SOME BRITISH CONDUCTOR-COMPOSERS
by Philip L. Scowcroft
Herbert Menges (1902-72) falls into the "holiday orchestra" group because he founded the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra (later styled Southern Philharmonic) and directed it from 1925 to 1972, though he also conducted much in London theatres, notably at the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells and composed music for many of the Shakespeare plays put on at the former. His score for Gordon Daviots celebrated play Richard of Bordeaux was a delicate one, for just harp, flute and strings. He published some songs including Buckland Bells, The Little Seamstress and, with violin accompaniment, Silence, Beautiful Voice. He was one of many English composers to study at the RCM with Vaughan Williams and Holst.
Probably the best of this group of seaside composers and certainly the one whose music I have heard most of during the last generation, is Julius Harrison, born at Stourport, Worcestershire on 26 March 1885, who died as recently as 1963. It is pleasing to note that, since I penned the following notes, Geoffrey Self has published a study of him entitled Julius Harrison and the Importunate Muse (Scolar, 1994). He studied with Bantock in Birmingham and had conducting experience as assistant to Nikisch and Weingartner in 1914 and, after the war, with the Beecham Opera Company, the BNOC (1922-7), the Handel Society and the Scottish Orchestra, but he is best remembered in this field for his work as Permanent Conductor of the Hastings Municipal Orchestra between 1930 and 1940. Though he was never popular with his players, he made the Hastings Orchestra second only to Bournemouth among the resort orchestras, then in their heyday. He recorded with them including his own Song of Adoration. He virtually retired from conducting in 1940 partly because of the war situation and partly because of increasing deafness, but this enabled him to devote himself full time to composition. Even at that time his works were numerous. Most ambitious perhaps was his choral music. Early essays in this field were Cleopatra for four soli, chorus and orchestra, performed at the Norwich Festival in 1908, a vivid affair rather in the manner of Granville Bantock, a Christmas Cantata (1911) and Rosalys, a "dream poem". Shorter vocal pieces such as The Blessed Damozel, Come Away Death and I Love the Jocund Dance, all for female voices, The Dark Forest, Pastoral, Merciless Beauty, In Celias Face, Song of the Plough, Requiem for Archangels and the "folk jingle" Merry Miller (all for SATB), Marching Along and the Eve of Crecy (male voices) and the Rhapsody, a setting of Walt Whitman for low voice and orchestra, were followed in the forties and fifties by Psalm 100 and three masses, the Mass in C, twice broadcast in 1952 and 1955, the much shorter Missa Liturgica (1950) and the Requiem Mass, first performed in 1957 at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival, where I heard and enjoyed it, feeling it to be not too overshadowed by the Elgar works in the Festival that centenary year and indeed its chromatic invention was not more advanced or violently different in idiom from the music of his fellow Worcestershireman. By then Harrisons music seemed decidedly conservative. For solo voice, apart from the Rhapsody he wrote several attractive songs showing interesting and wide-ranging taste in words: the four Cavalier Songs; I Know a Bank and Philomel, from A Midsummer Nights Dream, the latter of which enjoyed a certain popularity; four Narratives from the Ancient Chinese; four songs from Twelfth Night; The Wanderers Song; Sea Winds; Marching Along and Four Songs of Chivalry. He even began an opera on The Canterbury Pilgrims.
Like so many English composers Harrison drew inspiration from the countryside, both from his beloved Worcestershire - like Elgar before him he lived in Malvern - and other places,. The suites Severn Country, Town and Country, Wayside Fancies, the delightful Worcestershire Suite and the Rhapsody, Bredon Hill for violin appeared in both orchestral and piano versions. The Variations on Down Among the Dead Men were premiered by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms in 1912; Rapunzel was composed in 1917. He wrote a Cello Concerto and composed widely for strings, whether orchestral or in chamber combinations; the humoresque Widdicombe Fair Opus 22 and the charming Prelude Music for harp and strings, which I have heard on Radio 3, could both be done either by string orchestra or string quartet.
