY, whose titles included
The Nightingale and the Rose, The Sweetest Flower and dated 1898
In a Garden; these seem to denote a love of flowers on Hawley's
part, but this is common enough as an inspiration for song composers.
Finally let us re-enter the 20th Century
and recall the work of the Welsh-born pianist and composer MERVYN ROBERTS
(1906-90), a pupil of Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music. His
gift for melody makes his music immediately attractive (and effectively
light music in many cases, despite slightly forbidding titles such as
Passacaglia in F (four hands, one piano) and the two Chorales
of 1936, for two pianos. His Elegy in E Flat Minor, also for
two pianos, of 1958, begins sombrely but cheerfulness soon breaks in.
A Christmas Prelude (1952), for four hands one piano, is very
much in lighter vein, though it is not based on a particular Christmas
tune that I can tell. Much of this four-hand repertoire was designed
for performance with his wife. Roberts' solo piano titles included,
besides an early Sonata, such light compositions as the Four Preludes
and Wind of Autumn.
© Philip L Scowcroft
Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is
currently out of print.