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Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


First we note two figures from the mid-Victorian period of the English light musical stage, one well-known, the other much less so. The latter is J.E. MALLANDAINE, who is of interest primarily because he combined composition with being the lessee of a theatre, the (New) Royalty, in 1871, producing his own show Paquita, there in that year. He had previously had his operettas Love's Limit and Sylvia staged there for brief runs in 1866. Sylvia was revived as late as 1879-80 but for a provincial run only. In 1873 Mallandaine provided some dance music for an English version of Offenbach's The Bohemians.

FREDERIC CLAY (1838-89) we have alluded to briefly in the 20th Garland, but this close friend of Arthur Sullivan deserves longer notice than he received there. He studied first with Molique, then (like Sullivan) at Leipzig. The son of an M.P., he was a civil servant, combining this for many years with composing. His first two operettas Pirate's Isle (1859) and Out of Sight (1861) were performed by amateurs, his first stage work for professionals being Court and Cottage (1862) and, described as an "opera", Constance (1865). Clay's first big success was Ages Ago, for German Reed's Gallery of Illustration and to words by W.S.Gilbert, which earned 350 performances in 1869 and was revived several times thereafter. Also for German Reed were In Possession (1871) and part of Babel and Bijou which achieved 160 performances. Other shows were The Bold Recruit (1868, revived 1870), The Gentleman in Black (1870), The Black Crook (Alhambra, 1872-3 where it had 204 performances), Oriana (1873), Catharina (1874), and Don Quixote (1876). Another collaboration with W.S.Gilbert, Princess Toto (1876), was, however, a disappointment even though an attempt was made to stage it across the Atlantic. However, Clay's last two shows, to words by G.R.Sims, achieved reasonable success; The Merry Duchess (1883, 177 performances at the Royalty) and The Golden Ring (1883-4, 105 performances at the Alhambra. His other compositions included incidental music, two cantatas and many songs. His best known song, and one still to be encountered today, I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby came, along with Still This Golden Lull from the cantata Lalla Rookh. Other well-known songs were She Wandered Down the Mountainside, The Sands of Dee, Gipsy John and Who Knows?

EDWARD GREGSON, born in 1945, has been associated for much of his career with wind or brass bands, though a considerable proportion of his output in these fields has been serious in character, like the Metamorphoses for wind, and Concerto Grosso and Connotations for brass band, not to mention concertos for tuba and, premiered early in 2000, violin. But he earns a place in these Garlands on account of his Prelude For an Occasion (brass band) and Festivo (wind band), which are both in the tradition of the British comedy overture. Besides these his brilliantly scored suites for concert band, The Sword and the Crown (1991) and The Kings Go Forth (1996) derive from incidental music written for Shakespeare plays. Gregson's musical career began with the Salvation Army before study at the Royal Academy of Music. Since 1995 he has been Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

MICHAEL DEWAR HEAD (1900-76), pianist and singer (he often combined both roles in broadcasts and elsewhere) earns a place here for his songs, which are often ballad-like in character and include such well-loved titles as Money-O, A Singer, A Piper, A Blackbird Singing, The Estuary and Foxgloves, though his output also included a number of mainly small-scale instrumental pieces, operettas and "operas" for children.

ANTHONY HEDGES (1931- ) was educated at Keble College, Oxford and pursued a teaching career at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and then, from 1963 to 1995, at Hull University. He was, and is, a prolific composer in all forms, much of his output being suitable for amateurs and/or maintaining the best traditions of British light music. Heigham Sound, Cleveland, Holiday Overture and (for brass) Saturday Market are examples of the British light overture, while An Ayrshire Serenade, Three Dance Miniatures, Four Breton Sketches, British Folk Song Suite, Four Miniature Dances For My Children, Scenes From the Humber, Kingston Sketches (which depict Hull, of course) and, for strings, Divertimento, formerly styled Four Diversions, are examples of the light concert suite.

Also associated with Hull because he was born there, was the organist/composer ALFRED HOLLINS (1865-1942) who was blind, but this did not stop him touring worldwide as a concert organist and holding down positions as an organist of an Edinburgh church and as a professor at the RNIB. Although he published songs, anthems and piano solos, his works are mainly for organ solo. These are mostly in lighter mode, being organ equivalents of what Edward German and, later, Eric Coates were writing at that period for the orchestra. They include the Concert Overtures in F Minor, C Major and C minor, the adorable A Song of Sunshine, Spring Song, Maytime (a gavotte), marches, elegies, "prayers" and sundry dances. Some of these movements remain popular with present-day organists.

Now for two composers who are more usually regarded as purveyors of serious music. Sir ARTHUR BLISS (1891-1975) made, like Elgar before him, many contributions to the light music scene, with film music (Things To Come, 1935, a landmark in that it was the first time an acknowledged great British serious composer had written a score for the cinema - Walton, Vaughan Williams, Ireland and the rest came later - Conquest of the Air, 1937, and Christopher Columbus, 1949), his marches (The Phoenix, Welcome the Queen and, of course, the concert version of Things To Come), music for brass and military band (Kenilworth and Call To Adventure) and even, despite occasional astringencies, his ballets Checkmate and Miracle in the Gorbals.

