27 May

Frederic Curzon

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"I can certainly subscribe to the suggestion that the marked degree of modesty shown by Frederic Curzon in respect of his own abilities and musicianship amounted to almost diffidence. Perhaps an innocence of the true value of one's abilities and skills, in any field of creative art, is an essential ingredient in the production of excellence".

 

In one brief paragraph, Donald Curzon seems to have summed up the essential character of his stepfather, Frederic Curzon, one of the least known and most underestimated of all major British composers of light music. Much liked and greatly respected by fellow musicians during his lifetime, little was known about him even by his closest friends. He was born Ernest Frederic Curzon on September 4, 1899 in London and received a private education. Musical talent manifested itself at an early age and he surprised and delighted his teachers by showing considerable ability on no less than four instruments - violin, cello, piano and organ. He was only 12 when he produced a setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis which was performed by a local choir. His artistic development continued apace throughout his teens and at the age of 16, he was able to secure the job of pianist in a London theatre orchestra. By the time he was 20, he had his own orchestra and he was also writing music to accompany silent films.

But it was as an organist that he duly decided to concentrate his energies and for some twenty years, he travelled the length and breadth of Britain playing in countless halls, theatres and auditoriums. He was among the first exponents of the electronic organ when it was introduced into the country, giving many demonstration recitals. From 1926 onwards, he managed to combine all this activity with the permanent post of organist of the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, where he succeeded the celebrated Quentin Maclean. His employer was the Gaumont British Film Corporation whose Musical Director, Louis Levy, provided him with the occasional writing commission. Over the years, composition gradually came to occupy more and more of his time as he progressed from relatively simple silent film accompaniments to more ambitious sound picture scores, especially music for documentaries.

He also began to write in other genres as well and received early encouragement from such influential figures as Sir Dan Godfrey, principal conductor of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, and Ralph Hawkes of the publishing firm Boosey & Hawkes. The former programmed many of Curzon's works in his orchestra's concerts and often invited the composer to conduct them himself, while the latter arranged for many of his scores to appear in print. These reassuring factors obviously raised the possibility of pursuing a full-time career as a composer but the reticent Curzon needed further persuasion before taking such a step. He duly found it in the person of Gladys Marian Fowler whom he married in late 1937. She had the utmost faith in her husband's abilities and with her support and backing, Curzon finally left the security of salaried employment in 1938 (he had been organist at the new Victoria Cinema for four years following eight at the Shepherd's Bush Pavilion) and launched out on his own. He did not abandon the world of the organ entirely, however, for over the next twenty years or so, he was often to be heard on the radio, drawing many splendid sounds out of the BBC Theatre Organ.

The rest of his life was, for the most part, devoted entirely to composition and the list of his works, some written under the noms de plume Graham Collett, Jose Jordana, Ralph Rutherford and Richard Springfield, is truly astonishing, both in size and in scope. At one end of the musical spectrum can be found orchestral suites, concert overtures, pieces for piano and orchestra, and so on. At the other end lie humoresques, which he wrote monthly for Tommy Handley to perform in the celebrated BBC radio series ITMA, a burlesque opera and a pantomime. In between come a number of fanfares, written for occasions such as the Royal Tournament, London's big annual military jamboree, and the 1951 Festival of Britain. There is a huge range of 'mood music' as well as scores for radio and television. He was, without doubt, extraordinarily prolific although composition didn't always come easily to him. And yet, he found time to serve as President of the Light Music Society and, for some years, was Head of Boosey & Hawkes' Light Music Department.

He eventually went to live by the sea in Bournemouth, the town that had given so much encouragement to his music in the early years and it was there that he died on December 6, 1973 at the age of 74. An obituary by Bassett Silver, one-time Manager of the Recorded Background Music Library at Boosey & Hawkes - who, as it happened, died only about four months after Frederic Curzon - summed up the composer thus: "His gift for pure melody was very exceptional and his orchestral scoring, always fresh and effective, never showed signs of striving to be original... He was a classic among English light music composers."

 Frederic Curzon
Frederic Curzon

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.