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AN EIGHTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC

I began these "garlands" as a kind of sweeping-up operation to mention in summary form composers who did not seem to me to merit a full-length article to themselves or (which is as least as likely!) those composers of whom my knowledge was too slight to extend to such an article. Eight articles - and many years - further on, I am still sweeping up. Literally hundreds have composed what may be regarded as light music in this country during the past century or more. Some are now remembered primarily for just one piece, like Angela Morley, one of relatively few ladies in the light music field, for the attractive A Canadian in Mayfair; or George Miller (1877-1960), conductor of various military bands during the first four decades or so and most notably that of the Grenadier Guards between 1922 and 1942, whose "Grand March" Galatea was once popular; or Quentin Maclean (1896-1962), a London organist (in both church and theatre), whose charming Parade of the Sunbeams, later orchestrated by Herman Finck, I heard recently of Edward Mitchell, composer of a Fantasy Overture for an orchestra including no fewer than six horns. The fairly recent (I write in 1996), death of Sir Vivian Dunn (1908-1995), sometime Director of Music to the Royal Marines, should remind us that among his many talents he was an able composer; most famously of the march Cockleshell Heroes for the celebrated 1950s film, but also of other marches like Globe and Laurel, The Pompey Chimes, dedicated in 1949 to Portsmouth Football Club, and the Canadian National Exhibition March.

Herbert Ivey is a name worth remembering, especially for his suite Glimpses of London, less well known and perhaps less individual than the London Suites of Eric Coates and Haydn Wood but surely meriting occasional revival - its movements bear the titles In the Park, A Day's Shopping, Father Thames by Night (a barcarolle) and the regulation concluding march London en Fête.

Ivor Slaney is worth a mention, too, for the tuneful orchestral genre pieces, most of which date from the 1950s: Three Irish Reels (1950), the sprightly Reveille for Toy Soldiers (1952), Hi Fiddle Diddle (1953, for strings and celesta), Whistling Wallaby (1954, almost a piece for Rolf Harris to set lyrics to), Georgian Rumba and Three Irish Jigs (both 1956), An Edwardian Entr'acte (1957) and The Swanee Whistler (1959).

Nor should we forget John Crook, who flourished in the early years of this century and whose fields of activity, if his published material is any guide, seem to have been the musical theatre and Cockney songs. The latter included I Must 'ave been a joy, The Johnnies' Serenade, Tink-a-Tin, Who'll Buy, Love of my Heart, Coster's Serenade, Jerusalem's Deal! and, most notably, 'Appy Ampstead (or Oh! Hampstead). With Charles Godfrey he arranged Chevalier's Coster Songs. His work for the theatre included at least parts of the 'topical burlesque' King Kodak, the musical plays The New Barmaid, The County Councillor, The House of Lords, Claude Duval, Jaunty Jane Shore and, most famously, music for J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan in 1905. This latter featured some gorgeous melodies including the Wendy Theme, also Indian Dance, Children's Dance, and Ostrich Dance. A selection from it was recorded late in the 1920s and gives a good idea of Crook's tuneful muse. A separate Polka and a Maypole Dance were published and may have emanated from a theatre production but I have not been able to confirm this.

"Leslie Stuart" or Thomas Barrett to give him his real name, was born in Southport in around 1868 and died in 1928. He is primarily remembered as the composer of the musical comedy Floradora (1899, revived in 1915 and 1931); his later shows The Silver Slipper (1900), The School Girl (1903), The Belle of Mayfair (1906), Havana (1908), Captain Kidd (1909) and Peggy (1911) were much less successful. Several of his 65 or some songs especially Soldiers of the Queen, The Bandolero, Little Dolly Daydream, Lily of Laguna and a number of "coon songs", became hits. His instrumental pieces included at least one Cakewalk.

"Anthony Burgess" (Really John Anthony Burgess Wilson), born in Manchester in 1917, may claim a place here, although he is better known as an author, of such books as "A Malayan Trilogy" and "A Clockwork Orange". He did however begin his adult life as a professional; musician, largely self taught, playing the piano in jazz combos. His musical output is largely "serious" in idiom: three symphonies (1937; 1956, based on Malayan themes, recalling that he taught in Malaya 1954-61); 1975) a Sinfonietta for jazz combo; the symphonic poem Gibraltar (1944); concertos for piano and flute; Song of a Northern City, for piano and orchestra (1947); Partita for string orchestra (1951); Concertino for piano and percussion (1951); a Cantata for a Malay College (1954); Passacaglia for orchestra (1961); sonatas for piano (1946, 1951); and cello (1944); Ludus Multitonalis for recorder consort (1951); three guitar quartets (No. 1 is entitled Homage to Maurice Ravel) which have recently been recorded and songs. But we may perhaps nominate him as a light music composer on the strength of the incidental music he wrote for plays, the Ballet Mr. W.S. and the tuneful operetta Blooms of Dublin.

Greta Wilens, German born, but long domiciled in England and a founder member of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain, may be included in this Garland on account of her ballad-like song Isola Bella conceived for Tauber, and the march The Albatross, which has acquired considerable popularity since its premiere in 1986.

