SOME BRITISH CONDUCTOR-COMPOSERS
by Philip L. Scowcroft
Lawrance Collingwood (1887-1982) should not be forgotten. He published two piano sonatas when he was a student at the Petrograd Conservatoire under Nikolai Tcherepnin (Collingwood worked with Albert Coates whilst in Petrograd) and later wrote two operas: Macbeth, produced in 1934 at Sadlers Wells, where Collingwood conducted extensively until 1947, and revived in Hammersmith in 1970, and The Death of Tintagiles, given a concert performance, again at the Wells, in 1950. Both operas are perhaps worthy rather than distinguished. Collingwood also composed a Piano Concerto, a Piano Quintet, the two piano sonatas previously mentioned and other piano music, a Rhapsody for violin and songs such as The Wood of Flowers and others originally written to French words. He recorded for HMV from 1922 to 1971; many of us will remember his delightful LP "The Miniature Elgar" and some will recall that it was his recording of excerpts from Caractacus which the dying Elgar supervised by GPO landline from his bed in Worcester in 1934. George Weldon (1906-63) greatly loved Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra after the Second World War and later Deputy Conductor of the Hallé, sometimes introduced his suite Mice - based on Three Blind Mice - into orchestral programmes of a lighter character. Audiences enjoyed it. Other Weldon arrangements included the lovely Welsh tune Suo Gan, recorded by the Hallé in 1979.
Anthony Collins, born in Hastings in 1893, joined the Hastings Municipal Orchestra at the age of 17. He studied violin and composition (with Holst) at the RCM, after service in the Great War, and led the viola section of the LSO and Covent Garden Orchestra between 1926 and 1936. After conducting for Carl Rosa and Sadlers Wells Opera companies he went to America in 1939 and in fact died there in 1963. He returned to England at times during and after the Second War and his recordings of the Sibelius symphonies and many British works for Decca in the early days of the LP are still remembered with respect and affection. He composed two symphonies for strings, two violin concertos, a symphonic poem The Saga of Odette (derived from a film score) and four short operas Perseus and Andromeda, Catherine Parr, first performed in March 1962 at Barnes Music Club, The Blue Harlequin and Kanawa. Another major piece was the cantata, The Lay of Rosabelle, for baritone, chorus and orchestra. He wrote chamber music, some songs, like As Dew in April and The Lamb and a considerable quantity of film and incidental music - a Prelude and Valse Variation were extracted for concert use from The Lady with a Lamp (about Florence Nightingale) and his shapely music for Odette was in its time a classic of the large screen. Victoria The Great (1937), The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947), Trents Last Case (1952) and Derby Day (1952) were other films for which Collins wrote music. Collins was best known as a purveyor of light music which often drew its inspiration from early music or traditional sources. Examples were the concert overtures The Dancing Master and Festival Royal, the Spanish Dance Suite, the suite from the film Victoria the Great, Four Styrian Dances, Romney Marsh for violin and orchestra (1944), Harvest Ritual Dance, Drumsticks, Louis XV Silhouettes, Miniature March, Master Skol, the "tone picture" In Rome, an Elegy in Memory of Edward Elgar, a "madrigal" for orchestra, Santa Cecilia (1959), the "humoresque" Tackleway, the ballet The Willow Pattern Plate (from which one movement, The Cocoanut Shell Boat, became popular for a time), the "pastoral" Topley Pike, premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in February 1937, Vanity Fair, a single movement of sprightly charm and probably his best remembered piece Blissful Thoughts, and the suite Eire, folk (or at any rate folky) arrangements which I recall enjoying very much when played by the Torquay Municipal Orchestra early in 1949. Collins also transcribed for orchestra Schuberts Grand Duo and part of Liszts Christmas Tree. For piano he composed the Threnody for a Soldier Killed in Action. The soldier was Percy Heming and Collins piece made use of fragments of the dead soldiers compositions.
