About this Recording
8.110870 - KETELBEY: Tangled Tunes (Ketelbey) (1913-1938)

The Music of Albert W. Ketèlbey, Volume 4
Tangled Tunes • Men of England • In Holiday Mood

After some twenty years of service from its retiring musical advisor, the Columbia Record Company honoured Albert W. Ketèlbey with two albums of recordings of his own compositions, an unprecedented gesture in the world of light music. These composerconductor recordings have now all been re-issued in the Naxos Historical series. No expense seems to have been spared in their preparation, and the composer was able to include examples of his more serious work alongside his popular hits.

One such piece is the choral work Men of England, here performed with a small group of professional singers, probably including the soprano Lillian Stiles- Allen. The work had been first performed on 4th December 1926 by the Kingsway Hall Choir accompanied at the organ by Gatty Sellars, but for this recording the accompaniment was orchestrated by Albert Leggett, who had worked with the composer at the Vaudeville Theatre and in the Columbia recording studio. Thomas Campbell’s poem dates from 1828, an epoch when lowland Scots such as Campbell strongly supported the freedoms and democratic rights gained by the English over the previous centuries. Six of the original seven stanzas are set, the last two to an extended march tune. A triplet rhythm heard on the timpani in the fourth bar recurs throughout the piece, bringing a sense of unity to the diverse sections. When Ketèlbey came to record In a Monastery Garden for the Columbia album (the fifth of seven recordings he made of the work), not only was the work extended to the luxury of two sides of a twelve-inch disc, he added to the score a solo contralto, mixed chorus and harp. This all suggests a garden inhabited by angels rather than monks!

With his loyal service to Columbia duly rewarded, Ketèlbey promptly wrote a piece for the opposition. On Sunday afternoons in 1931 the Decca Record Company was sponsoring on Radio Luxemburg a series of concerts of light music hosted by Christopher Stone, and "in appreciation" the composer wrote a short signature tune based on the musical notes DECCA, calling it A Sunday Afternoon Rêverie.

He showed similar appreciation to a German conductor and critic, Arkadjew von Gizycki, who the previous year had written a very complimentary review of Ketèlbey’s music in the newspaper Der Artist. This time the piece was The Vision of Fuji-San: Prelude To A Japanese Play. As with so many of Ketèlbey’s exotic pieces, the music has little to do with that of the country in which it is set. European major and minor scales are used for the first two melodies (Majesty of Fuji-San and Love-Vision), with the latter’s Wagnerian title typifying the inexorable build-up of emotional intensity. The ensuing Dance of the Japanese Actors uses chromatics and whole-tone scales in a fashion sounding even more outlandish to the Japanese than to Western ears.

Knights of the King: Grand Ceremonial March had an inauspicious birth. The work was written for Lieut. Col. A.C. Turnor and the band of H.M. Royal Horse Guards, but Turnor died before it was finished. It was performed at his memorial service on 30th June 1930, but then followed a gap of several months before the band-parts and recording became available to the public, and the publisher did not start advertising it until December 1932. The first theme is strikingly modern, with several awkward melodic leaps, while the trio is a grand march in the tradition of Aïda, Faust and Iolanthe.

The suite In Holiday Mood was performed at the annual Special Ketèlbey Concert in the Kingsway Hall, London, on 12th February 1938. The first movement On the Promenade (severely cut on this promotional recording) has the élan and piquant harmonies more characteristic of Ketèlbey’s successor as the star of light music, Eric Coates, and includes a section imitating a cinema organ. Down the Stream is an unpretentious intermezzo, while The Illuminated Fête is a busy waltz, where the themes lead hotfoot one into another, with never a breathing point in the first hundred seconds.

Most of the works on the present CD date from a short but significant period in the composer’s career, the years 1912-1916. Up until this time he had had relatively little success, with most of his output being songs and ballads, piano miniatures and studies. Working for Columbia had brought him a few recordings of earlier works, but it was not until he wrote The Phantom Melody that his new compositions were recorded without delay. This elegant piece was written for a competition to find a cello solo for Auguste Van Biene to use in a dramatic sketch, in the same manner as his own Broken Melody. The Phantom Melody duly won the prize of £50 put up by the magazine Tit-Bits, and was first performed by Van Biene on 15th February 1912. Within ten weeks Columbia issued a recording of the composer himself accompanying Jean Schwiller, the cellist in the Schwiller Quartet.

The following year came the larger prize of £200, this time in the Evening News competition for a new song. My Heart Still Clings To You was performed by Stewart Gardner on 23rd November 1913, and soon recorded by Edgar Coyle. This was Ketèlbey’s first essay at writing his own song lyrics, and its success persuaded him never again to use other writers for his songs. The one exception was Will You Forgive (Naxos 8.110174), when he was commissioned to set Andrew Soutar’s poem to accompany the silent film This Frail Woman.

