Classical MusicWeb

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


We begin this time with two British women composers, the first in particular respected and indeed celebrated in her day. DOROTHY HOWELL (1898-1982), born in Birmingham is now buried in the same churchyard as Elgar, at St. Wulstan's, Malvern. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music between 1914 and 1919 where she later taught for 46 years prior to 1970. Her Piano Concerto in D Minor, much praised, and a symphonic poem, Lamia, were performed at the Henry Wood Proms when she was still in her twenties. Her Phantasy in G Minor and Sonata in F Minor, both for violin and piano, achieved success and she also published some church music. But much of her output is light in style, and she did write tunes. The orchestral Three Divertisements (1940, not performed until 1950) and the much earlier ballet Koong Shee (1923) enjoyed some popularity as did sundry unison and two part songs suitable for children as are the (piano) Pieces For the Bairns. Shorter pieces, for violin and piano, like Rosalind and Moorings, for solo piano (e.g. Spindrift, with its beautifully transparent texture, Humoresque (this was orchestrated) and Alla Mazur) and for two pianos - Mazurka and the Recuerdos Preciosos (Precious Memories) are all approachable and reckonable as light. The Christmas Eve suite of 1927 is performable either by string orchestra or string quartet.

DORA ESTELLA BRIGHT (1863-1951), Sheffield-born, was another who had serious intentions as a composer. She produced operas, two piano concertos and much else, also, on the lighter side, many ballets, the Suite Bretonne for flute and orchestra, performed at the Proms, a Suite de Ballet and some Russian Dances, a Polka a la Strauss for violin and piano and songs, including Six Jungle Book Songs. She was a devotee of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. After marrying a veteran of the Crimean War she lived in rural Somerset.

The World of light music is full of pseudonyms and one must tread carefully, otherwise one finds oneself writing a mini-biography of a fictitious person! The name ELSIE APRIL sounds like a pseudonym but if so, I have not yet discovered who (s)he was in reality. Her works included a suite, The Village Green, orchestrated by Sydney Baynes, and ballads, among them Here Lies a Vagabond.

One violinist/composer worth a brief mention is PHILIP CATHIE, born in 1874, who studied at the Royal Academy of Music where he was later professor of violin. He apparently conducted in a number of London theatres and led the Beecham Symphony Orchestra for a time. His compositions included the violin solo Morceau: A Memory. His brother George conducted orchestras at Llandudno, Buxton and Blackpool, but I know of no compositions by him.

Another violinist was FREDERICK KING-HALL, originally Frederick King. Taking up a theme of a recent Garland, he was, up to around 1918, leader of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra and particularly active as a composer: several overtures, Despedida for strings, a Romance for violin and orchestra and a suite appropriate to Bournemouth, Three Holiday Sketches.

One Woman composer who was especially popular to Bournemouth was EDITH SWEPSTONE - fourteen of her works were performed (24 performances in all), many of them tone poems and perhaps "serious" in intent but a few others seem lighter in aim: a couple of marches and the suite The Four Ships.

To complete this Garland we may add yet another composer encouraged by Dan Godfrey (all those discussed here, except Elsie April, were) in the shape of ERNEST HALSEY, who had an overture, his Suite de ballet and some Variations on Charlie is My Darling performed there in around 1908.

Philip L. Scowcroft

April 2000

E-mail enquiries (but NOT orders) can be directed to Rob Barnett at

Return to:   index page
                              Classical Music on the Web