Music Webmaster Len Mullenger: Len@musicweb.uk.net


RAILWAYS IN MUSIC part 2
by
Philip Scowcroft

part 1


Two British composer-conductors, Eugene Goossens and Constant Lambert, were knowledgeable about railways. Edmund Rubbra worked on the railway. Watching goods shunting apparently inspired Herbert Howells to write his carol A Spotless Rose (I have been unable to detect a connection between the two). Peter Warlock, one of the finest English song composers of the 20th century, contributed an article to The Locomotive Magazine in 1912, when he was 18, under his real name Philip Heseltine. Glancing recently through a book about 20th century British cathedral organists I discovered that no fewer than ten of them then active actually owned up to an interest in railways; Sir Walter Alcock, not among the ten, had an extensive model railway layout when he was Organist of Salisbury Cathedral 1916-47. Sir Edward Elgar, Britain's premier composer, has had his name conferred first on a GWR "Castle" loco, then on a diesel engine and finally on an electric freight locomotive. Elgar lived for much of his life in Great Western territory, in Worcester, Malvern and Hereford and greatly enjoyed train travel, not least when visiting Dr Charles Buck, his friend in Settle (Yorks, West Riding). The popular operatic soprano Lesley Garrett is very proud to have a Channel Tunnel shuttle train named after her (her father was once a signalman).

The American jazz composer and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan (1927-96) formed in 1972 a big band called The Age of Steam which reflected his passion for locomotives (an album similarly called had, as its first track, K4 Pacific after the LNER loco class *see footnote amendment 2) and in 1988 he even composed a piece for the Glasgow Festival called Flying Scotsman: not a unique musical title, as we shall see.

The Australian-born Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was another who was fascinated by trains and two of his compositions reflect this. Arrival Platform Humlet, the first movement of a suite for piano (later orchestrated) entitled In a Nutshell is, to quote the composer, "the sort of tune you hum excitedly to yourself while awaiting a loved one's arrival at a railway station". Train Music, dating from 1900, is a fragment, thirty-five seconds long on the CD I have (other versions take slightly longer) of a projected quite extended movement that Grainger barely began and suggested by the irregular rhythm of a rackety train travelling between Genoa and San Remo in Northern Italy on which he once travelled.

Grainger was a superb pianist; not less so in his own field was Billy Mayerl, who was classically trained and only 57 when he died in 1959 but whose syncopated (and other) genre movements for piano have always enjoyed a certain popularity and are now making a strong comeback. One example of Mayerl's syncopated pieces is Railroad Rhythm, dating from 1938. Another light piano piece, but in march rhythm, is Crash Collision dating from 1896, by Scott Joplin, a kind of American counterpart of Mayerl, if earlier in time, which described a staged railway smash which went wrong when the boiler exploded. Also from America, Charles Ives' From Hanover Square North, part of his Orchestral Set No. 2, is a musical impression of an incident in 1915 at a New York Elevated station. Kurt Weill's Railroads on Parade appeared in 1939 as a pageant for the Chicago World fair and is based on American railroad songs. Harry Partch's US Highball is a lengthy (20 mins), highly experimental piece using voices and instruments.

We have now moved well into the 20th Century in this survey of railway "classical" composers and one of the century's most famous railway pieces was Pacific 231 ("231" is the French way of expressing what we would call the 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive wheel arrangement) by the Swiss-born French composer Arthur Honegger. When Pacific 231 appeared in 1923 Honegger was reported in a Swiss magazine as saying:

"I have always had a passionate liking for locomotives; for me they are living things and I love them as others love women or horses. What I have endeavoured to describe in Pacific 231 is not an imitation of the sounds of the locomotive, but the translation into musical terms of the visual impression and the physical sensation of it. It shows the objective contemplation, the tranquil breathing of the machine in repose, the effort to start [and] the progressive gathering of speed ... of a train of 300 tons hurling itself through the night at 120 miles an hour" [This is a slight exaggeration for 1923, as it was not until 1938 that "Mallard" touched 126 m.p.h., the all-time record for steam traction].

To portray all that in music, some dissonance is, I suppose, necessary and Pacific 231 is certainly dissonant. Honegger was clearly quite fascinated by railways, because more than a decade later he penned for the Paris Exhibition of 1937 a piano piece entitled Scenic Railway.

A colleague of Honegger's among "Les Six", the prolific Darius Milhaud, composed a ballet for Serge Diaghilev in 1924 entitled Le Train Bleu (as we shall see, and indeed have seen, others have been inspired by that Riviera-bound express). A few years later, in 1932, still another French composer, Jacques Ibert, included "Le Métro" [the Paris underground] in his Paris Suite. A train totally different from Pacific 231, musically and in fact, is The Little Train of the Caipira which forms part of the suite Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2 (1930) by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos who died in 1959. Here we have the same blowing-off of steam and the same slow start and gradual acceleration as in the Honegger piece (and indeed in several others that I allude to in this study), but the cheeky tune is quite different, reminding this listener of an Emmet cartoon, perhaps. Yet such a train was, if less charismatic than a Pacific-hauled express, essential to the economy of up-country Brazil with its isolated villages and coffee and timber plantations.

