Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Doreen Carwithen: East Anglian Holiday (Part 1)

I have always had a soft spot for the British Transport Film travelogues. Whether they are portraying the Firth of Clyde, the pleasures of Blackpool – ‘famous for fresh air and fun’, the salt-laden winds of Morecambe Bay or maybe a day trip to London, these films are nostalgic and informative. The quality of the photography is often quite stunning and the commentaries are usually well-researched, if occasionally a little patronising. These films, often dating from the ‘50s and 60s are typically positive, unlike documentaries produced nowadays. The producers clearly wanted people to visit the area chosen for consideration: not to provide a social commentary on the locality’s social problems. And often the music was rather good too. Composers include Bax, Vaughan Williams, Spike Hughes, Richard Arnell, Elisabeth Luytens and Doreen Carwithen.
Doreen Carwithen is usually remembered as being the wife of William Alwyn (if she is remembered at all.) In fact, she was an accomplished composer in her own right. Her catalogue includes a fine piano concerto, a wonderfully evocative Overture: Bishops Rock, two string quartets and a Violin Sonata. Her main body of work includes over 30 film scores such as Boys in Brown, Mantrap and Three Cases of Murder.  In 1953 she scored the official Coronation film, Elizabeth is Queen.

Doreen Carwithen was born in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire on 15 November 1922, and after music lessons from her mother, she entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1941.  It was at this time that she met William Alwyn, who was her ‘harmony teacher.’ In 1947 she took up an apprenticeship offered by J. Arthur Rank to study and composer film music. Over the years she produced a number of scores for the concert hall and the recital room. However, as Martin Anderson has pointed out in his obituary of Carwithen, she found it virtually impossible to find a publisher willing to promote music written by a woman.
In 1961 Carwithen set up home with William Alywn in the lovely Suffolk town of Blythburgh. She largely gave up composing and concentrated on supporting William’s music and acting as his amanuensis and personal secretary.  She remained devoted to furthering William’s music until the end of her life. After her husband’s death in 1985 she began to re-examine her own music and sketched out a third string quartet: this was never completed. When she had married William Alwyn Carwithen began to use her middle name, Mary, as she had never liked Doreen. Mary Alwyn died on 5 January 2003.
Doreen Carwithen is represented by three CDs –two from Chandos and one from Dutton Epoch. These include virtually all her major works, including a selection of film music.  I will give a ‘discography’ in a later post.

My next post on this subject will examine the film East Anglian Holiday.

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