Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:



by Philip L Scowcroft

Not long ago I wrote a short article about railways as portrayed in British music. When I came to consider road transport's depiction in music I could at first think of few examples, even though I extended my horizon beyond British compositions. But then I thought of Russian music with Bydlo (which is an ox-cart), one of Mussorgsky's Pictures from an Exhibition (and the same suite's finale, The Great Gate of Kiev is presumably a road-stage) and Troika from Prokofiev's music for the film Lieutenant Kijé (a 'troika' is a three-horse sleigh) - Mozart's German Dance, K605 No. 3 is nicknamed 'Sleigh Ride' on account of its part for bells, though the sobriquet is probably not the composer's own, and much more recently, Leroy Anderson composed another perhaps equally famous Sleigh Ride (2).

American musical comedy, too, yielded several candidates 'Surrey with the Fringe on Top' from Oklahoma, 'A Coach Coming In' from Paint Your Wagon, 'The Wells Fargo Wagon' from The Music Man and 'Deadwood Stage' from Calamity Jane. Or, from a slightly older 'European' musical comedy, what about 'Driving in the Park' from Lehár's The Merry Widow (3)?

British music, of all kinds, does nevertheless enjoy a wealth of references to roads and road transport. 'The Nightmare Song' from Iolanthe, by Gilbert and Sullivan, finds the uneasy sleeper travelling on both a 'four-wheeler' (it is not made clear whether this is a private carriage or a cab) and a bicycle. At the time Iolanthe was first produced (1882), bicycling was relatively new as a popular pursuit, one to be immortalised in Dacre's popular song Daisy Bell. Among other songs relevant to our theme we may cite: The Irish Jaunting Car; Frank Bridge's Night Lies on the Silent Highways; Gustav Holst's unison song Roadways (1931); Dorothy Forster's Four Songs of the Highway, F Drummond's The Gay Highwayman, Leslie Coward's jaunty Wandering the King's Highway, She Deceived her Johnny, or the New Bus and the Incubus, a Mohawk Minstrels song in which Johnny's girl goes off with a horse-bus conductor; Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel, which include 'The Vagabond' and 'The Roadside Fire'; Eric Coates' I Pitch my Lonely Caravan (4); Martin Shaw's The Caravan; Löhr's Where My Caravan Has Rested, the folksong The Coach and Six, Norman Long's 1929 effort My Little Austin Seven; Riding on Top of the Car (tramcar, presumably) by Alf Gordon, a hit of 1908; Flanders and Swann's delicious Transport of Delight; The Traction Engine by Stanley Marchant (5); J Airlie Dix's My Ould Side Car; Alfred R Sutton's The Motors, the final song, entitled 'The Motorist' from Alfred Reynolds' Five Centuries of Love, a cycle to words by Clifford Bax - in this song, inscribed 1910, the 'lover' thinks more of his new car than his new bride (6); Martin and Blane's The Trolley Song, an American song, I believe; B Lee's The Tram Conductor Girl ('Fares Please'); and finally the rather similar Any more fares Please, a song of 1932 with words by Allen Barker and music by Martin Gordon, which was frequently sung by the great Australian baritone Peter Dawson:

"So it's Pass Right Along There, Hold Tight Please!

With a ting-a-ling off we go....."

Both motor vehicles and London's transport feature in purely instrumental music as well. Many will remember Larry Adler's catchy harmonica music for the 1953 film Genevieve, which evoked perfectly the spirit of the London-Brighton veteran car rally. Thomas Bidgood's A Motor Ride, for full orchestra, portrayed a car's collision with a pack of hounds, repairs at a wayside smithy and a dashing return home - when performed at Denaby (South Yorkshire) in March 1907 "the joyous spirit of the thing touched the humour of the audience" (7) and it was encored. Copeland's Sunday Traffic, also for full orchestra, is full of bustle. Ronald Binge wrote music for the 1954 film The Runaway Bus; more recently one recalls a number by Barrie Guard, entitled Pop's Rolls-Royce for YTV's popular The Darling Buds of May, depicting that now familiar yellow vehicle. For a BBC Light Music Festival of 1958 Sidney Torch composed a London Musical Transport Suite, whose first two movements bear the titles 'The Hansom Cab' and 'Rosie the Red Omnibus' (8). The opening of the Severn Bridge was marked by a set of composite (Severn Bridge) Variations on Welsh Folk Song by Malcolm Arnold, Alun Hoddinott, Nicholas Maw, Daniel Jones, Grace Williams and Sir Michael Tippett.

