Friday, 17 September 2010

Ernest Markham Lee: composer, author, lecturer, pianist and organist.

There is not a lot about poor old Ernest Markham Lee on the Internet or in the music reference books. Yet he is a name that crops up on a regular basis in The Musical Times where he used to provide an analysis of the Associated Board piano pieces for each academic year. He is also a habitué of second-hand music and bookshops where a number of his piano pieces are often found in various stages of disintegration.

Briefly, Markham Lee was born in Cambridge in 8 June 1874 where he later began his education at the Perse School. He was later to become an organ scholar at Emmanuel College. Between 1896 and 1912 he was the organist as All Saints’ Church in Woodford Green and was also involved in directing and promoting chamber music concerts. However, his main career was to be in musical education at a variety of levels. He was an extension lecturer to London, Oxford and Cambridge Universities and spent much time travelling the Commonwealth as a lecturer-examiner for the Associated Board. He was the President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians between 1927-28.
His compositions tend to be aimed at young people and amateurs, but include a light opera, Paris in Spring, which was published in 1939. He was a prolific author and wrote about musical theory and knowledge for examinations, articles and monographs on a variety of composers and three important books, the Story of Opera (1909) and the Story of Symphony (1916) and Brahms’ Orchestral Music (1931)
I am grateful to Philip Scowcroft on MusicWeb International for pointing me towards a number of Markham Lee’s compositions. There were a whole host of piano suites and pieces –for both solo and duet. These included Dreams and Delights, By the Wayside, The Land of Make-believe, Cliff and Tide Rip and Summer Days. For piano duet he published 12 easy duets based on the story of Alice in Wonderland. Most of these works are for children or technically less competent pianists. However, he did write for the recital room, and these include the preludes Hesperis (q.v.) and Serapis and the Modern Suite.
Markham Lee composed much for choral singing, including cantatas and part-songs. They are very much typical of the genre with Smugglers and Sea-Mates Bold for male voice choir and ‘Sing We Merrily’ which was an anthem written for a festival competition. The organ lost was not forgotten: there was a Capriccietto & Scherzo, an Overture alla Marcia and a Romance.
Much of the Markham Lee’s catalogue is devoted to arrangements of other composers’ music. However he did transcribe his own Moorland & Torland and the West Country Suite into orchestral arrangements. Finally Philip Scowcroft notes his suite for orchestra Round the North Sea, Lightheart and the intermezzo Florestina, which apparently ‘enjoyed a modest popularity.’

This composer is never going to alter the way we think about British music. Yet he represents a common thread through much that was written by a whole variety of composers including Felix Swinstead, Alec Rowley and Walter Carroll. He was competent, understood the principles of musical composition and the technical requirements of players with widely differing abilities. But most of all he had a vivid imagination that resulted in pieces that music surely appeal to all those who are young at heart.

Ernest Markham Lee died at Eastbourne on 13 November, 1956.

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