About this Recording
8.223413 - TOMLINSON: Silverthorn Suite / Little Serenade (Slovak Radio Symphony, Tomlinson)

Ernest Tomlinson

Ernest Tomlinson


Long regarded as one of the leading figures in the field of light music, Ernest Tomlinson was born at Rawtenstall, Lancashire on September 19, 1924 into a musical family. He started composing when he was only nine, at about the same time that he became a choirboy at Manchester Cathedral, where he was eventually to be appointed Head Boy in 1939. Here, and at Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School his musical talents were carefully nurtured, and he was only 16 when he won a scholarship to Manchester University and the Royal Manchester (now Northern) College of Music. He spent the next two years studying composition, organ, piano and clarinet until, in 1943, the war effort demanded that he leave and join the Royal Air Force. Defective colour-vision precluded his being selected for aircrew and the new recruit, having his request to become a service musician turned down on the grounds that he was too healthy to follow such a career, found himself being trained as a Wireless Mechanic, notwithstanding that many of the components he was required to work with were colour-coded! (The future composer, however, was duly delighted with his assignment, which he thoroughly enjoyed and which almost certainly contributed to a later interest in electronic music). He saw service in France during 1944 and 1945, eventually returning to England where, with the cessation of hostilities, he was able to resume his studies. He finally graduated in 1947, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Music for composition as well as being made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and an Associate of the Royal Manchester College of Music for his prowess on the King of Instruments.


Ernest Tomlinson then left the North of England and headed south to London where, for several years, he worked as a staff arranger for Arcadia and Mills Music Publishers, providing scores for radio and television broadcasts as well as for the stage and recording studios. He maintained his interest in the organ by taking up a post at a Mayfair church, but increasingly, composing came to play the dominant role. He had his first piece broadcast in 1949 and by 1955, when he was able to earn his living entirely by composing, he was to be heard on the radio with his own Ernest Tomlinson Light Orchestra and later, with his group of singers. While not neglecting the larger-scale forms, including several works in symphonic-jazz style, the first of which, Sinfonia '62, won the million-lire First Prize in the Italian competition for "Rhythmic-Symphonic" works, three concertos, a one-act opera Head of the Family, a ballet Aladdin, Festival of Song for chorus and orchestra as well as a substantial and varied body of works for choir and music for brass and wind bands, it was as a writer of light orchestral pieces that he was to become best-known. In this area, he has produced a considerable number of works ranging from overtures, suites and rhapsodies to delightful miniatures, of which Little Serenade is probably the most popular.


From the time that he first directed a church choir when he was just 17, Ernest Tomlinson has been active as a conductor, firmly believing that involvement in performance is vitally important for a composer. From 1951 to 1953, he was musical director of the Chingford Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society in Essex. In 1976, he took over the directorship of the Rossendale Male Voice Choir from his father, Fred, a post he held for five years, during which time he led the singers to victory in their class in each of the three years of BBC Television's Grand Sing Competition. Not long afterwards, in association with the Rossendale Ladies Choir and its conductor Beatrice Wade, he helped form the Rossendale Festival Choir which quickly went on to win a number of competitions. Then, at the official retiring age of 65, he founded yet another new group, the Ribble Vale Choir, with which he is still actively involved.


In the orchestral field, he has often conducted performances of his own works, one of the most notable occasions being in 1966 when he was on the rostrum in the Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow for his Symphony '65, played by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and Big Band - the first time a symphonic jazz work had been heard in Russia. In his home country, he was responsible for the founding of the Northern Concert Orchestra, with whom he gave numerous broadcasts and concerts, the emphasis being on the light orchestral repertoire.


A man of boundless energy, Ernest Tomlinson has also found time to serve for several years on the Executive Committee of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and was its Chairman in 1964. In addition, he has been a composer-director of the Performing Rights Society since 1965. In 1984, he founded The Library of Light Orchestral Music, which is housed in a huge barn at his farmhouse home near Longridge, Lancashire, and currently contains around 10,000 pieces, including many items that would otherwise have been lost. And finally, his wartime training has been put to excellent use in his ability to utilise technological developments within the musical sphere, be it by realising scores electronically or by perfecting computer publishing and cataloguing systems.


