'Should more than satisfy those who like a good tune! Many of the old favourites here will be forever associated with radio and television signature tunes … Nostalgia is the key to many of thse pieces, but a collection such as this reminds us that the thing which really binds this collection together is the quality of the music itself' (BBC Music Magazine)
Movement 3: Knightsbridge [4'34]
No 2: Bal masqué [6'35]
Movement 4: Barwick Green [3'20]
Movement: March [3'18]
British Light Music Classics 1 (CDA66868) was one of the best-selling CDs of 1996 and put lots of smiles on people's faces. In fact it is still—late January—in the charts. Its success has inspired this second disc which contains another 20 well-known favourites spanning the century, the earliest being Bucalossi's Grasshopper's Dance from 1905 and Herman Finck's In the Shadows from 1910. Once again many of the pieces will be familiar as radio and TV signature tunes—to 'Down Your Way', 'Dr Finlay's Casebook', 'TV Newsreel', 'The Archers' and, from the 1940s, 'In Town Tonight', the first broadcast of which brought tens of thousands of requests to the BBC for the name of the introductory music, Eric Coates's march Knightsbridge.
Volume 1 was also praised for its sound. Like that one, this volume was recorded by ace engineer Tony Faulkner. Altogether another very happy record and certain to be one of 1997's best sellers.
Britain’s light music heritage constitutes a veritable treasure-house of music that may plumb no intellectual or emotional depths but which lifts the spirits through imaginative effects, delightful melodies and consummate craftsmanship. In Victorian and Edwardian days pieces were composed for the bandstand, ballroom and salon orchestra, or as interval pieces for theatre performances. Later came publishers’ libraries of ‘mood music’ for the silent cinema, while between the Wars new compositions served to entertain the audiences who listened eagerly to the ‘wireless’. In the second Elizabethan age such works have come to be used as television signature tunes or interval pieces. This further selection will help confirm the almost boundless store of pieces whose titles may be unfamiliar and composers largely unsung, but which are instantly recognizable to many listeners.
Exceptionally, the senior composer represented in the present collection needs no introduction, for Edward Elgar (1857–1934) was Britain’s greatest symphonist. But he never disdained light music and composed many charming little pieces in the genre. Born in Worcester, he was active largely in the west of England before gaining widespread fame in his forties with the ‘Enigma’ Variations. Elgar went on to write two symphonies and his Violin Concerto before, in 1914, he composed the gentle Carissima for small orchestra.
By contrast Elgar’s near-contemporary Ernest Bucalossi (1863–1933) was a light-music composer through and through, now remembered solely for one enduring (and endearing) lollipop. Himself a London theatre conductor, he was the second son of theatre conductor/composer Procida Bucalossi who migrated to London from his native Italy. Ernest studied at the Royal Academy of Music and in 1881 began his theatre career by deputizing for his father. He went on to compose for a variety of theatrical purposes. The jaunty ‘characteristic piece’ The Grasshopper’s Dance (1905) is one of those items that perfectly exemplifies its title, with the percussion department having a field-day reproducing the sound of the grasshopper. The piece’s popularity and familiarity has not dimmed over the years, with milk deliveries being just one of the products and services that television advertisers have used it to promote.
Herman Finck (1872–1939) was born in London as Herman von de Vinck, the son of an immigrant Dutch musician. For over twenty years he conducted the orchestra at the Palace Theatre of Varieties, and he was musical director at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in the 1920s during the heyday of big musical successes such as Rose Marie and Show Boat. He composed a great deal of music for musical plays and revues, as well as short orchestral pieces. It was for a skipping-rope routine for the Palace Theatre’s troupe of John Tiller dancers that Finck composed the graceful little In the Shadows (1910), which went on to enjoy international success.
Arthur Wood (1875–1953) was born in the Yorkshire town of Heckmondwike, between Bradford and Dewsbury. He began his musical career as flautist and deputy conductor of the municipal orchestra in Harrogate under J Sidney Jones, father of the composer of The Geisha. This led to his becoming a London theatre conductor for some thirty years. Among the shows for which he was musical director was The Arcadians, whose overture he arranged from melodies by Lionel Monckton and Howard Talbot. As an original composer he was notable for orchestral suites that recalled his native county—among them My Native Heath (1925). Its first three movements are ‘Knaresboro’ Status’, ‘Ilkley Tarn’ and ‘Bolton Abbey’, and its fourth ‘Barwick Green‘. This last has endured thanks to having been used for almost half a century as the signature tune of the radio series The Archers. It is easy enough to appreciate its original conception as a portrayal of maypole dancing on the village green of Barwick-in-Elmet, east of Leeds.
