Great British Composers – Volume 1

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Great British Composers – Volume 1

"London Suite"" (London Everyday) (Eric Coates)
1 Covent Garden
2 Westminster
3 Knightsbridge
Westminster WPS 103 1961
4 Prelude (from "Moods" Suite) (Haydn Wood)
Chappell C 116 1942
5 Dance Of An Ostracised Imp (Frederic Curzon)
Boosey & Hawkes O 2044 1946
6 Ballet For Children (from the film "Things To Come") (Arthur Bliss)
Decca SDD 255 1959
"Blithe Spirit" – music from the film (Richard Addinsell)
7 Prelude
8 Waltz
Columbia DX 1186 1946
9 Bank Holiday (’Appy ’Ampstead) (Albert William Ketèlbey)
Decca LK 4080 1954
"Nell Gwynn" (Edward German)
10 Country Dance
11 Pastoral Dance
Chappell C 145 & 146 1942
12 Cavalcade Of Youth (Jack Beaver)
DANISH STATE RADIO ORCHESTRA Conducted by ROBERT FARNON (‘The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra Conducted by David King’ on disc label)
Chappell C 397 1950
"The Shoe" Ballet (John Ansell)
13 The Shoe
14 The Sandal
15 The Brogue
Chappell C 166 & 167 1942
16 Caribbean Caprice (Len Stevens)
Parlophone R 3171 1949
17 The Unwanted (modern ballet impression): The Boy (Trevor Duncan, real name Leonard Charles Trebilco)
Boosey & Hawkes O 2333 1958
18 White Cliffs (Clive Richardson)
Bosworth BCV 1330 1961
"Holidays Abroad" (Vivian Ellis)
19 Reunion In Vienna
20 Costa Brava
21 Leaning Tower Of Pisa
22 Paris Taxi
23 Swiss Air
NEW CONCERT ORCHESTRA Conducted by MONIA LITER (as ‘Paul Hamilton’)
Boosey & Hawkes OT 2370. O 2371, O 2372 1960
24 The White Knight (Charles Williams)
Chappell C 705 1961
Stereo: tracks 1-3 & 6; rest in mono

At the outset it is important to emphasise that the idea behind this compilation is not to offer a definitive selection of the very best British composers of Light Music. Such an enterprise could fill at least ten CDs, and then still leave many deserving composers unrepresented. The intention is simply to provide examples of the work of just some who are considered by their admirers to possess the special talents that are particularly suited to the challenge of having their works performed by a concert orchestra.

Some pieces are longer than the usual styles to be found on most Guild Light Music CDs; but there are also examples of shorter numbers to provide contrasts and emphasise the wide variety of music that is generally recognised as ‘Light Music’ or ‘Concert Music’. Collectors who already have the very first volume of this series – "An Introduction" GLCD5101 – may recall that the accompanying notes tried to explain where the boundaries of Light Music might possibly lie. Perhaps the truth is that no two music lovers will ever reach a precise agreement on this sometimes thorny subject. Does it really matter? Surely the enjoyment of the music is the paramount importance, and it is hoped that the undoubted skill of all the composers on this disc will dispel any lingering doubts that Light Music occupies a valuable and important niche in the whole music scene.

The one man who carried the torch for light music during the first half of the last century was EricCoates (1886-1957), who became widely known as ‘the Uncrowned King of Light Music’. Originally a successful composer of ballads, eventually he devoted all his energies to light music and was particularly adept at writing catchy melodies that appealed as BBC signature tunes, the most famous being Knightsbridge from "London Suite" (used as the opening and closing music for "In Town Tonight"). This legendary 78 has been reissued on numerous occasions, and collectors wishing to acquire it have many choices available to them. Therefore this CD offers what are believed to be the first stereo performances of one of Coates’ best known works, which received favourable critical reviews.

Since the name ‘Eric Johnson’ first appeared towards the end of the 1950s, record buyers have wondered who this obviously accomplished conductor actually was. There were suspicions that this was a pseudonym (possibly for contractual reasons) and recent researches reported on the internet point to the likelihood that ‘Johnson’ could have been Dr Kurt List (1913-1970). List was born in Vienna and studied music under Alban Berg and Anton Webern. The ‘Johnson’ recordings appeared on the Westminster Records label; this was founded in 1949 by the owner of New York’s Westminster Record shop. Dr Kurt List is mentioned as being a music consultant to the label in 1951, but by the mid-1950s (when Westminster was linked with the UK Nixa label) there are references to him being Vice President and Music Director. The London Philharmonic Orchestra made some anonymous classical recordings for Westminster at Walthamstow Town Hall in August 1956, and there is the temptation to wonder if the Eric Coates recordings may have a similar provenance.

