Most listeners associate British ‘concert marches’ with composers such as Edward Elgar and his Pomp and Circumstances 1-5 William Walton’s two Coronation offerings, Crown Imperial and the Orb and Sceptre and Eric Coates ubiquitous The Dambusters. Another good source of marches is film music: I recently watched The Yangtse Incident starring Richard Todd which featured a splendid score by the largely forgotten composer Leighton Lucas. This must be one of the most impressive marches written: restrained and deeply moving, yet full of hope. Still on nautical matters, Alan Rawsthorne produced a fine example for the 1953 film The Cruel Sea.
North of the Border, the prolific composer Cedric Thorpe Davie wrote his stirring Royal Mile: Coronation March in 1952 in preparation for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth on 2 June 1953. Clearly, it has not had such a high profile as Walton’s efforts and has been almost forgotten, save for a single recording.
The work was premiered at a Coronation Concert at the Dundee Caird Hall on 8 April 1953. This event also featured Eileen Joyce as soloist in Grieg’s Piano Concerto, an arrangement of Handel’s Royal Firework Music made by Hamilton Harty, Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture and Johann Strauss II’s Tales from Vienna Woods. Karl Rankl conducted the Scottish National Orchestra in all these works except for Thorpe Davie’s March, which was conducted by the composer.
The Dundee Courier reported that an audience of some 2700 ‘a Dundee record’ attended the concert. This large audience ‘imparted a gala atmosphere to the concert, which brought out the best from the orchestra.’ As for Thorpe Davie’s march, Royal Mile this work gave a ‘thrilling start’ to the proceedings. The work was ‘full of the spirit of pageantry and nationalistic fervour’: the work ‘under Mr Davie’s workmanlike baton, was given a sound performance.’ Interestingly, Eileen Joyce, who had recently cancelled a concert in Dundee due to illness, played the Grieg concerto ‘with unusual passionate intensity, so much so that a large portion of the audience burst into applause at the end of the first movement.’ Whether this ‘breach of orthodox musical manners’ was a good thing, the reviewer felt the it was a ‘reflection of the emotional grip achieved [by Joyce].’
Ian Lace, reviewing John Wilson and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s CD The Land of the Mountain and the Flood: Scottish Orchestral Music (MusicWeb International, February 2000) explained that ‘…Cedric Thorpe Davie (1913-83) was prolific; his output included music for radio, theatre and 24 films. He is represented on this disc by his Royal Mile – Coronation March, composed in 1952 in anticipation of the celebrations of the Coronation of Elizabeth II the following year. The work inevitably has a strong Scottish character.
Colin Scott-Sutherland also reviewing this CD for MusicWeb International (March 2000) wrote: ‘…it is some time since we heard the luscious music of Cedric Thorpe Davie's 'Royal Mile' march, to the strains of which the Royal party, on a coronation visit to the capital [Edinburgh] in 1952 left St Giles - and whose great central melody (the tune Molly Stewart) was, said Edward Greenfield in the Guardian like 'Walton in a kilt', a tune that brings back for me fond memories of 'The Highland Fair' at the Edinburgh Festival of that year.’
Alas I was unable to confirm this citation in the pages of the Manchester Guardian, however it is a wholly appropriate comment.
Cedric Thorpe Davie: Royal Mile – Coronation March can he heard on The Land of the Mountain and the Flood: Scottish Orchestral Music WHL 2123 This CD has been deleted, and I guess will only be available second hand. Other works on this exciting disc Iain Hamilton’s Scottish Dances, Buxton Orr’s Celtic Suite, Hamish MacCunn’s Highland Memories and his ubiquitous Land of the Mountain and the Flood, and Muir Mathieson’s lovely Suite: From the Highlands.