Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
A 95th GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
Let us begin with Carey Blyton, born in 1932, nephew of Enid and educated at London University: music editor, lecturer and composer. His compositions are numerous and usually light-hearted, whether for orchestra (e.g. Cinque Port, On Holiday), choirs (Faber's Nursery Songs, Bananas in Pyjamas and other titles suitable for children or amateurs), piano solos (Patterns, Three Musical Mishaps, and Five Diversions), cello (Pantomime and The Cellist and the Nightingale), brass quintet, clarinet (Scherzo), saxophone (Six Epigrams) or guitar (The Water Garden, Two Japanese Pieces, The Oceans of the Moon). Dracula and Sweeney Todd are Victorian melodramas and he has also written much for films and TV, most famously for the Doctor Who series during the 1960s and for Sherlock Holmes adaptations; both have been adapted for concert use.
Roughly contemporary with Blyton is Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926, but who settled in England in 1938, subsequently studying at the Royal College of Music under Gordon Jacob and in Paris. His musical experience includes conducting at the Bristol Old Vic and the Ballet Russe and being Professor of Composition at the Royal College from 1961. His compositions are usually in an elegant, witty style, using idioms derived from jazz and popular music and include operas, ballets (like Les Femmes d'Alger and Alice in Wonderland) and orchestral music, some of it overtly "serious" - I am thinking of the Harpsichord Jazz Concerto and other concertos - but much of it light, as with the Four Dances, Jubilee Serenade, Waltz Souffl¾ and Horizon Overture. The brass band claimed his attention with a Sinfonietta and a Concerto for euphonium; the popular Music Hall Suite was written for brass quintet. His music has been heard quite frequently on TV; there was the theme, redolent of 1920s popular music, introducing the Lord Peter Wimsey adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers and the theme for Rumpole of the Bailey, plus music for several Agatha Christie adaptations. The latter again uses his gift for simulating the music of the jazz age.
Two resort conductors now earn brief mentions. Ian Hurst (c1890-1967) directed orchestras at Bridlington, Bath, Blackpool and Scarborough at various times between 1919 and 1952; he also figured as a conductor in the theatre and on the BBC. His cheerful compositions, all for orchestra, included The Bells of Somerset, Baby Dreams, Cradle Song, Marching Along, Brighton Sea-Step, sometimes called South Pier Sea-Step, and Windermere Idyll. Frank Gomez, active between the wars, was most celebrated as the conductor of the Whitby Spa Orchestra between 1923 and 1938; his light pieces included - for orchestra and doubtless an amusing novelty at the Spa - Climbing the Abbey Steps at Whitby. As every schoolboy knows, there are 199 of these, so the piece becomes progressively slower towards the end as the tired climber approaches the top.
Nicholas Brodszky (1905-58) was born in Russia but, like Horovitz, came to England during the 1930s. He composed music for revues and, his principle claim to fame, film scores, of which the most notable were Quiet Wedding (1940), The Way to the Stars (1945), one of the finest of Second War films, French Without Tears (also 1945), The Opposite Sex (1956) and Carnival.
Derek David Bourgeois was born in Kingston-on-Thames in 1941 and educated at Magdalen College, Cambridge and the Royal College of Music. He was a lecturer in music at Bristol University between 1971 and 1984 and between 1984 and 1993 was Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra, subsequently moving to St Paul's School, Hammersmith as Director of Music, a position once held by Gustav Holst. He is a prolific composer in the orchestral, chamber music, church music, song and brass band fields and much of his output, even for brass band, is serious enough. But lightheartedness keeps breaking into his music, as for example in the finale of his First Concerto for Brass Band, which is subtitled War March of the Ostriches; and (also for brass) the Serenade (written for a friend's wedding and arranged for many different forces), Whirligig and Diversions. From his orchestral compositions we can nominate Rumpelstiltskin Waltz, Barchester Suite, based on music for a Trollope series on TV, and the scores written early in his career for the British Transport documentary films Thirty Million Letters (1963) and The Driving Force (1966).
And so finally to May Brake (1885-1956), known to most of us for just one song, Bless This House. She was born Mary Hanna Dickson in Australia and died in her native country, actually in Sydney. But in 1912 she came to England where she lived for many years and composed most of her songs, which were mainly of the ballad type. Bless This House first appeared in 1927, rather late in date for a classic British ballad. It has been much arranged, for various choral and instrumental groupings, even trombone and piano. It is the only one of her songs (I have found 85 Brake song titles and there must have been well over 100) which one is likely to hear today. Other popular titles in their day included Down Here, I Passed By Your Window, A Japanese Love Song (also arranged by Henry Geehl, as a piano solo), A Prayer in Absence, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, To a Miniature and the later compositions Listen Mary and Close Thine Eyes. She seems to have been exclusively a song writer but often she grouped several songs into one song cycle, or properly, song sequence: Beaux and Belles, By Road and River, A Pageant of Summer and Song Pictures plus others suitable for children - From the Nursery Window, Peacock Pie, Real Australian Children's Songs and The Fish Shop (seven songs, Cod, Whiting, Salmon, Goldfish, The Fishmonger, Plaice and Lobster). Also for children was the "school cantata" The Magic Wood. Titles like Two Little Words suggest ballads as sentimental as Bless This House, but others (Speedwell and Meadowsweet) argue for a sensitive response to nature. She set Music When Soft Voices Die as did so many "serious" songwriters. "May Brake" was, as we have seen, not her baptismal name; she used nine others, seven of them male.
Philip L Scowcroft
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8 Rowan Mount
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Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.
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