Finally during the 1930s Wynford Hubert Reynolds (1899-1958) directed an orchestra at the Spa, Felixstowe (Essex). His signature tune was his own composition Spa Song (later entitled Cocktail of Happiness). Other compositions by him included the waltz Morning Glory and the novelty items Twinkletoes, Light and Shade and Stringing Along. Some titles were issued under the pseudonym Hugh Raeburn. Reynolds regularly broadcast either with his own 13 piece orchestra or the slightly larger 19 piece Raeburn Orchestra or with other permutations for twenty years prior to his death. Twinkletoes and Stringing Along had parts for saxophones, celesta and guitar as well as the more usual orchestral instruments.
Maurice Besly (1888-1945), Yorkshire-born and Leipzig-trained, conducted various orchestras from about 1922, notably the Royal Albert Hall and Scottish Orchestras also the LSO and, in Oxford, where he was Organist of Queens College 1919-26 and took over the Oxford Orchestral Society from Sir Hugh Allen. As a composer he is remembered today for the elegant popular ballad, The Second Minuet, and there were many similar ones, like Columbines Garden, Jennys New Hat, Dainty Little Maiden, Jennys New Hat, Lullaby Trees, My Heart Remembers, Love I Give You My All, and Time, You Old Gipsy Man. Some of his single songs were settings of rather better lyrics: Music When Soft Voices Die, On London Bridge and perhaps even Bellocs poem The Rolling English Road. One of Beslys last effusions was A Soldier - His Prayer in 1944. More ambitious vocal pieces were the Four Poems Op 24, Charivaria (5 songs) and, with orchestra, the scena Phaedra, for soprano, and The Shepherds Heard an Angel for soprano solo and chorus. He composed the operettas (or musicals) For Ever After, Luana and Khan Zala and edited the Queens College Hymn Book. Some of his orchestral pieces enjoyed a modest currency, especially the overture and incidental music to The Merchant of Venice, the "impression" Mist in the Valley and the two suites Chelsea China and Suite Romanesque, both published, as were the violin pieces A Tune with Disguises and Nocturne and several short piano solos, including Barge Afloat, Berceuse and the Six Preludes. Besly was a man of parts; his education, at Tonbridge (whither he returned as Assistant Music Master 1918-19) and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, was a classical one and in his latter years he worked in legal practice as a solicitor and notary public. He served gallantly in the First World War and was sometime Director of the Performing Rights Society.
Edric Cundell (1893-1961) studied the French horn at Trinity College London and joined its teaching staff in 1914. In 1938, after a good deal of conducting experience, notably at Glyndebourne, he became Principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in succession to the deceased Landon Ronald and conducted many student opera performances. I recall two of them with pleasure as they were brought to the Arts Theatre in Cambridge when I was an undergraduate in the mid-1950s. His compositions included: a Symphony in C minor, Opus 24, a Piano Concerto, a Serenade for strings in D major, the symphonic poems The Tragedy of Deirdre and Serbia (the latter scored in the front line while Cundell was serving in the Balkans during the Great War), and three suites, all for orchestra; the Hymn to Providence, for mixed chorus and orchestra and shorter choral pieces; the sonnet for tenor and orchestra Our Dead; an unaccompanied Mass; a Sextet for soprano, tenor, bass, violin, viola and cello; a Piano Quartet and three string quartets, of which the second, in C major, published as Opus 27, won a Daily Telegraph competition in 1933 and the first, in G minor, Op 18, was praised by Cobbett; a Rhapsody for viola (or cello) and piano, Two Pieces for brass quartet published in 1957; the piano solos April Song and, for young performers, The Water Babies; and songs like Boy Johnny, Vagabonds Song and I Will Make You Brooches. Cundell even figured in the brass band world. as his Blackfriars was the test piece for the 1957 National Championships, although this was admittedly an arrangement by Frank Wright, from, presumably, an orchestral original.
