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A SEVENTEENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS
These garlands have included several names more notable for their 'serious' than for their 'light' music. Three more such which come to mind are Tristram Cary (born 1925), who is known for his experiments with electronic music and who has for a long time now lived in Australia, Cedric Thorpe Davie (1913-83), a pupil of Vaughan Williams at the RCM and later an organist and Professor of Music (at St Andrews University) noted for his Scottish-flavoured compositions and particularly his music for The Three Estates, written for the 1949 Edinburgh Festival, and Buxton Daeblitz Orr (born in Glasgow in 1924, died 1997) who made his name with many essays in the music theatre field. Orr composed for brass bands, but his essays in this direction, so far as my recollection goes, are concertos, for trumpet and trombone and therefore 'serious'. So far as light music goes the common factor between these three is their work for films, although we can point to one or two other lighter pieces. Orr, a capable conductor as well as a composer, in fact studied with Benjamin Frankel, himself a very considerable writer in the film music genre - even though by no means all of Frankel's work for the cinema can really be reckoned as 'light' - and the films he wrote for include The Haunted Strangler, First Men Into Space, Corridors of Blood, Suddenly Last Summer and Walk a Tightrope. But Orr, whose 'serious' compositional style varied between an approachable 12-note idiom and a Britten-type tonality, also wrote TV and theatre music, plus, for orchestra, a Bulgarian Suite and a Celtic Suite and, for concert band, a John Gay Suite.
Davie's film music included that for Snowbound, The Brothers, Rob Roy, The Green Man, The Night Fighters, Jacqueline, The Dark Avenger (entitled The Warriors in the USA), and the 1959 version of Kidnapped. His lighter compositions also included a march Royal Mile, arrangements of old Scottish songs and incidental music for radio plays and features. Cary's films included A Twist of Sand, Time Without Pity, Town on Trial and A Boy Ten Feet Tall, but for me his most famous film was his first, The LadyKillers (1956), black comedy applied to organised crime, from which he has recently arranged a suite for a recording on compact disc. His other lighter scores embraced a number for TV and, in the later 1950s and early 1960s, radio.
Other composers for the large screen included John Greenwood (born in 1889), active in this field either side of the Second World War, in such titles as The Constant Nymph (with Eugene Goossens), Broken Journey and Elephant Boy. Some of his films yielded concert material: a suite from Men of Aran and the Pimpernelle Waltz (from Mr Pimpernelle Smith). He too produced background music for radio, plus the suites The House That Jack Built and Six Luxembourg Songs. Another film composer was Allan Gray, born in Poland in 1904 but who flourished largely in England between the 1930s and 1960s and who should not be confused with Allan Gray (1855-1930), Cambridge-based, Yorkshire-born composer of church music and cantatas, nor with Barry Gray composer of the theme music for ATV's 'The Thunderbirds', The Merry Matelot for piano solo etc. His films included Madness of the Heart, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The African Queen and Mr Perrin and Mr Traill, based on the novel by Hugh Walpole, from which a movement entitled Proposal was extracted for concert use. Other light concert music by him included a suite Emil and the Detectives derived from a German film of 1931 and the individual genre movements Catalina, Vive Le Polka, Pipe Dreams and Gorgeous Hussy. Malcolm Lockyer who for many years conducted his own Concert Orchestra, wrote music for the films Ten Little Indians (a version of Agatha Christie's crime novel 'Ten Little Niggers', or as some people now prefered to style it 'And Then There Were None'), The Night of the Big Heat and The Vengeance of Fu-Manchu. Music from the first two achieved publication but best remembered of Lockyer's compositions is The Pathfinders, a march of TV provenance. John Woolridge was active in films in the 1950s; his scores included Edward My Son, Count Five and Die and the popular Battle of Britain feature Angels One Five, which at its denouement quoted the Walford Davies/George Dyson RAF March Past.
Moving away from films, I first encountered the name of P Beechfield Carver as a transcriber of Elgar - Adieu, Serenade and Serenade Lyrique - for military band. (Carver was a Royal Marines bandmaster). However I was pleased to notice recently that he had also produced a number of light genre pieces with delightful titles like the 'characteristic novelty' The Tipperary Twist and the 'pizzicato interlude', The Penguins' Picnic, also a Maltese Rhapsody.
I encountered the music of Archy Rosenthal (born 1874) for the first time quite recently when his charming Petite Valse was played in a Doncaster piano recital in 1997 by BMS member,s pianist Jeffrey Lague. Rosenthal was Irish and his light miniatures for piano do indeed include a Dublin Reel, as well as several other waltzes like Fetes: Valse Viennoise, Valse Sentimentale and the 'valse symphonique' Nuits de Vienne. Jeffrey Lague himself, born in 1948, is also a candidate for this Garland; in this same recital I enjoyed his light genre movements Berceuse and Spanish Serenade, while he is presently (1997) at work on a suite inspired by flowers, thus reflecting the influence of Billy Mayerl - who also found botanic inspiration of course - but in his less exuberantly syncopated manner. Next among light music composers for the pianoforte is Georg Marcel, who published a number of miniatures with Banks and Son of York during the years after the Second World War and whose titles (Babau, described as a 'march surprise', Butterflies' Holiday, Glittering Stars, Moon Daisies, Piccaninny Frolics, Rose Leaves and Sea Shells), suggest that 'George Marcel' was a pseudonym and that he was British. Further information is being sought and would be welcomed; has my friend Bill Marsh comes across him I wonder?
Finally, so far(!), among these pianist light music composers we can bring forward the name of Leo Livens, born in 1896, who was Professor of the Piano at the RAM from 1922 and who produced many genre pieces for piano solo, although he also wrote a Piano Sonata in C Major, some chamber music, orchestral pieces and a ballet Alnaschar. Even Livens' Three Studies had picturesque titles - The Naiads, Heat Waves and A Hailstorm - while other piano publications included Flying Moments, Sunset, The Hobby Horse, Seven Impressions, Four Preludes, Harebell, Peter Piper, Little Star, Tanta (In The Native Quarters) and Zagazig (Egyptian Dance). The last two titles at least suggest familiarity with the miniatures of Albert Ketèlbey. I myself have twice recently heard a cleverly worked setting by Livens of the nursery rhyme Sing A Song of Sixpence.
© Philip L. Scowcroft.
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