The first bars of Elgar's overture Cockaigne: In London Town (1901) have been likened to a Londoner jogging along on top of a horse-bus or perhaps in a cab (9). Similarly Eric Coates' Knightsbridge, London Bridge and Oxford Street marches evoke the bustle of London's traffic in the 1930s. And John Ireland's A London Overture's opening phrase is said to have been derived from a bus-conductor's call of "Piccadilly" (10). Several of our finest brass bands have been associated with the vehicle building industry Foden's Motor Works, Leyland Motors and Morris Motors Concert Bands - so it is not surprising to see band compositions with a transport connotation: Howe's Traffic Tangle, Roger Barsotti's march Motor Sport and Moss's march Royal Tiger, for long the Leyland Band's signature tune.

Surely more ambitious than any of the compositions we have so far mentioned is Gordon Jacob's 1957 'cantata of travel' Highways for baritone solo, mixed voice chorus and orchestra, a substantial work over half an hour in length. The coach transport of old had its own musical instruments. The strident post horn is used in Schubert's Die Post from Winterreise (on piano), in a movement of Mozart's orchestral Serenade, K320 - now subtitled the Post Horn Serenade - and, most famously, in the Post Horn Galop composed by Monsieur Koenig, principal trumpet in the orchestra conducted by Louis Jullien, the man who invented the promenade concert in the 1840s. The mellower coach horn has also been put to musical use, by the present-day brass player Godfrey Kneller, who has composed his own Coach Horn Galop! The Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, by J S Bach, a keyboard piece written around 1709, has the instrument simulate the postilion's call in an 'Aria', when the time comes for brother to leave, and follows this with a fugue thereon. Adam's opera Le Postillon de Longjumeau was once quite popular while Rossini's opera The Journey to Rheims tells of delays caused by a coach accident; the situation in Boieldieu's operetta Les Voitures Versées (1808) also arises from a coach accident.

The nostalgia of coach and carriage travel, even of wagons and caravans, has attracted 20th century composers as well. One thinks, for example, of H Balfour Gardiner's partsong The Stage Coach, Benjamin Frankel's charming, lilting orchestral miniature Carriage and Pair, and Peter Yorke' s Caravan Romance and Charles Woodhouse's Wait for the Wagon, both the latter two are also orchestral. There is a part in Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes for the carter Mr Hobson. Dickens' The Pickwick Papers is shot through with nostalgia for the stage-coach - musically it has been turned into an opera by Albert Coates, an operetta by Edward Solomon and, most recently, a 'musical' by Cyril Ornadel.

The above is surely only a selection; I shall be pleased to have notice of any omissions.

© Philip L Scowcroft

1. Vol XXX March 1992, pp 378-9.

2. In 1948. Anderson liked transport themes - remember his Horse and Buggy 1952. While on sleighs we must not forget that (over) popular Christmas tune Jingle Bells, in which one horse, not three as with Prokofiev, suffices to pull the sleigh.

3. Produced in 1905; from about the same time there was a musical comedy entitled The Girl in the Taxi (1910).

4 Later made the basis of a 'symphonic rhapsody' by the composer. Coates' Stonecracker John may be a roadman and his lesser-known song Mending Roadways is apposite to our theme.

5. Marchant (1883-1949) was a noted teacher and Organist of St Paul's Cathedral. The Traction Engine, no 4 of Nonsense Songs, appeared in solo and choral versions.

6. There is an amusing allusion to Roman roads in a chorus in Reynolds' musical 1066 and All That, based on that once-popular historical take-off. Reynolds' operetta Derby Day evokes the Derby's traffic bustle.

7. Doncaster Gazette. Bidgood was a popular compiler of marches and selections of that period.

8. Road transport seems to have fascinated Torch; one recalls also his orchestral genre pieces Going for a Ride and Bicycle Belles.

9 The jingle of a hansom cab is heard in the slow movement of Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony, composed in 1914.

10. Originally written for brass band with the title of A Comedy Overture.




A Second Selection

by Philip L Scowcroft

It is more than three years since I wrote my first paper on this topic. This follow-up draws together some scattered references plus a few others and shows again the astonishing variety of relevant music.

On the roads themselves we can allude to: three song settings of G K Chesterton's poem The Rolling English Road, by Maurice Besly and Victor Hely-Hutchinson (both solo) and Gerald Gover (choral); to two other very old specific roads, George Lloyd's The Road Through Samarkand, for piano solo, and Maurice Jacobson's song The Roman Road; and to the (non-specific) "The Old Road" from Five Western Watercolours by Ivor Gurney, a piano solo but as lyrical as one would expect from one of England's finest song composers; as he loved Gloucestershire passionately, the road is probably there.

