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ClassicsOnline Home » COATES, E.: Calling All Workers / Springtime Suite (Coates) (1930-1940)
The Music of Eric Coates, Volume 2
Calling All Workers Springtime - Suite From Meadow to Mayfair - Suite
The leading twentieth-century British light-music composer, Eric Coates was born into a middle-class family in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, on 27th August, 1886. His father, W. Harrison Coates was a local doctor and his mother, Mary Jane Gwyn, was a talented amateur pianist. Eric played the violin at six and, after private tuition in harmony and counterpoint, he enrolled at the London Royal Academy of Music in 1906, at the age of twenty, to study viola under Lionel Tertis (1876-1975), with composition, under Frederick Corder (1852-1932), as his second study.
From 1907, Coates financed his studies as a viola player in London theatre orchestras and, after graduating from the Royal Academy the following year, during which his first commercial song success A Damask Rose was published by Boosey & Co., he spent the next two on tour with Thomas Beechams Orchestra. In 1910 he was appointed second viola in Henry Woods Queens Hall Orchestra and in 1912 became principal viola, a post he held until 1919. During that period the orchestra gave the first performance of his Miniature Suite (1911), Idyll (1913), From the Countryside (1915), Wood Nymphs and Summer Days (1919).
Over the next few years Coates would establish himself as a leading composer of light music and ballads and, with new orchestral works appearing at regular intervals, mainly commissioned items for annual festivals, he soon became something of a celebrity. The Selfish Giant, first performed under the composer at Eastbourne in 1925, proved a fillip to further commissions. In November 1926 he returned to Eastbourne to perform both By the Tamarisk, a robustly elegant intermezzo, composed in 1925, with subtle echoes of Cherry Ripe and a nostalgic Englishness which almost matches By the Sleepy Lagoon, and a brand new phantasy, entitled The Three Bears, a work that, with its memorable Whos been eating my porridge? theme, remains a favourite. The seaside town also saw the first performance of Cinderella (1929) and the second of From Meadow to Mayfair (1931), a dreamy, rural creation in the Summer Days tradition which he later defined in his memoirs as "a kind of farewell to my native Nottinghamshire and the pastoral scenes which up till then I had felt the urge to describe in music."
By the mid-1930s, through the media of recordings and radio, Coates had become a household name. The Jester at the Wedding (1932), London Suite (1933), The Three Men (1935) and Saxo-Rhapsody (1936) were all unanimously well-received by press and public alike. London Suite in particular proved a best-seller on records and in 1936 its sequel, London Again, received its first, pre-concert, airing in a performance by Stanford Robinson and the BBC Theatre Orchestra (appropriately, since Langham Place was the newly built residence of the Corporation). A year later, the BBC orchestra would also give the first performance of Springtime, a delicate three-movement suite which harks back to the pastoral style he thought he had shrugged off.
Even in his earliest years, keenly motivated by financial considerations, Eric Coates was a thorough professional conscious of the commercial applications of his music. Indeed, many of his most famous creations were selected, usually in their original form, for use on BBC radio programmes. Outstanding among several examples, the Knightsbridge March, from his first London Suite of 1932, was adopted for the Saturday theatre showcase In Town Tonight and By the Sleepy Lagoon (1930) is still the theme of the long-running Desert Island Discs, albeit thousands of younger listeners would be unable to put a name to it.
Coates wrote several marches for TV transmissions, notably Television March for the BBC and Sound and Vision for ATV, and, posthumously, the first movement of his 1944 suite The Three Elizabeths, nostalgically redolent like so much of his music of an England long vanished, was used as a signature-tune for the TV best-seller The Forsyte Saga (1966). A generation earlier, Calling All Workers, a march tune inspired by the war effort during the darkest days of the Blitz and first broadcast by the BBC Theatre Orchestra under Stanford Robinson in a broadcast of September, 1940, had lent its central theme as an introduction to the long-running programme Music While You Work.
While he clearly eschewed overt jazz rhythms in his music (with the possible rare exception of the Four Centuries) as an admirer of Kern, Gershwin and Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) Coates was nonetheless acutely aware of transatlantic influences in popular music. His ear for a good tune and its possibilities led to his fine Symphonic Rhapsody arrangement of With a Song in My Heart, a transcription whose score, despite this creator recording, remains to this day curiously "unpublished". Originally a Rodgers and Hart ballad first heard in the 1929 Broadway musical Spring Is Here, this favourite whistling tune is perhaps even better remembered for its long association with BBC radios Family Favourites.
This programme of music by Eric Coates has been selected and re-mastered to CD for its historic and musical interest. While clearly not comparable with modern hi-fi, these 1930s recordings display a uniform clarity which responds well to present-day digital restoration. Generally, only pristine pressings have been dubbed -and a minimum of filtering applied- in order to preserve as much of the original signal as possible.
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