Monday, 24 April 2017

From settings of Longfellow to Sports Report

Looking forward to my regular dose of Private Passions, I mused not for the first time on what got me hooked on orchestral music first of all. Much must have been subliminal, from the old Kolster-Brandes radio mounted high (so that my infant fingers could not fiddle with the knobs?) in the living room. BBC broadcast a wide range of music* on the Light Programme in those days, and on the Home Service enlightened Children's Hour producers would use light classical pieces as incidental music to serials. Sometimes the music was not so light. One sci-fi series effectively used a piece of Bartok's night music.

All this was consciously reinforced later when I was allowed to go to the pictures on my own. I can't say I remember Hugo Friedhofer's score for Joan of Arc, but Vaughan Williams' orchestral music (later to be amplified into a symphony) for Scott of the Antarctic certainly made an impression as did the Cornish Rhapsody, the theme of Love Story, a vehicle for Stewart Granger and Margaret Lockwood. Not long after seeing the film, I was allowed to accompany my parents to rich acquaintances (I am guessing the family of an officer who knew my father during the war) who possessed a radiogram and stacks of 78s. Invited to pick something, and no doubt expected to light on a dance band number, I spotted Cornish Rhapsody. "Oh, you won't like that." I was told, but I did and I believe the company did too.

Before writing this post, some research was necessary to refresh my memory. I had assumed that the pseudo-concerto was by Addinsell or Alwyn or one of the √©migr√© composers given employment by sympathetic British studios in the 1940s. Instead, it turned out to be by Hubert Bath, the man also responsible for Out of the Blue, the long-time signature tune of Sports Report.

Bath was almost as prolific a composer for British film as the aforementioned composers, and certainly the earliest of the three because he contributed to the sound-track of Blackmail, Alfred Hitchock's and Britain's first talkie.

But he was much more than that, as this appreciation shows. He wrote operas and set poems based on literary greats like Hardy and Longfellow. He wrote orchestral suites, cantatas - I would love to have heard his Men on the Line for the male voices of the Great Eastern Railway - for piano, organ, some inventive combinations, and for brass band. One of his band competition pieces was in use until the 1970s. He would make a great Composer of the Week - if only enough of his work has been recorded.

Bath died at Harefield, Middlesex on 24 April 1945, just days before VE Day.

*even jazz, thanks to the persistence of Charles Chilton, as he revealed in his reminiscences

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