The Swedish composer Hilding Rosenberg's orchestral Voyage to America earns a place at this point in our survey as it includes a "Railway Fugue". Nor should we forget Serge Prokofiev's Age of Steel ballet of 1927 because its opening scene represents a bustling railway platform; also by Prokofiev the exuberant "Departure" movement of the Winter Bonfire suite depicts the setting-out, by train, of a party of boy scouts. Carlos Chavez's roughly contemporary ballet Caballos de Vapor ("Steam Horses") also claims a mention here (Chavez, 1899-1976, was Mexican). The first movement of the United States composer Samuel Barber's four movement suite for piano solo Excursions (1945) represents another Transatlantic railway train. The German Ernst Krenek's Santa Fe Timetable (1945), Ballad of the Railroads (1944), both orchestral, and (for piano solo) Streamliner are all tough listening, even more so than Pacific 231. Krenek's opera Johnny Spielt Auf (1926) portrays a railway station in grand opera for perhaps the first time and not the last as Hans Werner Henze's Boulevard Solitude did so in 1952; another railway flavoured opera in Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach (1976). Russian composers have produced a number a railway titles. Vladimir Mikhailovich Deshevov composed Rails for piano solo, again in 1926. Maximilian Steinberg's Fourth Symphony Turk-Sib was composed to celebrate the opening of the Turkmenistan Siberia Railway in 1933 and more recently (1974) Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov composed a cantata entitled Song-Ballad of the BAM Railway Builders.

The Russian guitarist Nikita Koshkin, still active, has composed much for his instrument, including Three Railway Stations on One Road. A French successor to the railway piano solos of Alkan and Honegger is Pierre Schaeffer's Etudes aux Chemins de Fer dating from 1948.

Even more recently than any of these is Stephen Oliver's comic mini-opera Commuting, set in a London tube train, which contrives to be "modern" in idiom and melodious at the same time; perhaps even the American composer John Adams' orchestral A Short Ride in a Fast Machine might be applied to a railway journey. So might the once-popular xylophone solo On the Track which sounds, both from its title and from its musical content, like a railway outing, though the music is similar to practically all xylophone solos of a generation or two, however titled. And Wilfred Josephs 'Rail', from 1967, and described as "a symphonic picture", can also earn a mention. Jim Parker's Concerto for clarinet and strings, composed in around 1994, sports titles for each of its movements; that of the finale is "A Ticket to the Next Station". There is even at least one railway flavoured British opera, Isambard Kingston Brunel, by Durham-born Will Todd, performed in Bristol (appropriately so and not just because Todd was a Bristol University student) in 1993; an orchestral suite has been extracted from it.

Railway songs are not just popular ones, though even railway "art" songs can be light in character. There is some fine railway poetry and some of it has been set to music by "serious" composers. Edward Thomas' celebrated poem 'Adlestrop' was musically treated by the composer/poet Ivor Gurney. Both Thomas and Gurney were victims of the Great War and both of them passionately loved Gloucestershire, in which county the now-closed Adlestrop station was situated. As a song Gurney's Adlestrop is rarely encountered in live performance probably because it appears for the moment to be still unpublished (more recently the poem has been set, again as a solo song though perhaps less ingratiatingly than by Gurney, by Gordon Jacob and by Anthony Payne and by the Preston-based Philip Pacey as a choral song). Incidentally the accompaniment to Payne's setting of Adlestrop which was done in two versions one for piano solo plus string quartet most evocatively suggests train sounds. Nor is Frances Cornford's poem To a Lady Seen from a Train, set to music by Stanley Wilson. The Irish-born composer Charles Villiers Stanford composed a choral song simply entitled The Train. For children James Gallatly wrote Trains, no. 5 in a set of Playtime Songs; neither this nor the Stanford is, I believe, the same song as The Train (composer unspecified) sung by Doncaster children in concert in 1891. Also suited to children were Harold Noble's Train Ride which sets popular words by Robert Louis Stevenson ("Faster than fairies, faster than witches..."), Alec Rowley's unison song From a Railway Station, Reginald Hunt's unison song of 1977 entitled The Torbay Puffer and, from the United States, Ivor Martin's school song for unison voices, dating from 1963, Steam Train (by 1963 steam trains had largely disappeared from the States) and Eugène Rocherolle's unison or two/three part song Little Train (1969).

Madeleine Dring's John Betjeman setting Business Girls alludes to railways in London's Camden Town and John Jefferies's Ambulance Train, to words by W.W. Gibson, has particular atmosphere and we may also mention C.W. Orr's Bahnhofstrasse (Station Road) to a lyric by James Joyce, but two of the finest examples of railway songs are Midnight on the Great Western and At the Railway Station, Upway (sic: should be Upwey), which are respectively Nos. 2 and 7 of Benjamin Britten's song sequence to lyrics by Thomas Hardy entitled Winter Words (1953). These match to perfection the starkness of Hardy's poetry. Midnight on the Great Western, sometimes called The Journeying Boy has its piano accompaniment imitate the whistle of the train and, on several occasions, the rattle of the points. In more popular style Calypso (1939), one of several cabaret-type songs composed by Britten to words by W.H. Auden, is an amusing piece of "train music", complete with whistle sounds, representing a journey to Grand Central Station, New York.

