NOVELLO, Ivor: The Dancing Years / King's Rhapsody (1939-1950) (Naxos: 8.120781)
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IVOR NOVELLO Vol.2
The Dancing Years and King's Rhapsody
Original 1939-1950 Recordings
'[Ivor Novello] never lost the common touch ... never left his public behind him.When he was rightat the top, they were there, too. For nobody was ever less of a snob. His only standard was quality; hewould have nothing which, in achievement or texture,was second rate'.
(W. Macqueen Pope: Ivor - The Story Of An Achievement)'I am not a highbrow. I am an entertainer. Empty seats and good opinions mean nothing to me'.
(Ivor Novello)Ivor Novello's shows stand as a last flowering ofViennese-style operetta. With no expense sparedand meticulous attention to detail they providedescapism of the highest calibre. Being the verystuff of theatrical illusion and old-fashionedromance, their overtly lush melodies andsentimental lyrics masked the author's keensense of theatrical expediency and commercialsensibility. During the years that have elapsedsince Novello's death, his tunes have becomeoverlaid by an even greater nostalgia.
Composer, playwright, actor,producer andmatinee-idol, Ivor Novello was born David IvorDavies in Cardiff on 15 January 1893 the son ofDavid Davies, a local government accountant,and Clara Novello (1861-1943), a notedpioneering choral trainer and founder of thefamous Welsh Ladies' Choir, whose enthusiasmspurred Ivor's own youthful passion for musicand the theatre. From an early age Ivor playedpiano for her rehearsals and singing lessons andlater also taught piano. From his childhood yearshe moved in theatrical and musical circles andthrough his mother's connections he met andheard, among others,Adelina Patti and was evena pageboy at Clara Butt's wedding (an eventwhich inspired him to write for her thecommemorative \Page's Road Song", whichsubsequently that great Dame recorded).
Ivor attended school first in Cardiff, then inGloucester, where he studied music under SirHerbert Brewer (of Three Choirs fame). In 1903,at ten, he won a scholarship to Magdalen CollegeSchool, Oxford, and by 1908 his histrionic bentwas venting itself in one-act plays andcommercially successful drawing-room ballads,the earliest of which were published by Boosey& Co, in 1910. In 1911, the eighteen-year-oldIvor travelled first to Canada then to New York,where he hoped to win wider recognition as acomposer with his first full-length musical play,The Fickle Jade. After various setbacks, however,in 1913 the struggling theatre composer wasforced temporarily to return to London wherehe had secured a lucrative contract with themusic-publishers Ascherberg,Hopwood andCrew which, with the outbreak of World War I,brought him an outlet for a stream of stirringballads and morale-boosters, most famously theone that made his name: "Keep The Home FiresBurning".
In 1916,Novello was commissioned as a sublieutenantin the Royal Naval Air Service aboardHMS Crystal Palace, but as the First World WarLondon theatre was booming he soon receivedmore interesting commissions to write numbersfor revues: Nat D Ayer's The Bing Boys Are Hereand George Grossmith's Theodore & Co. InDecember 1916 he contributed to Charlot's See-Saw and in 1917 to Cochran's Arlette. Thefollowing year he provided various numbers forHarry Grattan's Tabs and in 1919 shared creditswith Howard Talbot for Who's Hooper?, a revueby Clifford Grey. 1919 also saw the emergenceof Novello the silent-screen matinee-idol andstraight-actor. In Paris, he appeared in LouisMercanton's screen realisation of RobertHichens' novel The Call Of The Blood and,during 1921, he made his Hollywood screendebut (in Matheson Lang's Carnival, for UnitedArtists) and in London appeared in HarleyGranville-Barker's adaptation of Sacha Guitry'sDebureau, while (as a songwriter) also penning"And Her Mother Came Too", for Jack Buchanan,in the revue A-To-Z.
