About this Recording
8.223513 - TOMLINSON: First Suite of English Folk-Dances

Ernest Tomlinson (b. 1924)

Long regarded as one of the leading figures in the field of light music, Ernest

Tomlinson was born at Rawtenstall, Lancashire on 19th September, 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 sixteen 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 rôle. 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 seventeen, 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, Ernest Tomlinson 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 which 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, whether 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-threequarter 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, tour 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] Comedy Overture

Comedy Overture was written in 1956, a new year of some significance for Ernest Tomlinson since he was now free from the responsibilities of full-time employment. The freedom to devote his time to his own compositions acted as a spur to invention and this Comedy Overture was the first work written under those new circumstances. Clearly this was a happy time, as the piece bustles along in ebullient mood from the outset. After a fanfare-like opening the overture is built around two contrasting themes, an energetic opening one and a contrasting jocular second theme. There is a calming in the middle section as if taking stock of the themes already presented, before the overture builds to a reworking of the opening section. The overture ends with a confident flourish based on the opening of the work.

      First Suite of English Folk-Dances

[2] No. 1 Jenny Pluck Pears

[3] No. 2 Ten Pound Lass

[4] No. 3 Dick's Maggot

[5] No. 4 Nonesuch

[6] No. 5 Hunt the Squirrel

[7] No. 6 Woodicock

January 1950, and a full house at the Royal Albert Hall, London, for the New Year Festival of Folk-Dance, promoted by the English Folk-Dance and Song Society. Towards the end of the first half, following folk-dances from various parts of Britain, the lights slowly faded, leaving the hall almost in darkness. The audience hushed and there came a haunting melody on solo violin; the dim lighting revealed three gracefully dancing couples dressed in the attire of the 1600s. This was the old English dance Jenny Pluck Pears with accompaniment provided by just two violins. For one young composer it was magic. The next dance was to the equally enchanting, though quite different melody, Newcastle.


The young composer in question was, of course, Ernest Tomlinson who, together with his wife Jean, had been invited to the event by his sister Freda, a keen folk-dancer. From that experience came the composer's resolve to express some of those lovely tunes through the medium of full orchestra. Tomlinson began working on ideas for his Suite of English Folk-Dances soon afterwards. First, though, he had to complete his suite Four Pastoral Dances, the Passepied from which had already been broadcast. At that time light-orchestral music formed a major share of broadcasting, but performances of whole suites were rare. This worked to Tomlinson's advantage as individual movements could be offered for broadcasting as and when completed. With a full-time copyist/arranger job to hold, with the post as organist at the Curzon St. Christian Science Church, not to mention jaunts on the rugby field every Saturday, this left little time free for composition. The first performances of the individual movements of Four Pastoral Dances came separately between 1949 and 1951. (Even the first 'complete' performance was spread over four weeks.)

The treasure-trove from which the English folk-dances were selected was the first edition (1650), of John Playford's The English Dancing Master. Here were set down the steps of the most popular dances of the day, together with the melodies used. As The Dancing Master, this book, with additions and changes, was reissued in various editions until 1728. The shape a suite needs, and the variety within it as one movement follows another, determined the choice of tunes. Four of the Playford tunes, regretfully discarded at the time, had to wait another 25 years or so, before being incorporated into Tomlinson's Second Suite of English Folk-Dances, which is included in his first CD in this series (Marco Polo 8.223413).

The folk-dances being short, they were offered for broadcasting in pairs and accepted for performance by the London Light Concert Orchestra under Michael Krein. Jenny Pluck Pears and Ten Pound Lass were completed first and broadcast in September 1951. Then came the fifth and sixth movements, broadcast in January 1952. The fourth movement, Nonesuch, was then completed readily enough, which left Dick's Maggot. To those of us who know this piece so well, it is surprising to learn that the composer found Dick's Maggot by far the most difficult movement to write. All sorts of variants were tried and he was not very confident about the version that grudgingly arrived. With five movements of the suite already written the temptation to discard Dick's Maggot was great. Fortunately for us this temptation was resisted, as it has become easily the most successful movement from the suite. Amongst other things it was used for three or four years as a signature tune in Steve Race's 'Invitation to Music' programme on BBC radio.