Britten was involved with railways in films, too. His incidental music for Night Mail (1935), a documentary about the GPO, again with words by W.H. Auden, was a landmark in his early development as a composer and in film music generally:

"This is the Night Mail crossing the Border
Bringing the cheque and the postal order...
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door,
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb
The gradient's against her but she's on time".

Britten's music for the slightly later The Way To The Sea, again a film to an Auden text, this time about Portsmouth, which celebrated the Waterloo-Portsmouth electrification of the late 1930s, included a waltz with a prominent saxophone part and ended with appropriate "seasidey" jubilation.

There is, of course, plenty of other railway film music. In "silent" days mood music was written to accompany films in general. Two pieces suitable for portraying railways on film were Christopher O'Hare's Comic Hurry (1918) and Otto Langey Galop Hurry from 1920. Doubtless there were other such movements but the first railway film with its own soundtrack was the British one The Flying Scotsman (1929) its music being credited to Idris Lewis and John Reynders, two obscure musical figures if there were any. Apart from that, one of the earliest examples is Oh Mr Porter! (1937), credited to Louis Levy, though much of the score was probably written by Jack Beaver. (John Cook was responsible for the music for the TV version on 1990.) Levy also composed - or was credited with - the music for the 1941 screening of The Ghost Train and Jack Beaver's film scores, over a hundred of them, included The Gold Express (a documentary about "The Golden Arrow") in 1955. Kate Plus Ten (1935), a Jack Hulbert film, has music by the Polish-born, English-domiciled Allan Gray. Richard Rodney Bennett composed, in 1974, the music for the screen version of Agatha Christie's detective novel Murder on the Orient Express: a brilliant score, from which the catchy, frequently recurring, waltz tune has had considerable success in a concert version. Ron Goodwin did the honours for an earlier Agatha Christie railway film Murder She Said, based on her Miss Marple title 4.50 From Paddington (the point of which is a murder in a train seen from another train travelling parallel to the first one) and indeed for all four of Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple films. Agatha Christie has also, of course, been adapted for the small screen. The 1920s style theme, by Christopher Gunning for the David Suchet Poirot adaptations, which have included The ABC Murders as another railway case and the striking title theme, by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley for all the Joan Hickson Miss Marple adaptations, which have of course included 4.50 From Paddington, are among the most memorable of television themes of the last decade and more. Returning to the large screen, Malcolm Arnold did the music for The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery in 1966 (the earlier Belles of St Trinians, also with music by Arnold, included a train music sequence Train to Trinians), as he had done more famously for The Bridge Over the River Kwai (Arnold is also credited with a Railway Fanfare but this is not, as far as I know, from a film.) Johnny Douglas composed some charming incidental music for that delightful film The Railway Children (1970 version); Nesbit's story was made into a musical comedy, staged in Basingstoke in 1981, with music by David Burn and Peter Durrent, as we have seen, and a ballet in 1983 with a score provided by the Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott. A remake of the film for ITV (April 2000) had music by Simon Lacey which seemed low-key and was for a small instrumental group including a piano but it was nevertheless attractive - and he did have an hard act to follow in Johnny Douglas.

John Lanchbery is credited with a modern score for the 1920s American "silent" film The Iron Horse. Similarly Carl Davis quite recently wrote music for the classic Buster Keaton "silent" The General (a factual version of the basically similar story entitled The Great Locomotive Chase (1956) had music by Paul Smith). Bhowani Junction (1956) and the earlier (1937) Knight Without Armour both had music from the Hollywood music mogul Miklos Rózsa. Lawrence of Arabia was, it will be remembered, a great wrecker of trains; the celebrated Peter O'Toole Lawrence of Arabia release of 1962 was enhanced by a score from Maurice Jarre, who also earned praise for his music for The Train (1964), an American film set in 1944. By contrast Brief Encounter (1945), whose action takes place at a railway junction (filmed at Carnforth) and which is still one of the finest of all British films, did not rely on original music but drew on bits of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto for its musical soundtrack; Muir Mathieson (1911-75) a very experienced film conductor and composer, was the musical director. The two versions of The Lady Vanishes (1938 and 1979), a thriller set on what we may assume in general terms to be the Orient Express, had music by Louis Levy and Richard Hartley respectively. Terminus, a quasi-documentary film of 1961, portraying a day in the life at Waterloo Station, had a score by Ron Grainer (there was no spoken commentary). For Train of Events, a 1949 film built around a train crash, Leslie Bridgewater provided the music.

To return to thriller films, Charles Williams, better remembered as the composer of The Dream of Olwen (composed for the non-railway film While I Live), wrote the music for Night Train to Munich (1940), sometimes called simply Night Train or SS Gestapo, although, as so often at that period, Louis Levy was credited with it. Benjamin Frankel did the honours for Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948) and for The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (1953). The first two makes of The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935 and 1959), which like Buchan's novel, featured trains prominently (though not the most recent one), had a (1935) score which is generally supposed to be by Hubert Bath, though Jack Beaver and Charles Williams may have contributed the lion's share of the score and, in 1959, music by Clifton Parker. That classic Alec Guinness railway comedy-thriller The Ladykillers (1955) had a score by Tristram Cary who has extracted a suite from it especially for a Silva Screen CD, but it is remembered most for its use of Boccherini's celebrated Minuet.

