Eng­land’s Un­sung Com­posers: Peter Cork

This England - - Contents - Peter Wors­ley

Peter Thor­ring­ton Cork is best re­mem­bered as the pi­ano teacher of Dud­ley Moore, with whom he kept in touch right up un­til the lat­ter’s un­timely death through a de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness. Cork, who never mar­ried, de­voted his whole life to help­ing oth­ers in self­ef­fac­ing Chris­tian ser­vice. Born at Water­beach in Cam­bridgeshire in 1926, where his fa­ther was the Bap­tist min­is­ter, the fam­ily later moved to Ash­ford in Kent where his par­ents bought him an up­right pi­ano on which, with help­ful tu­ition, he raced through the grades and scored the high­est exam marks in the county.

While study­ing to be a mu­sic teacher at Gold­smiths Col­lege dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, he wrote a dis­ser­ta­tion on film mu­sic and went on to study un­der Gor­don Ja­cob at the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic, both men lov­ing tra­di­tional mu­si­cal struc­ture and good, sweep­ing tunes. Both Cork and his fa­ther (who was not sup­posed to go to cine­mas but loved film mu­sic like his son), sur­rep­ti­tiously at­tended mati­nees of Korn­gold’s films, es­pe­cially Robin Hood star­ring Er­rol Flynn as the hero with Basil Rath­bone as the vil­lain­ous Sir Guy of Gis­bourne.

He met Dud­ley Moore while teach­ing at Da­gen­ham County High School and helped his pupil win a mu­sic schol­ar­ship to Ox­ford. Dud­ley never for­got his en­cour­age­ment and they later at­tended the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val to­gether. Af­ter he moved to Hol­ly­wood for his film ca­reer, Moore wrote reg­u­lar letters back to his men­tor, and in 2006 these were pub­lished posthu­mously in book form.

Cork later taught at Clapham in south Lon­don but in 1977 he gave up teach­ing and be­gan work­ing for the BBC on spe­cial com­mis­sions, as well as com­pos­ing li­brary mu­sic in which he used ev­ery pos­si­ble style from Vic­to­rian pas­tiche to big band jazz. Cus­tom-com­posed scores were not com­mon on tele­vi­sion at the time but his gen­eral works were used ex­ten­sively, one num­ber be­com­ing the sig­na­ture tune for the Chan­nel 4 se­ries, The Years Ahead. Un­like tele­vi­sion, how­ever, ra­dio pro­duc­ers were al­lowed to com­mis­sion orig­i­nal mu­sic and Cork worked with a num­ber of peo­ple on Ra­dios 3 and 4.

In 1994, he wrote the script and mu­sic for a much-praised drama­tised doc­u­men­tary, The Road from Mar­riage Farm, telling the story of his grand­par­ents. Through­out the 1990s, he also re­leased a

se­ries of well-re­viewed CDS of his own mu­sic, in­clud­ing a cham­ber suite inspired by Lewis Car­roll’s Alice Through the Look­ing Glass which, to­gether with a three-part or­ches­tral suite, A Man of Kent (Rom­ney Marsh, Alkham Val­ley, White Cliffs), was recorded by the Royal Bal­let Sin­fo­nia un­der Gavin Suther­land, and fea­tured on Brian Kay’s Light Mu­sic Pro­gramme and also in the 2011 Light Fan­tas­tic sea­son, both on Ra­dio 3. Among his other ma­jor com­po­si­tions were A Suite of Car­ols, two op­erettas The Bells of Craxmin­ster and The White Bird plus Wartime Pic­nics, a gen­tle love af­fair con­ducted in Kent un­der the threat of in­va­sion and aerial at­tacks. A Coun­try Cal­en­dar evoked scenes from ru­ral life dur­ing the Thir­ties and For­ties, in both words and mu­sic.

Cork re­tained a close cir­cle of friends and en­joyed long walks with them in the Kent coun­try­side right up un­til his 80th birth­day (he died in 2012). Like many tune­ful com­posers of his time he was ap­pre­ci­ated lo­cally but never made the na­tional stage. Even so, it is the cre­ative ge­nius of men and women like him who make up the back­bone of our mu­si­cal so­ci­ety and we should be grate­ful — un­sung they may be but we are def­i­nitely in their debt.

Dud­ley Moore was cer­tainly ap­pre­cia­tive of his mu­si­cal men­tor and owed his glit­ter­ing ca­reer, al­beit cut short in tragic cir­cum­stances via a de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease, to a ded­i­cated teacher who ex­pended much time and ef­fort on his be­half, and on so many oth­ers in his long and pro­duc­tive life. Fa­mous? No! Worth­while? Yes!

Other ma­jor works by Peter Cork which it would be nice to see recorded:

Lon­don in the Thir­ties (suite for brass) Bowler Hats and City Pave­ments; Kof­fee at the Kar­doma; Af­ter­noon in Lime­house; Teatime Tango at the Ritz; First House at Hack­ney Em­pire; Westminster Bridge at Sunset; Morn­ing on Horse Guards Pa­rade.

Spirit of Christ­mas (can­tata for mixed voices) Christ­mas Bells Will Ring; On the Ice be­fore Christ­mas; Christ­mas Eve in City Churches; Do You Re­mem­ber the Christ­mas of 1942?; Old­fash­ioned Christ­mas; Christ­mas is Over. Sur­rey Con­certo Walk­ing Out in Wap­ping

‘...it is the cre­ative ge­nius of men and women like him who make up the back­bone of our mu­si­cal so­ci­ety’

Peter Cork had a close cir­cle of friends in Kent and those who at­tended his me­mo­rial ser­vice were ad­dressed by two great friends with whom he col­lab­o­rated closely on his mu­sic. Piers Plowright, a well-known BBC pro­ducer (top right), and one of his ded­i­cat

The Kent coun­try­side inspired Peter Cork, and “Wartime Pic­nics” is a gen­tle love story set on the coastal chalk cliffs while deadly aerial com­bat is tak­ing place over­head. The pic­ture above was taken not far from Alkham near Dover while to the right is th

A rare im­age of Peter Cork with his pro­tege, Dud­ley Moore, at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val. Af­ter he set­tled in Hol­ly­wood, Moore wrote al­most 50 letters to his men­tor which were even­tu­ally pub­lished in book form. A keen walker, even into his 80s (right), Cork b

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