One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


We begin this offering with a consideration of Arnold Wilfred Allen Foster, born in Sheffield in 1896 and who died in 1963. He studied at the Royal College of Music with Vaughan Williams and there became interested in folk music. Most of his compositions, which were put together contemporaneously with a career in musical education (at Westminster School and, later, at Morley College and London University), were folk based. Perhaps his Piano Concerto County Dance Tunes (1930) is not light music (although this is pretty arguable) but many of his other-titles may certainly be reckoned as such. These include a ballad opera in three acts, Lord Bateman (1948-56), many settings of Manx and Somerset folk songs for voices and two suites for voice(s) and orchestra, Tyrolean Scenes and The Fairy Isle, again based on Manx tunes. For orchestra he wrote a ballet Midsummer Eve, the Autumn Idyll, Celtic Dances, an Idyll (based on an Appalachian folk song), the Playford Suite, Morris Dance Tunes, Country Dance Figure 8, Welsh Reel and, in my experience quite the most popular, the Suite on English Folk Airs. In most of these cases the orchestra is a small one, often of strings only.

Antony Fenton Fonts (1919-97) was born in Wansted (Surrey) and first made a career by playing the piano and other instruments, but his name was eventually made as a copyist and an arranger, especially after the Second World War, first with Chappell's, then with the BBC, for whom he produced countless arrangements for 'Friday Night is Music Night' and other programmes but he also penned a number of original compositions, of which Singapore Girl and Alla Romano reflected his love of foreign travel.

John Harle, born in 1956, is well known as a fine saxophonist for whom many leading "serious" composers have specially written compositions. Harle, educated at the Royal College of Music and later a Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama is also well known as an arranger (he published a book of pieces from all musical periods arranged for sax and piano in 1986) and as a composer for films and TV, most notably for the recent (I write in March 1998) "docu-soap" Doctors' Orders.

Now for two other instrumentalist composers of light music, both of them harmonica players. Larry Adler (1914 -) is an American by birth but one who has been permanently domiciled in London following persecution by anti-Communist extremists in the 1940s. His qualities as a virtuoso have been recognised by Cyril Scott, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Arthur Benjamin, Malcolm Arnold and others who have written compositions for him. But he is himself a composer for this instrument both for the concert hall (e.g. Theme and Variations) and for films: A High Wind in Jamaica (1965), King and Country (1965), The Hook (1963) and - much the most famously of all - Genevieve (1953), whose main tune is one of the best remembered of film themes by anyone. In 1953 Adler was still persona non grata in the U.S. and the American release of Genevieve credited the music to MD Muir Matheson.

Tommy Reilly (1919- ) is another who is Transatlantic by birth, Canadian this time; his fellow Canadian Robert Farnon is among those who have composed music for him. His own compositions, like those of Adler, embrace work for films (also T.V. and radio) and concert pieces of which a Serenade has been recorded.

Two more ballad composers which we have not so far mentioned are Alan Murray (1890-1952), the composer most famously of I'll Walk Beside You, though other titles include Too Tired to Sleep, The Wandering Player and Love is the Star. At least a generation earlier than Murray was Henry Trotere (whose real name, unsurprisingly, was Henry Trotter) (1855-1912), composer of dance music and ballads like My Old Shako, I Did Not Know, In Old Madrid and, most popularly, The Deathless Army.

We wind up this Garland with six more TV and film composers. George Fenton, born in 1950, is very experienced in this respect, with prestigious large screen titles like Shadowlands, Gandhi, The Woodlanders and The Madness of King George III and popular small screen series like The Jewel in the Crown, Bergerac and Shoestring. Of these Gandhi and The Jewel convey the grand manner remarkably well. So indeed does Geoffrey Burgon (1941- ) in his title music for Brideshead Revisited which is one of the truly well known pieces of TV music, its memorability approaching that of Coates' best radio themes. It was not, of course, Burgon's only TV score; others include the two Dickens ones Martin Chuzzlewit and Bleak House, and Testament of Youth and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. He is interested in jazz and is in other respects not exclusively a "light music" composer - for example, he has written much church music - but several of his other concert hall titles fall within the "light" category: Elizabeth Davies and Divertimento, both for brass, Lullaby, Aubade and Toccata, all for trumpet and piano and the group of seven piano pieces entitled From the Insect World. Alan Lisk was given the task of composing incidental music for ITV's prestigious Tess of the D'Urbervilles (March 1998), though use was apparently made of traditional material.

Ron Goodwin (1929-) prolifically combines film and TV music and compositions for the concert hall. His concert music includes both "thematic" suites like Drake 400, Armada 400 and the New Zealand Suite and individual genre movements like The Headless Horseman, City Serenade, Shuffling String, Venus Waltz, Minuet in Blue, Puppet Serenade, Girl With a Dream, Arabian Celebration, commissioned by the BBC, and the Prisoners of War March. But better known than most of those are the concert arrangements of his film music; in particular those marches from the aviation spectaculars The Battle of Britain (Goodwin largely superseded Walton in providing the music for this film and his music is effective if not of course in comparison to Walton's), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and 633 Squadron. Other films for which Goodwin was booked included the Agatha Christie adaptations Murder She Wrote (and other Margaret Rutherford "Miss Marple" films) and The Alphabet Murders, the World War II thriller Force Ten From Navarone and Where Eagles Dare plus I'm All Right Jack, Whirlpool and The Day of the Triffids. Goodwin's direct, tuneful music undoubtedly has appeal and his work, for whatever medium is most worthily in the British light music tradition.

Another Ron, Ron Grainer, (1922-81), was born in Australia but composed much of his music in England, His film scores included A Kind of Loving, Lock Up Your Daughters, Giants of Steam and The Finest Hours (the Churchill March from this achieved an almost Goodwin-like success). For TV he wrote title music for Doctor Who and Steptoe and Son; he also achieved success on the light musical stage with Robert and Elizabeth (1964: about the Brownings, of course), On the Level (1966) and Nickleby and Me, inspired of course by Charles Dickens (1975).

Nigel Hess, surprisingly, we have not previously noticed. He studied at Cambridge University and worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company 1981-5 (another stage success for him was the musical Rats!). Television has recently been an outlet for his gift for writing memorable tunes - Wycliffe, Maigret, Dangerfield, A Woman of Substance, Just William (a catchy, 1930s style, signature tune) and Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, whose title music has been taken up by brass bands, unsurprisingly, as has Phillip McCann, a noted figure in the band world, plays the cornet solo on TV. The only concert music by Hess that I know of is his piece Stephenson's Rocket, for wind band, commissioned by the North Herts Concert Band; interestingly the latest Hetty Wainthropp episode (I write in March 1998 which was set on the preserved East Lancashire Railway, was another opportunity for Hess to write "train music".

© Philip L. Scowcroft.




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

Return to:   index page
                              Classical Music on the Web