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ClassicsOnline Home » LANE: Sleighbell Serenade / Prestbury Park / Three Christmas Pictures
Philip Lane was born in Cheltenham, the English spa town at the foot of the Cotswold Hills made famous by visits from George III and a place of festivals, National Hunt Racing, literature, competitive cricket and international music, but as he grew up in the 1950s, it was still a very parochial spot, some hundred miles from London. The family possessed an old harmonium on which he tried to play from a very early age; seeing he had some interest in music, this was soon replaced with an upright piano which proved a more responsive vehicle for his improvising or playing by ear as it was called. Any sort of tune he heard, popular, religious or occasionally classical, was a suitable case for treatment.
At six Philip Lane embarked on formal piano lessons. His teacher, of a conservative turn of mind, when told he played by ear, replied, "Dont worry, hell grow out of it", and spent most of his pupils adolescence convincing him that his career lay in the library service. He progressed through the grade exams with modest success into his teens, by which time he was attending the local grammar school, the famous old boys of which included at least two international music figures, Gustav Holst, and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. It was there that he took up the organ, mostly as a means of earning pocket money a half hour funeral (for which his truly enlightened headmaster gave him time off) would pay what his contemporaries took a good many hours in a week or a whole weekend to earn, delivering newspapers or stacking supermarket shelves.
He also began accompanying a local choral society, and at weekends and holidays working in the record department of the local W.H.Smith, through a golden period of popular music the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and the like. Perhaps selling so many records gave him the idea that one day he might like to produce a few. During this time he began composing but, in retrospect, to a very limited degree, a few carols, piano pieces, a string quartet, but, significantly, an orchestral Sinfonietta, now withdrawn. The symphony orchestra would be his favourite means of expression thereafter.
In 1969 Philip Lane went to Birmingham University to read Music. His interview took the form of little more than playing through his piano duet suite, Badinages, later to be his first commercially recorded work, with the professor, Ivor Keys, before being told that he would probably be accepted. His tutors included two composers, John Joubert and Peter Dickinson, but there was little opportunity for composition lessons as such, and he was already excused orchestration class when it was discovered he was already having his orchestral works played by the BBC Midland Light Orchestra just half a mile away at the BBC Studios at Pebble Mill. Despite later encouragement from the Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann, then based in London, he considers himself virtually self-taught in both disciplines.
While at university Philip Lane developed an interest in one British composer in particular, as a result of having to write a thesis in his last year. This was Lord Berners (1883 1950), composer, novelist, painter and eccentric. On graduation, he gave several radio talks on the subject, and from 1987, acted as a trustee of the Berners Trust overseeing the production of a number of CDs which made available, finally, all Berners compositions. For much of this time Lane worked freelance for London publishers and taught. From 1975, for the next 23 years, he was on the music staff of the Cheltenham Ladies College. The musical legacy of these years is the body of works for upper voices which have established themselves in the repertoire of countless choirs around the world.
By chance, in 1993, Lane was invited to look after the musical interests in the estate of Richard Addinsell (1904-77), of Warsaw Concerto fame. One of his first enterprises was to write a radio documentary on the subject, linked to a CD recording (Marco Polo 8.223732) which had to include one of Addinsells most famous film scores, Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939). Given that the only surviving material was a voice and piano version of the School Song, he set to work to take down the Main Titles from the video by ear. The success of this disc led to his being asked to do similar work on the early British films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Lady Vanishes and others. Since then he has supervised the reconstruction of numerous scores, most recently, single composer compilation albums of Arnold, Alwyn, Auric, Bliss, and two more of Addinsell, including one almost complete score, Victor Youngs for The Quiet Man.
In recent years, much of Lanes work has been in the commercial field, library music, music for BBC plays, including The Merchant of Venice and Sir Thomas More, and TV animation, including the immortal Captain Pugwash, but he has not deserted the world of live music-making, with choral commissions to mark the centenary of the death of Lewis Carroll, one from the winners of the Sainsbury Choir of the Year, and a ballet, Hansel and Gretel, for the National Youth Ballet.
