Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

It's easy to see why the young Ivor
Novello was a heart-throb.  And there
is that rather magnificent profile!
Last week I remarked, rather light-heartedly, on being told to show my profile "like Ivor Novello" during rehearsals for a 1920s musical parody.  I'm rather proud to say that I knew exactly what the director meant; Novello's music was part of my childhood experience.  That and my early fascination with theatre - musical and dramatic - meant that, rather precociously, I knew who Ellen Terry, Ethel Merman, Noel Coward and the Lunts were by the time I was ten.  Not necessarily knowledge that has stood me in good stead in the world at general but got me drinks bought in bars of a certain type when I was young and not unpretty.

Today much of his work is largely forgotten and it's difficult to fathom that Novello was once one of the most popular stage and screen stars of his age.  Unlike his contemporary Noel Coward he has never had a Renaissance though he was truly a theatrical Renaissance man:  writer, composer, lyricist, director, actor and producer his range extended from Shakespeare to ersatz operetta.  And those operettas were grand, lavish, romantic affairs that filled the stage of the Drury Lane with waltzes, ballads, comedy songs and love duets.  And filled the coffers of his producers until his final Ruritanian romance  King's Rhapsody.  Novello died several hours after the curtain had fallen on a performance of this rather contemporary story of a King who abdicates his throne for his young son.

Olive Gilbert and Ivor Novello on vacation
in Jamaica in 1948.
His first success had been as a composer in 1914; his friend Lena Guilbert Ford, an American living in London, wrote the lyrics of what was to become one of the most beloved songs to come out of the Great War:  Keep the Home Fires Burning.  Ford lived in London, was passionately patriotic and active in seeing to the welfare of soldiers returning from the Front.  Sadly she and her son were the first Americans to become causalities of that war when they were killed in an air raid that leveled their London flat on March 7, 1918. 

This recording I've used was made between the two wars by Olive Gilbert and the Williams Singers.   I've made the video using some of the fascinating recruiting posters that were produced in Canada to encourage young men to join the fray.  Aside from the sophistication and, in many cases, artistic beauty of the designs I was surprised to see how many were targeted to specific cultural groups.  You may want to go directly to the YouTube site to see them in HD.

Olive Gilbert was a contralto in the British tradition - her voice had that plush deep sound that bespeaks big bosomed English ladies like Clara Butt.  And in Gilbert's case the voice is as well-upholstered as the lady herself.  She was a great favourite of Novello and he always made sure a part was available in one of his musicals for her.   His was the sort that made sure that his long-time colleagues and friends were not forgotten.   His musicals always had parts for Mary Ellis, Zena Dare, Dorothy Dixon, Vanessa Lee and Muriel Barron amongst his leading ladies, his partner Bobbie Andrews in character parts and of course Olive Gilbert.

Here she and Muriel Barron join in one of the loveliest melodies Novello ever wrote and that I remember (possibly from this recording?) from his Perchance to Dream.  Miss Gilbert sang We'll Gather Lilacs  at Novello's funeral in 1951.

 Perhaps its time for a Novello Renaissance?

April 23 - 1985: Coca-Cola changes its formula and releases New Coke. The response is overwhelmingly negative, and the original formula is back on the market in less than 3 months.
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Debra She Who Seeks said...

Bars of a certain type? Whatever do you mean?

David said...

Wasn't he gorgeous?

Gay's the Word was done in the Jermyn Street Theatre recently. It was a Sunday and I was defeated by both tube lines not running so I didn't see it.

Do you like Jeremy Northam's Novello in Gosford Park? He can sing.