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Albert W. Ketèlbey

August 9, 1875 - November 26, 1959
born in Birmingham, England, composed during the Modern period
It is possible, if perhaps not likely, that when British composer and conductor Albert William Ketèlbey died in 1959 at the age of 84 he had somehow heard some of then-young Henry Mancini's suave music. If so, perhaps the aged Ketèlbey was able to recognize that the mid-twentieth century was getting from Mancini something quite like what his own generation got from him many years earlier: music that aims to please not through depth of content, academic pretension or gritty progressivism, but by virtue of lightheartedness, charm, and thoroughly fine craftsmanship.

Ketèlbey showed remarkable musical gifts while still a young boy. There is an anecdotal tale (for once probably true!) of how 11-year-old Ketèlbey wrote and publicly performed a full-length piano sonata and received the blessing of Edward Elgar for his efforts. Two years after that he received a scholarship to Trinity College, and at 16 he was named the new organist at St. John's Church in Wimbledon. Ketèlbey took to conducting musical theater shortly before the turn of the new century, which no doubt helped redirect his compositional interests toward light music.

Over the first couple decades of the twentieth century, Ketèlbey issued a hearty stream of pseudo-programmatic orchestral works; pieces like The Phantom Melody (1912) and In a Chinese Temple Garden (1923) were very popular in their day, and earned Ketèlbey enough money to eventually purchase and retire to an estate on the Isle of Wright. He also composed a comic opera, the Wonder Workers (1900), and several "serious" concert pieces, including a String Quartet and a Concert-Piece for piano and orchestra. Ketèlbey used pseudonyms for some of his music. ~ Blair Johnston, Rovi
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