Alice and Light Music
ALICE AND LIGHT MUSIC: A Summary
by Philip L Scowcroft
Lewis Carroll (1832-98) was, as Charles Luttridge Dodgson, a mathematician but remains celebrated for his Alice books, reckoned by many as children's literature though there is also a deeper message to be found in them.
Doubtless this "deeper message" was exploited in a series of "scenes and arias" from the Alice stories by David Walter del Tredici (1937-), sometime Professor of Music at Harvard, in a "tonal 12 note" idiom and very accessible. By my count there are eleven of these, many for amplified soprano and orchestra, but others for smaller ensembles; several are substantial, Vintage Alice (on the Mad Hatter's Tea Party) being timed at 28 minutes. In 1986 they were drawn on (in Canada) for a ballet.
Other American composers derived inspiration from Alice: Joseph Deems Taylor (1885-1966), composed an orchestral suite Through the Looking Glass; Edgar Stallman-Kelley (1857-1944) had his pantomime pictures Alice in Wonderland performed by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra in 1922; and Homer Simmons published for two pianos in 1940 a passacaglia The Duchess and a minuet The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle.
But two of the greatest of all British composers were asked to set Carroll. Sir Arthur Sullivan was the first with Carroll himself making the contact, proposing a staged setting of "Alice in Wonderland" including "two or three of the songs". Sullivan was not keen and was doubtful if such a project would get off the ground; one source suggests that Sullivan attempted to set some of the lyrics but was defeated by the unusual metre. More than twenty years later in January 1899, A J Jaeger ("Nimrod") of Novello's suggested to Elgar a mock-heroic cantata on The Jabberwock (from Through the Looking Glass). Elgar dismissed this as "unsaleable", though later he did briefly start to sketch Jabberwocky for voice and orchestra.
However, composers on both sides of the Atlantic managed to progress further than Sullivan and Elgar and a selection of their (and del Tredici's) pieces would make an attractive concert even if confined to orchestral and instrumental works. For example, Ronald Hamner's fantasy for brass band Alice in Wonderland appeared in 1974, Joseph Horovitz's Alice ballet (actually entitled Wonderful Scenes from Alice ) included a Waltz of the Flowers and Gardens and Lobster Quadrille. Alfred Reynolds (1884-1969) provided delicious incidental music of which more later. Music educationist, arranger and composer for young people Geoffry Russell-Smith penned two pieces for a trio of clarinets, Alice and the Mad Hatter. Philip Gates wrote an alto saxophone solo, March Hare, Nigel Ogden composed a White Rabbit Scherzo for organ, Stan Tracey a suite Alice in Jazz, Paul Paviour a suite for piano, Alice in Pianoland. Peter Cork's suite, Alice Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There has been recorded fairly recently, all twelve movements of it. Albert Ketèlbey composed a four movement piano suite, Alice in 1906 (before the days of In a Monastery Garden).
E Markham Lee, known for his piano pieces for children, published twelve movements (two sets of six) for piano duet, four hands one piano. And most recently (so far), Alice's Adventures Through Sound and Space for wind band was premiered in November 2012 by Sheffield University Wind Band; the music was by Sheffield undergraduate Tierney Kirby, a saxophonist in the Band. Most, perhaps all, of these orchestral and instrumental titles were on the lighter side of the musical spectrum.
We have seen that Carroll was anxious to have a staged (musical) version of "Alice" and it is time to examine some of those which have existed. First and in many ways the most successful, came during Carroll's lifetime. One H Savile Clark adapted "Alice in Wonderland" as a "dream play for children" and Walter Slaughter (1860-1908), a conductor for the London stage and a prolific, tuneful and accessible composer, was approached to do the music. It was first put on at the Prince of Wales Theatre for 57 matinées, starting December 1886, as a Christmas feature but was so popular that it lasted until March 1887. The Clark/Slaughter "Alice" was to have eighteen London revivals, at the Globe (1888-9), Opera Comique (1898-9), Vaudeville (38 performances 1900-01) and other London theatres for mainly Christmas seasons up to as late as 1934. The music was published and Slaughter's reputation burgeoned as he was invited to compose for several other children's musicals.
There was an attempt at the New Theatre (1903) to repeat its success with the "fairy play" "Alice Through the Looking Glass". The music, by Walter Tilbury, was less successful, though its football jokes and "impressions", interpolated to spice Carroll, fell flat. Yet it survived for sixty performances that winter and the score was published. More durable was "Florian Pascal's" "(Joseph Williams')" children's fairy operetta "In Wonderland" (1908) and several times revived including once in Doncaster by a young choir in 1946.
Staged "Alices" with music continued to appear. "Alice Up to Date", music by Philip Braham, appeared at the Pavilion Theatre in 1913. Incidental music for a play version was composed in 1933 by one H Cyphus. "Alice in Wonderland" (1932) and "Through the Looking Glass" (1943), both adapted by Clemence Dane, had music by Richard Addinsell, a composer well known to readers of JIM (some of Addinsell's songs, like Beautiful Soup, A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky and Father William were published). Graham Garton (1929- )wrote a musical "Alice". In 2001-02 the RSC put on Adrian Mitchell's new version of both "Alice" classics with incidental music by Stephen Warbeck and Terry Davies. Even more recently (2004) Carl Davis provided a score for a stage musical version of "Alice in Wonderland". But we must return to the earlier (1947) Christmas show at Stratford, again a combination of both "Alices", and to its delicious music by Alfred Reynolds with charming titles such as Ballet of Rabbits, Crawl of the Caterpillars, Dance of the Cards, Ballet of the Talking Flowers, Jabberwocky (with a part for swanee whistle), Parade of the King's Hobby Horses and March of the Drums. Two suites were extracted from this music; several of their movements were recorded some years ago by Marco Polo, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia being conducted by Gavin Sutherland. Away from "Alice", a stage version of Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark" (1991) had songs by Mike Batt, but it did not achieve success.