GORDON PERCIVAL SEPTIMUS JACOB, CBE (1895-1984) was a pupil of Parry, Stanford and Charles Wood at the Royal College of Music, a teacher and an authority on orchestration, but he wrote many pieces in lighter vein: the Havant Suite for full orchestra, the Denbigh Suite and Two Sketches (titled English Landscape and August Bank Holiday), both for strings, the orchestral comedy overture The Barber of Seville Goes to the Devil and another overture Fun Fare, written for the BBC Light Music Festival of 1959, the suites Tribute to Canterbury and Old Wine in New Bottles and the Celebration Overture, all for military band, some film music and a Suite in B Major and Prelude to Comedy, both for brass band. But best of all and probably best remembered by more people "of a certain age" there were his many arrangements of popular tunes for ITMA during 1939-45, and superbly inventive they were. Old Wine in New Bottles and his Passacaglia on a Well Known Tune ("Oranges and Lemons") also pursued this facet of his work.

MAURICE JOHNSTONE, born in Manchester in 1900, trained at the RMCM (later RNCM) and the Royal College of Music and pursued a career in musical administration, notably as secretary to Sir Thomas Beecham (1932-35), then with the BBC, becoming Head of North Region Music 1938-53 and Head of Music Programmes 1955-60. His classical arrangements - including one of Weber's Invitation to the Dance, were popular; his original compositions embraced songs, notably Dover Beach, and orchestral music, of which the "Cumbrian Rhapsody", Tarn Hows is especially attractive - I have enjoyed it ever since hearing an early performance at Sheffield under the composer in 1951 and it has (at last) been recorded, deservedly, in recent years. Johnstone's lighter music also included the bustling overtures Sea Dogs and Banners, a Ballade for saxophone and small orchestra, maybe inspired by Eric Coates' Saxo-Rhapsody and the marches for band, Pennine Way, County Palatine, Watling Street and Beaufighters. He also used the pseudonym DAVID BOWDEN. He died in 1976.

WILFRED JOSEPHS (1927-97) was very prolific and eclectic as a composer, his work list comprising twelve symphonies, string quartets, sonatas, concertos, songs and choral music, but much to be found in that list is light music: the comedy overture The Arts (1959), Monkchester Dances, Aelian Dances, Cottage Industry, a Concerto for Light Orchestra, a Battle of Britain Suite, commissioned in 1990, a ballet Cyrano de Bergerac, all for orchestra, Wry Rumbo for wind quintet, sundry musicals, including Man of Magic, issued under the pseudonym WILFRED WYLAM (he also used the name MAYNARD NELSON). Josephs wrote over 120 scores for the small and large screens, the latter including Rail (1967) and All Creatures Great and Small (1974, the former such prestigious productions as The British Empire, The Great War, Swallows and Amazons, Cider With Rosie, The Pallisers and I Claudius.

BRYAN KELLY, born in 1934, was educated at the Royal College of Music and later studied with Nadia Boulanger. His eclectic style, rather Gallic in feel, is well suited to the writing of light music. His Provence Overture, Divertimento, the march, Washington D.C. and the Edinburgh Dances were composed for brass band, Capriccio attractively so for wind quintet. His many lighter orchestral pieces include the overtures The Dancing Master, Latin Quarter, Sancho Panza and San Francisco, an Oxford Scherzo, Comedy Film for Orchestra and the suites Calypso's Isle, Four Realms, Irish Dances, The Tempest, Left Bank and the Cuban Suite, which was premiered at a BBC Light Music Festival. His instrumental solo compositions include Three Bagatelles (Parisian Scene, On the Seine and Bohemian Dance) for piano.

FREDERICK JAMES KEEL (1871-1954) was a baritone singer, editor of folk songs and of Elizabethan songs and a composer of songs, many of which were ballads: nautical ones - two sets of Salt Water Ballads, from which Triple Winds became perhaps the most popular song, plus A Sea Burthen and The Ship of Rio; and others of which we may give as examples Dainty Little Maiden, Lullaby, Entreaty, Remembrance and There Sits a Bird.

We conclude this baker's dozen of British light music composers with ALAN LANGFORD, who is no relation of Gordon Langford (Alan's real name is ALAN OWEN), born in 1908 and for many years a BBC music producer. His well respected light music miniatures include Three Amusements, Little French Suite, Trio: Three Dance Contrasts, Riding High, Petite Promenade, the overture Two Worlds, Dance for a Square, Chanson Populaire and Chanson du Café Triste, all for full orchestra, a Romanza, Waltz, Pizzicato Perpetuo and Pastoral Scherzetto, all for strings, the Bagatelle for bassoon and strings and a quantity of incidental music for radio features.

Philip L Scowcroft

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount



Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.

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