Friday, 18 November 2011

Frank Tapp: A Forgotten British Composer

I recently came across the composer & conductor Frank Tapp whilst reviewing the The Pump Room Orchestra Bath: Three Centuries of Music and Social History by Robert Hyman and Nicola Hyman. I noted there that I would welcome any more information about this gentleman. Rob Barnett has written a brief resume of the composer and, with his permission I publish it here. With thanks to MusicWeb International.

Frank H. (or W.) Tapp was born in Bath in 1883. He is now an almost totally forgotten figure in British music though his work was frequently played in its day. Initially a pupil of Sir Percy Buck he gained a composition scholarship at the RCM. His eight years at the College saw him studying composition with Stanford, Sir Frederick Bridge and Sir Charles Wood. His piano tutor was John St Oswald Dykes. He studied organ with Sewell.

While at the College he played his Rhapsody for two pianos with Edward Dannreuther. A visit to the RCM by Glazunov had Tapp playing the celesta when the composer conducted the Raymonda Suite. As might be expected from this background his music was reportedly romantic in style with a "zest for style and architecture with clear texture … he has not yet been touched by the 'isms' of the atonal group. Clear headed thinking and direct expression are the visible aims in his long list of large and small-scale compositions."

He married Kathleen Mary Vaughan. He was awarded a Scholarship for Composition at RCM and Sullivan Prize. Appointed to conduct Bath municipal orchestra in 1910 he directed the Pump Room concerts with an orchestra of 24 players on occasions augmented to forty. He followed the example of both Godfrey and Bantock in encouraging composers to conduct their own compositions there. Tapp gave Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces in Bath. He also conducted the first West of England performance of Enigma Variations. He gained a reputation in Bath as "too much the autocrat" and left the orchestra in 1914.
As a student in 1904 he played his Rhapsody for two pianos with Dr. Harold Rhodes. He also composed a Prelude and Fugue for organ (publ. Houghton) which was broadcast by Dr Rhodes from Coventry Cathedral. His String Trio was performed by the Walenn Trio in 1909. His compositions include three symphonies of which one (in E) was based on Shakespeare's Tempest. This is in four movements and was his first large scale work. This was conducted by Tapp, initially at Bath and then at Bournemouth on 17 December 1914.

Fond of variations he wrote Symphonic Variations (on Tom Bowling) for piano and orchestra and appeared as soloist in this work in Bournemouth on 4 November 1909. The work had been premiered at a Patron's Fund Concert in June 1905. There was also a Rhapsody for piano and orchestra on Tipperary. After its premiere this work was described as "ingenious and most deftly transformed." The soloist was Marie Novello who later toured the work throughout the U.K. Later the composer took over the solo part of this work which eventually 'clocked up' over 400 performances.

His predilection for variations took its most extreme shape around the banal tune "Pop Goes the Weasel". He wrote three large-scale works for piano and orchestra written around this tune. The first dates from 1915 and was produced at Bath. The second was written in 1930 and broadcast by the BBC conducted by Aylmer Buesst. The score for this work together with five others was stolen from a car outside the GSM. Buesst ended up having to conduct the score from a fiddle part and Tapp played the piano solo from memory. In a kind gesture the BBC had a new score made from the orchestral parts. A third edition of variations on this tune was written in 1935 and in 1936 still awaited its premiere. All three works are apparently "serious in their purport … exhibitions of ripe musicianship."

There are also various orchestral overtures. Metropolis was the work by which Tapp's name came to national prominence. It won second prize in the 1934 Daily Telegraph concert overture competition and was premiered at the Proms that year. The overture is reported to be an abstract picture of London. The only specific pictorial reference is a bell in F sharp the idea for which came to the composer while he was in the neighbourhood of St Martin's. Apparently the overture is not a light jeu d'esprit but depicts a 'serious London.' It would be interesting to match this with the Elgar, Coates, Ireland and RVW works associated with the City. Other overtures include Highgate Hill (broadcast by Reginald King), Village Revels, and Island Festival. The overture Beachy Head features parts for three saxophones and is timed at between 5'30" and 7'. It was premiered by the BBCSO conducted by Anthony Collins on 23 December 1938.

