The Music of CHARLES WILLIAMS
BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA
conducted by BARRY WORDSWORTH
BELLS OF ST. CLEMENTS
DREAM OF OLWEN
THE NIGHT HAS EYES
VOICE OF LONDON
THE MUSIC LESSON
GIRLS IN GREY
DESTRUCTION BY FIRE
THE OLD CLOCKMAKER
THROUGH THE YEARS
RHYTHM ON RAILS
SALLY TRIES THE BALLET
Sanctuary – White Line CD WHL 2151
At long last a CD of new recordings of compositions by Charles Williams has finally been released. For many years Light Music enthusiasts have been eagerly anticipating an event like this, particularly because such an issue was virtually ‘promised’ by Marco Polo around ten years ago when they launched their splendid series of British Light Music recordings.
For various reasons, that project never came to fruition, but happily this yawning gap in the repertoire of modern recordings of light music has finally been filled with this splendid new CD from the Sanctuary Group in their prestigious White Line series.
A glance at the list of titles above will confirm that many of Williams’ most famous works have been included, although inevitably some collectors will miss certain old favourites. The problem is that a prolific composer such as Williams really needs a series of several CDs to do him full justice, and many of his other works, not generally available commercially, can be obtained by Robert Farnon Society members through the RFS Record Service.
Before looking at this CD in more detail, it is appropriate to remind ourselves about this genius of Light Music. Charles Williams was born ‘Isaac Cozerbreit’ in London on 8 May 1893; he died on 7 September 1978 at his home in Findon Valley, near Worthing, Sussex. In his busy musical career he became one of Britain's most prolific composers of light music. He can also accurately be described as a pioneer in the use of music by the British film industry, having worked on the very first all-sound movie made in this country, Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 production "Blackmail".
His father, who arrived in England from Poland as a young boy, was a travelling singer whose repertoire embraced liturgical, choral and operatic music. He chose ‘Charles Williams’ as his stage name, and his son Isaac legally adopted it in 1915.
Young Charles's formal musical studies at the Royal Academy were interrupted by the first world war and in 1915 he joined the army. When hostilities were over he resumed his musical career and found himself much in demand as a violinist, leading for Sir Landon Ronald, Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Edward Elgar. He featured on a number of their recordings, and was also a member of the J.H. Squire Octet.
Like many of his contemporaries, Charles Williams accompanied silent films, and he became conductor of the orchestra at the New Gallery Cinema in Regent Street, London. His early association with Hitchcock resulted in commissions from him for further films during the 1930's. He also worked (although not always credited) as composer or conductor (or both) on many notable British features, including the Will Hay comedies, 'Kipps', 'The Young Mr Pitt', 'The Way To The Stars' and the Robert Donat version of 'The Thirty Nine Steps'. In total he is reputed to have been involved with at least 100 films.
The famous music publishers Chappells decided to establish their own Recorded Music Library in 1942, and Teddy Holmes invited Charles Williams to conduct their Queen's Hall Light Orchestra for these 78s, specially made for use by radio, film and newsreel companies. Williams himself composed many of the early works in the library; he became a master of the art of conveying a particular mood within a few seconds of music. At this time the orchestra used to record on Saturday mornings at the EMI Studios in Abbey Road, and the Chappell Mood Music Library quickly grew to become the finest in the world.
Charles Williams made many 78rpm records for EMI's Columbia label, both with his own Concert Orchestra and also conducting the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra. Depending upon the requirements of the score, his recording orchestra would number up to fifty players - typically 8 violins, 6 second violins, 5 violas. 4 cellos, 2 basses, 4 french horns, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, oboe, bassoon, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, harp, percussion and piano.
During the 1940's light music was very popular on the radio, so Charles Williams was called upon to record many of the catchy numbers that took the public's fancy. He was also a respected film composer, so he naturally included some of own his music for the cinema. In some cases, notably 'Dream of Olwen' this became more popular than the film itself.
Numerous Williams compositions became familiar signature tunes. To this day BBC Radio-2 uses his 'High Adventure' to introduce 'Friday Night Is Music Night'.
There is no doubt that Charles Williams was one of the giants of British light music of the 20th century. This collection of new recordings will allow new generations of music lovers to appreciate his genius. The compilers of this new CD have rewarded true CW fans with several pieces they are unlikely to possess already, since they come from non-Chappell sources. These include ‘Model Railway’ (from Boosey & Hawkes) and ‘Cutty Sark’ (Bosworth). CW’s first big success as a composer is also remembered through ‘Blue Devils’ – he wrote this around 15 years before he became such a prolific contributor to the Chappell Recorded Music Library. Keen eyes will notice some other less familiar titles, which all helps to make up an exceptional recording.
The CD cover is inspired: it shows the actors from "Dick Barton – Special Agent", the BBC Radio serial of the 1940s which used Williams’ ‘Devil’s Galop’ as its signature tune. It only remains to compliment Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra for such great performances, and Tony Clayden for his informative sleeve notes.
This CD is available from all good record stores. Members of the Robert Farnon Society can also get copies from the RFS Record Service for £10 [US $20] plus postage and packing.