Eric Coates was an English composer of light music and a viola player. His music was featured regularly over the BBC and sold hundreds of thousands of records. He also wrote music for film scores including The Chronicles of Narnia.
After studying at home with a governess, Coates enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of 20 to study viola. He was principal violist with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra for seven years. Although a very modest man, he enjoyed telling the story about members of the orchestra having a competition to see who would be the first to play an entire score from memory - and how he won.
He left the orchestra in 1919 to focus his time on composition and conducting. He had an early success with the overture The Merrymakers (1922), and London Suite (1933). Our featured piece, Covent Garden, was the first of three movements in the London Suite. This lively piece depicts Covent Garden, an area of London famous for its opera house and fruit and vegetable market.
Coates’ music was often used in ballet although he wrote only one, “The Seven Dwarfs”, in 1930. An avid dancer himself, he studied jazz and wrote syncopated music under the pseudonym “Jack Arnold”. Amongst his early champions was Sir Edward Elgar. While many British composers sought inspiration in the countryside, it was the reverse for Coates. He was most happy working amongst the sounds and excitement of London. Coates enjoyed conducting his own music and liked his music to be taken at a brisk and lively tempo.
When Eric Coates died in 1957, it was rightly commented that perhaps no other composer had ever provided music to suit the public taste so unerringly for so many years. He was recognized as the “uncrowned king of light music.”
Percy Grainger was a virtuoso piano performer and composer born in Australia. He showed signs of talent at a young age and studied piano with a German teacher who arranged a concert for him when Percy was just 12 years old.
As an adult, Percy went to Frankfurt, Germany for more studies. While there he made many English speaking musical friends and focused on his own style of composing. He made friends with famous composers such as the Norwegian, Edvard Grieg who shared Percy’s love of folk music. Percy continued to compose and perform, and was a very entertaining, energetic pianist with many interests and talents. For example, for a time he designed his own clothing in addition to pursuing his active musical career.
At the outbreak of WW II he immigrated to the United States with his mother. He settled in New York and enlisted in the US Army Band. He became highly successful and well known, even to jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington. He remained in the United States until his death in 1961 but was buried in his home country, Australia.
The featured selection, “Shepherd’s Hey” is a lively piece, reflecting a variety of Morris Dances, or English folk dances by trained performers. Grainger added amusing directions to the music, such as “chippy”, “merrily”, “bumpingly”, and “top notes as piercing as possible.”
Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria and became famous for both performing and writing music when he was a small child. His father was a music teacher and Wolfgang, at age 5, played keyboard instruments (harpsichord, clavichord and piano) as well as violin and he began writing music. With his older sister, he traveled to many European capitols to perform for important people, including royalty.
At 17 he was hired as a court musician in Salzburg, but he eventually moved to Vienna in search of a better position. He kept writing music: symphonies, masses and keyboard concertos, and, after several trips to Italy, he began to write operas. Although the music he wrote was very popular, he never was able to get jobs that paid well.
The featured piece, Mitridate, re di Ponto, is an early opera by Mozart written while touring Italy in 1770, at the age of fourteen. The opera tells a story of an exiled ruler, Mitradate, who returns to claim his land and his betrothed. It is a story of rivalry between brothers, the thirst for dominance, and corruption of power.
Mozart’s life was short. He died at age 35, but he wrote more music than other composers who lived much longer.
Camille Saint Saëns was born in Paris in 1835. Already showing talent at a very young age, he started piano lessons with his aunt. When he was just 5 years old he gave his first public concert.
Saint Saëns became an organist and studied music composition, writing his first symphony when he was 16. He was a curious scholar, studying geology, botany, butterflies, math, and especially acoustics.
At age 40, he married a 19 year-old woman and had 2 sons. Both sons died just 6 weeks apart, the first from illness, and the second from falling out of a window. This tragedy ended his marriage.
He composed many famous pieces, including “Carnival of the Animals” and “Organ Symphony no. 3” that was used in the famous 1995 movie, “Babe” and the sequel “Babe in The City”. One movement from “Carnival of the Animals”, “The Swan”, was made into a ballet for a famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, who performed the piece 4,000 times. Another movement, the “Dance Macabre” is famous for its scary sounding music.
In 1908 he was the first composer ever to compose the score for a film, a 19-minute silent motion picture called “The Assassination of the Duke of Guise.” He was one of the first pianists to make a recording of his work.
Saint Saëns loved Algeria where he spent many years of his life. His experience there inspired the “Suite Algérienne” with music that suggests the sea as well as French soldiers who were in charge of protecting the French colony.
Sousa was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known particularly for American military and patriotic marches. Because of his mastery of march composition, he is known as "The March King". Among his best known marches are "The Washington Post", "Semper Fidelis" (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
Sousa’s father was Portuguese and his mother of Bavarian ancestry. Sousa began his career playing violin and studying music theory and composition at the age of six. When he was 13, his father enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice to keep him from joining a circus band. After departing the Marine band in 1875, Sousa eventually learned to conduct. Later he formed his own band, the Sousa Band, and traveled extensively. From 1880 until his death, Sousa began focusing exclusively on conducting and wrote marches during this time. He also developed the sousaphone a large brass instrument similar to the tuba, that could sound upward and over the band whether its player was seated or marching.
The United States Marine Corps Band has played "The Liberty Bell" march at five of the last seven presidential inaugurations. The Liberty Bell march is also associated with the British TV comedy program Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–74). The only American on the team, Terry Gilliam, liked the first bell strike and the subsequent melody, which gave the impression of getting "straight down to business."