SOME BRITISH CONDUCTOR-COMPOSERS
by Philip L. Scowcroft
Two conductors born soon after Pitt, Landon Ronald and Albert Coates, composed considerably, if less so for orchestra than one would expect. Ronald (1873-1938) is best remembered for his three hundred songs, several of which enjoyed a considerable vogue. Best remembered nowadays are O Lovely Night and Down in the Forest, the latter forming part of a Cycle of Life, four songs on the seasons - this one represents Spring - prefaced by a prelude for piano solo. June Rhapsody also acquired considerable popularity in its day, though little heard now. Many of the other songs were also grouped e.g. Album Leaves (3 songs of which Roses Red in the Garden and At Sunrise both became popular separately), Album Songs (2x4 songs), Five Canzonets, Echoes (6), In Sunshine and Shadow (3), Six Love Songs, Pastels (5), Four Silhouettes, two series of Four Song Fancies, Four Song Offerings by Rabindranath Tagore, Four Songs of Gladness, Four Songs of Innocence, Sunset Land (4), Four Songs of Remembrance, Songs of Springtime (5), Songs of the Hill (4) and Vignettes (4). His setting with orchestra of Shelleys Adonais was performed at the RCM in July 1918, Dan Godfreys Bournemouth concerts and, in 1927 and 1943, at the Henry Wood Proms; The Lament of Shah Jehan, also for solo voice and orchestra, enjoyed some popularity, too. There were some short piano pieces and he write an operetta, A Capital Joke, and contributed five numbers to another, LAmour Mouillé, or Cupid and the Princess; other stage works included the two ballets, Britannias Realm (1902) and Entente Cordiale (1904), celebrating respectively the Coronation of King Edward VII and the rapprochement with France, and the incidental music to The Garden of Allah, the suite from which was well received when receiving its concert premiere at the Henry Wood Proms in 1920. Much earlier Ronalds Suite de Ballet, in six movements and scored for small orchestra, had been first performed at the Proms in 1900 where at the rehearsal it was castigated by Wood for its alleged careless scoring! Apart from these I have found only the symphonic poem A Winters Night and a Birthday Overture for orchestra. Ronald, whose father was the Victorian song writer Henry Russell, edited Whos Who in Music and published several books including two volumes of memoirs Variations on a Personal Theme (1922) and Myself and Others: Written Lest I Forget (1931). And indeed he had plenty to remember. Study at the RCM of composition (with Parry), violin and piano was followed by work as répétiteur at Covent Garden, where he conducted Gounods Faust in 1896, and tours as conductor with Augustus Harris Opera Company and as accompanist with Melba. Opportunities for conducting orchestras remained few until the LSO was formed in 1904, at which time he appeared with them as a guest. He was a pioneer of classical gramophone records, making his first recording, but as a pianist, in 1900; there were many orchestral records from around 1914 onwards. After a few engagements abroad he took over the New Symphony Orchestra (which Beecham had founded) between 1909 and 1914 (and after the Great War under its later style of the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra) and the Scottish Orchestra between 1916 and 1920. During 1915 he ran some "alternative Proms". After the Great War he became a noted exponent of Elgars music and conducted orchestras all over England and abroad. He found time to be Principal of the Guildhall School between 1910 and 1938 and President of the ISM in 1924 and also to write much music criticism for The Tatler, The Artist and The Onlooker. He was knighted in 1922. [Since I wrote the above, a biography of Ronald, by Bridget Duckenfield, O Lovely Knight (Thames, 1992) has appeared].
Albert Coates (1882-1953) was born in Russia where he worked for a time prior to 1914, was trained in Leipzig and died in South Africa, but we may count him as English; his father at least was English by birth. He composed a little for orchestra - three Symphonies, concertos for piano and cello (1933 and 1934 respectively), the symphonic poem The Eagle (with chorus, a tribute to Nikisch, an influence on him at Leipzig), performed at the Leeds Festival in 1925, its English premiere, film music, Four Old English Dances, a Sinfonia Concertante, A Russian Suite, Oriental Dances, Scherzo and Little Alfie, a story for narrator and orchestra - for piano solo (an Idyll of 1919 and a Suite Ancienne daprès les vieux maitres, both probably transcribed from orchestral originals) and some songs, with piano or orchestra, Yeats, Edward Lear, Matthew Arnold and Tennyson being among the poets favoured, but most notably he composed the operas Samuel Pepys, in one act, produced at Munich in 1929 and Pickwick, in three acts, staged at Covent Garden in 1936, and, in the same year, the first opera to be televised, if only in part, when it drew an enthusiastic notice from, among others, Havergal Brian. Pickwick called for a very large cast and a large orchestra including a piano and much percussion. It teemed with life and episodes like the Cricket Fugue and Pickwick Scherzo, later extracted as orchestral excerpts, were especially remarked upon. Its idiom, despite the archetypally English subject, was cosmopolitan, embracing elements of Prokofiev and other 20th century Russian composers. The seven other Coates operas include Assurbanipal (1915), Sardanapulus (1916), The Myth Beautiful (1917), Gainsboroughs Duchess (1939), The Boy David (1948), The Duel (1950) and Van Hunks and the Devil, the latter done in South Africa in 1952. Coates conducted at Covent Garden, at the B.N.O.C. and at the Leeds Festival but much of his career as a conductor was abroad, notably in America and South Africa.
