One of my favourite pieces of British light music is George French’s Hey Presto! Fast moving, optimistic and quite simply impressive, this piece fairly shifts along from the very first bar to the last: it epitomises the genre. I do not know what the composer had in mind with the title – I guess that the words can be defined as ‘announcing the successful completion of a trick, or to suggest that something has been done so easily that it seems to be magic.’ However, I do not feel that ‘magic ‘is the keynote of this piece. To my ears this is a ‘travel piece’ that suggests a trip to the seaside on the railway. This is holiday music pure and simple: it is full of excitement and pizzazz.
It is difficult to know exactly when this piece was composed. The CD states that the work was played by the New Concert Orchestra conducted by the one of the ‘senior’ light music composers, Frederic Curzon dating from 1953. The liner notes also point out that the work was composed by Brett Wilson, which was a pseudonym for French. Hey Presto! was apparently arranged, or at least titivated by Trevor Duncan. There is virtually no information about this composer: even the venerable Philip Scowcroft fails to give more than a passing mention to his achievement in his ‘Garlands.’ He states that French ‘flourished’ around 1950 and ha success with a song called Pirate Gold and a ‘scherzo’ for orchestra. I wonder if this present piece can be equated as this ‘scherzo.’ Certainly the movement and vitality Hey Presto! could be deemed to fit this formal genre.
Other works by George French include Dog Gone, Bobby Sox, Highly Strung and Parade of the Champions.
Hey Presto! is released on the Guild Golden Age of Light Music: The 1950s GLCD5103 A short sample of the piece can be found in the listings on this page.