Many forms of transport, old and new, are depicted in music. The horse is the oldest, but most horsey music is to do with racing rather than transport. An exception is Winstone's Pony Express. John Philip Sousa's orchestral Chariot Race brings to mind Ben Hur, for films on which Miklos Rozsa and Carl Davis both wrote incidental music. Sleighs do surprisingly well. Sydney Smith's Victorian drawing-room piano solo Sleigh Bells glitters brightly, if superficially. The inventor of the promenade concert, Louis Jullien, wrote an orchestral sequence. A Sleigh Ride, with the episodes 'Preparation', 'Start', 'Ride on the Road', 'Ball', 'Race' and 'Home' and was described as "most realistic" and "most popular with the audience" when heard in Doncaster in the mid-19th Century. A light intermezzo by one Lindemann was entitled Sleigh Bells, while one of Delius' earliest orchestral miniatures (1888) was a Sleigh Ride, a popular name as a late Victorian song also bore it.

But bicycles, especially in late Victorian times, matched the sleigh, particularly if we count velocipedes as bicycles. Velocipedes was a galop by the Strauss-influenced Danish composer Hans Christian Lumbye (1810-74), while the Christy Minstrels' song Great Wheel-Hoss-i-Pede of 1869 celebrated the earliest powered velocipede. George Le Brun's song Salute My Bicycle was encored when performed in a Doncaster concert in 1897; the year before, when the song Accidents was sung at a smoking concert following Doncaster United Cycle Club's Annual Dinner, one hopes this was not a comment on the Club's recent activities! Penny Farthing Polka (George Scott-Wood) sounds as if it should have been played in Victorian ballrooms, but it was actually composed well into the 20th Century. The cowboy songs Wagon Wheels and Roll Along Covered Wagon deserve a mention.

Motorcar music was not slow to appear, even before the end of the 19th Century. A Motor-Car Quadrille was heard in Doncaster ballrooms in 1898 and subsequent years, while Felix Dumas' Motor-Car Polka (1900) quickly followed it. Two songs, Marriage in a Motor-Car and The Motor-Car, from the same period, achieved some popularity. Later 'car' examples include the finale of Richard Rodney Bennett's four Travel Notes for woodwind quartet (the preceding movement depicts a bath chair!), Sidney Torch's orchestral Going for a Ride, the finale of the orchestral suite Holidays Abroad - entitled 'Paris Taxi' - by Vivian Ellis of Coronation Scot fame, the song Speed, by Brian Bedford of the close-harmony singing trio Artisan (inspired by motor racing) and the Jaguar March for brass band by Goff Richards, paying tribute to a famous 'status symbol' car. The Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom has composed a Motorbike Concerto for trombone and orchestra.

Horse-drawn transport can however respond to these 'motor' examples with the early 19th Century song The Post Chaise, the late Victorian songs The Fire Brigade, Riding on an Omnibus and Four Horse Char-a-Banc (from the same period there was W Charles's Charabanc Joe), all of which were sung in Doncaster area concerts at various times, 'The Hawkshead Stage' (from John Cameron's Cumbrian Suite for wind quintet), celebrating a one-time mode of transport in the Lake District, while a horse-bus of course comes into Blaydon Races. I am not sure whether the Tramway Galop (Burgheim), played in ballrooms in the 1880s, celebrates horsetrams or the very early electric ones: probably the latter. There is a 'Coaching Song' in Benjamin Britten's Let's Make an Opera and an English folksong, arranged by Moffat and Kidson, Coach and Six.

Now for music about some people associated with road transport. Highwaymen have been the subject of operas or choral pieces from The Beggar's Opera, first staged in 1728 and regularly revived since, through Edward Solomon's late Excursions for piano duet in 1966: eight brief movements, all with 'road' titles, such as "Road Hog", "Learner Driver", "Drunken Driver" (with, inevitably, a violent conclusion), "Fog on the Motorway" and "Back Seat Driver". Elisabeth Lutyens, known to many as a serial composer and normally tough listening did at times produce more accessible scores incidental to BBC radio features, like that from 1950, entitled Potteries - Motor Cars. Robert Thornton composed a suite for piano he called Highwayman Adventure. Colin Hand, born in 1921, brought out three songs for chorus, Pedlar's Caravan, Tewkesbury Road and The Way to London. More recently still the 'minimalist' English composer Michael Nyman wrote music for a promotion of the Mazda. Minimalism, with its often agreeable monotony, is not unsuited to the depiction of transportation subjects.