The conductors of the orchestras at the spas and seaside resorts yielded several men who tried their hands at compositions with success. The greatest of them all, Dan Godfrey (Bournemouth) was a good arranger and produced a few pieces of dance and other light music, but not a major composer, the Hornpipe and the overture Torland broadcast in 1936, which have been attributed to him, were actually by Percy Godfrey (1859-1945), no relation. Sir Dan could doubtless argue that his tireless work for other modern British composers more than compensated for his not producing music himself; Basil Cameron, who conducted successively at Torquay and Hastings/Harrogate and later contributed much to the Henry Wood Proms and other concerts as a freelance also produced little5. One of Godfreys successors at Bournemouth, Montague Birch, who served the orchestra quietly and faithfully for over three decades as pianist, violinist and assistant conductor, taking over a severely pruned orchestra during the Second War and making a success of it, wrote light music which was played less often than it should have been. Little, if any, was published, but his Intermezzo Pizzicato was recorded in 1935 under the composers baton. Birchs Dance of the Nymphs was recorded in 1933 and his march The Carabiniers was written during the war for the Bournemouth Home Guard Band. But the meek do not inherit the earth and Birch had little to show for his loyalty. Birch died in 1947. Godfreys immediate successor was Richard Austin (1903-1989), the son of singer-composer Frederick Austin. Richard learnt conducting at the RCM under Boult and Sargent and in Munich. He directed the Carl Rosa Opera 1929-31 and succeeded Sir Dan Godfrey in charge of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra in 1934, resigning in 1940 when the war brought about the reduction in the size of the Orchestra as mentioned above. He guested for Sadlers Wells Opera and in South Africa before becoming involved with the New Era Concert Society between 1947 and 1957 performing may 20th Century works with them. He had returned to the RCM as a teacher in 1946, as Conductor of its First Orchestra and, from 1955, Director of its Opera. He retired in 1976. It is not generally known that he composed an opera entitled Plain Jane, or the Wedding Breakfast a burlesque operetta to words by A.P. Herbert which achieved a production in Croydon in 1927.
Julian Clifford (1877-1921), Conductor at Harrogate during the early years of the century (and also at Hastings during the Winters 1919-21 and at the seven other places) composed a Piano Concerto in E Minor, a Ballade in D for orchestra, the tone poem Lights Out, a Suite de Concert, the choral Ode to the New Year and a number of short pieces: the intermezzo Fairy Fancies, for small orchestra (2 flutes, oboe, clarinet, 2 bassoons, percussion and solo strings), a Meditation which was played in Denaby (South Yorkshire) as late as 1948, the pizzicato pieces Midge6 for orchestral strings (5), the song cycle The Dream of Flowers and Three Episodes and Grand Valse Caprice, both for piano solo, which he himself played in a concert in Doncaster in 1899.
Alexander Morvaren ("Alick") Maclean (1872-1936) conducted the Scarborough Spa Orchestra with brilliant success from 1911 to 1935, having previously been Musical Director to Charles Wyndham and, subsequently to that, having conducted the Chappells Ballad Concerts (1915-23) and made several gramophone records of music by himself and others with the New Queens Hall Light Orchestra. He wrote songs and orchestral music including incidental music for plays, among them Cyrano de Bergerac (by Rostand) and The Jest (by Louis Parker), the symphonic prelude, The Mayflower (1923) and the "tone dream" Mistralin (1933); his oratorio The Annunciation was performed under his baton in 1909 at the Richter Concerts and other choral works were Choral Song, Lament and At The Eastern Gate (1922). However Macleans most significant compositions were his operas: Crichton (1892), Quentin Durward (1892-3, revised 1920), Petruchio (one act, produced 1895), based on The Taming of the Shrew and which won a prize, Die Liebesgeige (produced at Mainz, 1906), The Kings Prize (1904), Maître Seiler (produced in London, 1909), Die Wald Idyll (also produced at Mainz, 1913) and The Hunchback of Cremona (excerpted at Scarborough in 1920), not to mention his contributions to the musical farce, The White Silk Dress. Like Stanfords the operatic forays of the "God of Scarborough" seem to have been almost as popular in German opera houses as they were in British ones. It seems a pity that they have quite disappeared. Alick Macleans father, Charles Donald (1843-1916) composed light music prolifically and his son Quentin Stuart Morvaren Maclean (1896-1962) church and theatre organist, composed the charming Parade of the Sunbeams and other miniatures.
5Cameron made an arrangement for small orchestra of The Vicar of Bray, entitling it Staircase Music, for a programme in the BBC's once popular "Plain Man"s Guide to Music" series in about 1950.
6Some of the shorter orchestral pieces may be by Clifford's son, also Julian, who conducted resort orchestras and on the BBC. It is now difficult to separate the two Julian Cliffords' outputs.
© P. L. Scowcroft rev February 1990 and February 1994/July 1997.
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