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Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


We start with six figures connected in various ways with the theatre. Recently we promised a summary of the career of Lionel John Alexander Monckton (1861-19240, educated at Charterhouse and Oxford University and called to the bar in 1885. He wrote dramatic and music criticism until his musical theatre career took off. This began with a single song for the George Edwardes burlesque Cinder-Ella (1891). He continued to compose for Edwardes, at first often in collaboration with Ivan Caryll (as in The Circus Girl, A Runaway Girl and Our Miss Gibbs) then, often, with Howard Talbot (see later), especially in The Arcadians (1909) and The Mousme (1912). Altogether he contributed to over 20 musicals, of which The Country Girl (1902) and The Quaker Girl (1910), among others, appear to be more or less "all his own work". Those two and The Arcadians remained popular until the late 20th Century at least with amateur societies. Monckton's gift for writing striking melodies like "Soldiers in the Park", often called "Listen to the Band", from A Runaway Girl, coupled with his strong self-criticism, made his work stand out in the generally highly entertaining Edwardian musical theatre. He was married to the singer Gertie Millar, who inspired some of his best numbers.

Howard Talbot (1865-1928) was born in America, as Richard Lansdale Munkittrick, but was educated and domiciled in London. He was a capable conductor and contributed music to around 17 musicals, three of which - A Chinese Honeymoon (1901), The Arcadians and The Boy (1917), the latter two co-composed with Lionel Monckton, a regular collaborator as we have seen, all ran for over 800 performances.

Alfred Paul Rubens (1875-1917) was both lyricist and composer and was successful on the English musical stage. The longest running musical comedies for which he wrote at least some of the music were The Toreador (1901), Miss Hook of Holland (1907), later especially popular with amateur societies, Tonight's The Night (1914) and Betty (1915).

Norman Houston O'Neill (1875-1934) was one of the Frankfurt School, the other members of whom were Quilter, Cyril Scott, Balfour Gardiner and Percy Grainger and was best known in his own day for his incidental theatre music, over 50 scores for plays from Shakespeare to J.M.Barrie (the Prelude and Call from Mary Rose became popular in the concert hall) and Maeterlinck (dances from The Blue Bird were performed at Henry Wood Proms). His works included ballets and many orchestral items: Two Shakespeare Sketches, Variations on an Irish Air, the suite A Fairy Tale, Festal Prelude and the overtures In Springtime and In Autumn, also songs and piano music. He died following a street accident (in the same year as Elgar, Holst and Delius died); his wife taught music at St Paul's Girls' School, where Holst also taught.

Alexander Galbraith ("Sandy") Wilson, born in 1924, educated at Harrow and Oxford University, contributed songs to sundry West End shows before achieving success with the 1920s spoof musical The Boy Friend (1953-4, later revived and filmed). Other productions like The Buccaneer (1953), Valmouth (1958), Pieces of Eight (1959), Aladdin (1979) and Divorce Me Darling were not as successful, but his music for the TV series The World of Wooster did well.

Julian Slade (1930- ) was at first an actor, then, from 1953, Musical Director with the Bristol Old Vic for which he wrote (all the music and most of the lyrics) for his most durable show, Salad Days (1954: 2283 performances, subsequently revived and televised), wonderfully fresh in its invention and well in the British stage musical tradition. Free As Air (1957) also did well, but Follow That Girl (1960), Hooray For Daisy (1960), Wildest Dreams (1961), Vanity Fair (1962), Nutmeg and Ginger (1963) and Trelawny (1972) much less so. When an undergraduate at Cambridge Slade wrote his first two musicals, for the ADC Theatre there; later he provided musical versions of The Duenna (Sheridan) and, in 1956, The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare) and music for a staged version of Winnie The Pooh.

Walter Hedgecock (1964-1932) was born in Brighton. An organist, he became in 1903 Musical Director at Crystal Palace (he died shortly after playing the organ there). His works included church music and, on the lighter side, orchestral pieces (overtures and a Suite de Ballet) and ballads: Mighty Warriors, Sleep My Saviour Sleep and two set more famously by others, Drake's Drum and On the Road to Mandalay. Another organist was William Wolstenholme (1865-1931), blind like Yorkshireman Alfred Hollins (Wolstenholme was Lancashire-born) and like Hollis a concert organist. Many of his organ solos reflected his desire to entertain audiences: two Concert Overtures, Barcarolle in C, The Question and the Answer and an Allegretto, later transcribed for viola and piano by Lionel Tertis. His friendship wwith Elgar was a source of strength to him.

Finally another musician known as much as a conductor. Gilbert Vinter, born in Lincoln in 1909 (he died, rather young, in 1969), trained at Kneller Hall and the Royal Academy. After wartime RAF service he became Conductor of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, then of the BBC Concert Orchestra and his own concert band. He was however also a prolific composer, medleys of traditional melodies, the well known Portuguese Party, the light overtures Mr Know-All and Overture to a New Venture, Jeune Fille, Serenade for Caroline, Mists of Illusion, the Song-Dance Suite, the bassoon solos The Playful Pachyderm and Reverie (he himself played the bassoon) and Hunter's Moon for horn and orchestra. Besides these orchestral works, there were the Miniatures for wind quintet, The Chantyman and The Cobbers' March for military band and much for brass band, although this often comprised major pieces not infrequently used as test pieces. Sometimes their thematic invention lacks individuality, but Vinter's music is always well constructed and finely orchestrated.

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.

E-mail enquiries (but NOT orders) can be directed to Rob Barnett at

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