SOME BRITISH CONDUCTOR-COMPOSERS
by Philip L. Scowcroft
Part 6 (conclusion)
Two other light music conductors may also be considered here, because even though they were not BBC staff conductors their respective eponymous light orchestras frequently appeared "on the air". Peter Yorke (1902-66), educated at Trinity College, London, pursued a career in dance music in the 1920s and was responsible for a considerable number of light orchestral works like the suite In My Garden and the novelty movements Caravan Romance, Monica, Melody of the Stars, Miss in Mink, Golden Melody, Highdays and Holidays, Hollywood Romance, Parade of the Matadors, Midnight in Mexico, Flyaway Fiddles, Fireflies, Flapjack and the "waltz-intermezzo" Faded Lilac among many others. The Peter Yorke Concert Orchestra was formed in 1937. Yorke also composed songs - Two Hearts on a Tree was one title - and music for brass band, of which I remember especially the fantasia Gallions Reach, the overture The Explorers, and the suite The Shipbuilders, the last written for a BBC Light Music Festival around 1960. Mark Lubbock, who died in 1986, aged 86, arranged many medleys and composed or put together music for a large number of radio programmes and musical plays, like Winter Rose, The Italian Straw Hat, By Royal Appointment Barbara Cartlands The Rose and the Violet, plus a number of orchestral novelties such as Saltarello, Moon Lullaby and, especially popular in its day, Polka Dots. His many songs achieved popularity, too, especially A Smugglers Song, Blackbird in the Apple Tree, The Whispering Poplar, Lullaby River and Windy Nights. Lubbock, educated at Eton, conducted theatrical touring companies after service in the Great War and worked at the BBC from 1932 to 1944. His The King Can Do No Wrong was the first specially composed operetta to be broadcast.
Leighton Lucas I have written up elsewhere11, so a bare reference may suffice here. He, too, broadcast with his eponymous orchestra, but his repertoire, whether as conductor or as composer, was by no means confined to the light music sphere.
We may also briefly mention Malcolm Lockyer whose Concert Orchestra was to be frequently heard some years ago, as Malcolm composed a quantity of music for films (e.g. Ten Little Indians, the American version of Agatha Christies Ten Little Niggers, or And Then There Were None, and Night of the Big Heat; piano selections from both were published) and television, notably the march-like theme tune from The Pathfinders.
David de Groot (1880-1933) - the David was always dropped professionally - can represent those many light orchestra conductors who directed from the violin. Dutch by birth, but long a naturalised British subject, he was Director of the Piccadilly Hotel orchestra - whose strength varied between six and ten players, mainly strings - between 1909 and 1928. Additionally he often directed larger orchestras, touring widely in Britain and visiting South Africa in 1929-30. Apart from his many arrangements he composed a number of original pieces in lighter style like Valse Passionnée and the very popular, lilting Piccadilly Grill Waltz.
Several of the figures we have looked at have been conductors in the theatre or have composed considerably for the theatre. Here, to finish this survey, are others who have in their various ways been associated in this direction. There was for example, Arthur Wood (1875-1953), composer and arranger of musicals and of many orchestral suites and genre pieces, best remembered of which are the Three Dale Dances and Barwick Green, which has introduced The Archers for over forty years, who conducted in at least nine London theatres during the early years of this century12. And there were two who conducted the DOyly Carte in Sullivans heyday. Hamilton Clarke (1840-1912) not merely did that but he compiled some of the overtures to the G&S operettas; that for The Mikado is still used. Altogether Clarke conducted in at least ten London theatres. and for Carl Rosa in the provinces as well as in Melbourne, Australia between 1889 and 1891. Up to 1889 - and he did not stop then (his Offertorium in F for organ was played in Doncaster in 1905) - he had composed over 600 works: three symphonies, 40 overtures, an opera, six operettas, 60 songs, incidental music, ballet music, anthems, cantatas, flute sonatas (these might be worth reviving), other chamber music - you name it, he composed it13. Alfred Cellier (1884-91) also compiled some of the Savoy overtures, notably that to The Pirates of Penzance, also still used. He conducted elsewhere besides the Opera Comique and the Savoy, of course, particularly in Australia and the United States but mostly it was in a theatrical setting. Apart from a Suite Symphonique, for orchestra, Grays Elegy, performed