Much respected by fellow professionals in the musical world, as witness his receipt of the Composers' Guild Award in 1965 and two Ivor Novello Awards (one for his full-length ballet Aladdin in 1975, the other for services to light music in 1970), Ernest Tomlinson's services have been called upon in other areas as well. A keen sportsman, he played wing-three quarters for the prestigious Saracens Rugby Union Club and then for Chingford in Essex. For many years he could be found padded up and ready to do battle on behalf of Eynsford village cricket team in Kent and, later, his home town of Longridge in Lancashire. He still enjoys an early morning cycle ride, while for relaxation (!) he lists do-it-yourself, electronics and, last but by absolutely no means least, the joys of family life - of which, with a wife, four children and eight grandchildren, there are many.


This, then, is Ernest Tomlinson: composer, conductor, organist, administrator, librarian - and consultant for Marco Polo's British Light Orchestral Music series.


[1] LITTLE SERENADE: This delightful miniature, one of the composer's most popular pieces, began life as part of The Story of Cinderella (of which more later), dating from 1955. It occurs early in the tale where Prince Charming meets Cinderella though, of course, she is as yet unaware of his true identity. He is struck by her beauty and charm and offers her a serenade which duly develops into a love duet. Ernest Tomlinson subsequently adapted this extract as an independent concert item, in which guise it has been performed countless times. It has been used as a signature tune for at least five different programmes and the composer himself reckons to have made at least thirty assorted arrangements.


[2] AN ENGLISH OVERTURE: "Don't tell anyone", says Ernest Tomlinson, "but this [work] was originally written for brass band" - specifically, Foden's Band conducted by Harry Mortimer. It was known then as Overture on Famous English Airs but the composer decided to change the title when he transcribed it for orchestra. "Was I right?", asks the composer, seemingly uncertain of his decision to amend the nomenclature. The answer probably depends on each individual listener's familiarity - or otherwise - with traditional English folksong. If the following tunes, which appear within the piece, are known to you, then the original title is arguably preferable; if not, then the second will probably be more apt. First you'll hear Here's a Health unto His Majesty, after which comes Old King Cole, King Arthur Ruled the Land, Over the Hills and Far Away, Gossip Joan, Greensleeves, Oh! Dear, What Can The Matter Be, Come Lasses and Lads, Begone Dull Care, The Lincolnshire Poacher and Lilliburlero. To finish, there is a reprise of the first song.


[3] FAIRY COACH and [4] CINDERELLA WALTZ: The Story of Cinderella was a radio musical play, with book by Roy Plomley and lyrics by Henrik Ege. It was commissioned in 1955 by the Light Music Department of the BBC for performance on Christmas Eve and an unusual aspect of the request was that part of Eric Coates' Cinderella Phantasy of 1929 be incorporated into the new piece. As a rule, Coates normally protested most vehemently at even the remotest hints of his music being tampered with. Unaware of this, Ernest Tomlinson transcribed two melodies from the earlier work to feature at focal points in the play, everything else being newly-composed. The score, which, incidentally, won the approval of Eric Coates himself, proved to be something of a turning-point in Tomlinson's career in that it at last gave him the opportunity to become a full-time, freelance composer.


The two extracts played here are Fairy Coach, which trots along jauntily as Cinderella sets out on her way to the ball in her pumpkin-turned-carriage pulled by a set of equestrianised mice, and the splendid Cinderella Waltz, which accompanies the heroine as she and the Prince indulge in terpsichorean delights in the magnificent chandeliered ballroom.


[5] KIELDER WATER: The inauguration of a new building, be it a theatre, church, cathedral, palace or whatever, has for long been the cause for the commissioning of many a piece of music. Without racking one's brains too hard, one can think of, for example, Beethoven's Overture The Consecration of the House, written to accompany the play of that name which opened the Josephstadt Theatre in Vienna in 1824 or, nearer our own time, Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, composed for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962. Not quite so common, however, are requests for music to commemorate the opening of a dam, yet one came the way of Ernest Tomlinson in 1983. That was the year which saw the completion and entry into service of the mighty Kielder Dam in Northumberland, built jointly by the firms of Balfour Beattie and Fairclough. This astonishing five year construction project, resulting in the largest man-made lake in Europe, had been filmed by the two companies who, at the suggestion of the organisation responsible for the finished documentary, Cinephoto Productions, then duly approached the composer to provide a suitable accompanying score. The piece we hear on this disc is the theme tune of the picture and, with violins to the fore, describes the tranquil beauty of this remarkable artificial stretch of water.


