Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
A NINETY-FIRST GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
In previous Garlands I have focused on a particular period of the English light musical style. Here I zoom in on 1933, the year of my birth. It was a rich year, numerically at any rate. There were three composers who made their biggest mark a few years after 1933: Vivian Ellis, whose Jill Darling had achieved 242 performances in the West End by 1934, a preface to its success on the amateur stage, too, although it is now less well remembered than his much later Bless the Bride; Noel Gay (1898-1954), whose That's a Pretty Thing (Daly's) which may be seen as nothing more than a prologue to Me And My Girl, The Little Dog Laughed and Meet Me Victoria; and George Posford, whose The Gay Hussar was not particularly successful but it did better when it reappeared in 1936 as Balalaika, being followed by Good Night Vienna and Magyar Melody later in the thirties.
No fewer than three musicals with music by the popular inter war team of Jack Waller and Joseph Tunbridge, previously discussed, figured during 1933; Mr. Whittington, He Wanted Adventure and Command Performance. Mr. Whittington (298 performances at the Hippodrome and Adelphi) did best, Command Performance was a flop.
Three American composers were represented on the British musical stage during this year. Cole Porter's Nymph Errant was less successful than some of his earlier London shows, but Martin Browne's Give Me a Ring (1933), with 239 Hippodrome performances, and his successors Guy Deceives (1935), Seeing Stars (1935) and Swing Along (1936) achieved more or less success. Arthur Schwartz, after some acclaim on Broadway, had produced in London Here Comes the Bride (1929), part of Little Tommy Tucker (1930) and his 1933 show Nice Goings On (221 performances at the Strand Theatre) which included such hits as The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Lifesaver's Song. This was followed by Follow the Sun in 1936 and Schwartz was still around as late as 1975 when, however, Ron Grainer's score for Nickleby and Me was preferred to his.
H. Baynton Power we have covered in a previous Garland. His stage show in 1933 was Her First Affaire, which had a provincial success only and was no more of a success than his two earlier stage efforts Daphne (1930) and Kong (1931). His light orchestral miniatures earned more success. B. C. Hilliam ("Flotsam") (1890-1968), a pianist most remembered for his music-hall type numbers with "Jetsam" (the bass Malcolm McEachern), did little with his Beau Brummell which had only a brief run at the Saville. "Flotsam's" later style musicals were entitled Princess Virtue and Play With Music (1936). Walter Leigh's operetta Jolly Roger had a late companion, The Pride of the Regiment, not to mention his revues and incidental music, and he also composed more "classical" works owing something to Hindemith. But he was sadly killed in Libya in 1942, a loss maybe to compare with George Butterworth's in the Great War.
Finally there were a number of singletons, or apparent singletons, in 1933 whose composers fared fascinatingly differently. Colin Wark's Sweet Seventeen had just three performances at Folkestone in this year but, refurbished as Tulip Time, achieved 427 performances in the West End in 1935, its hit, "Aces of the Air," striking a chord with an aviation-crazy public. Temple Abady, whose musical Alf's Button surfaced briefly at the Kingsway in 1933, established his reputation post-war in film music. Mrs. Bluebeard, by Gavin Lee, something of an 'economy' production, had only a brief run in London but the provinces liked it. Finally, the music of Clancarty, composed by the theatre conductor H. Wolseley Charles, was described by The Stage as "curious and not very attractive as far as melody was concerned" and the show survived just 23 performances. I know of no other composition by Lee or Charles.
Light music is being written today in the form of film and TV series and also for young amateurs. Three composers in the latter field may be alluded to as a coda to this Garland. They are arrangers much more than composers though their arrangements are inventive and attractive and treat the whole range of music from classical to pop. Nicholas Hare's titles include Tourdion, O Waly Waly and Go From My Window, all orchestral. Barrie (Carson) Turner (1951-), who also uses the name Stuart Barrie and who lives in Norfolk, has composed a nativity play for infants, How The Star Was Chosen (1984) and a Rhapsody for string orchestra. Christopher Wiggins' output includes Three Czech Dances and Three French Dances, both for wind ensemble. In a single concert not long ago (8 April 2000) I heard pieces by all three: Hare's Go From My Window, Stuart Barrie's Loch Lomond (one of three Scottish tunes he treated, and inventively so, for strings, the others being Lewis Bridal Song and Skye Boat Song) and the Prelude from Wiggins' First Suite for Strings.
Philip L. Scowcroft
Enquiries to Philip at
8 Rowan Mount
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 email@example.com
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