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ClassicsOnline Home » REYNOLDS, A.: Alice Through the Looking Glass Suite
Alfred Reynolds (1884-1969)
Alfred Reynolds was, like many other British composers of light music, a man of the theatre. Apart from an orchestral intermezzo, a few dozen songs and a few instrumental miniatures, his considerable output was entirely associated with the stage in one way or another. Flourishing in the period from the Great War to the 1950s, he is less well remembered than many of his contemporaries, although highly regarded in his day. Kindly and sociable, with a command of some eight languages and a good sense of humour, he was seemingly a delightful companion.
Born in Liverpool on 15th August 1884, Reynolds was educated at Merchant Taylors School and later in France; a possible influence was his familys Reynolds Exhibition, a kind of Northern Madame Tussauds. He studied music first with J.C.Walker in Liverpool, then, for a few months at the Heidelberg Conservatory, before some six years in Berlin with Engelbert Humperdinck. Reynolds earliest known compositions date from this period, some of them exercises for Humperdinck, others church pieces for the Anglican church in Berlin, where he was organist and choirmaster from 1908 to 1910, though his light waltz, Le Désir, had been heard in Liverpool in 1906 in a variety bill. Berlin brought experience of opera and in 1910 he took a German opera company to give a summer season of Strauss, Lehár and Sullivan in Estonia.
Back in England, early in 1911 Reynolds was employed as conductor, with Philip Faradays company, on their provincial tour of The Chocolate Soldier, at 26 allegedly the youngest opera conductor in the country. Through The Chocolate Soldier he met the singer Barbara Florac, an understudy and a talented musician, whom he married in July 1913. The marriage, however, apart from the birth of a daughter in June 1914, was not a success, though the couple never divorced.
After further work for Faraday, Reynolds visited the United States in 1914, narrowly missing a return voyage on the Lusitania. Restricted in his wartime military service by weakness of health, he never served on the Western Front and was invalided out in 1917. This allowed him to take part in charity concerts and to compose, primarily songs and incidental theatre music, notably The Toy Cart (Vasantasena), which achieved wide popularity in his concert version.
In the winter of 1920-21 Reynolds toured the Far East as Musical Director of the so-called Royal Opera Company, with a repertoire of opera and operetta. The tour, badly managed, relying on usually indifferent local orchestras and featuring rather old-fashioned repertoire, was a disaster. When the money ran out in Java, Reynolds drew on his savings to return home by way of Japan and Canada. In England again he was active both as conductor and composer, with a particular interest in refurbishing eighteenth-century ballad operas, after the huge success of Frederic Austins version of The Beggars Opera at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. The owner of the theatre, Nigel Playfair, heard Reynolds adaptation, for the Mayfair Dramatic Club, of Arnes Love in a Village and engaged him as Musical Director at the Lyric, a position he held from 1923 to 1932. Although the theatre seated only five hundred and had a tiny orchestra pit, those years were immensely satisfying for Reynolds and a brilliant episode in the Lyrics distinguished history.
For Playfair Reynolds wrote incidental music for plays by Shakespeare, Molière, Dryden, Sheridan, Goldsmith and Farquhar, an up-market revue, Riverside Nights (1926), whose centrepiece was Arnes Thomas and Sally, but which also included much by Reynolds, (an Overture, the accompaniment to Wordsworths The Power of Music (spoken) and a charming fifteen-minute burlesque operetta The Policemans Serenade), two comic operas, the one-act The Fountain of Youth (1931) and three-act Derby Day (1932) and more revivals of eighteenth-century operas. With these last Reynolds practice was not just to rescore the accompaniments but to add numbers of his own, thus, in spite of purists, maintaining interest in older British music.
During these years Reynolds also undertook other work. The BBC in particular broadcast his orchestral music from 1927 onwards, his musical playlets (often to words by his sister Edith G. Reynolds), his songs, especially the cabaret-type She-Shanties and his eighteenth-century opera revivals. Incidental music was composed for several other theatres, most notably some waltzes for The Lady of the Camellias at the Garrick Theatre in 1931, the play translated by his sister. He conducted Thomas Dunhills comic opera Tantivy Towers for the Lyric and Mozarts Così fan tutte at the Royal Court Theatre.
Reynolds would not have considered his later career as an anti-climax. In fact 1066 and All That surely remains his most popular work, especially with schoolchildren. Excerpts are here included, as are two Reynolds hits from before and after the Second War, Swiss Family Robinson and Alice. Reynolds continued to compose: songs, like the cycle Five Centuries of Love (1946) to words by Clifford Bax, exploiting the composers flair for historical pastiche; more incidental music and, as late as 1958, a two-act comic opera, The Limpet in the Castle, first given, improbably, in a Yorkshire pit village. He died on 18th October 1969 at Bognor Regis, where he had lived for many years. By then his music, which is always well-made and attractively tuneful, if not quite as individual as that of some contemporaries, was beginning to suffer the neglect shared by so much British light music, a neglect from which it is now slowly emerging.
