Classical MusicWeb

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


All our composers in this Garland, but for the first and last, were active in or around the middle of the 20th Century. The first exception is Sir Frederick Hymen Cowen (1852-1935), born in Jamaica: conductor of the Hall¾ Orchestra, among others, and composer of major choral works, six symphonies and operas. He was roughly contemporary with Parry and Stanford and, like Parry, wrote cantatas, like Stanford wrote operas and like both of them composed symphonies. However he, more than they, wrote much light music. Of some 300 songs, many were ballads, The Better Land and A Border Ballad achieving special popularity. His light suites rivalled those of Edward German, though they have survived less well, despite their lightness of touch and attractive scoring. They deserve a mention though: The Language of Flowers, two sets of Old English Dances and In Fairyland. His concert overture The Butterfly's Ball of 1905 has similar qualities.

Now to those whose floreat period was the 1930-60 era. Sidney Crooke was a pianist with the J H Squire Celeste Octet, Campoli's orchestra and other ensembles, (he directed his own Entr'Acte Players), but he composed quite a lot of orchestral genre pieces, several suitable fodder for the recorded music libraries - Evensong, March of the Ants, Turning Wheels, Solo Flight, Valsette, Happy-Go-Lucky, Irish Jig, A Woodland Idyll and Scherzino, the latter featuring a solo for bassoon or clarinet - and he published many light instrumental solos.

David Curry is remembered (by some) for re-forming and then conducting for some years a 16 piece BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra around 1950 which used many of his traditional arrangements (previously he had conducted an "Irish Rhythms Orchestra"). Later he published an Irish Pastorale (for orchestra) and two books of Irish Rhythms for solo piano.

Jack Coles (1914-91) studied at Kneller Hall and was a regular broadcaster from 1946 onwards with his own Orchestre Moderne (23 players), then (1960-72) as conductor of the BBC Midland Orchestra. His orchestral compositions - some issued under his alternative name Paul Stewart - included the suite A Day at the Zoo (1950) and the individual genre movements Dance of the Dragonflies, The Girl From Cadiz, Mexican Serenade, Casbah, Puppet March, Joy Ride, Tyrolean Tango, Cowbell Polka, Parakeets and Peacocks, Dude Ranch, Seaside Special (the seemingly obligatory piece of "train music" for so many of our light composers) and Riverboat Serenade.

Anthony Vincent Benedictus Collins (1893-1963) was, like Coles and Curry, a conductor but in an often more serious vein, generally speaking. Born in Hastings, he studied at the Royal College of Music and played viola in the LSO and Covent Garden Orchestra between the wars. He then conducted for Carl Rosa and Saddlers' Wells and his recordings of Sibelius symphonies on early Decca LPs are still spoken of with respect. His compositions included two symphonies, two violin concertos, operas, chamber music and choral works. But he had a lighter side. He composed for many films on both sides of the Atlantic (examples are Odette, Derby Day, Tom Brown's Schooldays and The Lady With a Lamp) and his output embraced many light orchestral pieces such as the overtures The Dancing Master, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew (after Twelfth Night) and Festival Royal, the concert suites Eire, based on Irish folk (or at least folky) tunes, Four Styrian Dances and the Spanish Dance Suite and the intriguingly titled Hey Ding a Ding - A Pastorale and, much the best known of all his compositions and still popular today, the sprightly and charming single movement Vanity Fair, probably inspired by Thackeray's novel.

Frederick George Charrosin, who died in 1976, achieved popularity on the BBC after 1945 with mainly orchestral work. Most in demand were his many colourful arrangements but there were plenty of original compositions as well: Keep Moving, Fireside Gipsies, Playbox (an intermezzo), Trickery (a caprice), Don Carlos (a paso doble), Cuban Lament, Hiker's Highway, Dive Bomber, Scaramouche and two pieces sporting a solo for piano (or xylophone or piccolo), Snowflakes and the Zita waltz.

Raie da Costa (1907-34) died sadly young, otherwise she may have challenged the supremacy of Billy Mayerl in the "syncopated piano" field. Of Portuguese origin, she was born in South Africa and then moved to England. She was a brilliant pianist and prolific recording artiste. Her playing activities and her early death meant that her compositional output was, relatively to Mayerl's, small but she nevertheless penned, as essays in the syncopated style, Razor Blades, Jazz Goblins, Cascades, Parade of the Pied Piper, Moods and the totally irresistable At the Court of Old King Cole. She contributed songs to the musical Your Money or Your Wife in 1932. And her Valse Romantique is more in the light music mainstream, showing that, like Mayerl, she could achieve success in that idiom too.

Philip L Scowcroft

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount



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

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