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I start, with appropriate chronological correctness, with one or two Victorians. The ballad composer, Maria Lindsay, otherwise Mrs J Worthington Bliss, was, in her day, especially known for her setting of The Bridge, to words by Longfellow. The sheet music, with its atmospheric cover of a wooden bridge, a river and a church in the background, doubtless sold many copies. Other Lindsay titles include Come Unto Me!, Excelsior (but Balfe’s famous setting retained its primacy), Far Away, Tired and Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead.

Meredith Ball was Musical Director at the Lyceum Theatre, whose activities as a conductor continued into the 20th Century. Like all, or nearly all, such musical directors, he composed too and we may instance his dance suite In Days Of Old, whose three movements were entitled Morris Dance, Danse (My Lady Barbara) and Satyrs Round.

Luigi Denza (1846-1922), who is known generally for just one song, Funiculi Funicula, which celebrated the inauguration of the railway up Vesuvius, is normally reckoned as an Italian. He was indeed born in Italy, but he settled in London and in fact died there, having in the interim become Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music (in 1898). His output includes an opera, Wallenstein, from his pre-London period (and unsuccessful), and 600 songs additional to his famous one, a large proportion of them composed and published in London to English words. Examples include Lily, Love in the Valley, Love’s Own Land, When We Are Young (a duet), Marguerite, A May Morning, A Rose Enchanted, Sing to Me, Call Me Back (1913) and Star of My Heart.

The Worcester Cathedral Organist between 1897 and 1950 and a great friend of Elgar, (Sir) Ivor Atkins (1869-1953) is often reckoned, if we think of him at all, as an editor and arranger (respectively e.g. with Elgar indeed, of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and of Elgar’s Severn Suite for organ). But I recently heard three Atkins songs, The Shepherdess, The Years at the Spring, and Elleen, which are very respectable examples of the drawing room ballad and as such worthy of occasional revival.

More recently (the 1950s, say) we have Harold Perry, arranger and composer of, for example, a Concerto for violin and orchestra and a piece for strings entitled Recreation.

Finally, for a few composers of music-hall songs. Even in their heyday these names had a low profile and only prolific ones, like perhaps George LeBrun, whom we have discussed previously, really had even a faint chance of competing in the public awareness with those who sang these songs. However it is surely, worth remembering the names of Alfred Lee (for Champagne Charlie) not to mention The Gainsboro’ Hat, The Man On The Flying Trapeze, The New Electric Light and Three Jolly Humbugs.

Joseph Tabrar (for Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow, also for He’s Sailing On the Briny Ocean, Dear Old Ned and Bid Me Goodbye For Ever) and Charles Tempest (for Arfa Pint of Ale). Such composers hardly challenge the eminence of Elgar or Vaughan Williams but the vigour of their, and their contemporaries', invention enriched the musical heritage of this country.

Philip L Scowcroft

December 2001

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

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