Also listed for strings are Autumn Landscape, premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in February 1937, Cornish Holiday Sketches, an otherwise untitled Suite and the Troubadour Suite for harp, strings and optional horns, a substantial work playing for over twenty minutes. For the BBC he wrote incidental music, including a collection of fanfares for use in radio performances of Shakespeare tragedies (for three trumpets and side drum), and an operetta A Fantasy of Flowers. Harrisons major chamber works were a String Quartet and the Viola Sonata in C minor of 1946. To illustrate his range in instrumental music we need only mention early pieces for organ like Paean and Tonus Peregrinus: Homage to Cesar Franck, the early piano pieces Prelude and Double Fugue (for two pianos: 1905) and the Rhapsody, Intermezzo and Capriccio (for piano solo) of 1903, all of which show his chromatic style already well established; a later group of short piano pieces with titles like At The Fair, Spring in the Air, Autumn Days, Outdoor Song and The Rival Fourth Fingers were all edited by Alec Rowley for performance by young amateurs. His many arrangements included versions of Webers Invitation to the Dance, sundry Schubert songs (entitled Winter and Spring) and a "concert version" of Smetanas The Bartered Bride all for mixed voice chorus. (All these have been performed in Doncaster, the first two since 1945, and have given pleasure). We should not allow Harrisons music to slip altogether from sight. He also wrote about music, a book on Brahms and his Four Symphonies and sundry articles contributed to periodicals and A L Bacharachs A Musical Companion.
Other resort conductors who merit brief mention for their compositions were: Frank Gomez, conductor at Whitby 1923-38, whose lightish compositions included the pizzicato novelty Climbing the Abbey Steps at Whitby, which, as there are about 200 steps, becomes progressively slower as the tired climber nears the top(!); Eldridge Newman, Director of the Folkestone Municipal Orchestra from 1928 to 1940, in which latter year he died, wrote a Dorset Suite, whose finale The Old Jossers Dance, achieved much popularity, and a ballet suite Les Lutins. Captain H.G. Amers, conductor of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra in the 920s and 1930s until forced to retire in 1935 through ill health (he died in 1936) who is credited with short novelty orchestral items, usually pot-pouris of popular items, like All in a Christmas Morning, The Wee MacGregor: A Highland Patrol, A Sprig of Shamrock, Bhoys of Tipperary, Miracle dAmour and a waltz medley. He is not be confused with Flight Lieutenant J.H. Amers (1866-1946) conductor of the RAF Band 1920-31. As far as is known the two Amers were not related. Jan Hurst (c. 1890-1967) directed resort orchestras at Bridlington, Bath, Blackpool and Scarborough in turn during the years 1919-52 and the National Philharmonic Orchestra during the Second World War. He, too, composed a number of short orchestral pieces, some of them topographical in character, like The Bells of Somerset, Brighton Sea Step (or South Pier Sea-Step) and Windermere Idyll.
Leaving the seaside, we should make brief mention of Geoffrey Toye (1889-1942), whose best known composition was the ballet The Haunted Ballroom, whose Waltz remained a popular light orchestral number for at least a generation. We do not hear it now though it was recorded very recently by Marco Polo; Toye is remembered, if at all, by G&S addicts for his cosmetic work on the score of Ruddigore - including the composition, or, more accurately, as Sullivans tunes were used, the compilation, of a new overture - for a revival in 1921, at which time he was conductor of the DOyly Carte company. He also conducted at the Old Vic, Sadlers Wells and at other theatres and for the Royal Philharmonic Society and founded the Lloyds Choir. His other compositions included another ballet Douanes, music for films such as Rembrandt, a masque, Day and Night, an opera The Fairy Cup, a radio opera The Red Pen, Three Sea Chanties for solo voice and two short choral items, Henrichyes Death, with orchestra, and The Keeper, with brass accompaniment.
Warwick Braithwaite (1896-1971) was born in New Zealand and studied at the RAM He conducted opera, both early in his career - for the OMara Company and for the BNOC in the 1920s - and later I recall his directing Madam Butterfly when the short-lived Yorkshire Opera performed this in Doncaster in 1969. He worked regularly for WNO and, especially, Sadlers Wells. At one time or another he was Conductor of the Scottish Orchestra and of various ensembles "down under". He composed widely: an opera Pendragon (1939), a Symphony in E major, four overtures, a Suite of 18th Century Country Dances, broadcast on the BBC in October 1942, Crab Apple Fair, for orchestra, likewise broadcast, in July 1943, and a String Quartet. In 1952 he wrote a book on The Conductors Art. His bearded visage and vigorous manner on the rostrum made him for me almost a Henry Wood look-alike. His son Nicholas has achieved success as a conductor also, but not, as far as I know, as a composer.
© P. L. Scowcroft rev February 1990 and February 1994/July 1997.
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