Friday, 16 April 2010

Gavin Gordon: Composer - A Few First Musings

I wrote recently about ‘lost’ English ballet scores and noted a certain Gavin Gordon. I understand from Philip Scowcroft’s excellent ‘Garlands’ series on MusicWeb International that Gordon is a fellow Scot. I was delighted to see that he came from Ayr (a place of many happy days by the sea for me) where he was born in November 24 1901. However, he did not hang around the Auld Country for too long, and subsequently was educated at Rugby and then at the Royal College of Music. Apparently he studied there with Ralph Vaughan Williams. Scowcroft notes that Gordon was a ‘multi-talented’ man who was not only a composer but was an actor, a singer and a cartoonist.

In my CD collection is a copy of ‘A Tribute to Madam’ – the great Ninette de Valois. On this disc is a recording of Gordon’s masterpiece The Rake’s Progress. Not only did the composer write the music but he thought out the scenario and persuaded Ashton and de Valois to choreograph it. It has long been a piece that I have wanted to hear. However there are a number of other works – both for the stage and in other genres. Ballet scores that await rediscovery include A Toothsome Morsel, set in a dentist’s waiting room where the patients plot to murder the dentist (Uugh), Regatta (a particular desideratum of mine), The Scorpions of Ysit and The Death of Hector. Regatta was the first piece that Frederick Ashton choreographed for the Vic-Well Ballet
I have looked at WORLDCAT and the COPAC library search sites and virtually nothing turns up. Philip Scowcroft has noted that there exists (somewhere) Four Caricatures and a neo-classical piece called Work in E major – both of which are for orchestra. Apparently these pieces of ‘light’ music parody ‘old-style’ dances.
The British Library does have copy of a musical called Dick Whittington, or, Love is the key that opens every door. Yet I am not yet sure whether this is an operetta or a children’s cantata. However, I do understand that he wrote a deal of music for pantomimes, including possibly Cinderella. There may be some incidental music for shows by Leslie Henson and Frith Shepherd and he wrote the score for the play Simon Bolivar by Robert Donat.
According to a letter in the Gramophone magazine (October 1981) John Warrack writes that Gordon was an able pianist who could play stretches of Italian opera from memory (he had a cat called Puccini, one of a line named after composers beginning with P: the most onomatopoeic was Pfitzner). Furthermore he played in the stage version of My Fair Lady.
Warrack notes that Gavin Gordon was a clever, nicely malicious cartoonist, whose subjects included Walton Bliss and Lambert.
Gavin Gordon died on Wednesday 18 November 1970.
It would be great if some scores or other information about Gavin Gordon were to turn up. Perhaps there are a few piano pieces of songs? Meanwhile I plan to have a look at references in the literature to Regatta and The Rake’s Progress.


CrispyN said...

Dear Mr France,
It is some time since you posted your enquiry about the late Gavin Gordon,composer, dancer and actor. I used to have a recording of his ballet The Rake's Progress which was one of my earliest classical LPs. It was coupled with music by Bliss and others. I saw Mr Gordon act at the Pheonix Theatre, London, in Neville Coghill/Graham Starkey's Canterbury Tales in 1969 and 70. Sadly he died in 1970 so I think that must have been his last work.

There is a rather vague connection here for a theatre programme on E-bay: the only reference I can find to him.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=438c73ba8048f58&biw=1085&bih=593

Happy hunting and best wishes
Chris Newman

John France said...

Thanks for that, Chris. I will have a look. There are little bits and pieces about the composer scattered across the musical literature (ballet books, reference etc) but nothing solid!

Patsy Groce said...

My sister was in hospital in pyrford surrey in the late 20s onwards and she became very friendly with one of the nurses who was called Guilia, whose father was Gavin Gordon (he was born Gavin Muspratt Gordon Brown) and subsequently my nephew was named Gavin after him. My niece was christened Guilia - we think Gavin Gordon's wife was Italian or Greek.
Guilia often spoke of her father and took in several of the old style records for my sister to listen to and she became a very keen fan.

Patsy Groce

Patsy Groce said...

In the late 20s onwards my sister was in hospital in Pyrford,, Surrey and became very friendly with one of the nurses called Guilia, whose father was Gavin Gordon the classical singer and composer (born Gavin Muspratt Gordon Brown). I remember my sister talking about Guilia taking in records her father had made and she became a very keen fan. My nephew is named Gavin after Gavin Gordon and my niece is Guilia.
My sister thought Guilia's. other was Italian or Greek.

Adrian Pinnington said...

Gavin Gordon was my grandmother's older brother. His father was Scottish but his mother was from a very wealthy family of Liverpool chemists called Muspratt. He was married more than once, but with his wife April (née Quilter) who at another time was married to Lance Sievkin, he had two children, Victor and Giglia. Victor was a novelist and food-critic. Giglia, who is still alive and well, is an artist. She married her first cousin, my uncle, Timothy Sprigge, who was a well known philosopher and Professor at Edinburgh University. I have heard that Gavin and Constant Lambert were very close and that he acted as a witness at Lambert's wedding. A member of a large upper middle-class family, he was related by blood or marriage to many moderately well known people.

John France said...

Thanks for that Adrian..


Anonymous said...

I am Noel Pinnington, Gavin's great nephew (and Adrian's brother). I remember going to the West End to see Gavin in the first London performance of My Fair Lady, perhaps it was 1959? He had a minor role as a friend of Eliza Dolittle's father in the wedding scene but I have not found his name in theatre programmes from the time.

John France said...

Thanks for that 'anonymous'...


MikeECorby said...

On the strength of hearing two pieces from THE Rake's Progress I sought out the rest What a magical score.

Like others here I would welcome the opportunity to hear more of his music.

Having seen the ballet I think it does the story far more justice than the Stravinsky opera, obviously the latter was much the greater composer but his opera on the same theme never seems ti hit the mark.

One wonders how many other composers there are which time has burried As to ballet's I look forward one day to seeing Adam Zero by Arthur Bliss - one of the finest ballet scores ever.,

Prwj60 said...

I wrote an extensive article on Gordon which appeared in the journal Dance Now, Spring 1996. HIs son Victor was a great help giving me access to his scores and to his ompresive caricatures of then contemporary musicians, some not terribly complimentary.

Paul Jackson

John France said...


Thanks for that. It is an article I would enjoy reading. I guess that it is not 'online'?
I will try to dig it out and check what library carries the journal