Leslie Heward, born in Bradford in 1897, died tragically young of cancer in 1943. If he had not been a dying man it is probable that he would have become Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in 1943 and that orchestras "Barbirolli Era" would instead have been a "Heward Era". His experience was wide. A Manchester Cathedral chorister and a RCM student, he was in turn Assistant Music Master at Eton, Director of Music at Westminster School, an organist in church, cinema and for a time as Assistant at Manchester Cathedral and a conductor at the BNOC (1922-8) and in South Africa before he took over the City of Birmingham Orchestra from Boult in 1930. His repertoire there was wide-ranging and his skill as a conductor may be appreciated in the many recordings he made, with various orchestras, in the ten years before his death, not least that of Moerans Symphony in G minor. His own compositions he viewed critically; he destroyed many he felt to be unworthy. However, a number of orchestral works do survive, including a symphonic poem, The Quodlibet, premiered by the BBC Symphony orchestra in May 1932, some film music (e.g. The Loves of Robert Burns), a Nocturne and the South African Patrol. He left two operas, Peer Gynt and Hamlet, both unfinished, but he did complete various choral works, solo songs, part songs (including the five part Witches Sabbath - strikingly original and recently recorded on a BMS CD), the hymn tune Wyke, works for solo piano and organ solo and a String Quartet.
That the status of film music grew so much during the 1930s, with major composers like Bliss, Ireland and Walton - and later many others - being commissioned to provide specially composed scores is due primarily to two men, Ernest Irving (1887-1953) and Muir Mathieson (1911-75), who advised the film companies on the music, in some cases arranged and composed it and in most cases conducted it. The Scots-born Mathieson entered films as a conductor in 1934 and directed the music for over 500 films; he still found time to conduct outside the studios. Irving had experience as a conductor in London Theatres and abroad on the first forty years of this century but he, like Mathieson, went into films in the mid thirties, later becoming Musical Director of Ealing Studios. One of his own film scores - which totalled 71 in all - was that for the splendid comedy Whisky Galore (1948). Others included The Ware Case (1938), The Proud Valley (1939), The Four Just Men (1939), Convoy (1940) and I Believe in You (1952). Irvings other compositions included the musicals An Elephant in Arcady, which made use of music by Mozart, Scarlatti and others, Tom Thumb the Great and Two Bouquets, plus incidental music for some fifty plays, among them The Circle of Chalk, Yellow Sands - the songs form this were published - and at least eight by Shakespeare. Mathiesons name survives most of all perhaps as the arranger of concert suites from Sir William Waltons marvellous Shakespearean film music, though his arrangements from Vaughan Williams music for The England of Elizabeth are also worthwhile. Four of the films to which Mathieson contributed original music were Circus of Horrors and The Grass is Greener (both 1960), Who Goes There? (1952) and Woman of Straw (1964).
Earlier Louis Levy (1893-1957) was supervisor and Musical Director with Gaumont and Gainsborough. He is credited with much more film music than he actually wrote but he probably wrote the music for The Citadel (1938), Busmans Honeymoon (1940), the celebrated Gaumont British News title march and an orchestral number Maltese EntrActe.