Finally we come to brass bands and specifically to marches, several of whose titles have road transport connections. Goff Richards, composer of the Jaguar march previously noted, has also written A Cycle Round Britain; Roger Barsotti's Motor Sport and Darrol Barry's Leger Way, named after a major thoroughfare in Doncaster and indeed recently commissioned by a Doncaster band, Armthorpe Elmfield, are two other relevant titles. The first movement of Django Bates' Sublime Limeys suite for brass ensemble is called "Fire Brigade" and incorporates a siren in the musical texture. And back in 1903 a Doncaster brass band played a Postillion Polka, composer unknown.

Road transport music, not to mention the musical connotations of other forms of transport - rail, air and water - could, I fancy, support a whole volume. But, apart from my own writings, principally for the Railway and Canal Historical Society, I am not aware that the subject has been treated at any length (5).


1. See RTG OPs 9 and 70 for the previous two.

2 . Familiar as the composer of The Grasshopper's Dance, revived in the 1990s to accompany a TV advert for milk.

3. 1 am obliged to John Scivyer for reminding me of this title. The music was by Ralph Blane, the lyrics by Hugh Martin.

4. One or two American road transport films may be noted here: The Love Bug and its sequel Herbie Rides Again, which both had music by George Bruns (1913-), virtually a Disney house composer; Pony Express (1953), music by Paul Sawtell (1906-1971); Wells Fargo (1937), one of the early scores by that great Hollywood composer Victor Young; Stagecoach (1939), music by Richard Hageman and others, and its less successful 1966 remake, music by another Hollywood mogul, Jerry Goldsmith; and The Stage Coach Kid (1949), whose music again was by Paul Sawtell.

5. My general survey British Light Music: A Personal Gallery of 20th Century Composers (Thames Publishing, 1997) does, as readers will not be surprised to learn, make mention of many of the transport titles discussed in my writings on the subject. Sadly this book is now out of print.


© Philip L Scowcroft

December 1998



A third selection

by Philip L Scowcroft


Music on the road transport theme is never-ending, it seems. That must be my excuse for offering a third discussion of the subject.

Road transport has appeared not infrequently in music for the stage. I suppose The Beggar's Opera (1728), with its highwaymen characters, is one of the earliest examples. Eighty years later, on 16 April 1808 Doncaster's Theatre Royal (and no doubt several other provincial theatres around that time) heard a "new entertainment" of songs, recitations and so forth, entitled The Mail Coach or Rambles into Yorkshire, presented by Mr and Mrs Mathews of Drury Lane. Three years later (13 November 1811) Mathews was back, with a Mr Incledon (a regular treader of the Doncaster boards at that time) to present a similar entertainment called Travellers, or Mail Coach Adventures. The mail coach at that time was little more than twenty years old and a comparative novelty. A century further on and we have a 'mini-rash' of car and bicycle 'musicals'. The Love Race (1900), which had a racing car background, set lyrics by Desmond Carter to music by one Jack Clarke. Two bicycle shows, both from 1897 were The Lady Cyclist, or A Bicycle Belle (words St Aubyn Miller, music by George D Fox) and The Bicycle Girl (words Charles Osborne and E M Stuart, music by Orlando Powell). Between the wars appeared The Maid and the Motor Man, at least some of whose music was composed by Ernest Bucalossi.

In 1953 Lady at the Wheel, which had music by Leslie Bricusse, was first produced in Cambridge and reached the London stage four years later; its background was the Monte Carlo rally. A musical of 1970, set in Liverpool, of course, was No Trams to Lime Street. And not only were there British road transport musicals. Reginald de Koven, composer of The Highwayman, was American. Also American was the song Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley, sung by Judy Garland in the film Meet Me in St Louis; the trolley of course belonging to a streetcar.

Many songs relevant to our theme had their origins in the Victorian, or post-Victorian music-hall. Some we have quoted previously; other titles are Taximeter Car, heard in concert in Doncaster during 1909, We All Went Home in a Car, by the prolific George Le Brun, George Formby's Riding in the TT Races and perhaps Jack Strachey's Tramway Queen. A similar song from Vienna and celebrating a popular means of locomotion in that city is the Fiakerlied, attributed to Gustav Pick.

The recorded music libraries maintained by several leading publishers around the time of the Second War and for decades thereafter contained a plethora of short movements with evocative titles which could be adapted as signature or incidental music to a film or broadcast, although the latter's content often bore little or no relation to the piece's original title. Many of these original titles had transport connotations. Ronald Hanmer's Flying Squad was used not for "Z-Cars" or any other police thriller series but for BBC Radio's quiz show "Ask Me Another". Cedric King Palmer could easily have made up an historical road transport suite of his titles Hackney Carriage, Cabriolet, Boneshaker, The Old Farm Cart, Cyclists' Rally and Coach Tour, perhaps even Toboggan Ride. Jack Beaver (1900-1963) could have responded with Prelude to a Car Crash, Village Street, Major Road, Highway 15 and Police Car Chase, all from the Frances Day & Hunter Recorded Music Library.