Moving for the moment to Russia, Dr Zhivago (1965), whose music is again by Maurice Jarre, has scenes of railway interest. Constant Lambert's music for Anna Karenina (1949) had as its finale a movement whose atmospheric opening depicts Anna's journey by night to St Petersburg. Herbert Stothart wrote the music for the earlier (1935) American film version of Anna Karenina. (Anna was made into a ballet in 1972 with music by the Russian Rodion Shchedrin and the train scenes were retained.) Ironically that hilarious Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt (1952), archetypically English though its branch-line setting is, had music (and marvellously fluid and rhythmic music it was too) by Georges Auric, a Frenchman, and one of the composers described as "Les Six". One hastens to add that the music, which has been reissued on CD twice recently, is thoroughly idiomatic in context and that Auric wrote music for several other Ealing comedies. Grand National (1953), a celebrated thriller depending on railway timetables, incorporated music by John Greenwood.

And so it goes on. We can enumerate many more titles without holding out a hope of completeness. There are, for example, Broadway Limited (1941, with music by Charles Previn, great-uncle of Andre); Union Pacific (1939, Leopold and Korngold); Hatter's Castle (1944, Horace Shepherd); Great Central Murder (1942, David Snell); Under the Clock (1945, George Bessman); Ministry of Fear (1944, Victor Young); Terror by Night (1946, Hans Salter); Night of the Demon (1957, Clifton Parker); Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, Andre Previn); Cat Ballou (1965, Frank de Vol); Indiscretion of an American Wife (1954, Aldo Cicognini); Rampage (1963, Elmer Bernstein); Fool's Parade (1971, Henry Vars); The Wrong Box (1966, John Barry); The Mercenaries (1968, Jacques Loussier); The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970, Miklos Rózsa again); Lady on a Train (1945, Miklos Rózsa yet again); Union Station (1950, David Buttolph and Heinz Roemheld); Peking Express (1951, Dmitri Tiomkin); Berlin Express (1948, Frederick Hollander): High Noon (1972, again Tiomkin); Time Bomb (1952, John Addison); Man without a Star (1955, Hans Salter); Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, Victor Young); Across the Bridge (1951, James Bernard); 3.10 to Yuma (1937, George Dunning); Some Like it Hot (1959, Adolph Deutsch); Two Way Stretch (1960, Ken Jones); Northwest Frontier (1959, Mischa Spoliansky); The Manchurian Candidate (1962, David Amram); How the West Was Won (1962, Alfred Newman); Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965, Elisabeth Lutyens); Track 129 (1988, Stanley Myers - about model railways); Strangers on a Train (1951, yet again Dmitri Tiomkin); The Love Match (1955, Wilfred Burns); Gandhi (1982, George Fenton); The Train Robbers (1973, Dominic Frontiere); From Russia with Love, featuring 007 James Bond on the Orient Express (1963, John Barry); Boxcar Bertha (1972, Gib Guilbeau and Thad Maxwell); The Emperor of the North [Pole] (1973, Frank de Vol, again); Silver Streak (1976, Henri Mancini); The Runaway Train (1985, Trevor Jones); The Railway Station Man (1992, Richard Hartley); and Horror Express (1972, John Cacavas). Jerry Goldsmith wrote music for at least five railway films: 100 Rifles (1969), The First Great Train Robbery (1979), Breakheart Pass (1975), Von Ryan's Express (1965) and The Cassandra Crossing (1976).

Most of the above titles are American, though quite a few are British and the roll-call of composers include some of the great names in the film field. In France, Michel Magne (1930-84) provided the music for The Sleeping-Car Murders in 1965. Underground railways figure in The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974, David Shire), Death Line (1972, Jeremy Rose) and Death Wish (1974, Herbie Hancock), the New York "elevated" in The French Connection (1971, Dan Ellis). And there are many more railway feature films, especially if we include films with just one railway scene, perhaps at a station, as in Goodbye Mr Chips (1939 version, music by Richard Addinsell), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937, earliest version, Alfred Newman) and A Streetcar Named Desire ( 1951, Alex North).

From the small screen we can cite, in addition to the Agatha Christie titles already noted, the title music from the first series of Great Railway Journeys, written by the late Paul Reade (later series have had title music by Ian Lyon, though much of the intervening music composed by others like Colin Winston Fletcher, Chris Witton and David Poore or is borrowed from various other sources including recorded music libraries). Specifically from children's television we must draw attention to the late Vernon Elliot's lively woodwind tune, with the bassoon especially prominent, for Ivor the Engine, I have heard these tunes played successfully in the concert hall on at least two occasions, and also to Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell's music for Thomas the Tank Engine (Hummie Man provided the music for the feature film Thomas and the Magic Railroad). and the music (composer unknown) for The Woof.

Nor should we forget commercials. I do not know who penned the pleasant little tune advertising Regional Railways in around 1997; the Railtrack Share Offer was accompanied by a snatch of Bernard Herrmann's music for the film North by Northwest.

