Sunday, 3 August 2008

Charles Williams: The Voice of London

Charles Williams was certainly an enthusiast of the London cityscape: he wrote nearly as many pieces of music evoking the Capital as did Haydn Wood and Eric Coates. Just a few titles will prove my point. Perhaps one of the best is The Bells of St. Clements which muses on the well known nursery rhyme. London Fair, Big Ben and The Heart of London all have explicit titles. However pieces like Trolley Bus may be implicit. I guess few listeners would connect the work with Huddersfield or Ashton-under-Lyne!
Yet the present work is the best known. It is a work that builds on Williams’s film style more than his concert hall idiom. For the record he contributed many film scores – including 'The Thirty-Nine Steps', 'The Dream of Olwen' and even a number of Will Hay films. Often he was un-credited in the titles.

The Voice of London opens with a great flourish that is obviously trying to break into a march. The first theme, which I think nods to Eric Coates, eventually emerges against a background of bells. It is surely the chimes of Big Ben with a few variations –music that is a little slower and some that suggests a dance. However, the general tenor of this music is of a war-time romance with Googie Withers! About halfway the mood changes – an oboe theme emerges but is soon submerged beneath the chimes. This is no grand opportunity for lovers to stroll in St James Park – but just a brief interlude before the main theme returns and finishes the work of with an impressive coda.

But perhaps the greatest claim to fame was the fact that this tune was used as the signature tune by the Queen’s Hall light Orchestra. Every broadcast opened and closed with this music – so a generation must have come to know and love this work, simply by default.

Here The Voice of London on ASV CD WHL 2151

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