at the Leeds Festival in 1883, songs (Crossing the Bar was a favourite) and piano pieces, his compositions were for the stage, perhaps twenty of them in all, ranging from the "grand" opera, The Masque of Pandora, to "operettas" (i.e. meaning short sketches) like Charity Begins at Home and incidental music. Most of his best known stage pieces were of the comic opera type familiar to G&S lovers: The Sultan of Mocha (1874, the first of them, which incidentally predates Trial by Jury by a year), The Spectre Knight, Dorothy (1886), Doris and The Mountebanks, posthumously produced (1892) and with a libretto by W.S. Gilbert. This latter and Dorothy, which outstripped every G&S operetta by running for 931 performances on its London debut, were the most successful. Despite their pretty melodic invention they have turned out not to have the stamina of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Herman Finck (1873-1939), was English but of German extraction. After working in theatre orchestras from the age of 14 he was trained at the GSM. He was Musical Director at the Palace Theatre for thirty years, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and, in 1933, at Southport. His gramophone recordings with the Palace Orchestra from 1908 onwards are among the earliest for orchestra and, as recent re-hearing has confirmed, were of surprising quality. He composed many musicals, operettas, revues, comic operas and ballets (Bric à Brac, Vanity Fair (1916), The Sin of St Hilda, Amsterdam (1909), Hullo America (1922), The Passing Shows of 1914 and 1915, My Lady Frayle and Decameron Nights were among the most successful of over twenty stage shows of all types), plus piano music, a violin solo, Valsette, songs and then light orchestral pieces. These latter included a Grand March, a Pageant March, March of the Giants, Guards Parade March, the suites My Lady Dragon Fly, Julius Caesar, Marie Antoinette, Three Dances, Six Humorisms and Vive La Danse and a large number of single movements like Penguins Parade, Dancing Daffodils, Vivienne, Dignity and Impudence, Valse Joyeuse, Footsteps, On the Road to Zagazig, Moonlight Dances, the "processional march" Splendour and Victory, the waltz Sunset Love and, easily the most popular of all, In The Shadows originally called Twilight. He produced albums of mood music for silent cinema musicians and an enormous number of selections of music by others, Waldteufel, Offenbach, Schubert, Chopin, operatic melodies, drinking songs, Christmas tunes, plantation songs and a Suite based on Sullivans early cantata Kenilworth.
Another popular composer who conducted in several London theatres and also in Australia and for a short time at Harrogate, with that resorts orchestra, was Howard Carr (1880-1960). Some of his operettas and musicals enjoyed popularity for a time: titles like Shanghai, The Girl for the Boy, The Chinese Honeymoon, The Blue Kitten, The Potter Diamond and The Master Wayfarer (the last two being incidental music), plus music for a revival in 1918 of Cuvilliers The Lilac Domino, Carrs output included also a number of separate songs, light in character, partsongs, hymn tunes and arrangements of Chanteys and Sea Songs (two sets) and works for orchestra. Apart from arrangements, these latter embraced genre pieces like The Chiffon Frock, The Jolly Roger, done at the Proms in 1917, The Crimson Fan, The Shrine in the Wood, Moorish Dance and the "Yorkshire Patrol" entitled Bah Goom (!), the overture Sir Walter Raleigh, premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in June 1940 (an appropriate piece for the time) and a few suites: Carnival of the Elements, in four movements, of course, described as a "ballet suite", the "nautical suite" On the Briny and, most interestingly, the Three Heroes suite composed at the end of the Great War, the heroes being OLeary V.C., Captain Oates (of Captain Scotts last Polar expedition), and Sub-Lieutenant Warneford, V.C., the first British pilot to bring down a Zeppelin, its subject being emotive enough at the time to justify the composer making an arrangement for piano solo. This suite received its first airing at the Proms in 1918 and it had several more in the days immediately following the Armistice; Sir Henry Wood also did the honours for The Jovial Huntsman, a rondo for orchestra, in 1919, and for the prelude The Shrine in the Wood and the symphonic march The Sun God, in 1925.
Lawrence Leonard (b. 1928) was at various times Assistant Conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony (now BBC Philharmonic) and Hallé Orchestras before leaving England. He composer Four Pieces for Orchestra, Muzzoon (for the Sultan of Oman) and a Symphonic Poem and, best known of all, maybe, an orchestration of Mussorgskys Pictures at an Exhibition.