Once Dick's Maggot was completed the way was now clear for a complete performance of the suite, which was given by Michael Krein and the London Light Concert Orchestra in August 1952. Dedicated to his sister, it has since become one of the most performed suites written since the war.

Light Music Suite

Three movements are included from Tomlinson's Light Music Suite, written in 1971. Unusually, the work does not call for the services of trumpets and trombones, so the brass section is limited to four horns and a tuba.

[8] Pizzicato Humoresque I

Of the several distinctive musical forms established by light-orchestral music one of the most common is what is often called, simply, a 'quicky'. This is a fast two-in-a-bar rhythmic piece, usually incorporating jazz-derived syncopations here and there. A common type of 'quicky' presents melody by pizzicato strings and that is just what this piece does, highly syncopated, interspersed with busy figurations from the wood-wind and hustled along by rhythm guitar. In the middle section plucked strings alone present the theme, which is then taken over by the full wind.

[9] Serenade to a Wayward Miss

A serenade melody, yes, but one which just won't settle into the usual two, three or four in a bar, hence the title. Five-time it is, which engenders a novel lilting accompaniment from the strings to support the solo oboe melody, soon taken up by muted violins. In the middle section the clarinet offers its own version of waywardness until the strings take over the narrative, settle things down, take a brief rest from five-time and enable the main serenade theme to return, played first by violas then rounded off by the solo oboe. A shimmer or two from the strings and the strains of the serenade die away.

[10] Waltz for a Princess

Which princess the composer had in mind is not revealed. But surely it is a princess from the make-believe world of fairy-tale, beautiful to look at in glittering attire and dancing the lightest of graceful steps.

[11] Shenandoah

Ernest Tomlinson's entry into the all-important world of broadcasting came not by way of composition but through arrangements of traditional tunes. The first one was of Dashing Away With the Smoothing Iron, played by the Charles Shadwell String Orchestra in December 1948. The next melody selected to help ease the way into broadcasting and publication was the lovely sea-shanty Shenandoah. In the sailing ships of old every task called for manual labour, which seamen made a little easier for themselves by singing shanties. It is evident, not least from the different versions that have come down to us, that Shenandoah was one of the most popular of all sea-shanties. Shenandoah was the name of a celebrated Indian chief, after whom an American town and a tributary of the Potomac River are named, yet in the words of the shanty, it is "Away I'm bound to go 'cross the wide Missouri". The beautiful melody, unusually slow for a shanty, is more evocative of a journey up "you rollin' river" than "the stormy ocean". There's yearning too: "Oh, Shenandoah, I love your daughter". The words, like the music, have come to us in various forms, each singer reading into them his own vision of events and circumstances long past.

[12] Cumberland Square

Back to the 1950 Festival of Folk-Dance, an experience made even more memorable by the total contrast of the dance that followed the two Playford dances quoted above. The full lights came on, and the floor was soon thronging with dancers from all over Britain and guests from abroad, in every kind of colourful costume, who danced that most favourite and exhilarating community dance, Cumberland Square 8. This is particularly spectacular when viewed from above - as from the gallery of the Royal Albert Hall! The dancers don't just stay with their own eights but also trip their way diagonally through the neighbouring eights and back again, presenting a dazzling, ever-changing mosaic. Fundamental to the enjoyment of this dance are the two rollicking tunes invariably used. They are both Scottish, the first known by the poem Robbie Bums set to it: My Love She's But A Lassie Yet and the other, Cock o' the North. Though it was not until 1960 that Tomlinson scored his Cumberland Square, that 1950 experience was still vivid in his memory, as is seen in this sparkling arrangement. As in the dance itself, the orchestra plays the first tune and its repeats, then the second tune similarly and then returns to the first. Trust Tomlinson to spot that the two tunes can be played together in perfect counterpoint. So in their last appearance they are both played at the same time.

[13] Rhapsody and Rondo for Horn and Orchestra

In 1954 Frank Wade took over as the head of the British Broadcasting Corporation's new Light Music Department. One of his first decisions was to step up the BBC's enterprising policy of commissioning new works for its annual Light Music Festival. The festival was broadcast on radio, a much bigger force than television at that time, and so performances reached a very wide audience. Composers commissioned to produce new works for the festivals included Ronald Binge, John Addison, Geoffrey Bush, Phyllis Tate, John Gardner and many others.