We must now note, if briefly, some of those who enjoyed success as choral conductor-composers. Trevor Harvey (1911-89) may conveniently fall within this group as he was assistant Chorus Master at the BBC between 1935 and 1942, although his post-war, (freelance) conducting experience was primarily orchestral, with his own St Cecilia Orchestra, the British Youth Symphony Orchestra (1960-72), as Associate Conductor of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts between 1949 and 1952 and with the Robert Mayer Childrens Concerts (1951-73). He was especially concerned with the music of Benjamin Britten. He was responsible for some incidental music for radio and published songs for solo voice (e.g. The Sailors Carol) and chorus (e.g. Sing Hosanna (1938), an eight part carol) and Jonah and the Whale, an "entertainment" for junior chorus, audience, piano and optional instruments. Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952) conducted the famed Glasgow Orpheus Choir and composed or arranged hundreds of songs and part songs, many of them for the GOC. Some of these like All in the April Evening, have become "standards". Leslie Woodgate (1902-61), RCM trained, was Chorus Master at the BBC for over thirty years and sometime Musical Director of the London and North Eastern Railway Musical Society among other appointments. He was a superb choral trainer who composed countless arrangements and original pieces mainly for mixed, male and female chorus7. Reginald Jacques (1894-1969), an Oxford graduate and later a don there and Organist of Queens College 1926-36, conducted the (London) Bach Choir 1931-60, formed the Jacques Orchestra and was Director of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (the precursor of the Arts Council) between 1940 and 1945. His output comprised mainly arrangements principally for choirs (see his Carols for Choirs, jointly produced with David Willcocks, The Oxford Song Book, Thirty Song Book, Forty Song Book, The Oxford Song Book and The Oxford Carol Book), but also included original songs, as witness Sweet Nightingale, for three part female choir, I Sing of a Maiden and I Sowed the Seeds of Love, both for unison voices, and the occasional anthem, of which When Christ was Born is an example. He also published a book on Voice Training in Schools, which ran to three editions, in 1934, 1953 and 1963.
In this "choral" category we may include some organists who at festival time perforce became conductors with national exposure. Some festivals, like Birmingham and Sheffield, opted for major conductors, British or foreign8. Leeds, either side of 1900, went for composers like Sullivan and Stanford who had only modest ability as conductors. But the Three Choirs (Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford) and, certainly between 1936 and 1961 when Heathcote Statham (1889-1973) was in charge, Norwich, each turned to the local cathedral organist and choirmaster. Not all the Three Choirs conductors were significant composers, but several were. Starting with Worcester, Hugh Blair (1864-1932) wrote church music - a Service of his is still sung in cathedrals sometimes - and organ music, like the Fantasy on Old Christian Carols, Phantasie and a Short Sonata in G. He arranged some of Elgars orchestral music for organ (Elgar knew all the Three Choirs organists during his time, of course, and was on excellent terms with all of them9). Also of Worcester, Sir Ivor Atkins (1869-1953), composed major festival choral works like The Hymn of Faith (1905), to a libretto by Elgar, who helped with the orchestration, a considerable quantity of church music and several songs (including two evening canticle settings with orchestra and five songs similarly accompanied) and arranged for organ Elgars Dream Children No 2 and the "Second Organ Sonata" from parts of the Severn Suite, adding a cadenza of his own devising. His and Elgars edition of the Bach St Matthew Passion (1911) remained popular for many years as I recall singing from it in 1950. Turning to Gloucester, Charles Lee Williams (1853-1935), conductor of five Three Choirs Festivals there, composed for chorus Bethany, Gethsemane, Harvest Song and Festival Hymn, all of them performed at the Festival: I only know his attractive anthem-cum-partsong Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace. A Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis performed at the 1937 Gloucester Three Choirs was reckoned very imitative of Stanford. His predecessor at Gloucester, C Harford Lloyd (1849-1919) enjoyed a considerable reputation at one time for his church music, partsongs and organ music including a Concerto and an attractive Sonata, recorded fairly recently. Lees successor, Arthur