Reverting to the large screen, there have been, following the Britten examples already mentioned, a host, literally scores, of railway documentaries with special music commissioned or taken from a publisher's library. Post-war examples include Diesel Train Ride (1959, music by Edwin Ashtey), This is York (1953, Leighton Lucas), Wires over the Border (1974, Richard Arnell, dealing with the West Coast Line electrification), Giants of Steam (1963, Ron Grainer), Underground Centenary (1964, Kenneth Jones, one of many railway documentary film assignments for him others being On Track for the Eighties (1980) and They Take the High Road (1960)), 125 (David Gow, who turned his music into a concert overture, as we shall see), Europe by Train (1965, Elisabeth Lutyens), Locomotion (1975, Don Fraser), Britannia - A Bridge (1973, music, appropriately, by the Welshman, William Mathias); Elizabethan Express (1954) about the non-stop King's Cross-Edinburgh run, The Long Night Haul (1956) and Blue Pullman (1960), all with music by Clifton Parker, London's Victoria Line (1969, Edward Williams, again one of many railway documentaries for him others being Train Time (1952) and Measured for Transport (1962) for harp solo), West Country Journey (1953, Hubert Clifford), Cybernetica (1972, David Fanshawe, about Continental railways) and A New Age For Railways (1979, Christopher Gunning) [David Gow's Overture 125 was commissioned from him for the introduction of InterCity 125 in 1978]. But it must be reiterated that this paragraph is a mere selection of railway documentaries which seem to be legion, mainly from British Transport Films and G.B. Instructional Films (which used, for example, music by Clive Richardson (his Holiday Spirit), Jack Brown (his Metropolis), Sidney Torch (his Going for a Ride) and Philip Green (his Pan American Panorama) among others) and there were other film makers as well. Their scores were often short, as is certainly the case with Elizabethan Express which I saw again recently, though Clifton Parker's snippets include some good railway music.

There were, at one time, railway documentaries on the radio and as just one example of them we can perhaps recall London Underground for which Elisabeth Lutyens once again provided the music. Among overseas film documentaries we can point to the music written by the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas for Ferrocariles de Baja California (1938) and by Sven-Erik Bäck for the Swedish film The Train in 1948.

We leave films and return to brass bands. One might well assume that ensemble to be peculiarly suited to realise the mighty mechanical strength of the steam, or in more modern terms, the diesel or electric locomotive. And sure enough, Adam Carse (1878-1958), music historian and composer for amateur orchestras, who was born in the north-east of England, the cradle of railways, is credited with an overture for brass band Puffing Billy. One of William Rimmer's many marches, North Star, is surely named after that famous Great Western locomotive. Rimmer was a brass band man through and through, cornettist, conductor, adjudicator, composer and arranger. More recently, one of Gordon Langford's Three Haworth Impressions for brass is entitled Worth Valley Railway and is a jaunty tribute to that preserved line which enhances the Brontë Country so well. Arthur Butterworth's Three Impressions for Brass of 1968 represent splendidly aspects of Northumbrian industry. Northumbria saw the birth of railways in Britain, but Butterworth's "railway" movement is not a portrayal of Puffing Billy or Locomotive No. 1, as one might expect, but is instead a proud evocation of the Royal Border bridge at Berwick which carries the East Coast Main Line on its northward course towards the Scottish border. (Here perhaps is the appropriate moment for us to mention Butterworth's choral symphony Trains in the Distance, for narrator, chorus, taped railway sounds and orchestra, composed in 1971 and setting poems by Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Louis Stevenson (the famous one we have already mentioned), Thomas Wolfe, Alfred Noyes and others. The finale of his First (orchestral) Symphony has a "programme" involving a journey by bus and rail [the "Royal Scot" and "Elizabethan" steam expresses] between London and Aberdeen.)

Also for brass band we have David Lyon's march from 1981 God's Wonderful Railway, Philip Lane's Bluebell Line, a tribute to the first of the standard gauge preserved lines (it shares a title with a piece for flute and piano by Christopher Gunning and Judith Pearce), Darrol Barry's Inter-City and, written sometime in the 1960s, Honeymoon Express by Charles Hanley and Charles Field. Philip Sparke's Orient Express, which is not oriental in colour, but is a lively, typical, quite extended piece of "train music" has been recorded on CD in a version for concert band. Staying with music for concert band we may recall Sammy Nestico's Cable Car, while the North Herts Wind Band commissioned Nigel Hess to compose for them Stephenson's Rocket, the stimulus being that Band's conductor who was a descendant of the great George Stephenson! Hess is of course also responsible for the theme music for the TV detective series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, one episode of that series was set on the preserved East Lancashire Railway and for this Hess quickened up his theme tune to suit the railway action.

Many post-1945 light orchestral composers, mainly British ones, have tried their hand at "train music". Yet another Orient Express, by one Mohr, was recorded by Sidney Torch on the organ and with his Orchestra. John Gardner, born in 1917, wrote a descriptive movement entitled Pullman Express. Lew Stone's Canadian Pacific was popular just post-war. Harold Noble's Blue Train was published for piano solo but no doubt someone orchestrated it. "Trevor Duncan" (Leonard Trebilco) composed Crankcraft, a suite whose four movements bear the titles Pistons, Valves, Cams and Tappets, plus the single movement The Twentieth Century Express.