Tapp came to Bournemouth during the Easter Festival of 1923 to conduct his Suite de Ballet, a work produced for a Patron's Fund concert earlier the same year.

The lighter orchestral suites include English Landmarks which has three movements each playing for about 3': a waltz Ascot, Tintern Abbey and the march Whitehall. Published by Peter Maurice & Co., this work was broadcast eighteen times. In the same genre, and similarly popular 'on air', there are the suites Knick-Knacks and Land of Fancy. The latter has movements: A Swing Song at Morn (3'15"); Sprite's Lullaby (3'0") and The Pixies' Parade (5'30").

Smaller pieces include A Wayside Melody (publ Peter Maurice & Co.), Woodland Echoes (8' with a part for saxophone), Entr'Acte Woodland Scenes (Bosworth) and Evening Glory (Maurice again). Naturally these pieces also existed in solo piano arrangements.

The Waltz Idyll (à la Viennoise) for piano solo dates from 1938. Colin Scott-Sutherland describes Valse Idyll as "a superb piece that outdoes Godowsky's Alt Wien". There are also the songs The Green Lawns of England (Chappell) and Highgate Hill (Peter Maurice) both popular on air. In 1936 he set the words of L. Wane Daley in three serious songs: Moods, Birthright and Field Folk.

In addition there are string works and chamber music amongst which there is a Violin Sonata (1931) and a Wind Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn both works sharing "the same serious driving force."

Tapp must have been a formidable pianist. He was the soloist with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra in Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 in December 1916. In any event he listed his recreations as drawing, walking and cinema. In 1935 he lived at 129 Leeside Crescent, Golders Green.

Rob Barnett c.1997


Paul Vincent said...

Reference to Frank Tapp's work on 22/7/13

July 1913:
3 [At] R.C.M. Warren’s quartet (slow movement) was tried over, & the beginning of his finale variation. I am awfully proud of him!
5 [Went to] Society of Women Musicians. Walford Davies lectured on “Whole Tone Harmony.”
10 [Went to] opera at Drury Lane. “La Khovanshchina” by Moussorgsky. Chaliapin was singing. I thought it very crude, & much dull music is in it, too. But there was something unusual in it all!
17 [Went to] Drury Lane [for] “Boris Godunov,” by Moussorgsky . . . A wonderful performance! Chaliapin is a great actor & a fine singer . . . It is far finer than “La Khovanshchina.”
22 [Went to] College concert. Somervell symphony, “Thalassa,” & Tapp’s new piano concerto. Very interesting.
23 [Molly Arnold1 and I] walked all the way along the Embankment (lovely silver-grey, & lovely sky) to Westminster . . . [We went] to Drury Lane, for the Russian Ballet. “Narcissa” (charming,) & the extraordinary “Sacre du Printemps” – most remarkable, & very ugly in places.2 It is by Stravinsky, who wrote the beautiful “L’Oiseau de Feu.” The stage business was hideous, & seemed silly. Then “L’après midi” again – we listened & didn’t look!3 Then some dances from Borodine’s “Prince Igor.” We enjoyed it much. Saw Jack Ireland.
24 [Ireland] played me his new clarinet trio – a joyous & buoyant work full of vitality, & some songs & piano pieces, also new.

John France said...

Thanks for that! John F

Paul Vincent said...

Again from Thomas Dunhill's diaries (edited by myself):

June 29, 1905: [Went to] Patron’s Fund concert [at Queen’s Hall]. I played percussion for it. Haydn Wood’s suite, Tapp’s “Tom Bowling” Variations for piano & orchestra, Von Holst’s “Mystic Trumpeter” (wonderfully full of fine ideas), [& a] charming suite by [Harry] Farjeon (“Hans Anderson”).