Norman ONeill (1875-1934) worked as a conductor in the theatre, for most of the time at the Haymarket Theatre. Most of his compositions were for the theatre, too. These included most notably over fifty scores of incidental music for plays, which brought the provision of this genre of music to a pitch of excellence which it had only rarely attained previously in this country. We cannot list them all but Shakespeare (Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V and Measure for Measure), J.M. Barrie (A Kiss for Cinderella (1925), Quality Street and the touching Mary Rose, from which the Prelude and Call were extracted for concert use), Maeterlinck (The Blue Bird: four dances were published for orchestra and premiered at the Henry Wood Proms in 1910; no fewer than sixteen excerpts were published for piano), A.E.W. Mason (Running Water), Ibsen (The Pretenders), the fairy play, Through the Green Door and dramatic versions of Mr Pickwick and Anthony Hopes The Prisoner of Zenda were among those favoured. ONeills ballets, Before Dawn, Punch and Judy (derived from the revue The Punch Bowl), the parody, Alice in Lumberland and A Forest Idyll, also achieved performance. His theatre music was the most popular part of his output but he was prolific in most other forms. For orchestra he composed a Suite, Op. 3 for strings, two sets of Miniatures, Variations on an Irish Air, the Overtures In Springtime (1906), Humoresque and In Autumn, Scotch Rhapsody, Irish Jig, Festal Prelude, the suite A Fairy Tale and the Two Shakespearean Sketches. Besides The Blue Bird dances, In Autumn (1901), a Hornpipe (1916), Variations on an Irish Air (1911), Before Dawn (described as a ballet after Swinburne and scored for womens voices and orchestra: 1917), the Hamlet Overture (1904) and a Suite of 18th Century music arranged from Fiocco (1912) were all first played at the Queens Hall Proms. Songs, with or without orchestra, solo and choral (including unison settings - there were several books of song arrangements for children and even one of hymns) set words by Keats, Rosa Newmarch, Verlaine and others. Most important of them were La Belle Dame sans Merci, Waldemar and - sung at the Proms in 1904 - Death on the Hills, all of them with orchestra, and the Five Rondels, Echoes of Erin, Birds (five songs) and Blossoms, On a Grey Day, May Lilies, Musette, The Golden Hour of Noon, I Have a Flaunting Air and When May Walks By. Many songs from the incidental music, including three from a play called Kismet were published, too, as were A Golden Treasury of Song, A Song Garden for Children and collections of national songs and Irish folk songs. Piano compositions included Variations and Fugue on an Irish Theme for two pianos and (for solo piano) various sets of pieces, Studies, Suites and Sketches and several books of compositions for children. Only one chamber composition for three or more players, a Piano Trio in F in one movement, achieved publication but he also wrote another, earlier, Piano Trio, a Piano Quintet, a Cello Sonata, a Scherzo for string quartet and pieces for violin and piano. He had studied with Arthur Somervell and with Ivan Knorr at Frankfurt (as did Roger Quilter and Balfour Gardiner) where he met his future wife, Adine Ruckert, a pianist, who after her marriage taught at St Pauls Girls School in Hammersmith where she and another teacher gave the first private performance of Holsts Hammersmith on two pianos (Holst composed a Toccata on the Northumbrian tune, Newburn Lads for Adine ONeill). ONeill also taught harmony and composition at the Royal Academy and was a regular broadcaster in radios early days. As Hon. Treasurer of the Royal Philharmonic Society between 1918 and 1934, many praised his friendly helpfulness. His death, following a street accident (he insisted on conducting that night, but collapsed and later died) was a further loss to British music of the year 1934, which claimed Elgar, Holst and Delius. It seems a pity that ONeills music has survived less well than that of Quilter; even Balfour Gardiners has fared slightly better.
Now is the time to mention Herbert Bunning (1863-1937), educated at Harrow and Brasenose College, Oxford and later in France and Italy, as he was Musical Director at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith 1892-4 and the Prince of Wales Theatre 1895-6. His works included music for a play on Robin Hood, staged at the Lyric in 1906, from which Ketelbey and Arthur Wood arranged a selection and the composer himself fashioned a four movement suite. His other orchestral music, mainly light, include Shepherds Call (1893), later performed at the Proms, a Village Suite (1896) several overtures, including Mistral and Spring and Youth (both 1897). Of his two scenas with orchestra, Ludovico il Moro (1892) and Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere, the latter was performed at the 1905 Norwich Festival. His song titles included In the Maytime, Sunshine and Butterflies and Sunshine and Roses; organists doubtless enjoyed his Nocturne, arranged by R.H. Bellairs, and his opera Princess Osra was produced at Covent Garden in July 1902.