Approached by Geoffrey Brand, the producer of the festival for eleven years from 1956, about the commission, Tomlinson said he would like to write a piece for Dennis Brain. At that time Dennis Brain was at the height of his fame as performer on the French horn. There was, quite simply, no player in the world who could match his effortless technique allied to a musicianship which gave his interpretations a perfection to be marvelled at. When reporting to the composer that Dennis Brain had accepted the assignment, Brand's next words were, "But don't write it so that only Dennis Brain can play it", an astute piece of advice which was conveniently forgotten. Brain's own concern was of a different kind. "Please, not another 6/8 rondo!" Those who know the horn repertoire will know w hat he meant. The orchestral horn's affinity, from the earliest days, with the hunting-horn has pre-conditioned composers - Mozart included - to write innumerable tunes of what one might call the 'tantivy-tantivy' kind. Fortunately, Tomlinson had quite different rondo themes in mind. A draft of the horn part was sent to Dennis Brain and the two eventually met during a break in a recording-session at Walthamstow Town Hall. The composer was relieved to find his rondo themes were all eminently playable, given a few tiny modifications, the desirability of which Brain, instrument to hand, illustrated there and then.

When eventually it came to rehearsal with the BBC Concert Orchestra and soloist, all went well on the first run-through until it came to the rondo. Tomlinson set what he felt was a good bright tempo but Brain immediately stopped him. "Ernest, you'll have to take it much faster than that, I've been practising at this speed," and proceeded to demonstrate. An audible gasp went round the orchestra. The first performance took place on the following day to a packed Royal Festival Hall and a radio audience of millions, the concert being broadcast live throughout Europe. Tragically, this was almost certainly the last première Dennis Brain gave. Only two months later came the shattering news that he had been killed in a car accident.

With the whole music profession mourning it was three years before it seemed fitting to offer the work to another horn-player. Then Alan Civil took the work in hand, gave several performances and helped edit it for publication in 1962. Other soloists followed, including Ifor James and Michael Purton. It was Mike Purton, formerly the principal horn with the Hallé Orchestra, who proposed this work for a concert to be played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Edward Downes, as part of the 14th International Horn Workshop, at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, in July 1992. The soloist was Richard Watkins.

As the title suggests, Rhapsody and Rondo is in two contrasting sections. First comes the slow rhapsody, which explores the lyrical and dramatic aspects of horn-playing, followed by a rondo where the virtuosity and frolicsome aspects of the instrument are exploited to the full. Towards the end of the rondo the horn takes a rest as the orchestra begins a fugal passage - a fugal passage with a difference though. The 'voices' enter in turn - strings, piccolo, tuba and basses, bassoon, trombones and then trumpets - in true fugal manner, except that each quotes a different tune, selected from the themes heard earlier. The orchestra invites the horn to join in but by then there are no tunes left so the solo horn plays instead a snippet of the classical work which, more than any other, made Dennis Brain a household name. The orchestra eventually brings the soloist to order and he returns to quicken things up, and bring the work to a high-note conclusion.

That quotation towards the end of the Tomlinson rondo, of the tune which at that time seemed almost personal to Dennis Brain and which he had played in the first half of the concert, was the subject of much subsequent discussion. The composer's intention had been to use that piece of whimsy, much appreciated by the audience, on just that one occasion. Indeed the quotation was written out of some later performances of Rhapsody and Rondo. Now, all these years later, to hear that passage as it was played at the first performance serves as are minder of a great musician and of the inspiration Dennis Brain's playing has been to so many.

[14] Passepied

Passepied was a popular dance in French court circles during the 1600s and 1700s, often featured in opera and ballet. It is a dance which trips along in three-time, like a quick minuet. Or does it? Both Delibes (Le Roi s'amuse ballet music) and Debussy (Suite Bergamasque) made the 'mistake' of writing passepieds in two-time, much like a Bourrée. So the young Ernest Tomlinson can be forgiven for doing likewise. Passepied is the earliest of his compositions to establish itself, the one whose first broadcast led to more of his pieces being welcomed and thus can be said to have launched his career as a composer. It was written early in 1947 with a view to impressing a certain young lady whom Tomlinson had first met in 1937, holidaying at the farm where they now live. They lost touch during the war but chance brought them together again ten years later. This spurred the aspiring composer to show that he had moved on a little since the 'Symphony' in D minor he had played to her at the age of twelve.

