Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
G H CLUTSAM
Although I originally wrote this in 1988, the year of the Australian Bicentennial, when Australian musicians, especially Percy Grainger, have received at least modest remembrance, I have seen no mention of the name George Howard Clutsam. Yet he was born in Sydney New South Wales on 26 September 1866 and as a pianist, largely self-taught, toured quite widely in the Antipodes and Asia before coming to London in 1889. For ten years he appeared as accompanist at principal concerts in London and the Provinces, accompanying fellow Australian Melba in 1893, and then gave up playing in public to concentrate on compositions. He had already made his mark in this respect as his orchestral Carnival Scenes received its premiere in the very first season of the Henry Wood Proms (1895). Another major orchestral item, the 'symphonic idyll' The Lady of Shalott (after Tennyson) was performed by the New Symphony Orchestra in London during 1909. About that time things began to happen for him on the operatic stage. He had previously (1905) written an opera, The Queen's Jester, performed in Leipzig in 1896; the one-act A Summer Night enjoyed the accolade of a production with Beecham conducting, at His Majesty's Theatre, the first night being on 23 July 1910. The music was praised as being colourful and imaginative. In 1912 two more operas were written: After a Thousand Years, a miniature affair lasting only 25 minutes, and King Harlequin, a four act dramatic opera, which in a German translation was staged in Berlin as König Harlekin. It was based on Rudolf Lothar's Maskenspiel. The "fantastic melodrama" The Pool can also be listed under this heading.
At this time he was writing music criticism for The Observer, which in all he was to do for the ten years 1908-1918 and in later life he was Vice-Chairman of the Performing Right Society, but around the time of the Great War his career turned to the more popular end of musical theatre. Young England variously described as a light opera and a musical play, was written in collaboration with Hubert Bath with lyrics by Basil Hood of Merrie England fame and first performed at Daly's Theatre in 1916, the original cast including Clara Butterworth, wife of the composer Montague Phillips, and Harry Dearth. It was extensively excerpted on gramophone records. It was followed by other Clutsam musicals, The Little Duchess (1922), whose most popular number was One Glimpse of a Face, Lavender, from which Sunshine For You achieved popularity, Barbara or the Broken Sixpence (1932) and Gabrielle (1921), the music being written jointly with Archibald Joyce, the waltz composer. A popular excerpt from the latter was Cowbells and Archibald Joyce produced a waltz from some of Gabrielle's themes. But Clutsam's outstanding successes in this area were in works where the music was derived from the compositions of others. Lilac Time was the English version of Die Dreimadlerhaus, a musical put together in Vienna by one Barté from tunes by Schubert. In France the musical was known as Chanson d'Amour, in the United States as Blossom Time; Lilac Time in Clutsam's English version, ran for 626 performances after its premiere at the Lyric on 22 December 1922 and has often been revived. Some observers held up their hands in horror, and still do, at this using (or abusing) of Schubert's music in this way, but the piece has charm and I cannot remember that playing Clutsam's piano arrangement of numbers from Lilac Time in my youth hindered my later appreciation of Schubert; rather the reverse. Clutsam himself devised a musical, The Damask Rose, in 1929 utilising Chopin's music and more recently there have been musicals by others based on the works of Dvorak and Grieg for example, which have enjoyed considerable success.
Clutsam who died in London on 17 November 1951, aged 85, was involved with the new idiom of the cinema. In "silent days" he devised for Metzlers a compendium of suitable music for cinema musicians to play live to the screened pictures, and with Richard Tauber he composed music for the "talkie" Heart's Desire. By no means all of Clutsam's work was for the stage. He composed over 150 songs many of them arrangements of folk and other popular tunes, others original. He was attracted to the atmosphere of the American Deep South and this inspired his most popular song Ma Curly Headed Babby which appeared in many arrangements and others like Creole Cradle Song, 'Mancipation Day, Wake Up Little Darkies, and A-Wearyin' For You. Other songs included several "croon songs", By-Low-By, Gipsy Croon Song and Woodland Croon Song, and ballads like I Dreamed of a King's Fair Daughter, I Wander the Woods, If I Were a Lark, My Rose of Lorraine, Myna and Sweet Be Not Proud. More ambitious were the song cycle The Hesperides, the cantata The Quest of Rapunzel and the two sets of Songs of the Turkish Hills, twelve songs in all, of which I know of Two Bright Eyes became one of Clutsam's best known songs. A few items like The Cavaliers and Once There Lived a Lady Fair were composed for SATB and a number of his solos were arranged as part songs.
Of his output for orchestra we have already mentioned his two most ambitious ventures. Some of the others also reflected Clutsam's preoccupation with the Southern US like the Three Plantation Sketches for small orchestra and the selection of Clutsam's Plantation Songs he made for full orchestra. The suite Green Lanes of England, in four movements - The Joyous Wayfarer, The Forge, Noontide Lovers, and Gypsies - is an essay in the manner of Eric Coates and there are also short individual movements like April Night and Kopak, both for small orchestra, the latter including also a part for solo viola. Clutsam arranged much of his work, especially from his lighter theatre productions, for piano solo and wrote original piano solos also; one original organ work I have found is the Improvisation published by Ashdown in 1914. He really was so much more than just the arranger of Lilac Time; his Who's Who entry perhaps reflects this as it does not so much as even mention that, his most popular success.
© Philip L Scowcroft.
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