Another theatre conductor was Ernest Ford (1858-1919), born in Warminster - he was a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral as a boy. He was a pupil of Sullivan at the RAM and of Lalo in Paris. He conducted Sullivans "grand opera" Ivanhoe at the Royal English Opera House in 1891 and he was later Musical Director at the Trafalgar and Empire (1897-1908) Theatres. From 1897 he directed the Royal Amateur Orchestral Society; he became Professor of Singing at the Guildhall School in 1916. He published a Short History of Music in England (1912). His compositions apart from the motet Domine Deus, for the 250th anniversary of Harvard University, some songs, and chamber music, including a String Quartet, a cantata for female voices, The Eve of the Fiesta, Le Frolique for orchestra and an Elegy for violin and orchestra, were primarily for the stage. These were the operas Daniel ORourke (1884), Nydia (1889), Joan (1890) and Mr Jericho (1893), to which may be added the comic opera Jane Annie, or The Good Conduct Prize, produced at the Savoy on 13 May 1893, which was so light hearted as almost to be reckoned as an operetta, for all it had a libretto by two eminent men of letters, James Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and the ballet Faust, the Valse from which was conducted by Henry Wood at a Promenade Concert during 1896.
George Byng who died in 1932 aged around 70, was Irish-born but made his mark in theatres in Great Britain for example as violinist and conductor of the Mayfair Orchestra and latterly at the Alhambra, for which he wrote the music for some thirty ballets. He also conducted the Black Diamonds (brass) band and Gilbert and Sullivan items. The music for most of these has probably disappeared for ever, though an orchestral suite was made from The Devils Forge. His stage shows included The Variety Girl, The Belle of the Baltic, Guy Fawkes and HMS Irresponsible but his best known composition was however the orchestral suite, or "divertissement", A Day in Naples. There were also a few songs like My Sword and I, taken up by Peter Dawson and My Heart and I, and (a duet) A Sailors Philosophy and he is also thought to be the David George who produced a number of genre pieces like the victory overture and a Nursery Rhyme selection.
Finally let us briefly examine the case of Karl Rankl (1898-1968), Austrian-born, who came to England in 1939. As Musical Director at Covent Garden between 1946 and 1951, he set that institution on its feet after the war and then later (1952-7) conducted the Scottish Orchestra. He composed widely. He had studied with Schoenberg and Webern and many of his eight symphonies, two sinfoniettas, various orchestral suites, songs, chamber music (including a String Quartet) and choral works, including an oratorio Der Mensch, were written before he came to this country, although the First and Fourth Symphonies were broadcast by the BBC during the 1950s. One which was not, his opera, Deirdre of the Sorrows, won an Arts Council award in Festival of Britain Year, 1951. This was never staged, although an Intermezzo from it was published.
And there we must leave this survey. There are others we could mention, like Arthur Butterworth, though he is still alive and can add to his achievements, and sundry brass band and military band conductor-composers like Eric Ball, Geoffrey Brand, John Greenwood, James Ord Hume, Roy Newsome, Buxton Orr, Joseph Nicholl, the Rimmers, Drake and William, the Wrights, Denis and Frank, Sir Vivian Dunn, Ray Woodfield and Peter Sumner. Likewise some of these are still with us. The verdict of history appears to be that, with relatively few exceptions, the men we have been looking at contributed much more as conductors than as composers. This is not to say that all their music should be forgotten as apparently is the case, apart perhaps from Ronalds Down in the Forest, Collins Vanity Fair, one or two of Arwel Hughes and Mansel Thomas arrangements, a handful of Gilbert Vinters brass or wind compositions and possibly Julius Harrisons Worcestershire Suite and Ian Whytes Eightsome Reel. Even had space allowed us to deal with Cowen, Goossens, Harty and Lambert we should not have been able to add very much to that brief list, for all the Ulster Orchestras advocacy of Harty and the modest continuing popularity of a few of Constant Lamberts compositions; Goossens large, varied output is regrettably all but forgotten and how many of us have heard anything by Cowen except The Better Land and A Border Ballad? The fact that so many of our conductor-composers wrote operas, which are notoriously costly to mount, has not helped their posthumous reputations as composers. Yet should we do not do what we can to rub off some of the dust which has accumulated on their music?
11See my article "Another Garland of Light Music Composers" written for the BMS Newsletter and yet to appear there.
12See my article "A Yorkshire Musician: Arthur Wood", in the magazine Vintage Light Music, 43, (Summer 1985), pp 1-2.
13See my article on Hamilton Clarke in the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society Magazine, No 22 (Spring 1986), pp 19-21.
© P. L. Scowcroft rev February 1990 and February 1994/July 1997.
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