The Festival March or March of the Spears, from a 1922 stage version in Portsmouth of Baroness Orczys novel Leatherface, is a rousing affair, a fanfare for the trumpets leading to a strongly marked march theme, a broader idea and an expressive trio section.
From the 1947 Stratford Christmas show of Lewis Carrolls two Alice books came two orchestral suites, Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the latter here included. Jabberwocky, introduced by the woodwind and with three appearances of the siren whistle, is followed by The Ballet of Talking Flowers, a delicate waltz introduced by a short piano cadenza and featuring a cello solo. In The Parade of the Hobby Horses, with its use of Humpty Dumpty, the score calls for "cocoa-nuts" (sic), "clapper (like whip)", wood block and rattle among its percussion. The timpani has six bars to itself to introduce March of the Drums which, after another intrusion of the siren whistle, gives way to the Finale, also a march, with its own tiny trio section.
The Toy Cart, set in India, was produced at Dublins Abbey Theatre in 1918 and the seven-movement suite, sometimes titled Vasantasena, from the incidental music was perhaps Reynolds first orchestral score of note. The three movements here included start with the Prelude, with its delicate woodwind solos, a beautiful Romanza, with a violin solo, framing a cello solo, and the Finale, a march, recalling briefly the Romanza tune and including an otherwise absent suggestion of Eastern colour.
The overture The Taming of the Shrew was originally composed for a 1927 production at the Lyric. Its slow introduction leads to an attractive Baroque-sounding theme, marked Allegro non troppo, representing Katherines gracious mood. Her bad temper soon appears in a Più animato section. A brief lyrical passage with prominent woodwind is followed by a further outburst with Petruchio laying down the law and Katherines screams heard on the clarinets. The "Baroque" theme then returns and all ends triumphantly.
The stage version of Sellar and Yeatmans 1066 and All That, with a libretto and lyrics by Reginald Arkell, was mounted as a 1934 Christmas show at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, before its successful West End run, from Easter 1935. The suite, published in 1935, uses six of the shows best known tunes, three in waltz time, with the opening march repeated at the end. The Ballet of the Roses, played here separately, is a potpourri of popular songs about roses: She Wore a Wreath of Roses, a waltz; The Last Rose of Summer, featuring a solo clarinet; Rose Softly Blooming, originally by Louis Spohr; My Love is Like the Red Red Rose; and a concluding galop, Ring a Ring of Roses.
Reynolds work in the revival of earlier opera is represented by five dances from Sheridans The Duenna, with music originally by the Thomas Linleys, father (1733-95) and son (1756-78) and others, with additions by Reynolds. The Duenna was staged at the Lyric on 23rd October 1924, with a 1925 full orchestra adaptation by Sydney Baynes. The Gavotte is for strings only, while the Serenade features an attractive oboe solo. The Duennas Dance, after its introductory bars, progresses from a Seguidilla to a Habanera and finally to a Bolero.
Overture for a Comedy, originally entitled Humoresque, was intended as an interlude in a Lyric production. A delightful staccato "outdoor" tune here frames a slower, more passionate contrasting central section.
The Sirens of Southend was a characteristic dance in the popular style of the period, written for Midnight Follies, a cabaret entertainment devised by Nigel Playfair at the Metropole Theatre in 1926.
The Swiss Family Robinson, staged at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1938, has a brief introduction, with celeste and vibraphone, leading to a tender Swiss lullaby, Schlaf Kindlein, schlaf, played on a solo cello. There is a quicker waltz, with the original vocal parts here omitted.
Drydens Marriage à la Mode was produced in 1930 at the Lyric, with Alicia Markova among the dancers. The three dances here included begin with an exciting, if rather English, Tarantella. The Gavotte and Finale (a minuet) again show Reynolds gift for Baroque pastiche. The Three Pieces for the Theatre were a common concert grouping in Reynolds day and make a nicely varied suite. The overture to the 1927 Lyric Much Ado begins briskly, in the manner of a typical British comedy overture, with a lyrical central section presumably suggesting the amorous exchanges of Beatrice and Benedick. The Entracte from Sheridans The Critic (Lyric, 1929), a minuet, is yet another mock Baroque piece, while the Mascarade (a tarantella) from The Merchant of Venice (Lyric, 1927) ends the sequence in lively fashion.
Philip L. Scowcroft
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