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8.553515 - Elizabethan Serenade: The Best of British Light Music
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The Best of British Light Music

The Best of British Light Music

 

[1] By the Sleepy Lagoon - Eric Coates (1886 - 1957)

The English composer Eric Coates was a master of light music, providing material that has formed a stratum in British musical consciousness through much of the twentieth century. Born in Hucknall, in Nottinghamshire, he studied first in Nottingham and then at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he was a viola pupil of the great Lionel Tertis and a composition pupil of Frederick Corder. His early professional experience was in theatre orchestras and, for a time, as member of the Hambourg Quartet, but, after a spell of service in the Queen's Hall Orchestra, he turned his attention definitively to light music, winning enormous popularity. His By the Sleepy Lagoon, a valse serenade written in 1930, is very familiar to addicts of the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, for many years an introduction to the voice of Roy Plomley and now to that of Sue Lawley.

 

[2] Robin Hood Suite: March of the Bowmen - Frederic Curzon (1899 - 1973)

Dedicated to Marian, his wife, the three-movement Robin Hood Suite appeared in 1937, the year of Frederic Curzon's marriage. Donald Curzon has no hesitation in regarding this work as a turning point in his stepfather's career, and considers it a 'bench-mark' for all that was to follow. Named after the legendary -or, as some scholars would have it, not so legendary -outlaw who inhabited Nottinghamshire's sherwood Forest in medieval times, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, it represents the composer at the height of his melodic inspiration. The very popular March of the Bowmen strongly suggests that the archers of Sherwood Forest were no raggle-taggle band of ruffians, but close relations of the Yeomen of England. It is all good, stiff-upper-lip stuff. The standard English march format is followed, with a stirring main tune followed by a contrasting theme, broader and more regal in feel. Both sections are then repeated, the second being slowed down and given a grandiose, ceremonial rendition.

 

[3] Bells across the Meadows - Albert Ketelbey (1875 - 1959)

Born in Birmingham and later a student at Trinity College in London, Albert Ketelbey was a versatile performer, winning enormous popularity for some of his descriptive pieces and providing a wealth of music for the silent films. One of his most popular compositions, Bells across the Meadows was written in 1921. To modern-day audiences, this work offers an aural equivalent of a Myles Birket Foster painting of by-gone scenes -rose-entwined thatched cottages standing amidst gardens full of hollyhocks with a gentle brook bubbling on its rustic way and cows grazing peacefully in the pastures beyond. Did such idyllic images ever really exist? It is nice to think that they did and Bells Across the Meadows certainly helps to sustain this belief.

 

[4] Coronation Scot - Vivian Ellis (1903 - 1996)

Vivian Ellis is one of Britain's great song-writers. With such a melodic gift backed by all the right attributes -harmonic resource, sense of design, ability to set a scene, and impeccable workmanship -it was natural that his output has also included a number of light orchestral compositions.

Vivian Ellis was born in Hampstead, London, into a musical family. His grandmother was a pianist and composer, writing, amongst other things, a comic opera, and his mother was a fine violinist. He studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy of Music, the latter under Myra Hess. Recognising that his talents lay in 'light' rather than symphonic fields his first employment was as a reader and demonstrator for the London publisher Francis, Day and Hunter. His own skill as a song-writer was recognised by his late teens and there began a prolific output of songs and other musical numbers for the stage, working with the great artists of the day, including Jack Hulbert, Francis Day and Sophie Tucker. He was only twenty when the great impresario C.B. Cochran invited him to write for his 1930 Revue and thus began a long and fruitful relationship. The constant turnover of new revues and musical comedies that characterised theatre in the pre-war era found Ellis in his element.

 

[5] Sketch of a Dandy - Haydn Wood (1882 - 1959)

A Yorkshire-man by birth, Haydn Wood moved with his family to the Isle of Man at the age of two. A violinist and composer of prodjgious early talent, he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, with composition lessons from Stanford, and he went on to study the violin further in Brussels with Cesar Thomson. A versatile and prolific composer, often in a lighter vein, with many sentimental ballads to his credit, Haydn Wood enjoyed a long and successful career. His delightful miniature, Sketch of a Dandy, dating from 1950 shows, that age had done nothing to diminish the 68-year-old composer's gift for creating simple, pleasing melodies accompanied by occasionally piquant harmonies. Wood provided his own brief scenario for this title gem of light music:

"Conjure up in your mind the gay nineties and picture a dandy taking his morning constitutional down Bond Street on a beautiful day in Spring. He meets one of his charming lady friends and exchanges pleasantries with her. He reluctantly leaves her and strolls on his way."