His worth as a composer of light music now recognised, Columbia began to record his new compositions on a regular basis. Canzonetta (1912) is the forerunner of several expressive intermezzos for orchestra, with a broad theme embracing wide leaps. Apart from the old-fashioned diminished seventh chord in the second bar, the harmony is innovative, with several unusual chords and progressions supporting melodies in an otherwise simple major key.

Wildhawk (1913) was the first in a long line of exotic pieces, where far lands are evoked by musical techniques such as long double pedal drones underpinning melodies in an unusual mode, usually with a flattened second note of the scale. As we have seen above, there is typically an expressive melody in conventional European style, with major harmonies and wide leaps. Wildhawk was ostensibly describing a North American Indian scene, and the composer later added a Cowboys-and-Indians story-line. He also separated off the expressive melody and had it republished under the title A River Rêverie.

Recordings of Wildhawk and Canzonetta were both issued in April 1914. The following month saw the first recording of In a Monastery Garden, a work so new that the music had not yet been published, a sure sign that the composer had arrived. Joseph Larway, the eventual publisher, also agreed to publish a further handful of Ketèlbey’s works, including another Indian piece, Silver-Cloud (1915). Technically, this combines the double pedals of Wildhawk with the broad melodic style of The Phantom Melody and Canzonetta. As with In a Monastery Garden, the orchestral players are instructed to sing along with one of the melodies.

Europe was now at war, and young men were being conscripted into the armed forces. London’s theatres lost many of their younger actors and musicians, and the forty-year-old Ketèlbey returned to the nightly chore of the orchestral pit to play his part in the war effort. One of the shows he worked for in 1916 was the farce Ye Gods, which tells the story of Jimmy Carter (played by Charles Windermere), who was condemned by the African god Wonga-Wonga to be loved by every woman he met, except his fiancée. Ketèlbey arranged his incidental music into the ‘oriental intermezzo’ Wonga. The format of several short distinctive themes, some of which are played together, was to be the basis for many of his later oriental narrative pieces. The sheet music of Wonga was never published, but one fragment re-appeared as the march of the native soldiers from In The Mystic Land of Egypt, another at the end of the elegy in Cockney Suite, while the final dance became the Hula Dance in By the Blue Hawaiian Waters.

Another strand in the composer’s development to emerge strongly during this period was his sense of fun, perhaps encouraged by his contact in the recording studio with music-hall comedians such as Billy Williams and The Two Bobs. Fiddle Fun and Mind the Slide (Naxos 8.110869) are examples of musical standup comedy and slapstick respectively. Tangled Tunes (1914) is a musical puzzle of the genre known as a ‘switch’. Described in a contemporary review as ‘one of the cleverest as well as one of the drollest compilations’, this work proved so popular that Ketèlbey recorded it three times. Many of the 106 melodies quoted will be unfamiliar to today’s listeners, but anyone curious to find a complete list should search for Tangled Tunes on the Internet.

One of Ketèlbey’s many rôles at Columbia was recording with a dance band, sometimes playing the classics in syncopated rhythm. Christmas (1923) is a selection of well-known festive tunes given the fancy dress of a foxtrot, and appropriately enough the composer disguised himself under the name of ‘A. William Aston’, cross-dressing with his mother’s maiden name for the occasion. Let the concert party commence!

Tom McCanna

Men of England
Words by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844)

Men of England! Who inherit
Rights that cost your sires their blood!
Men whose undegenerate spirit
Has been proved on land and flood: -

By the foes ye’ve fought uncounted,
By the glorious deeds ye’ve done,
Trophies captured - breaches mounted,
Navies conquered - kingdoms won!

Yet, remember, England gathers
Hence but fruitless wreaths of fame,
If the patriotism of your fathers
Glow not in your hearts the same.

What are monuments of bravery,
Where no public virtues bloom?
What avail in lands of slavery
Trophied temples, arch and tomb?

Yours are Hampden’s, Russell’s glory,
Sydney’s matchless shade is yours, -
Martyrs in heroic story
Worth a hundred Agincourts!

We’re the sons of sires that baffled
Crowned and mitred tyranny: -
They defied the field and scaffold
For their birthrights - so will we!

With thanks to Roger Thorne and Michael Plant for loan of records
and to Tom McCanna for his kind advice and continuing encouragement in this Ketèlbey series.

The Naxos historical label aims to make available the greatest recordings in the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

Close the window