Herbert Brewer (1865-1928) was undoubtedly the most distinguished of the Three Choirs men as a composer. Emmaus (1901), orchestrated by Elgar, and The Holy Innocents (1904) were major oratorios performed at the Festival, which also premiered his Festival Service in C (1895), Psalm 98, Dedication Ode, A Song of Eden (1905), Three Elizabethan Pastorals, England, My England (1908), the song cycles Millers Green and Jillian of Berry (1921), the suite for chorus and orchestra entitled Summer Sports (1910) and the short items A Sprig of Shamrock and For Your Delight. In Springtime - four Pastorals for solo voice and mens chorus - Sir Patrick Spens, a ballad for baritone, chorus and orchestra, and the orchestral idyll, Springtime and Age and Youth (also orchestral) received their premieres elsewhere. There were many solo songs, some of them arranged in cycles like For Your Delight; of several which were taken up by singers, The Fairy Piper seems to have been quite the most popular. As one would expect, Brewer composed a good deal of choral church music - his Services, like Blairs and Atkins, may occasionally be heard - also short partsongs and pieces for piano and organ, like Carillon, Cloister-Garth, Eventide, Interlude in F and the Elgarian Marche Heroique which has been splendidly recorded by Simon Preston. Brewer, like Blair and Atkins, arranged Elgars music (the Prelude to The Dream of Gerontius and Chanson de Matin) for organ; so did George Robertson Sinclair (1863-1917) "G.R.S." of the Enigma Variations and Organist at Hereford 1889-1917, who was however much less distinguished as a composer than Brewer. Among more recent Three Choirs Organists we should mention, from Gloucester, Herbert Sumsion (1899-1995) for his church music (services and anthems) and his pieces for string orchestra and for organ solo (notably the Introduction and Theme (1935), Cradle Song (1953) and Four Carol Preludes (1956) and his successor as Organist John Sanders (b. 1933) for his Festival Te Deum (1962), Soliloquy for organ (1977), Toccata (1979), Te Deum (1985), Jubilate Deo (1986) and Two Prayers (1988) and, from Worcester, David Willcocks (Worcester) for his fine choral arrangements and much else and the present incumbent Donald Hunt for his church music, a Suite for organ and The Song of Celebration composed especially for a concert of Worcestershire music given in Worcester Cathedral in October 1995.
Heathcote Statham (1889-1973) studied at St Michaels College, Tenbury, at Cambridge and at the Royal College of Music under Parratt and was Organist at Calcutta Cathedral (1913), St Michaels Tenbury ((1920), Southampton Parish Church (1928) and at Norwich Cathedral from 1928 to 1966. Apart from the Norwich Triennial Festival and the Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra, he directed both the LPO and the LSO during the Second War. His compositions were mainly for organ, especially worthy of note being the Four Diversions, the Rhapsody in C (1927) the Divertimento on Monkland and, best of all, the superbly worked Rhapsody on a Ground (1944); but he also wrote a few anthems such as the introit O Come Thou Spirit Divinest and Ye that know that Lord is Gracious, carols, a Te Deum dedicated to the present Queen, and other services, the hymn tune Arncliffe10, one or two secular partsongs and an operetta The New Master, for boys voices dating from around 1920 when he was at Tenbury.
Many of the conductors of the various BBC orchestras during the period, say, 1930-60 were well known as composers. Robert Clarence Raybould, born in Birmingham in 1886, studied there with Bantock and later assisted Rutland Boughton at Glastonbury and then the Beecham Opera Company and the BNOC. He joined the BBC in 1936 and conducted frequently for them, being Assistant Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra between 1936 and 1945. He founded the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and directed it until his death in 1972 and during his life got through much work as a piano accompanist. Archie Camden thought him finer as a pianist than as a conductor. Rayboulds one act opera Sumida River, derived from a Japanese Noh Play, was performed in 1916, both in Birmingham and in Glastonbury and could be worth exhuming. He also composed music for piano solo - The Three Pieces (Prelude, A Fairy Tale and Passepied)) published in 1938 - for clarinet (The Wistful Shepherd, a pleasant miniature, has been recorded), for violin, for cello (e.g. a Dance Serenade and A Legend, both dated 1937) and for various chamber ensembles, plus songs like the Four Songs (Merciles Beautie, In the Red April, Crepuscule and The Flower Girl) and part songs like Dorothy (1948), for six part mixed voices.
