Clifton Parker (1905 - 1989) was an English composer, particularly noted for his film scores. During his career, he composed scores for over 50 feature films, as well as numerous documentary shorts, radio and television scores, over 100 songs and music for ballet and theatre.
Edward John Clifton Parker was born on 5 February 1905 in London, the youngest son of bank manager. He was encouraged by his father to go into commerce, but studied music privately and composed his first published work Romance for violin and piano when aged sixteen. In 1924, he decided to divide his names; to use 'Edward John' for lighter compositions and 'Clifton Parker' for more serious compositions. However, he never used the former. He obtained an ARCM diploma in piano teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in 1926 and abandoned his career in commerce and became a music copyist.
By the mid-1930s he was achieving success with some of his classical pieces and managed to get his work accepted for broadcast on the BBC, such as In a Twilight Dim with Rose. He came to the attention of Muir Mathieson, one of the music pioneers of the British film industry. His early film compositions were uncredited, including the 1942 Noël Coward film In Which We Serve and it was only with his 1944 score for Western Approaches that his name finally attracted attention.
The 1950s were a prolific period, with Parker composing for many mediums, especially film. However, in 1963, he was one of three composers, the others being William Alwyn and Franz Reizenstein, who abandoned scoring film music in protest at the exorbitant percentage of royalties taken by the publishers.
Parker was married twice. His second wife Yoma Sasburg was principal dancer in a number of his ballet productions. He was the father of Julia Clifton Parker, better known as writer Julia Stoneham. He was inactive for the final 13 years of his life owing to ulcers and emphysema, and died on 2 September 1989 aged 84 in Marlow.
Clifton Parker wrote the music for many feature films, and is much admired for his "lively symphonic style". Although most of his scores are missing, presumed destroyed, several have been reconstructed by Philip Lane and have been released on a Chandos Records CD, performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Notable scores include:
- Western Approaches (1943)
- This Happy Breed (1944)
- Johnny Frenchman (1945)
- Blanche Fury (1948)
- The Blue Lagoon (1949)
- Treasure Island (1950)
- The Wooden Horse (1950) - finest scoring of credits
- The Sword and the Rose (1952)
- Single Handed (1953)
- Night of the Demon (1957)
- Sea of Sand (1958)
- The 39 Steps (1959)
- Sink the Bismarck! (1960)
- Taste of Fear (1961)
- H.M.S. Defiant (U.S. release: Damn the Defiant!) (1962)
- Mystery Submarine (1963)
- The Informers (1963)
Parker also composed for documentaries, including four British Transport Films; Elizabethan Express (1954), Long Night Haul (1956), Blue Pullman (1960) and Ocean Terminal (1952/1961). His work as war documentary composer was honoured at the Imperial War Museum in 2003 with special screenings of Battle Is Our Business (1942), Towards the Offensive (1944) and Western Approaches (1943). He also scored the incidental music to an episode of the acclaimed BBC Documentary War in the Air (1954).
Parker wrote prolifically for the stage, notably for the Old Vic theatre, R.A.D.A. and the Hampstead Theatre Club. His scores include incidental music for a dramatic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace; The Glass Slipper, based on Cinderella and The Silver Curlew based on Rumplestiltskin. He co-wrote 103 songs during his career, mainly for stage revues. He also wrote an opera Pyatigorsk in 1973.
In light music circles, Parker's overture to the play The Glass Slipper is now well known, although it was many years before it became available on a commercial recording. Much of Parker's concert music is now either lost or neglected, although some pieces are preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Parker also composed a number of choral works, particularly later in his life, including Nocturnes for the King's Singers and a Missa Brevis in 1976.
- James Marshall, CD notes The Film Music of Clifton Parker, Chandos Records 2004.
- David Ades, Clifton Parker biography at the Robert Farnon Society website.
- Clifton Parker at the Internet Movie Database
- Timeout Filmography
- British Transport films