The following list of titles suggests that practically all "mood music" practitioners wrote at least one railway piece: Jack Coles, Sunshine Express, popular around 1960, and (a different piece) his Seaside Special, Peter Hope, Rodeo Express; Running Off the Rails (originally entitled Locomotion) by Clive Richardson; Rhythm on Rails and Model Railway by that prolific writer of "mood" (or "production" or "library") music, Charles Williams; the descriptive interlude Riviera Express by Joseph Engleman; Holiday Express by Macaffer, Steel Rails by one Freedman; Midnight Express, a fast galop by Ezra Reed for Paxton in the late 1940s; Sidney Torch, Wagon Lit; Iron Monster, composer not known; Monorail by Dennis Farnon, brother of Robert; Brighton Belle by Bill Worland, and very Farnonesque, dating from the 1960s; High Energy Express used for BBCTV's Railwatch programme; Paris Metro by William Hill Bowen, once featured by George Melachrino's Orchestra; Paris Pullman and Scenic Railway by the French "mood music" writer Roger Roger; Down Local, composer not known, Piston Rod by Cecil Milner; Florida Express by Allan Gray; Scandinavian Express, which clearly sounds like a steam train, by the German composer Gerhard Winkler, even more popular for his Neapolitan Serenade; Dublin Express by Fred Hartley; Alan Langford (Alan Owen), On the Move and Inter-City; Great American Railway, Tragedy on the Train, and Train Call, all by Ronald Binge; Motorail and Early Morning Train, which latter is the finale of a suite entitled Happy Weekend, both by Vivian Ellis; Anthony Spurgin, West Country Special; Puffin' Billy by Edward White, inspired not by the old Northumbrian locomotive but by a small engine seen on the Isle of Wight, a movement once used as a signature tune for BBC Radio's "Uncle Mac's Children's Favourites"; Main Line by Jack Beaver; Golden Arrow, also by Jack Beaver and later used in the film Gold Express mentioned earlier; the late Anthony Mawer's Riviera Express, which is, I believe, a different piece from Joseph Engleman's mentioned above - Mawer's was originally for piano solo and entitled Transcontinental; and the third and last movement of Sidney Torch's London Transport Suite, composed especially for the BBC Light Music Festival of 1958 which is a tribute to Southern Electric and is entitled The 5.52 From Victorloo! Talking of Sidney Torch, he was reckoned a very fine theatre organist and some time ago I heard a record of him playing on the organ a cheerful number entitled Flying Scotsman, complete with atmospheric engine sounds supplied by the organ. This was not, as I at first thought, one of Torch's own compositions but was an arrangement of a piece by the Scots-born accordionist and light music composer of the period 1930-60, George Scott-Wood. A Day's Outing compiled by Reg Dixon and Fred Walmsley, for theatre organ begins with train sounds as the outing is, of course, to Blackpool.

Django Bates' Three English Scenes, for big band, included a movement entitled Abandoned Railway Station, doubtless yet another sad commentary on Dr Beeching's closures. That celebrated American railway station, Grand Central, figures as the finale of Jim Parker's suite for brass ensemble (originally written for the Philip Jones Brass), An Englishman in New York - not so much a depiction of the station, more of an actual train ride.

Composers still write railway music. Pianist John Blood composed a solo, From a Railway Carriage, for a British Music Society recital in 1980. R. Murray Schafer composed Train in 1976 for a youth orchestra; this depicts a Canadian railway journey. There is Derek Clarke's Southern Express for wind ensemble. Hugh Masakela's Coal Train (Stimela) comes from South Africa; Daryl Runswick's Waving to Trains (1990) is for narrator, singers and pre-recorded tape. There is Reginald Gardiner's Trains, a spoken commentary rather than music strictly whose exact date is unknown at present but which is from as far back as the mid-1930s.

My fellow enthusiast for train music, Philip Pacey, has just (2000) completed a piano solo Railway Rhythms, Variations on a Blues Theme besides his choral setting of Adlestrop mentioned earlier. Robert Grant's The Station Dash, a teaching piece for trumpet and piano, presumably has a railway connection. In 1992 a minor Doncaster composer Ken Jackson penned a piano solo entitled Bingley 100, described as a "piece in Victorian Dance Style" (shades of all these Excursion Train Polkas and so on mentioned earlier?), for the centenary of that West Yorkshire railway station. Doncaster's Railway Plant Works duly earned a mention in Jackson's Festival 800 Music for women's choir and brass band which celebrated the 800th anniversary of Doncaster's first municipal charter in 1194. A Doncaster student, Simon Clausen, produced in 1998-9 A Journey on the Orient Express; this sports oriental colour within its basically jazzy train rhythms and his train, unlike most musical expresses, stops in the middle! Edward Huws Jones, a composer of inter alia music for junior string ensembles, entitled one of his pieces East Coast Express. (Edward, once a teacher with the Doncaster Music Support Service, lives in York.). Preserved railways have brought their own music. Apart from Bluebell Line, already mentioned, Swanage Steam, was recorded by the Yetties in the 1980s and the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway issued railway cassettes in 1988 and 1995.

