Christopher Robin and the Canon of Composers

The Canon of music is not an organic process by which talent is filtered. In Music Mania I show how the Canon is deliberately controlled to produce and promote a particular type of "new music". The musician may be:

  • a) Remembered with reverence and cherished in memory
  • b) Forgotten completely, buried while still alive under change of style
  • c) Remembered with derision as an example to others

Group (a) are the Canonical composers (from J. S. Bach to David Bowie). Group (c) are mocked as composers of Light Music - no matter how well they wrote (from Johann Strauss Jnr. to Ron Goodwin). Group (b) is less easy to characterise by dint of their obscurity. We might say that Vera Lynn is unfairly idolised compared to Gracie Fields, who had a much longer career and did a lot to support the troops. (Ask the generation who are now in their 80s and they smile at Gracie's name.) But there are people even more forgotten. I have given them a voice in Music Mania. We meet G. H. Clutsam, Stiles Allen, Frieda Hempel, Reginald Somerville, Hubert Bath, Ivy St. Helier, Thorpe Bates and Harold Fraser-Simson.

Harold Fraser-Simson's big success was The Maid of the Mountains, which was second only to Chu Chin Chow in popularity - and both were very popular! 

Fraser-Simson is not remembered today. But perhaps one of his works is known. It was sung in my ears as a very little girl, as I sat between my grandparents. Grandad would sing the tune, which he varied here and there from the original version, to suit his range and make it his own. And as he reached the name "Nanny", he would look over to Grandma. Here is a demo version of "Christopher Robin is Saying his Prayers", also known as Vespers:

This song is not likely to compete with Berg's Lulu. Or Britten's Peter Grimes. Fraser-Simson did not achieve subversion of form or provoke outrage. He set words - inoffensive little words, on the sentimental side of life. He set them well. The melody is far from trite or easy. The harmony is luscious but forceful. It is very English. The repeated vowel sounds are "hush" and "mummy", which may only be pronounced correctly in a very English tone, for the American singer (and sadly only an American has performed this on CD) will always lengthen the short "u".

I do not believe in a Canon of composers, as it is could only ever be a tool to promote one group at the expense of another. That does not mean I give equal time to Berg and Fraser-Simson. No. For they are not equal. Berg did not even write music.