 

[6] The Westminster Waltz - Robert Farnon (b. 1917)

Canadian by birth, Robert Farnon had an active career in broadcast music in his native country before the war and military service that took him to England as conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Here he won immediate popularity for his compositions, arrangements and performances, much in demand as a musical director and as an exponent of light music. Probably the best-known of all Farnon's compositions, the exhilarating Westminster Waltz dates from 1956, and was the recipient of that year's coveted Ivor Novello Award for light music. No prizes are offered for recognising the source of the very opening bars, but the lilting main theme is 100% original Farnon. The close-harmony scoring of strings and woodwind and skilful use of sequences are wholly typical of the composer, serving as unmistakable stylistic fingerprints.

 

[7] Little Suite: March - Trevor Duncan (b. 1924)

Trevor Duncan, a veteran composer, balance engineer wit~ the BBC, describes his Little Suite as absolute music. The use of the march by BBC Television for its Dr. Finlay's Casebook series resulted in numerous commercial recordings. The Scottish setting for the Finlay stories convinced listeners that the inspiration came from north of the border, but Duncan insists that he was thinking of England, not Scotland, when he penned this miniature masterpiece.

 

[8] Sailing By - Ronald Binge (1910 - 1979)

About the most difficult thing to compose is a tune which is both simple and memorable. Easy-to-Iisten-to easy-to-forget tunes abound, but Sailing By has that extra quality that makes it stay in the memory. To be technical, Sailing By is a tune whose every note is taken from the notes of the chords that propel it. The genius though, having set the simplest of accompaniments to lilt the tune along, is to enrich the melody by way of felicitous orchestration: the rise and fall of the flute figurations which introduce the piece and feature throughout as fill-ins at the ends of phrases; the undulating clarinets which become more busy and join in the flutes' ornamentations as the climax is reached. All that, with a persuasive title, made this piece an ideal choice for a BBC Television documentary on an International Balloon Race. This was a programme without dialogue and the interest engendered by the music made it an overnight success. For several years countless numbers of listeners have unwound from the stress of the day to the relaxing strains of this melody, as the final item before close-down of the BBC Radio 4 programmes of the day.

 

[9] Jamaican Rumba - Arthur Benjamin (1893 - 1960)

Arthur Benjamin has suffered -if that is the word -from having produced one piece of music, Jamaican Rumba, so successful as to tend to divert interest away from his substantial achievements elsewhere.

Benjamin was born in Sydney, but for most of his life was based in England. He studied piano and composition under Stanford at the Royal College of Music, London from 1911. After service in the 1914-18 Great War he returned to Australia as a teacher of piano at Sydney Conservatorium, then took a similar post at the Royal College of Music in London, having come back to England in 1921.

As a composer Benjamin covered a wide span, from his more 'serious' works, his operas The Tale of Two Cities (1950) and Tartuffe (1960) by way of a Piano Concertino and other orchestral works as well as chamber music, songs and piano music, to a significant number of works in lighter vein.

Benjamin's work as examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music took him overseas, and his travels in Latin America bore fruit in a number of vocal and instrumental works, Caribbean influence being perhaps the most dominant.

Jamaican Rumba, in its original form written for Joan and Valerie Trimble, a two- piano duo popular before, during and after the second world war, was so successful world-wide it earned for the composer an annual barrel of rum given by the Jamaican authorities in recognition of the fame he had brought to their island!

 

[10] London Suite: Knightsbridge March - Eric Coates

It was the London Suite, more than any other, which finally made Eric Coates a familiar name with the general public. The composer wrote it during the autumn and early winter of 1932, finishing it on 25th November of that year and following what was now, for him, a tried and trusted format, the three-movement suite. The inspiration, came quite simply from the vistas available to him from his top-floor Baker Street apartment. In varying degrees of detail, he was able to pick out the theatre roofs and the fruit and vegetable market in Covent Garden to the east; the unmistakable outline of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster would have been visible to the southeast, while to the southwest, across the green expanse of Hyde Park, Knightsbridge would have stood out quite clearly.