The years 1947 to 1949 represented the frustrating time most composers go through in their early days, the long haul of submitting music to publishers only to have piece after piece rejected. In 1949 Tomlinson obtained a copyist / arranger post at a small publisher, Arcadia Music. He chose his moment to play to his new boss, Harry Ralton, all the pieces he had been hawking around. Somewhat to his surprise it was Passepied that the publisher picked out. The piece was then scored for orchestra and submitted to Michael Krein, conductor of the London Light Concert Orchestra, which was broadcasting regularly. Nothing more was heard until some months later, in October, when the composer and the young lady for whom Passepied had been written were on their honeymoon in Keswick in the Lake District. A telegram from the publisher interrupted their idyll: "SEND SCORE AND PARTS OF PASSEPIED IMMEDIATELY." A hurried scramble for a Radio Times revealed that Passepied was scheduled for a broadcast a few days later. Long inured to rejection the composer had prepared no performing material. Fortunately, there was still time for a colleague to get the work done and the broadcast took place as scheduled. The welcome that Passepied received from other broadcasting orchestras was the best kind of encouragement Tomlinson could receive, and more pieces followed, several based on dance-forms.

Played on the oboe, to a simple accompaniment on pizzicato strings, the melody of Passepied has a haunting quality that memory clings to. Muted strings, horns, wood-wind and lastly celeste add to the interest in the middle section, but the music remains distant and elusive throughout.

[15] Rigadoon

Rigadoon, written in 1958, provides a contrasting dance to pair with Passepied. The French dance Rigaudon became very popular both in folk-dancing and court circles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In England it was usually called a Rigadoon. Its nature, a lively two-in-a-bar dance, has attracted many composers. This one is taken from Two Miniature Dances published in 1958. The dancing violins are particularly effective, answered in turn by dancing flutes.

        Dances from Aladdin

[16] Birdcage Dance

[17] Cushion Dance

[18] Belly Dance

In 1974 the Northern Dance Theatre, based in Manchester (now the Northern Ballet Theatre), commissioned Ernest Tomlinson to write the music for a full-length ballet, Aladdin. The choreographer was Laverne Meyer and the Musical Director Christopher Robins. The ballet was first performed at the Royal Northern College of Music in September 1974 and subsequently received over a hundred performances around Great Britain. The Aladdin story was planned so as to include a variety of set dances. From these no fewer than four orchestral suites were extracted and later broadcast. Dances from Aladdin won an Ivor Novello Award for the best light-orchestral work of 1974.

Three dances are chosen for this CD, all from Act II, which is set in the Sultan's Palace. The first two are danced by the ladies of the harem for the delectation of the Sultan. First is Birdcage Dance, birdcages being, so one is led to believe, a basic feature of such establishments; then comes the Cushion Dance - yes, one presumes cushions are too. The Belly Dance is performed after Aladdin has arrived decked out in all his finery, thanks to the wizardry of his slave the genie, and ushered in by the sultan's warrior slaves. In the short divertissement which follows a climax is reached with this Belly Dance, which was something of a show-stopper in the ballet itself. It begins as a solo dance to the alluring tones of the saxophone, first in free rhythm, then as motivated by aggressive repetitive percussive figurations which dominate increasingly to the end of the dance. The rest of the company joins in and the music and action become ever wilder as the dance proceeds.

[19] A Georgian Miniature

As 'play-out' to the CD a piece as gentle as the previous one is tempestuous. In 1962 came an invitation for Tomlinson to write a set of period pieces for a background music library. Shortly before, he had arranged for orchestra eight tuneful harpsichord pieces by the Georgian composer Thomas Arne. Steeped in the idiom of the time, it came naturally now to compose a set of six Georgian Miniatures in similar idiom.

The particularly charming Air from this set was picked out by the publisher for dissemination in its own right. In its original form it was quite short and a new section was composed, featuring flutes and clarinets in contrast to the oboe solo of the air itself. A repeat of the air, varied in instrumentation, completes the piece. In this form A Georgian Miniature was published and widely performed. Yet the composer himself did not hear this full version until, thirty years on, he conducted the Bratislava Radio Orchestra in this recording of it.

© 1994 Hilary Ashton

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