Not strictly 'library' titles, but dating from roughly the same period, are Peter Hope's Jaunting Car, a movement from his Irish suite Ring of Kerry, and Benjamin Frankel's The Old Carriage Passes By. Others which were library titles included Laurie Johnson's Chase That Car, Robert Farnon's Alcan Highway (a major road in Canada; Farnon, the current 'king' of light music, is Canadian by birth), Edward White's Tour de France, Alan Hawkshaw's Girl in a Sports Car, Eric Winstone's Trafficscape and (his signature tune as a dance band leader) Stage Coach, Allan Gray's Rickshaw Girl, Joseph Engleman's Stage Coach (apparently a different piece from Eric Winstone's), Trolley Bus by Charles Williams, who was better known for his The Dream of Olwen (from a 1940s film) and The Devil's Galop (the 'Dick Barton' signature tune), and also from the F&H Library, Desert Caravan, credited to that prolific, but basically 'serious' composer Granville Bantock.

This is not to suggest that serious composers do not produce music relevant to the subject of this paper. The American Virgil Thomson composed a ballet in 1938 entitled Filling Station.

  © Philip L Scowcroft




A Fourth Selection

by Philip L Scowcroft

  Three times previously I have attempted to record the results of road transportation as a stimulus to musical composition. In attempting a fourth instalment I am becoming convinced that the task really has no end. This is particularly the case when I consider that I have included previously so few titles relative to transport infrastructure like roads, bridges, etc. Many of the "road" titles are general ones like the 'mood music' miniatures The Old Road (Walford Hyden), Side Walk (Charles Williams), Street Scene (Cleber: from Chappell's Recorded Music Library) and Hiker's Highway (Frederick Charrossin); or Alan Rawsthorne's busy overture Street Corner, quite popular 50 years ago; or Charles Coote's galop, No Thoroughfare, in demand in Victorian ballrooms; or Charles Ives' Over the Pavements, a "scherzo for orchestra". When a composition bears the title of a specific street it is often a London one, like Eric Coates' Knightsbridge, Oxford Street, Holborn, Langham Place and On The Mall, or, described as a "Victorian snapshot", Ray Steadman Allen's On Ratcliff Highway. As 'musical bridges' I can offer Bohuslav Martinö 's opera Comedy on a Bridge and the marches A Bridge Too Far (John Addison: from the Arnhem film) and Coates' London Bridge.

Nor should we stop at roads. What about those transport auxiliaries: inns, like George Dyson's overture At the Tabard Inn, sometimes used as an introduction to his choral piece The Canterbury Pilgrims; or blacksmiths, like the song Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree or the 'novelty' The Merry Blacksmiths by Samuel Suckley, a late Victorian Sheffield organist, bandmaster and choral conductor; or even lighting, like Molloy's song The Old Street Lamp?

When we come to the actual means of transportation, many are non-specific. Jack Coles' Joy Ride may perhaps relate to a car but the term means something different from what it did when he composed it thirty odd years ago. Ronald Hanmer's Flying Squad certainly implies cars but it was later adapted as the signature tune for BBC Radio's "Ask Me another". And then we have Wait for the Wagon by Charles Woodhouse, Anthony Mawer's Squad Car, Paul Lewis' overture Horse-drawn Omnibus, David Morgan's Pony Trap, Bear in a Buggy by Frederic Bayco, Goff Richards' brass band item A Cycle Round Britain, the late Russ Conway (he died December 2000)'s piano miniature SideSaddle and perhaps even his Snowcoach. Cedric King Palmer, conductor, writer and composer, who died recently, produced an enormous quantity of mood music; many of his miniatures have transport titles, among them The Old Farm Cart and Hackney Carriage. Louis Waldteufel - not the better-known Emil - penned Le Malle-Post galop, translatable as "mail-coach galop". Ernest Longstaffe's song The Bus Conductor Man was one of many he wrote celebrating men in uniform. (Incidentally I do not think I have previously mentioned the 1954 film The Runaway Bus, which had music by that master of the light music genre, Ronnie Binge).

At times we do come across a composition with a specific inspiration. John Woolrich's From the Shadow comprises five orchestral miniatures, one of which is a tribute to the Bugatti brothers wherein car wheels have a role in the percussion department! And I recently heard a movement from James Gourley's suite for tuba quartet, The Eagle Thunders, intended as an evocation of Harley-Davidson motor-cycles.

Any more?

© Philip L Scowcroft

July 1999

Return to Index