Michael Finnissy's Freightrain Bruise is avant-garde and jazz-influenced. Not so Raymond Parfrey's Holiday Brochures Suite for a quartet of clarinets, which includes a movement entitled Steam Preservation Holiday - this is a typical "train music" mode with its gradual acceleration and final deceleration and eclectic in idiom. Norman Harvey Rutherlyn's (Norman Harvey-Rogers) composed a lengthy sequence entitled Churchill Music which includes a movement entitled Armoured Train referring to Churchill's activities in the Boer War, although unfortunately, this particular movement was not orchestrated for the sequence. There is Malcolm Bennett's Train for trumpet and piano of around 1996. Not long ago I heard for the first time a movement from James Duncan Carey's Trains Suite for recorder ensemble and confirmed from it, as noted previously, the likeness of an American train whistle to the sound of a consort of recorders. Christopher Norton has indeed scored Steam Train Blues for recorder and piano. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Chat Moss, described as being suitable for an amateur orchestra but actually premiered in 1994 by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, recalls George Stephenson's difficulties in laying the track of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in the late 1820s. The music appears to alternate between "train bustle" and portraying stark nature. In 1996 Davies returned to roughly the same railway territory - remembered from his childhood - for another orchestral tone poem, Throstle's Nest Junction; this was premiered at the new Bridgewater Hall in Manchester in November of that year. It is another atmospheric piece replete in train movement sounds. I have not heard Douglas Young's Rain, Steam and Speed, also for full symphony orchestra, inspired of course by Turner's famous painting. The Canadian film and orchestral composer Eldon Rathburn, born in 1916, has produced over the last forty years a lot of railway novelty pieces bearing titles such as Ghost Train, Six Railroad Preludes, The Train to Mariposa, Iron Horses of Delson (1980), Spiral Tunnel Boogie, St Lawrence Tubular Bridge Mazurka Polka and Rise and Fall of the Steam Railroad (1983). Some of Rathburn's railway excursions in music were gathered together as early as 1969 under the title Aspects of Railroads. The Rise and Fall features banjos, jew's harp and synthesiser. Rathburn's earlier railway tunes include film music for Road of Iron (1955) and for the Buster Keaton "silent" The Railroader (1964). In the course of this survey many composers have visited railways more than once; Rathburn surely outscores them all comfortably.

We recalled earlier several dance music titles written to mark, or at least jump on the bandwagon of, the opening of a particular railway service. The Channel Tunnel is of course specifically a railway tunnel and its opening in 1994 was marked by Paul Patterson's brass fanfares Paris Fanfare, Brussels Fanfare and Eurostar Fanfare and by his more extended piece for brass choir The Royal Eurostar, all of them premiered in that year. (Eurotunnel incidentally was advertised on TV by Simon Jeffes' piece Bean Fields). In the previous year (1993) the minimalist English composer Michael Nyman wrote for orchestra his MGV (which stands for Musique à Grande Vitesse), a piece commissioned to mark the opening of the French Northern TGV. The repetitive minimalist idiom (some people find it monotonous) portrays the mechanical side of railway working particularly well. Steve Reich's Different Trains (1988) is another example of minimalism working well in that direction; John Adams' Short Ride In A Fast Machine, previously alluded to is perhaps still another.

The sheer variety of railway music is formidable. The titles seem to cover the whole world, every type of railway and all aspects of their operation and the forces for which they are written cover orchestras, chorus, solo voice, military and brass bands, big bands and other jazz combos, pop groups, solo piano, even solo bassoon as the Hungarian composer Otto Oromszegi's Locomotive is a quite engaging little piece of "train music" and is available on record. But we have yet to mention what is for many people the best-known railway piece by a British composer. Vivian Ellis, whom we have already alluded to, wrote many hits in the course of his composing career, but Coronation Scot, usually heard in its orchestral version but almost certainly conceived as a piano solo, was not at first intended for general publication. Ellis was a railway enthusiast and wrote the piece originally for his own pleasure (apart from Motorail and Early Morning Train, previously mentioned, Ellis's Streamline sounds as if it, too, had a railway origin). But in due course Coronation Scot came to be used as the signature tune of several of the Paul Temple detective serials on BBC Radio in the years after 1945 and that was that. In 1951, when I was expecting to hear Pacific 231 for the first time, in a live concert at Sheffield, I asked a school friend what Honegger's piece was like, to receive the reply, "a bit little Coronation Scot, but not as good"! Ironically the train rhythm of the piece was suggested to Ellis not by that popular LMS streamlined loco of the late 1930s, but by journeying on the GWR between Paddington and Taunton! Sidney Torch's vintage recording has been reissued a few years ago and there are good modern recordings as well.

