compose music For years I’ve been intrigued by Cedric King Palmer (1913-1999), who I knew of only as the author of Teach Yourself to Compose Music (1947, second edition 1973). This seems like an impossible subject for the famous Hodder & Stoughton series to have tackled, and in truth my readings of the book didn’t turn me into a composer. But the book is one of the clearest and most concise expositions of the basics of traditional harmony, counterpoint, melody and rhythm that I’ve seen – and much easier to read than the typical music theory text book (like the Walter Piston series). I still recommend it to friends who are curious to learn more about how music works, and sometimes buy second hand copies to give them. I always wondered though, about Palmer’s own career as a composer. He’s pretty modest, and uses only one example of his own music in the book – “Love Song and Sunset” from the orchestral suite Down a Country Lane.

During the 1970s it seemed impossible to get hold of any examples, printed or recorded, even though some 600 recordings were made between the 1940s and 1960s. But now, on YouTube, it’s easier to find. Palmer was a jobbing musician and band leader who mostly wrote production and mood music for commercial purposes, some of it still used today. It’s even possible to see Palmer conducting his own orchestra on a video called “Rhythm of the Road”, a 1930s advertisement produced for the Ford Motor Company. Hackney Carriage is a classic example, recorded on the now hard to get Music for TV Dinners CD (Scamp, 1997), evoking the era of horse-drawn taxis trotting down the road – you may have head it many times as background to a nostalgic scene in various documentaries or adverts, but even If you haven’t, it sounds instantly familiar. It’s good to find out that King Palmer had impeccable credentials himself as a composer.