Tribute to Eric Coates / Edwardian Favourites

User Rating: 3 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Two Pye LPs from 1960 have been granted a new lease of life by Vocalion

Pro Arte Orchestra conducted by STANFORD ROBINSON   Tribute to Eric Coates


Bird Songs at Eventide; I Heard You Singing


Edwardian Favourites arranged by Stanford Robinson


Vocalion CDLK4183

The death of Eric Coates prompted Stanford Robinson to record this tribute with the Pro Arte Orchestra, a highly regarded ensemble drawn from many of London’s top orchestras for broadcasting, concerts and recordings. To provide the accompanying sleeve notes for the LP, the record company could have chosen none better than the composer’s only son, Austin Coates (1922-1997), from whose notes the following extracts are taken.

When Eric Coates died, on December 21st 1957, it was rightly said that perhaps no composer had ever provided music to suit the public taste so unerringly for such a long time. Just under fifty years lie between his first song success, in Edwardian times, and his last orchestral works, including the memorable March for the film The Dam Busters; and for a great part of this time Eric Coates was recognised as a unique figure - 'the uncrowned king of light music'.

Greatly influenced in his early years by Edward German, after 1920 Eric Coates developed his own distinctive style, the most significant feature of which was his understanding and use of the newly-introduced American syncopated idiom. He was the first European composer to treat modern syncopation as a serious contribution to orchestral music, and to introduce into symphonic writing the dance-band practice of treating each instrument of the brass section as a soloist. Much of the brilliance and vivacity of his orchestration is attributable to this.

For many years an orchestral musician himself (he was principal viola in Sir Henry J. Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra from 1912 to 1919), Eric Coates, in the later days of his success as a composer-conductor, never forgot his old friends in the many orchestras he conducted, and had an understanding of orchestral musicians which enabled him to secure from them superb performances of his music in a way which, to many people, seemed effortless.

Happy throughout his life - in his youth, in his marriage, in his success as a writer -Iike many happy people, Eric Coates tended to live in (to use his own title) an enchanted garden of his own imagination. In the concert hall, to see his immaculate appearance, polished conducting, and unfailing modesty with audience and orchestra alike, it was difficult to realise what an unworldly person he was. His world was that of the invariable happy ending. When he wrote a fantasy he called it a phantasy; and a waltz was always a valse. Somehow in that way it belonged more to his world. An unusual quality about his music is that, despite this unworldliness, he expressed moods of the twentieth century as few others have succeeded in doing, with his curiously metallic brilliance of orchestration, his hectic zest and uncomplicated romanticism. Like Gershwin, he expresses something of this century that will evoke our time to future generations,

The ten years from 1929 to 1939 were the most prolific in Eric Coates' career, and marked his rise to international fame. On this record is a representative selection of his music written during this period, the gayest and most colourful English music produced in the past forty years.

The Enchanted Garden was originally written as a ballet, scored for twelve solo instruments, on the theme of Snowdrop and the Seven Dwarfs, first performed at the opening of the Cambridge Theatre, London, in 1928. It is particularly appropriate that this, the first recording of the work, should be conducted by Stanford Robinson, because it was he who first realised the possibilities of Snowdrop as a symphonic score, and consistently urged the composer to rewrite it for full orchestra. This Eric Coates finally did in 1938, renaming it The Enchanted Garden. In the same year he conducted first performances of it in the Scandinavian capitals and at Hilversum.

The theme is the conflict between good and evil influences in the garden. The Princess has been left alone while her Prince is away, and he has given an injunction (the commanding opening bars) to all the good spirits and friendly animals of the garden to look after her. At first all is gentleness and love, but after a time the restless, malevolent elements in the garden come sneering in. They cannot at once get the better of the Princess' protectors, but finally (in a vigorous tarantella and fugue) they are on the point of mastering the garden, when the Prince returns holding a flaming sword, and order is restored.

Unlike The Three Bears and Cinderella, in which a knowledge of the story is essential to the enjoyment of the music, The Enchanted Garden music speaks for itself, and needs no programme explanation. After the opening injunction there follow three themes, the second in slow syncopation, the third in quick tempo, which are developed in various ways throughout the ballet. The syncopated idiom, distinctive of Eric Coates' style, is here handled with the utmost delicacy. The climax of the work comes at the end of the tarantella, with the repetition fortissimo of the injunction, after which the main themes resolve themselves in a tranquil and simple statement of great beauty in the closing bars.

Cinderella, successor to The Selfish Giant and The Three Bears, is the third and last of the composer's "phantasies". It is based entirely on the word Cinderella, announced softly in the opening bars, where Cinderella sits alone by the fire, after her sisters have gone to the ball. Soon comes the gentle call of the Fairy Godmother, followed by the sudden and miraculous appearance of carriage and horses, beautiful clothes and the celebrated glass slippers. With the warning to be home by midnight, Cinderella drives off, the horses trotting gaily through the town. She enters the Prince's palace as a waltz is in full swing. After a moment the Prince sees her, inquires who she is, and invites her to dance. There follows the famous slow waltz, which gradually increases in speed and vigour, as more and more dancers join, culminating in the striking of midnight, and the instant evaporation of all Cinderella's happiness. Once more she is in rags by the fire, wondering now whether it was all a dream, yet hardly believing it could be, since she so clearly remembers the waltz music. Meanwhile, in the distance, trumpets are sounding; for the Prince has discovered the glass slipper Cinderella left behind, and troops are to be sent throughout the town to find the girl whose foot the slipper fits. The troops set forth (not a particularly fine body of men, one gathers) and draw near Cinderella's house, where after a moment of suspense it is found that Cinderella is the girl they are looking for, and she is driven off to the palace, where of course she marries and lives happily ever after. Cinderella was first performed at the Eastbourne Festival, 1929, and has since become one of Eric Coates' most widely played works.

No Eric Coates programme would be complete without one of his inimitable marches, and one of the quick waltzes of which he may be called the originator. For this record Stanford Robinson has selected London Bridge (1934) and Footlights (1939), both of which he did much to popularize in the days when he was conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra. By the Sleepy Lagoon (1930) needs no intro- duction, neither do the songs I Heard You Singing and Bird Songs at Eventide, though they may be less familiar in this orchestral version, which comes from Two Symphonic Rhapsodies, written in 1933.

Stanford Robinson was responsible for arranging the four selections which made up the second album to be featured on this CD, Edwardian Favourites. He was born in Leeds on 5 July 1904. During his early musical career he played the piano in hotel orchestras, until attending the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied conducting under Sir Adrian Boult. From 1924 to 1966 he was on the staff of the BBC, originally as organiser of the BBC’s London Wireless Chorus in 1924. He conducted the BBC Theatre Orchestra from 1932 to 1946, and was also director of music productions (including opera and operetta) from 1936 to 1946.

From 1946 to 1949 he was opera director and associate conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and he served as conductor of the BBC Opera Orchestra as an opera organiser from 1949 until 1952. Thereafter he served in various capacities (including numerous broadcasts) until his official retirement in 1966, when he went to the southern hemisphere and conducted various orchestras in Australia and New Zealand during the remainder of 1966 and 1967. In 1968 he was appointed chief conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Stanford Robinson’s brother Eric achieved even greater public recognition, through his work conducting his orchestra in many early BBC Television programmes, such as Music For You.

David Ades

Submit to Facebook