Albert William Ketèlbey (/kəˈtɛlbi/; born Ketelbey; 9 August 1875 – 26 November 1959), was an English composer, conductor, and pianist, best known for his short pieces of light orchestral music. He was born in
For many years Ketèlbey worked for a series of music publishers, including Chappell & Co and the Columbia Graphophone Company, making arrangements for smaller orchestras, a period in which he learned to write fluent and popular music. He also found great success writing music for silent films until the advent of talking films in the late 1920s.
The composer's early works in conventional classical style were well received, but it was for his light orchestral pieces that he became best known. One of his earliest works in the genre, In a Monastery Garden (1915), sold over a million copies and brought him to widespread notice; his later musical depictions of exotic scenes caught the public imagination and established his fortune. Such works as In a Persian Market (1920), In a Chinese Temple Garden (1923), and In the Mystic Land of Egypt (1931) became best-sellers in print and on records; by the late 1920s he was
In 1912 the composer and cellist Auguste van Biene offered a prize for a new work to complement his popular piece The Broken Melody. Ketèlbey was the winner of the competition with a new composition, The Phantom Melody, which became his first major success. In the following year he won two prizes totalling £200 in a competition held by The Evening News: second place with a song for female voices, and first place with his entry for male voices. The latter song, "My Heart Still Clings to You", is described by Sant as "a typical tragical-love ballad of this time, and its almost Victorian sentimentality comes through in its words". In the early to mid-1910s Ketèlbey began to write music for silent films—a new growth industry in
In 1914 Ketèlbey wrote the orchestral work In a Monastery Garden, which was published in the following year both as a piano piece and in full orchestral form. It was his first major success, his most famous piece, and became known all over the world; by 1920 over a million copies of the sheet music had been sold. There are two competing stories detailing the inspiration behind the piece: although Ketèlbey later said that he wrote the work for an old friend, he also stated that he composedit after visiting a monastery. The musicologist Peter Dempsey considers that "this piece ... remains to this day a world-renowned staple of the light-music repertoire, while McCanna opines that from the first bar, listeners "... might sooner expect such a device in the impassioned world of a [Gustav] Mahler symphony than in a genteel English salon piece". The success of The Phantom Melody and In a Monastery Garden led to Ketèlbey's engagement by André Charlot as the musical director for the 1916 revue Samples! at the Vaudeville Theatre. The appointment led to similar positions at other
Because of the rise in Ketèlbey's popularity, and in sales of his sheet music, in 1918 he became a member of the Performing Rights Society. Except for a brief interval in 1926 when he resigned over a dispute about the allocation of funds to its members, he remained a lifelong member. In 1919 he composed the romantic work In the Moonlight, which his publisher considered to be "a work of striking beauty". In the following year he wrote Wedgwood Blue—a gavotte—and In a Persian Market; the latter became one of his more popular works. The musicologist Jonathan Bellman, calling In a Persian Market "immortal", describes it as "an 'intermezzo scene' for band or small orchestra; reprehensibly demeaning or delightfully tacky". The work was not without its critics; the composer and conductor Nicolas Slonimsky quotes the view of a Russian journal that "the suite ... had its 'immaculate conception' in imperialistic colonial
In 1921 Ketèlbey moved from his home in
In 1923 the composer Frederic Austin wrote the opera Polly, closely based on the 1729 work of the same name by John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch; recordings of
Such was Ketèlbey's popularity that by 1924 his works could be heard several times a day in restaurants and cinemas, and in that year the
The introduction of talking films in 1927 with The Jazz Singer and the subsequent growth of the medium had a serious impact on composers and music publishers involved in the film industry as it heralded a decline in the sales of sheet music. Although Ketèlbey's income from this source declined, the period was also marked by a rise in the popularity of the radio and gramophones and his new compositions were successful with audiences at home. By the early 1930s over 1,500 broadcasts of his work were made on BBC Radio in a year, and more than 700 on continental radio stations, including a weekly Sunday programme of his music, sponsored by Decca Records on Radio
Ketèlbey wrote an intermezzo—A Birthday Greeting—in 1932, on the sixth birthday of Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II). His connection to royalty continued in 1934, when his march A State Procession was played to accompany the arrival of King George V at a Royal Command Performance; the king requested that the march should be played again during the interval, and he and the queen stayed in the royal box to listen to the piece. In the following year Ketèlbey wrote the march With Honour Crowned for the King's silver jubilee; the work was played for the royal family at
Ketèlbey continued to conduct on his annual tours during the Second World War, but these were on a smaller scale because of travel restrictions. He also continued with his annual concerts at Kingsway Hall, and introduced a new march, Fighting for Freedom, which he had written in a supportive response to Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches" speech. Apart from composing and conducting, he also acted as a Special Constable during the war.