Walter Goehr appears in this BBC group on account of his conductorship of the BBC Theatre Orchestra between 1945 and 1948. Born in Berlin in 1903 and of Jewish extraction, he came to England in 1933 after study with Schoenberg and various conducting engagements. He became Musical Director of the Columbia Graphophone Company (1933-9), Conductor of the Morley College concerts from 1943 and of much else (I recall him conducting the Hallé Orchestra in Sheffield not long before his death in 1960,which was actually in Sheffield). His direction of the smallish Orchestra Raymonde showed his skill in lighter music. He directed the premieres of Brittens Serenade and Tippetts A Child of Our Time. His edition of Monteverdis Vespers of 1610, though now superseded by later research, helped the modern revival of that mighty work, of which I clearly remember a pioneer modern performance in the York Festival of 1954. Goehr composed a Symphony, an opera, Malpopita, for radio, some chamber music and incidental music for films (including Spellbound the British film of 1940, not the more famous Hollywood one of 1945 from which a Valse Intermezzo was extracted, and the famous David Lean film Great Expectations), for plays and for radio programmes on subjects as diverse as Italy, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Mulberry Harbours, Radar and The Twenties. For such music he often transcribed traditional or classical material - his Summers Day Suite is derived from Mahler, Schumann, Brahms and "trad" and the Travel Music from various North and South American, Yugoslav and Russian sources - but I recall also a very shapely tune, presumably original, which introduced a radio adaptation of Dickens Great Expectations. His output included many arrangements of popular classics and folk tunes and Three Sketches (1948). Goehr was one of the many who have had a go at transcribing for orchestra Mussorgskys Pictures from an Exhibition. Another Mussorgsky transcription, Pictures from the Crimea has been successfully recorded recently.
We may include Lawrence Leonard here, for all that he was Assistant Conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra for only a year, as against his Assistant conductorship of the Hallé for five years and his work for a similar period with the Edmonton Symphony in Canada. Born in 1928, he was educated musically at the Royal Academy and the Ecole Normale and has produced a number of orchestral scores. Some are arrangements; like Walter Goehr and Sir Henry Wood, not to mention other non-British figures, he transcribed Mussorgskys Picture from an Exhibition. - Leonards was for piano and orchestra made in 1977 and recorded by Cala Records in 1992. Original orchestral compositions include Four Pieces, Group Questions, Four Contrasts, Break, Processional, A Short Overture, A Swinging Tune and the symphonic Poem Mezoon, apparently for the Sultan of Oman.
7For some further details about Woodgate the composer, see my article "Chorus Master and Composer: Leslie Woodgate in BMS Newsletter 39, pp. 14-5.
8I hope it is not South Yorkshire chauvinism to point out that Sir Henry Coward (1849-1944), Chorus Master to the Sheffield Festival at its outset in 1895 and conductor of several choirs in Sheffield, was one of the greatest of all choral trainers of any period; he also composed major cantatas like The Story of Bethany, Heroes of Faith, The Kings of Error and Magna Charta, plus anthems, hymns, glees, partsongs and solo songs. As regards the Birmingham Festival, the Italian born Michael Costa (1806-84) conducted this for thirty years and he composed too: three symphonies, operas, ballets and choral works, notably the oratorio Eli from which the March of the Israelites was still a favourite piano or organ solo in my young day. Another Festival conductor contemporary with Costa was the German-born Julius Benedict (1804-85), who conducted at Norwich from 1845 to 1878 and also in various London theatres. He composed eight operas, some of them after coming to England, including the once-popular Lily of Killarney, six large scale cantatas, much orchestral and instrumental music and songs like those coloratura favourites The Gipsy and the Bird and The Wren. Costa and Benedict were both knighted.
9See my article "Elgar and the Three Choirs Organists", in the Elgar Society Journal, Vol 1 No. 3 (1979), pp 12-15.
10Not to be confused with the hymn tune of the same name by Wilfrid Sanderson, who composed some 170 songs and had at least a local reputation as an organist and conductor. Cf my article on him in the BMS Journal Vol. 3 (1981), pp. 50-59.
© P. L. Scowcroft rev February 1990 and February 1994/July 1997.
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