Robert Docker (1918 - 1992)
Robert Docker was one of the finest musicians in the field of popular light music. He was certainly one of its primary champions as a performer, both in this country and latterly in Australia. His compositions, including those featured on this recording, have become standards in the light music genre, but perhaps it is for his arrangements that he was best known and loved by audiences and broadcast producers alike. He wrote works of considerable stature for piano and orchestra and for the combined forces of orchestra with solo singers and chorus, selections from the greatest hits shows from stage and screen. He also wrote and orchestrated music for cinema, including part of the score for Chariots of Fire.
Robert Docker was born in London on 5th June, 1918, the son of a gas worker. He was educated first at North Paddington Central School, during which time he also received some private musical tuition. He arrived with a London County Council Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied viola with James Lockyer, piano and composition. He also learned to play the organ, the harpsichord and the violin, but it was his particular skill at the piano keyboard that largely determined the successful career that was to lie ahead of him. His first arrangement was broadcast in 1936 and his debut on air came some ten years later.
Docker worked with many famous names, both as an arranger and as an accompanist. Amongst the many popular artistes for whom he made arrangements were the Scottish soprano Moira Anderson, Cynthia Glover and the American diva, Lorna Dallas. He also had fond memories of accompanying Jose Carreras in one of the songs at the tenor"s first popular concert appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1985.
A large number of his appearances during the last twenty years of his life were for the BBC, principally BBC Radio 2 and with the BBC Concert Orchestra in the long running series Friday Night Is Music Night, where for many years he worked with and orchestrated for the late and irreplaceable Sidney Torch. In addition to these broadcasts were his many appearances as soloist and as orchestral pianist with the London Studio Players, on Radio 2 and in other areas of BBC programming, where the best of British light music was so often heard. In performances for two pianos, he formed a partnership with Edward Rubach which lasted for fifteen years and subsequently with William Davies and also with Gordon Langford, another fine composer, arranger and pianist.
Legend is probably one of Robert Docker"s best-known original compositions. It represents that particular strand of light music, the "concerto-like" feature for piano and orchestra, happily ranking alongside, The Dream of Olwen by Charles Williams, Hubert Bath"s Cornish Rhapsody, Richard Addinsell"s Warsaw Concerto and Miklos Rosza"s Spellbound Concerto (all available on Naxos 8.554323). While these were all for use in films, Legend has remained essentially a concert or broadcast piece only. He had taken one of the ideas for the piece from a suite he had written for piano, viola and horn. While Docker was playing the draft version in the publisher"s office, Sidney Torch was in earshot and remarked upon its potential. It was used, however, by the BBC"s Home
Service in 1959 during their Saturday Night Theatre series, having been the inspiration for a play by Merlin Roberts entitled The Long Way Back. Legend was later recorded in various shortened and re-arranged forms but it is the original version that is featured here. While strictly a piece of light music, Legend gives the listener the feeling of something altogether more substantial. Robert Docker performed this work on many occasions for the BBC and in public concerts all over this country and in Australia.
Scene du Bal is absolutely typical of the golden era of light music. The divided strings after the opening are typical of the era and its style, and it uses a standard light orchestral line-up with the clarinets featured prominently in a repeat of the middle melody. Any "interlude" in the early days of television would have been graced by the addition of this piece to provide an easy background to the visual image. The work enjoys merit in its own right as an easy-to-listen-to piece where the melody is always paramount.
Three Contrasts for Oboe and Strings is really a collection of separate pieces played in a concerto-like configuration. They were written over a period of some five years and dedicated to the oboist Linden Harris, principal oboist with the BBC Concert Orchestra, who played them in the tribute programme broadcast by the BBC Concert Orchestra as part of their fortieth anniversary tour of Britain. The first piece, AlIa marcia, was curiously the last of the three to be composed. The second piece, Romanza, dating from September 1985, has a most beautiful and haunting tune with a touch of melancholy. The phrases are long and tender, showing off the player"s control and the instrument"s range and versatility within the orchestral framework. The finale, Rondolet, was the first of the three pieces to be written, and first played as a solo item by Linden Harris during a broadcast of Friday Night Is Music Night. The Three Contrasts, a later work of which Robert Docker was particularly fond, are a welcome addition to the light music and indeed oboe repertoire.
Tabarinage was written in June 1961 and has been a firm favourite with players and audiences ever since. It is written in the form of a can-can and is outrageously cheeky without being vulgar. The title is translated literally as "buffoonery" and shows off the composer"s sense of humour. It was played after family and friends had gathered for his funeral in May 1992 at Ipswich Crematorium, in keeping with the family"s request. Tabarinage is a classic light miniature masterpiece and always brings a smile to both performer and listener.
Scenes de Ballet was published in 1985 by Inter Art Music Publishers. It is not clear that these pieces were ever used to accompany dance, but they form a short suite suggestive of classical ballet music.
Air from Air and Jig for Strings was originally published by Arcadia Music Publishing and dates from 1963. This movement is marked Andante espressivo and exploits the full range of string tone. In this, as in much of Robert Docker"s other works, there is a strong awareness of the viola within his scoring, an instrument too often neglected and one which he played and which his widow Meryl still plays. The simple tune is cast and interwoven in the pastoral mode of an English country summer scene and uses the strings to paint a picture rich in peaceful solitude.
The Spirit of Cambria was prepared for a celebration of St David"s Day broadcast by BBC Radio 2 on 1st March 1972. This is not an original composition but an arrangement of four well-known traditional Welsh tunes. There is, however, an element of composition within the arrangement by means of the linking passages between the four tunes. It is a good example of Robert Docker"s skills in creating an original-sounding work using traditional airs.
Fairy Dance Reel is another Robert Docker arrangement dating from its publication by Fred Hartley Publications in 1958. The Irish reel is again representative of the style of writing at a time when music of this kind was played regularly in tea-houses, restaurants, hotels and on radio. The publisher himself, Fred Hartley, was a light music composer and arranger of considerable talent and it was in this kind of company that the still young Robert Docker gained many of this early successes.
Blue Ribbons is an arrangement in the form of variations on the traditional air, Oh dear, what can the matter be? Robert Docker makes much of orchestral colour and weight within the arrangement. A violin solo in the slow middle section brings the necessary relief in the development of what is a very short tune. It is another excellent example of his skills in using orchestral instrumentation. The present recording is the first ever commercial release of Blue Ribbons.
The Pastiche Variations for Piano and Orchestra was completed in March 1980 and this is the first commercial recording of what is undoubtedly Robert Docker?s most serious work. It is, however, not without some fine musical humour hidden in the 94 pages of the score. The variations are based on the traditional French tune Frere Jacques and are unusual in that they begin with the first variation before stating the theme. The ?pastiche? element of the title refers to the fact that each variation assumes the style of a different composer. The front page of the score owns up to Bob?s affection for so many composers who had influenced him in his career, with the words, ?Dedicated with gratitude to all the composers who helped in writing these variations.? They form a work of which Robert Docker was intensely and justifiably proud and one which has been performed several times in concerts and on both Radio 2 and 3 of The BBC.