If Eric Coates was the ‘Uncrowned King’, then surely Haydn Wood (1882-1959) must have been the ‘Crown Prince of Light Music’. His career was similar in so many ways, and when it came to ballads Wood was more successful – Roses of Picardy being the prime example. This native Yorkshireman created a wealth of delightful melodies, often as part of suites, and Guild has already dedicated an entire CD to his music – "Joyousness" (GLCD5121). His contribution this time is the Prelude from his "Moods Suite".

London-born Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) was a charming, unassuming man who devoted his early career to working in the theatre, and like so many of his contemporaries he gradually became involved in providing music for silent films. As well as being a fine pianist and a conductor, he also played the organ, and his first big success as a composer was his "Robin Hood Suite" in 1937. This encouraged him to devote more of his time to writing and broadcasting, and several of his works have become light music ‘standards’, notably March Of The Bowmen (from "Robin Hood Suite" on GLCD5106), and The Boulevardier (GLCD5177). Dance Of An Ostracised Imp was another popular number, possibly due to its whimsical title which certainly suited the music. Frederic Curzon was eventually appointed Head of Light Music at London publishers Boosey and Hawkes, and for a while was also President of the Light Music Society.

When Arthur Bliss (later to be Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss, 1891-1975) composed the music for the film of H.G. Wells’ "Things To Come" it proved to be the most important score provided up to that time for a British film. It also influenced film music internationally, with many composers embracing more symphonic aspects in their work. As stereo arrived towards the end of the 1950s Bliss was commissioned to record his Concert Suite of music from the film with the London Symphony Orchestra, and on this occasion the March (on Guild GLCD5178) was finally conducted by the composer. The opening scenes of the film are accompanied by the Ballet For Children, with the images of children at Christmas time playing with toy weapons of war. The music conveys the implied menace, which horrendously comes true.

Oxford-born Richard Addinsell (1904-1977) is one of the most famous British film composers of the last century, his Warsaw Concerto from the film "Dangerous Moonlight" (1942) being the work which spawned countless similar works in British films of the post-war era – broadcaster Steve Race named them ‘the Denham Concertos’, after the film studio where many were made. Incredibly he has around 50 films to his name, but much of the credit is due to several brilliant orchestrators who turned his melody lines into the atmospheric scores that so entranced cinema audiences. "Blithe Spirit" was based on a Noel Coward play, first staged in the West End in 1941, and the film’s score owes its charm to the talents of Leonard Isaacs (1909-1997), a pianist, conductor and arranger from Manchester who studied composition with Gordon Jacob, and conducting with Malcolm Sargent from 1925-29 at the Royal College of Music in London. Among several administrative positions he held at the BBC from 1936-63 was Head of Music for the Third programme (1950-54) and a similar position for the Home Service (1954-63). He moved to Canada in 1963, and became a Canadian citizen in 1973.

Albert William Ketèlbey (1875-1959), born in the Lozells area of Birmingham, was a highly successful composer, who earned the equivalent of millions of pounds during the peak of his popularity. Pieces such as In A Monastery Garden (GLCD5182), The Phantom Melody, In A Persian Market (GLCD5120) and Bells Across The Meadow (GLCD5108)brought him international fame, no doubt assisted by his enthusiastic participation in the rapidly growing business of producing gramophone records. In 1924 he composed his "Cockney Suite – Cameos of London Life", and the choice for this CD is the fifth and final movement, Bank Holiday, depicting crowds of Londoners enjoying a holiday funfair on Hampstead Heath.

Edward German (1862-1936) was born at Whitchurch in Shropshire and became ‘Sir Edward’ in the 1928 New Year’s Honours. He entered the Royal Academy of Music as an organ student, subsequently studying the violin and eventually composition. It was at the suggestion of Sir Arthur Sullivan that he turned his attention to comic opera. After Sullivan's death he was given the task of completing Sullivan's unfinished score of The Emerald Isle produced in 1901. Its success led to the composition of Merrie England (1902), A Princess Of Kensington (1903), Tom Jones (1907) and Fallen Fairies (1909). He also composed more symphonic works including Welsh Rhapsody, Norwich Symphony and Theme And Six Diversions. In 1900 German composed the music for "Nell Gwynn" - a stage play originally known as "English Nell".