Coronation Scot and all the other items of railway music I have mentioned - over 650 of them - are not the only compositions to be suggested, or probably suggested, by the notion of a train. Many of these are not overtly railway music. One of them apparently is that famous Rudyard Kipling ballad Boots, set to music directly after a railway journey and making use of railway type rhythms, by J.P. McCall, otherwise the great Australian baritone Peter Dawson. Several other "crypto-railway pieces" have been suggested, even the finale of Schubert's Great C major Symphony. Now this was composed, or at least started, in 1825, a great year for railways with the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, but with the best will in the world, I cannot believe it. More plausible candidates are parts of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, Sibelius' Night Ride and Sunrise, the opening of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony ("Romantic"), the scherzo from Dvorak's D Minor Symphony (especially appropriately in view of that composer's well documented addiction to railways), works by Bartók, Debussy, Martinu, d'Indy, Virgil Thomson and Shostakovich, part of Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony and Janacek's First String Quartet, subtitled Kreutzer Sonata and apparently based on a Tolstoy novel in which a killer confesses to murder whilst on a train journey. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was apparently inspired in part by a New York subway train. And we should surely also mention the Russian composer Mossolov's notorious Iron Foundry, which may not have been inspired by a specifically railway foundry but it surely comes pretty close, as does Malcolm Arnold's symphonic study Machines, derived from a documentary film score on the iron industry.

It is satisfying that such a wide variety of railway themes appear in such a diverse collection of musical items, vocal, instrumental and orchestral. For me Railways and Music is a significant footnote to the social history of railways, both in Britain and abroad. Many musicians, probably many more than we have identified here, have had an interest in railways which has spilled over into their music. There are topics which relate to each other in a variety of ways. We have explored railwaymen making music; what of the hotel orchestras in railway hotels like Gleneagles, which at various times hosted Ambrose's orchestra and Henry Hall and his Band? Hall became the Musical Director of all LMS hotels, controlling no fewer than 32 bands countrywide, before he left to take up his best remembered position, as Director of the BBC Dance Orchestra.

And what of music at railway stations and other railway establishments? I have experienced this, at Doncaster railway station at Christmas and so too have, for example, the stations at Manchester and Birmingham, with more professional forces. The National Railway Museum has from time to time staged concerts of railway music; one, in the 1980s, was recorded on cassette and another, in 1996, celebrated the inauguration of the Institute of Railway Studies in York. In May 1998 the launch of a newly re-titled train service, Northern Spirit, was marked by a brass band - Armthorpe Elmfield from Doncaster - playing at four major railway stations served by the new company: a throwback to Victorian days when, as we have seen, a brass band was present at the opening of a new railway line.

What, indeed, of music on the trains themselves? By this I do not mean "muzak", though as with the Austrian Railways' Nostalgia Train, on which I travelled a few years ago, this can help to create an atmosphere; but one does read about pianos being standard equipment on the Trans-Siberian and other long-distance railways - a pianist is employed in the restaurant car of the Eastern and Oriental Express which runs between Bangkok and Singapore. Less exotically trains plying between Sheffield and Huddersfield via Penistone regularly have live music as a feature - folk, jazz and other, including the musical Brief Encounters on the Penistone Lane, mentioned previously.

The subject of railways and music thus opens out many vistas in front of us and the scenery is almost always pleasant or stimulating. The possible programmes of railway music, assuming unlimited access to musicians or, more likely, a hi-fi system, each of them offering something for everyone and each offering attractive variety, are virtually endless. The topic could easily accommodate a whole series of concerts or illustrated talks or lectures.

© P.L. Scowcroft revised February 2001

See also Music and Railways by Philip Pacey
CD review ON THE RIGHT TRACK: Classic Railway Music.

A note from John Steven Lasher of Label X based in Australia

Dear Mr Scowcroft,

As a music producer with 25-years in the profession, not to mention being a railway enthusiast in my leisure time, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading your excellent articles on Railways in Music. I would like to offer some additions (and a few amendments) for you to include in your next update:

Additions: other classical composers

[1] Toccata for Toy Trains (doc. film 1956] Elmer Bernstein

LP -album ELMER BERNSTEIN FILMUSIC COLLECTION

[2] American Panorama [1935] Daniele Amfitheatrof [1901-1983]

CD album LABEL X LXCD 8 (1994)

[3] A Steam Train Passes [doc. film, 1974] George Dreyfus (Australia)

CD album MOVE MD 3098 (1990)

[4] Trainride to Brooklyn from SOPHIE'S CHOICE, 1982] Marvin Hamlisch

CD album SOUTHERN CROSS SCCD 902 (1982)

[5] Turbo (for Brass Quintet) Eldon Rathburn

[6] The Silver Streak (RKO film, 1934) Max Steiner, et al.

[7] John Henry: A Railroad Ballad. Aaron Copland

[8] Subway Jam (from Music for a Great City) Aaron Copland

[9] RFK: The Early Years (US TV drama) Fred Karlin (features a cue titled 'Whistle Stop' for Robert Kennedy's campaign train)

[10] Maurice (British film, 1987) Richard Robbins (cue titled The Train was deleted from the film, but is included on the RCA soundtrack CD).

[11] Le Train Hanté (piano solo) Bohuslav Martinu

[12] Autour des Montagnes Russes (piano solo) Alexander Tcherepnine

[13] La Roue (silent film about railways) Arthur Honegger

[14] Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (British film) Ron Goodwin (wonderful train music parody with Terry-Thomas landing his aeroplane on top of a railway carriage.).

amendments and corrections:

[1] Union Pacific (Paramount, 1939). Music by Sigmund Krumgold (NOT Korngold) and John Leipold. Add George Antheil (uncredited) and Victor Young (uncredited).

[2] Tony York has pointed out that it is more likely K4 refers to Pennsylnania Railroad's famous K4 Pacific


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