[6]-[8] SILVERTHORN SUITE: If naming a work in honour of a dam is unusual, then calling a piece of music after a telephone exchange is bordering on the bizarre. During the 1950s, Ernest Tomlinson was living in Chingford in Essex (right on the edge of the famous Epping Forest) and in those pre-all-figure-dialling days, the local exchange was known as Silverthorn. This was the name the composer chose to give a trio of pieces which he wrote at that time and which has subsequently become amongst the most frequently-performed of Tomlinson's works. First, there is an Alla Marcia, rather perky and high-spirited in nature and singularly un-martial in character, notwithstanding the prominence of a side-drum. Then comes an amiable Canzonet, shot through with a mellow, at times slightly bitter-sweet, lyricism. Finally, we are entertained by a lively Concert Jig which, for much of the time, manages to maintain an admirable decorum although there is no shortage of exuberance at the conclusion.




1. Kettledrum

2. Chipping Lane

3. Newcastle

4. Up Goes Ely/The Fits Come On Me Now

5. Love-in-a-Mist

6. Catch Me If You Can


It was in 1951 that Ernest Tomlinson attended a dance festival in the Royal Albert Hall, London, put on by the English Folk-Dance and Song Society. Apart from the amazing visual spectacle of massed Morris Dancers and the like, the composer was absolutely delighted by many of the tunes that he heard and resolved to feature some of them in a new work. The outcome was a Suite of English Folk-Dances, which quickly became a firm favourite in the repertoires of several major orchestras. The source of the tunes was the splendid collection of dances and traditional airs which the celebrated Norwich-born publisher John Playford had put together in 1650 and issued under the title The English Dancing Master (later known simply as The Dancing Master).


Ernest Tomlinson had partial recourse to this melodic treasure-house again in 1977. That year, The Blackburn Music Society performed his Festival of Song as part of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee celebrations. The composer had the somewhat novel idea of writing a second set of English Folk-Dances and then inviting the Central Manchester Country Dance Club to dance to them, accompanied by full orchestra. This time, John Playford supplied the material for just three of the movements - Nos. l, 3 and 4; the other dances were 100% original Tomlinson. No. 4 caused a bit of a problem when the composer wanted to arrange one tune while the choreographer asked for another. With a typically English sense of compromise, Ernest Tomlinson duly incorporated both of them, although the amusing clash of tonalities at one point underlines the problems that the dancers encountered changing from one dance to the other!


[15] NOCTURNE from LYRICAL SUITE: This pleasant interlude shares a similarity with the Little Serenade in that both works began life as a love duet in a radio musical play. But in this case, it's not Cinderella that we turn to but a slightly later production, The King and the Mermaid, a 1956 show with a book by L.A.G. Strong. In the course of proceedings, His Majesty falls in love with the pretty young denizen of the seas and sings to her of his passion. This is an orchestral arrangement of his song that Ernest Tomlinson subsequently made and incorporated into his Lyrical Suite, published in 1957.


[16] HORNPIPE from THREE PASTORAL DANCES: Dating from 1950, the Hornpipe forms the finale of Ernest Tomlinson's first published suite, Three Pastoral Dances. (It was Frederic Curzon, then Light Music Manager of Boosey & Hawkes and subject of one of the CDs in Marco Polo's British Light Music Series, who was responsible for their appearing in print). Why a hornpipe should be considered "pastoral" has not been fully explained by the composer! It's certainly not the adjective most people would apply to this appealingly rumbustious, riotous outburst.


[17] GAELIC LULLABY from THREE GAELIC SKETCHES: This is another piece drawn from The King and the Mermaid. The "Gaelic" element can be explained by the fact that the play was set in Ireland. In the story, the King has brought the Mermaid to his castle. She is tired and he orders that she be put to bed, attended by her handmaidens. To soothe her, he instructs his harpist to perform for her, and this is the Lullably that he sings as she drifts off to sleep.


[18] NAUTICAL INTERLUDE: The use of two sea shanties as the basic thematic material explains the title of this most likeable piece. A few introductory bars, rushing in with all the finesse of a full sou'wester, leads straight into the first tune, A-Roving, which sallies forth amidst plenty of energetic counterpoint. This is followed in due course by Billy Boy before the composer combines the two themes in ingenious partnership to bring the work to an exuberant conclusion.


[19] SWEET AND DAINTY: The composer's description of this charming piece of "mood music" cannot be bettered. "Sweet and Dainty was", he says, "designed for Pride and Prejudice type plays. But, between you and me, it first surfaced in an advert for Palmolive Soap and later was used as a signature tune for a TV series about fishing". A work which satisifes the requirements of Jane Austen, personal hygiene and angling at one and the same time surely demands special attention!


Tim McDonald

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