 

[11] In a Monastery Garden - Albert Ketelbey

It was the Characteristic Intermezzo, In a Monastery Garden published in 1915, which was primarily responsible for launching Ketelbey into the forefront of light music composers. It is instructive to note that, whereas in its day this delightful miniature inspired tears of emotion, in our own time the music is more likely to induce tears of laughter and hoots of derision at its apparent excessive sentimentality and naive effects, especially the bird calls. Whether this is due to shortcomings on the part of the composer or prevailing cynicism amongst contemporary audiences is a question on which the present writer prefers not to make judgement. Little is left to the imagination as realistic avian impersonations issue forth and male voices (those of the gentlemen of the orchestra, if Ketelbey's instructions are followed to the letter) enter with a sequence of "Kyrie Eleison" at the point in the score marked "Chant Religioso. Sing in imitation of monks chanting in the distance". The composer himself provided a description of the piece:

"The first theme represents a poet's reverie in the quietude of the monastery garden amidst beautiful surroundings -the calm serene atmosphere -the leafy trees and the singing birds. The second theme in the minor expresses the more 'personal' note of sadness, of appeal and contrition. Presently, the monks are heard chanting the "Kyrie Eleison" with the organ playing and the chapel bell ringing. The first theme is now heard in a quieter manner as if it had become more ethereal and distant; the singing of the monks is again heard -it becomes louder and more insistent, bringing the piece to a conclusion in a glow of exultation." What more could a listener desire!

 

[12] Little Serenade - Ernest Tomlinson (b. 1924)

The delightful miniature, Little Serenade, one of the most popular pieces, began life as part of The Story of Cinderella, 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. The veteran composer 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.

 

[13] Roses of Picardy - Haydn Wood

Roses of Picardy remains one of the best known of all Haydn Wood's compositions. It is essentially a sentimental ballad and dates from 1916, a period when its message seemed particularly cogent and its music provided an escape from the robust songs of war current at the time.

 

[14] Puffin' Billy - Edward White (1910 - 1994)

A self-taught violinist, Edward White also played the saxophone and clarinet in different West End orchestras, an ideal environment in which he was able to develop his natural ability as a composer and arranger. Composition assumed an ever more important part in his professional life and Puffin' Billy must be one of his best known works, used for a Saturday morning BBC programme, Children's Favourites.

 

[15] Elizabethan Serenade - Ronald Binge

Ronald Binge's Elizabethan Serenade was first played by the Mantovani orchestra in 1951, reflecting the optimism of the new Elizabethan age that was then beginning, with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth n.

 

[16] Tom Jones Waltz - Edward German (1862 - 1936)

Edward German occupies a very special place in lighter English music, known above all for his popular light operas. Tom Jones, written in 1908, is based on the famous eighteenth century novel by Henry Fielding, with the waltz-song for Sophia, the heroine, a high point in the whole work.

 

[17] Vanity Fair - Anthony Collins (1893 - 1964)

Principal viola-player in the London Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Collins moved from London to America, seeking a career in film music, which he was able to pursue successfully in Hollywood. His Vanity Fair recalls the world of Thackeray's novel of that name, evoking the spirit of early nineteenth century England.

 

[18] Marigold - Billy Mayerl (1903 - 1959)

A leading figure in British ragtime, Billy Mayerl, at first as a pianist, occupied a significant place in the world of British light music. He played with the Savoy Orpheans in the first British performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and scored a phenomenal success with his hit Marigold, a piece with which his name is inextricably associated.

 

[19] In a Persian Market - Albert Ketelbey (1875 - 1959)

Ketelbey followed the success of earlier light character pieces with his orientalising In a Persian Market, published in 1921, and evoking the world of caravansaray, camel-trains, beggars, and a beautiful Persian princess, as the caravan passes.

 

[20] The Dam Busters March - Eric Coates

The Dam Busters March is from the film, The Dam Busters, a story of war-time daring, as British airmen bomb a dam in occupied Europe, a hazardous exploit. The film score is dominated by the well known March, which has, since then, enjoyed an independent existence.

 

Notes by Tim McDonald, Ernest Tomlinson, Keith Anderson, David Ades and Philip Lane

 


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