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Many people think of Healey Willan (1880-1968) as Canadian as he spent the last 55 years of his life "over the water". At least as many remember only his (admittedly fine) organ works. But he was born in England and also there are a number of his pieces reckonable as light music songs (he set Drake’s Drum, like Stanford before him and others, too, plus many to French words and settings of Canadian folk songs). His lighter works include the Royal Hall Suite, for concert band; and orchestral pieces, the Overture to an Unwritten Comedy (1951), possibly in the British "comedy overture" tradition, a Coronation March (1937), Royal Salute (1959) and Centennial March (1967).

At one time many composers wrote incidental music for radio plays and other features. There are fewer such now – television is so much more popular a medium – but one I have noticed is Simon Fraser, who wrote music for a recent Radio 3 play The Conquest of the South Pole.

Three more "singletons", now, from the Edwardian musical stage: Frank Leo, composer of Percy the Lady Killer, a musical farce, toured in 1903 (the "Percy" was later dropped from the title); Osborne Roberts, composer of comic opera The Island of Pharos (toured in 1904) and Vincent Exley, conductor and composer of The Treasure Island, toured in 1905.

Finally for a march composer, William Thomas Hughes (1888-1974), a serving soldier until 1924, when he formed his own military band and light orchestra. A professor of tuba at the Royal College of Music during the 1930s, he composed in all about 30 marches, including Clarin Cat, Espana, To Your Guard, Wings Over Britain, Along the Mall, The Guards Colours, The Queen’s Musicians, For Valour, Hyde Park and Gallant Pioneers (Hughes served in the Pioneers during the Second World War).

Philip L Scowcroft

June 2001

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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