When Novello returned to the USA in 1923,it was in the dual capacity of composer andscreen Adonis. Several of his ballads, meanwhile,had been popularised in concerts and recordingsby, among others, McCormack and MetropolitanOpera soprano Frances Alda. In 1923,Novellothe handsome heartthrob appeared in TheBohemian Girl (with Gladys Cooper and EllenTerry, for the Knoles studio) and, in the mould ofRichard Barthelmess or Ramon Novarro,was castby D W Griffith opposite Mae Marsh in TheWhite Rose. His other silent-screen appearances,which included The Man Without Desire (1923),The Rat (1925), The Constant Nymph and TheVortex (1928), placed him as the leading Britishromantic male star of the day. After successfullymaking the transition to talkies (with Once ALady, for Paramount, in 1931) he continued toappear in plays on the London stage but, withthe fiasco of Coward's Sirocco (1927), he turnedactor-manager instead for such productions asSymphony In Two Flats (1929; filmed byMichael Balcon in 1930),Murder In Mayfair(1934) and Full House (1935).
Such was Novello's multifarious thespianexperience when his first real theatricalmilestone loomed out of the blue withGlamorous Night (1935), his first full-scalemusical for fourteen years.The show was, healways maintained, first conceived 'over lunch'between himself and the songwriter andtheatrical entrepreneur Harry Moncrieff Tennent(1879-1941), as a potential vehicle to replenishthe Drury Lane Theatre's depleted coffers.
Grandiose in conception (its lavish, scenic setsincluded a shipwreck scene) and with text - thefirst of a series - by the London-born actorturned-lyricist Christopher Hassall (1912-1963),its instant success (243 performances) owedmuch to its star, soprano Mary Ellis (1900-2002)as opera-singer Militza Hajos. Born in New York,Mary had earlier trodden the hallowed boards ofthe Metropolitan (from 1918, in company with,among others, Caruso, Chaliapin, de Luca, Farrarand Jeritza) before turning to musical comedy.
In 1924, she had created the title role in OscarHammerstein II and Rudolf Friml's 1924Broadway success Rose Marie and in 1933Cochran brought her to London for the Britishpremi?â?¿re of Kern's Music In The Air. In 1934she played a poisoning spouse in theTwickenham (GB) film Belladonna and alsostarred in the 1936 film version of GlamorousNight (ABP/Walter Mycroft).
Novello's next and no less sumptuousproduction Careless Rapture (1936) survived296 Drury Lane performances before touringGreat Britain during 1937-1938. This show (likeits successor Crest Of The Wave) starred theKansas City-born singing actress DorothyDickson. With The Dancing Years (1939) MaryEllis made a welcome return and featuredprominently opposite Novello, in the dualcapacity of actor and pianist. The show's richscore incorporates several of Novello's mostenduring tunes, notably Leap Year Waltz,MyLife Belongs To You, My Dearest Dear,WaltzOf My Heart and I Can Give You TheStarlight. One of the last great pre-War DruryLane musicals (closing with the outbreak of warin September 1939, after 187 performances), itmarked the end of Novello's reign at that greattheatre. Following a British provincial tour,however, The Dancing Years returned in 1942to the Adelphi for a further 969 performancesand was filmed (in England) in 1949.
Novello's next wartime production Arc DeTriomphe (Phoenix Theatre, 1943) again caststar attraction Mary Ellis as an opera singer,although the hauntingly atmospheric solo "DarkMusic" (created by Elisabeth Welch) has sinceproved the show's only lasting number. For hisnext venture Perchance To Dream (Hippodrome,1945),Novello wrote his own libretto.
An extravaganza set in Regency England, andfeaturing Olive Gilbert, Muriel Barron,RomaBeaumont, Margaret Rutherford and Ivorhimself, at 1022 performances this was Novello'slongest-running show to date and by 1949, againwith Hassall as librettist, he had capitalised on itssuccess with King's Rhapsody (Palace Theatre;839 performances). With a story