I first met with Philip Lane late in 1997 while compiling music for an album of British film music, and was immediately taken by his easy-going style both with pen and behind the glass of the recording-booth. This has led to a huge array of collaborations in many fields of his work. A perfectionist, with the quiet aura of the schoolmaster surveying his class, especially when it comes to getting toast in Prague or having meals served on warm plates, Philip has played a very large part in the preservation of much of the British Light Music canon that was presumed lost. Much of this has to do with the influence of the radio in his early years, taping many first performances of works which sadly often turned into last broadcasts owing to the decline of interest in light orchestral music.
London Salute was written to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the BBC and first performed in a broadcast (one of many in subsequent years) by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence, a combination that was to broadcast virtually every orchestral work he wrote in the 1970s and 1980s. It is a march-like evocation of the capital, very much as an outsider would see it, all hustle and bustle, with ceremonial and tradition around every corner.
Diversions on a theme of Paganini began life as a work for brass quintet, commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival in 1989, and first performed that year by the London Gabrieli Ensemble. This version for small orchestra was made in 2000 with some minor additions to the second movement only. The title is important in that the pieces are more musings than variations on the famous theme. The introduction stands somewhat apart, rather in the way the opening of Dohnanyis Variations on a Nursery Tune does, and the subsequent diversions play with the theme, or parts of it, in movements lyrical, bombastic or plain frivolous. The individual titles of the movements are self-explanatory, except to add that the last one always reminds the composer, for some reason, of final credits going up at the end of a film or television programme.
Cotswold Dances is the composers earliest orchestral work he is happy to acknowledge. It was completed in 1973, although some of the material dates from his undergraduate days, and reflects his own part of the country, Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds. The first movement, Seven Springs, refers to the source of the River Thames, with its rippling accompaniment figures, while the second, Badminton House, is a picture of the world-famous Horse Trials, with an archaic touch here and there to point to the House itself. Pittville Park is the largest open space in Cheltenham, with Holsts birthplace at one end and the famous Pump Room at the other. The composer remembers childhood walks there and varying degrees of success in catching newts and the like in the central lake. Cleeve Hill is the highest point in the Cotswold chain, just reaching a thousand feet above sea-level at one point, making it, officially, a mountain, albeit a gentle one. Nevertheless, the extremes of weather through the seasons are reflected here, with an ominous note or two suggesting Belas Knap, an ancient burial ground sited nearby. The finale takes the traditional Gloucestershire wassail song, heard at Christmas, along with its cousins from Herefordshire and Yorkshire, brought together in his Wassail Dances, and manipulates it through any number of filters and distortions. (The Suite of Cotswold Folkdances, recorded elsewhere, is a separate work, with every movement based on traditional morris tunes.)
Divertissement for clarinet was commissioned by its soloist here, Verity Butler, in 1994, and first performed by her that year in Cheltenham Town Hall. This version, with an accompaniment of strings and harp, was made in 2000. The work holds a similar place among Philip Lanes compositions as The Music Makers and the Eighth String Quartet do in Elgars and Shostakovichs, respectively, in that there are liberal quotations throughout from earlier compositions, and in the last movement, a reworking of material heard in the first.
The Three Christmas Pictures were written at various times in the 1980s. The first, Sleighbell Serenade, has been the composers most widely performed work, having been played all over Britain, and in fact, on every inhabited continent, and was first commercially recorded in Australia in 1986. It was first performed by Ron Goodwin and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Christmas 1981, and had words added several years later for a choral version. Similarly with Starlight Lullaby, first given in 1990, while Christmas Eve Waltz, from 1989, remains an entirely orchestral piece.
A Maritime Overture was commissioned for the Dawlish Festival of 1982 and seeks to portray various aspects of the sea, from the gentle lapping of the waves at the start to the storms and battles later on. The work also exists in a version for wind band.
A slightly different slant on the maritime idea comes with the Three Nautical Miniatures for strings. The outer movements were originally written for brass band in 1980, while the central movement was composed in 2000 to form a satisfactorily contrasted triptych.
Prestbury Park has a similar background, having been originally written for brass band in 1975, with a wind band version following soon afterwards. Its title is a more poetic name for Cheltenham racecourse, home of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and if the subject is not immediately obvious, it should be by the last page of the score.
Producer: Philip Lane
Engineer and editor: Antony Askew
Publishers: Fulcrum Music (tracks 1-14, 22-6)
Roberton Publications (tracks 15-18)
Oxford University Press (tracks 19-21)
G. and M. Brand Ltd. (track 27)
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LANE: Sleighbell Serenade / Prestbury Park / Three...