One of few light music specialists whose name is universally recognized is Albert W Ketèlbey (1875–1959). Born in Aston, Birmingham, he was educated at Trinity College, London, where he studied piano, organ, cello, clarinet, oboe and horn. He was a church organist, theatre conductor and piano soloist before making his name with his own individual brand of exotically conceived descriptive compositions. Sanctuary of the Heart (1924) is described as a ‘méditation religieuse’ and typifies their extravagant orchestration and broad melody.
Percy Fletcher (1879–1932) was another musician of wide accomplishments. Born in Derby, he played violin, piano and organ and became conductor and orchestrator of theatre shows, including the long-running Chu Chin Chow. He was also a fine and prolific composer of music for voice, brass band (Epic Symphony) and orchestra. The swirling, exhilarating waltz Bal Masqué (1914) is one of his Two Parisian Sketches and remains one of the most perfect evocations of those seemingly enchanted days before the First World War.
Haydn Wood (1882–1959) was no relation of Arthur, but was another Yorkshireman—from Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield. He reputedly received his unusual first name because his father had just attended a performance of Haydn’s The Creation. Married to the soprano Dorothy Court, Wood achieved recognition first as a prolific composer of sentimental ballads that included Brown Bird Singing and, above all, Roses of Picardy. Responding to the fashion for light orchestral music that was such popular fare for radio broadcasts, he produced numerous popular orchestral suites. Among them was the London Landmarks suite (1946), the final movement of which is the march The Horse Guards, Whitehall. Like Arthur Wood’s Barwick Green, it became famous as the signature tune of a long-running radio show—in this case Down Your Way.
The master of the genre in which Haydn Wood came to specialize was undoubtedly Eric Coates (1886–1957), without whom no collection of British light music could possibly be complete. Coates’s technical accomplishment and his fund of refined melodies were remarkable. Born in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, he was educated at the Royal Academy of Music and was an orchestral violist before being forced to give up playing and concentrate on composition. Like Haydn Wood, he gravitated from finely crafted songs to elegant and always richly tuneful orchestral suites and other pieces of light music. Many were taken up as radio signature tunes, and never to greater effect than with the march Knightsbridge, the third movement of his London Suite (1933). Shortly after it was recorded the BBC began a new weekly feature programme entitled In Town Tonight, and the brass introduction to the march’s trio section made it a particularly effective signature tune. Oblivious of its difficulties for performers (notably the difficult staccato bowing for the first violins), the public took it to their hearts and overwhelmed the BBC with requests for the identity of the piece and its composer.
Charles Williams (1893–1978) was a Londoner who played the violin in concert, theatre and cinema orchestras before becoming a theatre and cinema musical director. His film experience led to composing and scoring music for many Gaumont–British films, and his Dream of Olwen for the 1947 film While I Live became a classic. He also composed a wealth of atmospheric pieces for the Chappell Recording Library, many of which gained wide familiarity from their use as radio and television signature tunes. Among these was the march Girls in Grey, which was used as theme tune for the BBC’s Television Newsreel.
Frederic Curzon (1899–1973) was another Londoner who brought similarly fine craftsmanship to his light music compositions. He studied violin, cello, piano and organ, became pianist in a London theatre orchestra, and by the age of twenty was conducting and composing for silent films. He eventually became head of the light music department of the publisher Boosey & Hawkes, dispensing valuable encouragement to would-be young composers. It was for this firm that he composed some outstandingly fine pieces, of which The Boulevardier appears on volume one. Another was the March of the Bowmen, the third movement of his Robin Hood Suite (1936).
Fred Hartley (1905–1991) was another who specialized in light music throughout his career. Born in Dundee, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music, toured as piano recitalist, played with Jack Hylton’s Kit-Kat Band, and formed his own ensemble to broadcast light music. From 1940 he was the BBC’s supervisor of light music. Of his original compositions, the best-known is Rouge et Noir, a will-o’-the-wisp evocation in waltz time of the red and black of the gaming table.
