Harold Fraser-Simson (15 August 1872 – 19 January 1944), was an English composer of light music, including songs and the scores to musical comedies. His most famous musical was the World War I hit, The Maid of the Mountains, and he later set numerous children's poems to music, especially those of A. A. Milne.
Life and career
Fraser-Simson was born in London, the second child and eldest son of an East Indies merchant, Arthur Theodore Simson and his wife, Jane Anne Catherine née Fraser, of Reelig, Scotland. He was educated at Charterhouse School, then at Dulwich College, then at King's College London and in France. As a young man he joined a ship-owning firm in London before turning to music as a full-time occupation in his early forties.
Fraser-Simson published his first song, "My Sweet Sweeting", in 1907. His first theatre score was for the 1911 musical Bonita, with a libretto by Walter Wadham Peacock, which played at Queen's Theatre.
Fraser-Simson's biggest success was the score for the operetta The Maid of the Mountains, which played at Daly's Theatre in London in 1917 and finally closed after 1,352 performances. This was, at the time, a phenomenal run second only to that of Chu Chin Chow. Several songs from this work (not all of them by Fraser-Simson) have remained "standards" ever since. Fraser-Simson's best-known songs for this show included "Love will Find a Way", "Farewell" and "Husbands and Wives". The Maid of the Mountains has been frequently revived by both professional and amateur groups and was filmed in 1932. It was one of the three most important musical hits of the London stage during World War I (the other two being a revue, The Bing Boys Are Here and the musical Chu Chin Chow). Music or scenes from all of these have been included as background in many films set in this period, and they remain intensely evocative of the "Great War" years. Audiences wanted light and uplifting entertainment during the war, and these shows delivered it.
After The Maid of the Mountains, Fraser-Simson wrote music for more operettas and musicals, including A Southern Maid (premiered in Manchester in 1917 and produced at Daly's in London after Maid closed in 1920); Our Peg (1919, with a libretto by Harry Graham and Edward Knoblock at Prince's Theatre); Missy Jo (1921 touring); Head over Heels (Adelphi Theatre, 1923); Our Nell (1924, Lyric Theatre – a rewrite of Our Peg replacing Peg Woffington as principal character with Nell Gwynne), The Street Singer (1924, 360 performances at the Lyric, starring Phyllis Dare); and Betty in Mayfair (1925, Adelphi Theatre).
Fraser-Simson's music tended towards the old-fashioned European romantic songs, in contrast to the ragtime, jazz and other American dance music that began to be used in musicals during World War I. His other stage works include a ballet, Venetian Wedding (1926) and incidental music for The Nightingale and the Rose (1927).
Children's songs and later years
Fraser-Simson is also known for his many settings of children's verse by A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame, including the music for a children's play based on the latter's The Wind in the Willows entitled Toad of Toad Hall (1929), which was successful and enjoyed many revivals. His settings of Milne's verse include a children's song cycle The Hums of Pooh, based on verses from Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. This was included in Julian Slade's 1970 adaptation of Winnie-the-Pooh. He published six volumes of songs setting verses from Milne's When We Were Very Young. They were first recorded for the gramophone by George Baker accompanied by Gerald Moore in 1930. His other songs included the collection Teddy Bear and Other Songs and songs from Alice in Wonderland which were published in 1932 and recorded by Baker and Moore the same year. Baker later recalled the composer as "a very polite, retiring man, looking more like a businessman than a composer of successful musicals."
Simson married May Frances nee Bucknall in 1897, with whom he had a daughter, Lilian Frances. He married his second wife, (Anna) Cicely Devenish, in 1919. In later years, he lived the life of a country squire at Dalcross Castle, a home that he bought in Scotland. He was an avid sportsman, enjoying golf, tennis, shooting and fishing.
- “Fraser” was his middle name; he used the hyphenated "Fraser-Simson" for his musical career, but formally he seems to have retained his original surname "Simson". See census return, 1911 (at Woodend, Witley, Surrey), Harold Fraser Simson (no hyphen), Ship-owner & merchant. It lists May Frances Simson (no Fraser), wife and Lilian Frances Simson (no Fraser), daughter; Marriage register index, July–September 1919, St Martin, vol. 1a, p. 1553, Harold F Fraser and Anna C M Devenish; and Register of deaths, county of Inverness, 19 January 1944, ref 098/0a 0041; but see Probate at Llandudno, June 1944, to Cecily Fraser-Simson and John Henry Lang Rose of the estate of Harold Fraser-Simson of Dalcross Castle Croy Inverness-shire
- Lamb, Andrew. "Harold Fraser-Simson (1872–1944); The Maid of the Mountains", excerpts from the sleeve notes to Hyperion's recording of The Maid of the Mountains, 2000, accessed 17 June 2013
- Darby, W., (1967), Dulwich: A Place in History, p.41, (William Darby: Dulwich)
- The Times obituary, 20 January 1944, p. 7
- Scowcroft, Philip. "Harold Fraser-Simson: Sportsman and Man of the Theatre", MusicWebUK (1994)
- Gänzl, Kurt. "Simson, Harold Fraser- (1872–1944)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 18 September 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/67639
- Cooke, Mervyn. The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-century Opera, p. 296 (2005) Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-78009-8
- Chu Chin Chow at the Musicals Guided Tour (PeoplePlay UK), accessed 4 May 2008
- Gammond, Peter (1970) sleeve note to EMI LP HQM 1200
- Gammond, P. The Oxford companion to popular music (1991)
- Gänzl, Kurt. The encyclopaedia of the musical theatre, 2 vols. (1994)
- Gänzl, Kurt. The British musical theatre, 2 vols. (1986)
- Parker, J. ed., Who's who in the theatre, 6th edn (1930)
- Biography of Fraser-Simson
- Harold Fraser-Simson at the Internet Movie Database
- Recording of Milne and Fraser-Simson's "They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace"
- Links to recordings of The Maid of the Mountains
- Links to Hyperion recordings by Fraser-Simson
- Links to recordings of works by Fraser-Simson