However, I have still not done with musical stage adaptations. An operetta for amateurs, "Alice in Dreamland" was performed by Armthorpe [Doncaster] Evening Institute (March 1935) but the composer for this is unrecorded. A rock "Alice in Wonderland" appeared at the Intimate Theatre, Palmer's Green in 1976 (one wonders what Carroll would have made of that). The Collegiate Theatre's "Alice" (1980) had music by theatre conductor David Lowe. Wilfred Joseph's set "Through the Looking Glass" as a children's opera in twelve short scenes with a prologue and epilogue (1978). In the 1980s Stephen Scotchmer's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was another children's adaptation; still another was David Aylott, "Alice, A Musical for Schools" (1994). "Alice", with "updated" music by Anthony Phillips, was produced at the Leeds Playhouse in 1984. James Leisy's "Alice A Musical Play" (based on both Alices and timed at 90 minutes), was published in 1981. The Korean composer Unsuk Chin was working on an Alice opera in August 2005; as a "trailer" five songs, entitled Snags and Snarls, received a first European performance at a BBC Prom in that month and impressed with their conciseness and sensitive, jewel-like orchestral accompaniment. I have alluded to the major "Alice" ballet version (1953, revived both on stage and TV) and its music by Joseph Horovitz; a fresh "Alice" ballet (1995) drew on Tchaikovsky's music. More recently "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (2011) had music by Joby Talbot, much praised.
Songs setting lyrics by Carroll but primarily for the concert hall rather than the stage, have come from various composers. Maybe the earliest were by Liza Lehmann (1862-1918), Nine (actually ten) Nonsense Songs for SATB or, in some cases, vocal solo or duet. Harold Fraser-Simson (1878-1944), known for "The Maid of the Mountains" and settings of AA Milne, also published eight songs from "Alice in Wonderland". Victor Hely-Hutchinson, who worked for the BBC, and composed A Carol Symphony and nursery rhyme settings, also set Father William, Humpty Dumpty, Jabberwocky, To the Looking Glass World, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and Beautiful Soup. The latter was also set as a two part song for children by the American Thomas Benjamin and as one of a number of songs by Roger Fiske in 1952.
In more recent years there have been The Mad Hatter's Song from "Birds and Beasts" by author Percy Young (d. 2003), The Crocodile and Father William (1984), combining Alice and Peter Pan, by Michael Berkeley for unaccompanied women's voices in six parts, Jabberwocky by Carol Barratt as the first of Four Strange Wild Songs, Tweedledee's Song by Mavis de Mierre, Songs for Alice (1978) by Don Harper, Five Alice Songs by Jeffrey Joseph for mezzo and instrumental ensemble, Some Hallucinations (unison voices) by Patrick Williams, The Lobster Quadrille for women's voices by Colin Hand, Seven Songs (1989) for women's voices by Maurice Bailey, and Father William (in 2 parts) by Sol Berkovitz, an American. Derek Bourgeois (1941- ) with his extravaganza Jabberwocky (baritone, mixed voice chorus and orchestra) achieved in 1967 what Elgar had failed to finish. Finally among these recent examples, Philip Lane (1950- ) has told me he was commissioned in 1998 to set "Rhymes of Lewis Carroll" for Guildford High School to mark the centenary of Carroll's death, for SSA choir and piano. For once they do not set words from "Alice".
Alice has naturally figured on both large and small screens. The first talkie of "Alice in Wonderland" included music credited to Hollywood mogul Dimitri Tiomkin, though the twelve published items included ten songs, some credited to Nathaniel Finston, and the instrumental pieces, Lobster Quadrille and Morris Dance. Similarly, the 1951 Disney cartoon version had its music credited to Oliver Wallace but other Carroll songs published by Disney were credited to Don Raye and Gene de Paul, Mack David, Al Hoffman, Jenny Livingston and at least five songs by Sammy Fain. John Barry of James Bond fame, wrote a score for a British film, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1972) and published a song book therefrom. Music for "Putting on the Ritz" included a song Alice in Wonderland by Irving Berlin. Most recently, "Alice in Wonderland" (2010) had music by Danny Elfman.
We are left with television, radio and audio books, for which latter Martin Cook wrote music. I have little information on the music used for the many radio Alice adaptations (a radio "Hunting of the Snark" had incidental music from Max Saunders) and none on who composed for the first televised Alices in 1936-7 and later in 1946, though the latter may have utilised Addinsell's music previously mentioned. A 69 minute radio version of "Alice in Wonderland" (1960) had music by Antony Hopkins, broadcaster and sometime director of Intimate Opera. Adaptations of Alice in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s included one in 1966 which had music from sitar player Ravi Shankar. For a recent TV version (2000, Channel 4) later issued on DVD, a score was written by the Yorkshire born composer Richard Hartley, born in 1944.
There have been a number of "spoof" Alices; as just one example I offer the parody ballet "Alice in Lumberland", whose music was by the theatre composer Norman O'Neill (1875-1934). Generally, though, we can say with confidence that the richness and whimsy of Carroll are matched by the variety and sheer enjoyment of the music written for dramatised versions or otherwise inspired by them. I suspect that what we have recalled here is just the tip of a significant iceberg. And more will surely come to delight us in future years.