1 September 2001

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Gavin Sutherland shows us how he recreates lost works

“The composer is often as well paid as the poet,” said the brochure in my school’s careers department. I suppose it really depends on the field of music in which one wishes to specialise. In these days the opportunities for concert-hall composers are far fewer than ever and the need to be adaptable is a must. Composers for the screen, too, are often hard-hit, thanks to the way that computer-based and synthesiser-generated music does away with the need to understand and write for live instruments.

Writers for the screens, large and small, are often consigned to a small credit at the close of a programme or the commencement of a film (and in the latter case as many as four or five orchestrators are hidden away amongst the banks of people listed in the closing credits). Thus their music is doomed to sit on shelves for years after, occasionally dipped into for the odd theme for another work.

Leighton Lucas, composer of many fine English film scores of the 1940s and 50s and ghost orchestrator for many other composers (including the mighty Louis Levy, who hardly ever credited anyone except himself, which, of course, has film music historians needing to do a lot of detective work to find out who was responsible!), would have been horrified to learn that shortly after his death his cleaner said to a caller “Oh, all that paper? Well, I didn’t think it was important so I threw it out.”

This is as true as it is typical, with the dusty manuscripts appearing to be useless and worthless. Television composers during “the bygone era” often surrendered their scores to the company music library, but even there they were not to last as the demand for more storage space increased.

So it falls to others and their passion for the re-introduction of this music to reconstruct and rearrange this mighty body of seemingly forgotten work, both from film and television.

I took my lead from my close friend, producer and composer Philip Lane, whose work reconstructing music from Ealing comedies, the film music of William Alwyn, George Auric, Richard Addinsell and many others, has won him acclaim from many people, and a Gramophone Award for his work.

For him, “it all started with my involvement with the Richard Addinsell Trust and their interest in doing a recording of the theme from “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, and the only thing that still existed was the ‘School Song’, and even that was only voice and piano. So I placed my tape recorder next to the TV speaker, recorded the theme, listened to it endlessly and thus produced a reconstructed score”. He also admitted to tidying up a few loose ends form-wise in order to make it “end” sufficiently strongly.

Many people have made a living from the art of reconstruction. Bandleader Syd Lawrence would often take his work in from bands in case he’d discovered a note in the chord he’d not heard before. Others, such as the late Christopher Palmer, went for more famous scores of people such as Walton and Arnold.

Having rediscovered my love of television start-up music (mostly from private collections often recorded as simply as placing a microphone in front of the TV) I determined to find out just how much of this fine music was still extant in orchestral form. I was shocked to learn that much of the material was lost, destroyed and forgotten.

As television music represented a cross-section of light music in Britain and deserved a new or a nostalgic audience, I set about reconstructing much of this music and re-recording it as my contribution to television history. I am determined that the next chapter of the history of television music begins now, rather than the book ending here.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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