About this Recording
8.554488 - COATES, E.: London Calling - Music for Wind Band
English 

Eric Coates (1886-1957)
"London Calling"
Music for Wind Band

Pomp and Circumstance march mirrors Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century, then surely an Eric Coates march does the same for the 1930s and 1940s. With their snappy, crisp repeated rhythms, bustling energy and feel-­good factor, Coates's marches were used not only for relaying Britain's successes in World War II, but as signature tunes to long-running radio programmes and later, with the advent of television, signature tunes for the BBC and the new commercial television stations. Coates's music indeed found its way into the musical conscience of the whole nation through that potent new medium, broadcasting. Already in his late thirties when radio broadcasting started, Coates was Britain's finest and most successful light-music composer, his music being played by every possible combination of players throughout the land and his songs sung by opera and music-hall singers alike. Born in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, in 1886, he had a prestigious classical music training at the Royal Academy of Music, studying composition with Frederick Corder and viola with Lionel Tertis. He was Tertis's most outstanding student, following him into professional engagements with the Hambourg String Quartet, the Beecham Symphony Orchestra and the Queen's Hall Orchestra, where he was principal viola from 1913 to 1919. In that position he would have played in many first British performances of music by Strauss, Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky and Schoenberg. But his real interest was in composing light music and he left the orchestra in 1919 to dedicate himself to writing in all over 160 songs, thirteen orchestral suites, three phantasies, seventeen marches and 24 other short orchestral compositions. Coates gained lucrative contracts with Chappell Publishing and Columbia Records, the latter being quick to record the latest published Coates score. In 1933 he had a spectacular success with his seventh orchestral suite London Everyday, when the Director of Variety programmes for the BBC chose the march Knightsbridge from the suite as the signature tune to the new nightly programme, In Town Tonight. Within a fortnight the BBC had received 20,000 requests for the title of the signature tune and within a year 100,000 copies had been sold. Coates had touched something in the British public and overnight he became a celebrity.

Chappell was quick to ask Coates for another march and the Pathé News team was present to film its Columbia recording sessions for their newsreel. London Bridge, as the march was called, had high expectations of being the seller Knightsbridge was, and even a rival HMV recording was made simultaneously. However, it was not the success everyone hoped for and another three years passed until Coates wrote his next march. RNVR was originally on the title-page, but crossed out to make way for Seven Seas. Dedicated to the Scottish shipbuilder John D. Robertson, it was one of the few marches written in compound time. Twenty years later it became the signature tune to the new British commercial television station TV South Wales and West.

With the start of World War II in 1939, Coates received many letters asking him to write a great patriotic song. Instead, he responded with the march Calling All Workers. Inspired by his wife, who requested a march that would pace the rhythm of sewing machines, Coates composed his most rhythmically driven march. He dedicated it to "all workers" and the inscription on the score reads, "To go to one's work with a glad heart and to do that work with earnestness and good will". It became one of the war's most potent musical symbols and was used as the signature tune for the BBC daily programme Music While You Work.

Coates followed this piece with four other very successful war marches. Over to You, dedicated to "all who make and fly our aircraft", was first performed in 1941 before thousands of workers at the Bristol Aeroplane Company. London Calling was commissioned by the BBC in 1942 as the call sign for their overseas children's programmes. The Eighth Army march was dedicated to General Montgomery and the Eighth Army on their important war victory at the Battle of Alamein in October 1942. It was thereafter used by the BBC at the start of their Middle East transmissions and became the theme song for Nine Men, a film about the infantry in Libya. Salute the Soldier was written at the request of Sir Harold Mackintosh, Chairman of the War Saving Committee for the "Salute The Soldier" campaign. Coates conducted the first performance on the 25th March 1944 in Trafalgar Square with the Band of the Scots Guards.

In a sense, Coates had become the unofficial musical Laureate and there were many people who felt he should have been asked to write for a Royal occasion. But in official musical circles, the fact that Coates was a very successful light-music composer and not a serious one stood against him. After the war, Coates wrote marches for the openings of the new commercial television stations and in 1950 the Holborn Borough Council commissioned a march to celebrate the fiftieth year of their charter. Two years later he started one of his least played and best marches, Rhodesia. Written for Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra's visit to the Central African Rhodes Centenary Exhibition in Bulawayo, Coates's original title was The Green Lands; however, the colonial office associated green lands with the jungle and requested Coates to change the title to Rhodesia. A few years later, Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence meant that for political reasons the march was hardly ever played again. Different from any other Coates march, it is more noble, even Elgarian in character, perhaps the kind of march Coates might have written for a royal occasion. All Coates's marches were written to a strict formula of an introduction full of excitement and anticipation. A bustling energetic main tune, a trio section of a similar character, sometimes more reflective. A repeat of the main tune and then the trio in a grander climactic guise. He wrote all but one of his marches for a full orchestra, Chappell using staff arrangers to prepare versions for solo piano and for military band. The one march Coates did not write for an orchestra was for the military band of the Nottingham Police. Men of Trent, as it was known, was dedicated to Athelstan Popkess, the Chief Constable of Police in 1953.

If Knightsbridge had been a major financial success back in the 1930s it would have been nothing compared to the success of Coates's next march which is probably the most remembered today. Having always turned down film scores and Hollywood contracts on account of the film directors being in so much control of the composers' music, pressure was exerted by Louis Levy, Musical Director of Associated British Pictures, for a Coates score for the film The Dam Busters, as it was of national importance. Coates obliged with a march, leaving Leighton Lucas to fashion a film score around it. In a few weeks the Dam Busters march sold a quarter of a million records, stayed in the hit parade of 1956 for a year and received the Ivor Novello Award for the most outstanding piece of light orchestral music.

Coates's next march was also his last ever composition. High Flight, written in 1956 for the Warwick production film of that name, tried to capitalise on the Dam Busters just as Landon Bridge had done on Knightsbridge twenty years earlier.

During the 1930s and 1940s Coates had become involved in a journalistic debate with the BBC over the deepening division between light and serious music, especially how light music and his in particular was being almost totally excluded from the Promenade concerts under Sir Henry Wood. In Coates's younger days both types of music had shared the same platform, but now the division between middlebrow and highbrow was widening, caused to a large extent by BBC policies. Symphonic music, for instance, was considered on a much higher plane than light music. The Three Elizabeths, Coates's final orchestral suite, is an unconscious effort to bridge that gap, being the most symphonic piece he ever wrote. The first movement, Halcyon Days, originally conceived as a separate concert overture, is almost Straussian in its design, evoking the age of Elizabeth I and the quest for adventure and exploration. The second movement, Spring Time in Angus, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth now the Queen Mother, is a miniature tone poem in conception. The last movement, Youth of Britain, inspired by the eighteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, is a march. Written during the final years of World War II in the Vale of Evesham, the BBC rewarded Coates with a first performance on Christmas Eve 1944 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Michael Ponder


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