Like Edward Elgar, Benjamin Frankel (1906–1973) had aspirations as a serious composer. London-born, he composed eight symphonies, concertos for violin and viola and much other orchestral and chamber music; but he was also prolifically active in more popular forms. Whilst a student of piano and composition at The Guildhall School, he was playing as jazz violinist in night clubs, and during the 1930s was in demand as conductor and orchestrator for West End musical shows, including Noel Coward’s Operette. He composed over a hundred film scores, among them music for the 1950 film So Long at the Fair starring Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. The fair in question was the Paris Exhibition of 1889, and he subsequently brought together themes he used to capture journeys through the city into the concert piece Carriage and Pair.
Gilbert Vinter (1909–1969) was another versatile musician who was a choirboy at the cathedral in his native Lincoln, studied bassoon and cello at the Royal Military College of Music, and became professor of bassoon at the Royal Academy of Music. His career as composer and arranger developed while he was conductor of various RAF bands during the Second World War, after which he was with the BBC as conductor of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra. He composed much music for brass band, as well as fantasias on the melodies of various countries. It was the rhythms of one particular country that he captured especially effectively in the lively Portuguese Party.
Clive Richardson (1909–1998) was born in Paris of British parents and brought up in England. At the Royal Academy of Music he studied not only piano, orchestration and conducting but also organ, violin, clarinet, trumpet, trombone and timpani. He became active as pianist and arranger for various light orchestras as well as conductor for theatre revues of the 1930s and musical director for the singer Hildegard. In 1936 he joined Gaumont–British as assistant musical director, working alongside Charles Williams. He made his name as a composer with his London Fantasia, depicting London in wartime. His gift for light, bright, melodic pieces is well demonstrated by the relaxed Beachcomber (1949), depicting idle wandering along the sea-coast inspecting the debris washed up by the tide.
Edward White (1910–1994) was another Londoner. Largely self-taught, he became violinist in a trio and in various dance bands, performing also on saxophone and clarinet. He then became known as an arranger and, after service with the RAF, directed his own ballroom orchestra at the Grand Spa Hotel in Bristol. His atmospheric light music compositions proved ideally suited to the demand for ‘mood music’, among them Puffin’ Billy (see volume one) and The Runaway Rocking-Horse (1946) which is heard here.
Ronald Binge (1910–1979) was one of the most talented of British light music composers and, like Percy Fletcher, was a native of Derby. He worked his way from cinema organist, orchestral pianist and piano-accordionist to the position of arranger for the Mantovani Orchestra. As such he evolved the ‘cascading strings’ effect for which Mantovani became famous and which was just one of the products of the fertile mind of a serious student of orchestration. Two of his best-loved compositions were included on volume one, and another is his Sailing By (1963) which has become familiar to many as the closing music of the day on Radio 4, easing listeners gently towards their beds.
Another composer without whom no collection of British light music would be complete is Robert Farnon (1917–2005). His highly successful Peanut Polka (1951) was conceived as a follow-up to Jumping Bean, on volume one, while The Westminster Waltz (1956) became widely familiar as one of the linking themes for the radio programme In Town Tonight.
Robert Docker (1918–1992) was born in Paddington, London, and studied piano, viola and composition at the Royal Academy of Music between 1937 and 1941. After army service he took up freelance activities, becoming valued as a highly reliable pianist, composer, arranger and conductor. He was a particularly brilliant improviser at the piano. He broadcast a great deal, forming a two-piano duo with Edward Rubach for twelve years and becoming a familiar contributor to light music broadcasts right up to his death. Perhaps his most successful short piece was the sparkling Tabarinage (‘Buffoonery’), a sort of eccentric British view of the French can-can.
‘Trevor Duncan’ is a pen-name that hides the real identity of the composer who was born Leonard Trebilcock (from which he later dropped the final ‘ck’) in Camberwell, London in 1924. He had no formal musical training, but gained valuable experience as a sound engineer and later music producer with the BBC. The success of his light music compositions (which include a good deal of film music) encouraged him to leave the BBC in 1956 to devote himself full-time to composition. He achieved his greatest success when the March from his Little Suite (1960) was adopted as the signature tune for the BBC television series Dr Finlay’s Casebook.
Andrew Lamb © 1997
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