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Roy Douglas (Composer, Arranger)

Born: December 12, 1907 - Tunbridge Wells, England

The British composer and arranger, (Richard) Roy Douglas, started to play the piano when he was 5, and at 10 he was composing little piano pieces. His mother squeezed a shilling a week out of her meagre housekeeping money to pay for lessons so that he could learn to play from the music, but because of recurrent heart trouble he had very little formal education as a child, and he never had any lessons in composition, orchestration or conducting. From the age of 8, when well enough, he spent many hours playing the piano. The family moved to Folkestone in 1915, and in his teens he played regularly in local concerts.

When he was 20 Roy Douglas joined the Folkestone Municipal Orchestra as mustel-organist, deputy pianist, celesta player, extra percussionist, librarian and assistant programme-builder - all for £6 a week for 14 performances and two rehearsals From 1933 he was a full member of the London Symphony Orchestra, as pianist, organist, celesta player, fourth percussionist and librarian. Among the distinguished conductors under whom he played were Bruno Walter, Hamilton Harty, Adrian Boult, Eugene Goosens, Henry J. Wood and Malcolm Sargent. In addition he played many ballet seasons at the Alhambra, Coliseum and Drury Lane theatres. He recalls playing the piano part in Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka eighty times. During the 1930's he played the piano in many West End shows including revivals of The Desert Song and The Vagabond King, as well as performing light music in such well-known restaurants as the Savoy and Frascati's, and in many popular cinemas.

"Disgusted and horrified by the very bad orchestrations of Frédéric Chopin's music for the ballet Les Sylphides", he writes, "I eventually created my own orchestration in 1936." For this deservedly popular work, he was originally offered an outright fee of £25. However, published by Boosey & Hawkes, the Roy Douglas version has since been used by ballet companies all over the world and has been recorded many times, so that it still produces useful income.

In 1939 Roy Douglas moved back to Royal Tunbridge Wells. As an orchestrator he was indefatigable during and after World War II and worked with many composers including Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, John Ireland, Alan Rawsthorne, Walter Goehr, Arthur Benjamin and Anthony Collins. He orchestrated all Richard Addinsell's music for eight BBC programmes and 24 films, including the famous Warsaw Concerto. He also arranged orchestral accompaniments for such well-known singers as Peter Dawson, Paul Robeson, Elisabeth Schumann and Richard Tauber.

Musical assistant

Roy Douglas was Ralph Vaughan Williams' musical assistant from 1944 until R. Vaughan Williams's death in 1958, helping him to prepare works for performance and publication, including his last four symphonies and the opera Pilgrim's Progress He wrote about this in his book 'Working With RVW'. The composer's manuscripts were very difficult to read and a large part of his job was to provide accurate and legible copies and to correct the numerous mistakes in the original scores. He also had to deal with the many changes made in rehearsal, and to correct proofs. Vaughan Williams described this process as 'washing the face' of his music, while Douglas saw himself as a 'musical midhusband' to the composer's new-born works. He also orchestrated R. Vaughan Williams' original piano accompaniment to Songs of Travel. The orchestral version has often been recorded, but not always with Douglas acknowledged as its orchestrator.

For thirty years, from 1942 to 1972, Roy Douglas performed a similar service for William Walton, whose scores were not quite so difficult to read. But he, too, would frequently change his mind, often at the very last minute.

Roy Douglas has been associated with the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra since 1950, initially as pianist, later as Vice-Chairman from 1959 to 1983, and Chairman from 1983 to 1985, when he was elected President of the Orchestra.

After World War II he joined the Royal Tunbridge Wells Drama Club, and became its Chairman for 8 years. He played many roles, including Oberon, Shylock, Touchstone, Ben Gunn and Dr Chasuble, and produced three plays on the Pantiles.


Works as composer:
Oboe quartet (1932)
2 quartets for flute, violin, viola and harp (1934/1938)
Trio for flute, violin and viola (1935)
Six Dance Caricatures for wind quintet (1939)
Two Scottish Tunes for strings (1939)
Elegy for strings (1945)
Cantilena for strings (1957)
Festivities and A Nowell Sequence for strings (1991)
music for 32 radio programmes, 5 feature and 6 documentary films

Works as arranger or orchestrator:
Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto and 24 of Addinsell’s film scores
Frédéric Chopin: Les Sylphides
Franz Liszt: Funérailles
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel

The films to which he contributed music or orchestral arrangements – but only rarely credited – included: The Ghost Goes West (1935), Victoria the Great (1937), Major Barbara (1941), In Which We Serve and The First of the Few (1942), Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944), Night and Day (1945), and Great Expectations and The Overlanders (1946).

Source: Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2007)

Roy Douglas: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Roy Douglas by John Walton - Feb 2005 (MusicWeb)

Roy Douglas (Wikipedia)



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