Friday, 4 February 2011

Felton Rapley: Down the Solent: Overture


It would not come as a surprise to me if readers were not familiar with the name Felton Rapley. In fact, I had not heard of him until the other day. However, I was aware of one of his pieces of music: it has been a desideratum of mine since I first heard (I cannot recall where) the title. The Overture: Down the Solent was apparently composed around 1939. At least that is the date in the COPAC catalogue. Furthermore it was orchestrated by a certain David Caryll.
Felton Rapley (1907-1976) was an ex-chorister of Winchester Cathedral and was well-known as a church and a cinema organist in Epsom. Latterly he worked for Chappels and had a lot of music published by that firm. It would appear that he divided his compositional time between writing organ music, light music and educational pieces. According to Phillip Scowcroft, Rapley’s best known work was Portrait of Clare based on Schumann’s song ‘Devotion’.
The title of Down the Solent appeals to me. I finally found it included on The Golden Age of Light Music –Musical Kaleidoscope Volume 2 issued by Guild. Now to be frank it is not a great work: it is workmanlike. That said I did enjoy it, and spite of its lack of profundity it ought to be given the occasional outing.
I am not sure whether the 1939 date suggests that this is a wartime work – with images of battleships and cruisers slipping down the Solent towards the Atlantic, or whether it is descriptive of happier times. Perhaps the latter?
The work opens with a rising brass figure followed by a couple of sharp chords before the upward sweep of strings leads into the main rather jaunty nautical theme. Rapley certainly makes use of sequences in the development of his material. The music then takes on a romantic mood that perhaps suggests lazy days in sunshine lying off Cowes. Certainly there is more than a hint of romance in the air. After a while there is another version of the nautical theme with a little more urgency. Maybe the boat is being carried along by a stiff breeze? Finally the ‘big’ tune is reiterated. The lovers, if such they were, are reunited on the shore. Perhaps this part of the overture comes nearest to being ‘wartime’ music? After a short coda the overture concludes in a blaze of glory.
Two things remain to be said. Whoever David Caryll was, he was pretty good at orchestration. The balance between the ship’s travel down the Solent and the romantic mood is well stated and is supported by excellent instrumentation. Secondly, I think this work would benefit from a ‘modern’ performance and recording. This is not to criticise in any way Sidney Torch and the New Century Orchestra.

Down the Solent: Overture can be heard on GUILD Light Music Label GLCD5140

4 comments:

Crispin Flower said...

I came across Felton Rapley (great name!) as the arranger (for domestic piano) of a selection of tunes from "Zuleika", a 1950s musical by Peter Tranchell (a composer I'm surprised not to find mentioned on your blog).

William Zucker said...

As a former contributor to the JIM magazine which had been published by the Robert Farnon Society, and a present contributor to its website, I am well aware of the worth of the music of Felton Rapley, and repeatedly commented on it and referred to it. Much of it unfortunately lay buried for years in the vaults of the Chappell Mood Library, to be extracted only for specific purposes. Nowadays, I'm happy to say, much of this music is being brought to the surface and revived, so to speak, so that many interested in this genre of light music may have the opportunity to listen to it and to study it.

Chris page said...

I away a boy chorister at St Martins Epsom, when the choirmaster was Felton Rapley. We were appallingly behaved but he put up with us because we could sing. A bluff large man with a huge white moustache, a brilliant organist as even we were able to perceive at that early age. We didn't know how lucky we were to have had him as our leader. I think we sang a piece of his 'Fear not o Land' - not the Elgar version - does anybody know it. I can remember the first lines. I wish he were alive today so that I could apologise and tell him how much he gave me. Such is life.

Chris Page

Anonymous said...


I was there too but I think after Chris. It was a privilege to be in St. Martin's choir in Epsom. I assumed that all church organists were of that calibre but learnt differently later. Those years, in the early sixties, gave me an abiding love of church music and laid the path for ordination that came about many years later. John Watkins