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I begin with two composers who collaborated in one musical, The Gay Pretenders, which managed a mere 49 performances at the Globe Theatre in 1900. They were Claud Nugent, born in 1867, whose only significant effort this was, and Walter Rubens, brother of Paul (1875-1917) who composed many musicals, notably The Toreador and Miss Hook of Holland. Walter contributed songs to two of his brother’s shows, Great Caesar (1899) and the much more successful Three Little Maids (1902) as well as to Arthur Godfrey’s Little Miss Nobody in 1898. Walter however was a stockbroker by profession and as a composer was no more than a dilettante.

Now for some more late Victorian composers for the musical stage. Two were "singletons": J S Baker, with June, or a Night’s Folly, toured in 1898; and Frank Congden, with The Little Duchess, toured in the previous year. Two others were also conductors in the theatre: Henry Vernon, who composed the comic opera Sir Jack o’Lantern, toured in 1892 and the musical The President, or The Republic of Tucatan, toured four years later; and Thomas Hunter who had no fewer than four pieces produced, again all in the provinces – Claudio (1889). The Tourist, or Here, There and Everywhere (1895), Sport, or The Queen’s Bounty (1896) and jointly with Sidney Shaw, Odd Man Out (1897). None of the figures I mention this time were more than "helots" of the British musical stage; but its "commanding officers" were few and far between.

I end with a composer who was not British, even by residence. Georges Auric (1899-1983) was in fact archetypically French, being the youngest member of "Les Six" in the 1920s, passing from that to compose ballets, a Piano Concerto and a Piano Sonata. Yet the scores he wrote for Ealing films of the late 1940s and early 1950s capture to perfection the essential "English" quality of those screen classics, among them Lavender Hill Mob, Passport to Pimlico and – marvellous "train music" – The Titfield Thunderbolt.

Philip L Scowcroft

August 2001

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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