In an earlier Garland I discussed the work of Sydney Baynes and Charles Ancliffe; but we should not let this series finish - if it ever does! - without mention of England's other, and arguably much more famous "Waltz King" Archibald Joyce. Born in London in 1873, Joyce was a boy chorister, then a dance band pianist, then a leader of his own enormously popular Archibald Joyce (dance) Orchestra. His first original waltz composition for this was Sweet Memories. In 1909 he toured as a conductor for Ellen Terry but after the Great War until he died, at Sutton in Surrey on 22 March 1963, he mainly devoted himself to composition. His waltz compositions ran into dozens, maybe even hundreds. Dreaming (1911), surely the most famous of them all, Songe d'Automne (1908), Vision of Salome (1909) Remembrance (1909), Vision d'Amour, Entrancing, Love's Mystery, Blue, Paradise, Bohemia, Sweet William, Skating on the Ice (a parallel to Les Patineurs by Waldteufel, whose waltzes Joyce's often resemble), Violetta, A Night in Vienna, One Night of Love, Dreams of You, Dream of the Ball, the "waltz militaire" Victorious, dedicated to Winston Churchill in 1945, Just a Memory, Always Gay (he would surely retitled this were he living now!), Charming, Sweet Love and Life, A Thousand Kisses, A Maiden's Blush, Let All the World Go By, I Could Dance For Ever With You, Song of the River written for the BBC (1946), Fidelity and Great Waltz Imperial. He is reputed to have been the first British waltz composer to have had his compositions published on the Continent, but he by no means confined himself to composing waltzes. Dance numbers on other rhythms included: Iris: Danse de Ballet, Tangle Toes, Premiere Danseuse and Novelty Dance, the polkas Café Colette and Frou-Frou, the Spanish Tambourine Dance and the two-step Brighton Hike plus the genre pieces Wedding Bells and Sleeping Water, The Caravan Suite, surely Ketèlbey-inspired, and the marches The Palace Guard, The Recruit, The Queen's Guard, Colour Sergeant, The Old Grenadier, The Coon Drum Major, in American style, Royal Parade, Prince of Wales (introducing God Bless the Prince of Wales as its trio section), Royal Standard, Homage to the RAF and the ceremonial march Britannia. His solo instrumental items included the cello solo Spanish Bolero and a xylophone solo, Vienna Café. He contributed to musicals, notably Toto, produced at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1916 and Gabrielle and he published songs like I'm Skipper of a Submarine, God's Greatest Gift, The Rogue of the Road, Dreams of Bohemia, Friends Dear to Me and The Modern Girl. Little of this large output - and I am far from claiming exhaustiveness - is heard today although Dreaming at times still flies the Joyce flag and the Marco Polo CD reviewed in News 70 should help his cause.

Frederick Nicholls, active especially between the two wars, was noted for his songs to quality lyrics, like Tears, Idle Tears, Elaine's Song, As Through the Land, Thy Voice is Heard, Blow, Bugle Blow, Eldorado and especially popular, the five songs from A Child's Garden of Verses; but he published instrumental miniatures as well like the Two Short Pieces (Meadow Dance and Dancing Midges) of 1938 for piano solo.

Most of the composers featured in this series have been dead, often for many years, but I would like to conclude this Garland with three composers all of whom are perhaps even better known as arrangers and conductors and who at the time of writing are still very much alive. First of them is Eric David Wetherell born on 30 December 1925 in Tynemouth and educated at Carlisle Grammar School, Queen's College Oxford and (1948-9) the Royal College of Music. After ten years as an orchestral horn player, he occupied the successive positions as répétiteur at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1960-63), Assistant Music Director to Welsh National Opera (1963-96) and Chief Conductor, BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra (1976-81). He lives near Bristol and at least two of his works reflect this: the overture Beau Nash (Nash was pre-eminent in the 18th Century development of Bath) and Bristol Quay for string orchestra. Other orchestral items include Welsh Dresser and Airs and Graces; a chorus Your Gift to Man was published and he is also credited with music for films and television. His Three Shakespeare Sonnets for medium voice are jazz influenced.

My remaining two figures were Directors of Music with the Royal Marines who, on retiring from the Service, took up posts in musical education with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in the mid-1970s, posts which they held for many years before retiring for the second time, although both remain very active in music in one form or another.

Peter Sumner M.B.E. (b. 1929) whose two careers embraced 31 years in the Royal Marines (18 of them as Director of Music, latterly of the C-in-C Fleet Band) and about eighteen years in the Doncaster Peripatetic Music Service, studied conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and is a respected arranger and composer, of marches for band (The Blue Light was written for a police training centre), short instrumental solos include Water Nymph for oboe (his principal instrument) and most recently a suite Celebration to mark Doncaster's 800th anniversary celebration of its first charter in 1994 and available in military band, brass band and orchestral versions. Its use of historical pastiche recalls Coates - and it ends with a March! Barcelona (a pasodoble) shows Spanish colour, An Alpine Frolic is described as a "Tyrolean waltz", while Soliloquy, written for a British Legion Festival of Remembrance in 1973, has Elgarian overtones.

Ray Woodfield (b. 1931), also for many years, from 1974, a teacher in the Doncaster Peripatetic Service, and before that also a Director of Music with the Royal Marines is an even more prolific arranger and composer than Sumner and his arrangements are often astonishingly inventive. His main instrument was the clarinet and his long list of compositions includes a number of miniatures for it, but he himself regards his best original works as the two euphonium solos Varied Mood (an anagram of the name of its dedicatee, David Moore) and Caprice, also for Moore, the marches Walkabout (originally written for Woodfield's student band in Doncaster) and Amsterdam a military march often played in Holland, Trumpet Eclair, a virtuoso solo item, and a Concerto in E flat, also for trumpet.

There must be many more "light music" figures whom I have not so far covered. Eric Ball, another brass band man, deserves a profile to himself. Robert Farnon has his thriving society to research him in depth. Several "classical" composers have produced light music in profusion - Elgar, Walton, Malcolm Arnold, Gordon Jacob, Armstrong Gibbs, Richard Rodney Bennett, Percy Whitlock (who wrote a Spade and Bucket Polka; appropriate for a man who worked in Bournemouth!) and so on. But eight garlands of such pleasure-givers is perhaps enough - for the time being!

© Philip L. Scowcroft.

 

 

 

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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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