Among the great composers such as Coates, Wood, Bliss and German in this collection are several others whose names will mean little to most music lovers. Yet their melodies have become part of the story of light music in Britain, and they fully deserve to be included on this CD. Jack Beaver (1900-1963) was born in Clapham, London, and in the 1930s and 1940s he was part of Louis Levy’s ‘team’ of composers, providing scores for countless feature films and documentaries, including Alfred Hitchcock's first huge international hit "The Thirty-Nine Steps" (for which Beaver received no credit). He was hired by Warner Bros. to run the music department at their British studio at Teddington in the early 1940s and was also much in demand for scoring theatrical productions. He frequently undertook a punishing workload, including numerous pieces for London production music libraries, which eventually contributed towards his early death. His ability to create music to cover almost any mood was second to none, and his Cavalcade Of Youth was just one in a series of notable works. This is his 14th composition on a Guild Light Music CD.

John Ansell (1874-1948) was at one time assistant conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and he was also frequently employed in London theatres. As a composer he may be familiar to music lovers for his overture Plymouth Hoe (which he conducts on Guild GLCD 5106) and Windjammer Overture (an edited version is on GLCD5163). But sadly a lot of his quite considerable catalogue of music is now neglected, including several suites – once so popular among concertgoers. One of these was "The Shoe", from which we feature three of the five moments.

Len Stevens(d. 1989) (his full name was Herbert Leonard Stevens) was – like the aforementioned Jack Beaver - a prolific composer, contributing mood music to several different libraries, with a style that his admirers quickly grew to recognise. In common with so many of the talented musicians employed in the business, he could turn his hand to any kind of music that was needed, and he was also involved in the musical theatre. Caribbean Caprice is typical of the bright and breezy numbers that were always being heard in cinema newsreels of the 1950s, and its appeal prompted commercial recordings by Roberto Inglez (1919-1974) and Sidney Torch (1908-1990), whose version appears in this collection. This is the composer’s 15th appearance on a Guild CD.

Trevor Duncan (real name Leonard CharlesTrebilco, 1924-2005) was working as a BBC sound engineer when one of his first compositions, High Heels (on Guild GLCD 5124) made the light music world sit up and take notice. 28 of his works have already appeared on Guild Light Music CDs, and he was the featured composer in "Hall Of Fame Volume 2" (GLCD 5124). Towards the end of his life he confessed that he was disappointed that he had never been commissioned to write a complete ballet score. His contribution to this CD – The Boy – may be an example of what the music world has missed. In contrast to his many lighter numbers and marches, he has created a haunting theme that conveys the tortured mind of someone who is ‘Unwanted’.

Clive Richardson was part of ‘Four Hands in Harmony’ (playing piano duets with Tony Lowry), but that was just a small interlude in a long and successful career. He was an early contributor of scores to British films, especially some of the Will Hay comedies, although he wasn’t credited on-screen. London Fantasia (on GLCD5120) was a big success in the 1940s, when mini-piano concertos were all the rage. Other Richardson compositions to succeed were Melody On The Move (GLCD5102), Running Off The Rails (GLCD5156) and Holiday Spirit (GLCD5120), that exuberant theme for BBC Children’s Television Newsreel. White Cliffs is one of several pieces he wrote with a nautical theme.

Vivian Ellis (1903-1996) was only 24 when he had his first big success in London’s West End with his show ‘Mr. Cinders’, and he devoted the major part of his illustrious career to the musical stage. However he also wrote several pieces of light music which have become ‘classics’ in their own right, the most famous being Coronation Scot (on GLCD5120 and 5181) which was initially well-known in Britain through its use as one of the signature tunes for BBC Radio’s "Paul Temple" series in the 1940s. Another familiar piece was Alpine Pastures (GLCD5169) used by the BBC to introduce "My Word". Like some of his contemporaries, Vivian Ellis possessed the precious skill of being able to conjure up a strong melody, although he preferred to leave it to others to orchestrate his creations. It is known that Cecil Milner (1905-1989) was responsible for the famous train sounds in Coronation Scot, and the arranger of Ellis’s "Holidays Abroad" Suite was Monia Liter (1906-1988) - at the time the Manager of the Recorded Music Department at Boosey & Hawkes.

Volumes could be written about Charles Williams (born Isaac Cozerbreit 1893-1978) who began his career accompanying silent films, then played violin under the batons of Beecham and Elgar. Right from the start of the ‘talkies’ he provided scores for numerous British movies, and his Dream Of Olwen (GLCD5192)is still remembered long after the film in which it appeared – "While I Live". By far the greatest volume of his composing skills was employed in mood music, providing hundreds of works for several libraries, and 40 have already been included on Guild CDs. His stature as a major composer and conductor of Britain’s Light Music Scene deservedly allows him the honour of closing this compilation of superior works with The White Knight.

David Ades

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