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It seems odd for me to include as British the name of (Henry Louis) Reginald de Koven (1859-1920), as he was born, died and largely worked in the United States. He was however educated in Europe, taking his degree at St John's College, Oxford (in 1879) and studying music in France and Italy. Back in the States he was Conductor of the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra (1902-4), a critic and a prolific composer. His works, many of which show an awareness of English literature, include 19 operettas - The Begum, Don Quixote, Robin Hood (1890, and most famously), The Fencing Master, The Knickerbockers, The Algerian, Rob Roy, The Tzigane, The Mandarin, The Paris Doll, The Highwayman, The Tree Dragons and, after 1900, Red Feather (1903), Happyland (1905), The Student King (1906), The Golden Butterfly (1907), The Beauty Spot (1909), The Wedding Trip (1911), and Her Little Highness (1913) - two "grand" operas, The Canterbury Pilgrims (1917, New York Met) and Rip Van Winkle (Chicago, 1920), a Piano Sonata, 400 songs, including A Winter Lullaby, Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred? (from The Merchant of Venice), Cradle Song, A Ferry for Shadow-Time, Recessional and a version of Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, which was for many years a party piece of the Thurnscoe Harmonic Male Voice Choir, from South Yorkshire. There are also a number of light orchestral miniatures: a dance intermezzo, By Moonlight, a tarantella, Foxy Quiller and Tête à Tête. When Robin Hood was transferred to the London stage for a three month run in 1891 under the title Maid Marian, there were extracted from it a Crusaders' March, a Saracen Patrol and a Danse Champêtre as well as Brown October Ale, a number for Little John, and an Armourers' Song but its most famous song and de Koven's most enduring composition, was O Promise Me, sung in the show by Allan-a-Dale and long in demand as a song for weddings and once recorded on a piano roll by the composer.

Now for two composers for the recorded music libraries around 1950. With "library music" the same piece often had at least two different titles. So it was with the two examples we quote by Ken Morris, Running Commentary, retitled Showbiz Commentary, and Strings and Wings (Treasure Hunt). And Michael Sarsfield is worth a mention for his Casanova Melody (otherwise called Lovers) used in the film The Third Man.

A new (well, new to me) name in music for TV is Chris Whitten, whose latest score is that for the BBC musical documentary series Superhuman.

Herbert Murrill (1909-52) is usually reckoned a serious composer, being remembered, if at all, for his chamber music, cello concertos (two of them) and church music but in fact quite a proportion of his output was light or lightish. For orchestra, Three Hornpipes, the Set of Country Dances for strings, eight of them in just eleven minutes, and Portuguese Rumba; for piano solo, Caprice on Two Norfolk Folk Tunes, Play for Pleasure (children's pieces) and Presto Alla Giga;. His opera, Man in Cage, was composed when he was still a student at Worcester College, Oxford, and shows some jazz influence. There is also a ballet, Picnic; and incidental music for stage plays (including Shakespeare's Richard III and J.B. Priestley's Music at Night), radio (e.g. Noah) and documentary films (And So To Work and The Daily Round). Murrill was, for a few years after leaving Oxford, a schoolteacher, then, from 1936 to 1952 - apart from the years 1942-6 which were spent on war service - he worked for the BBC.

Finally we have Marie Dare (1902-c.1980), a cello teacher in Edinburgh, who produced a quantity of music for strings and for educational purposes: arrangements, a Menuet for double bass and piano, Le Lac for viola and piano, Serenade and Valse in G for cello and piano and the Three Highland Sketches (Mist on the Fens, Sea Loch and Strathspey and Reel) and Five Scottish Airs for string orchestra. Her songs include the ballad-like When My Love Comes.

Philip L Scowcroft

November 2000


Enquiries to Philip at

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

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