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Ivor Novello

Throughout much of his colorful career, Ivor Novello was as well known an actor as composer. As his legacy has emerged more clearly since his death, however, it is his contribution to composition, especially in the realm of the British musical theater, that carries greater artistic significance. Novello's musicals were generally rich in distinctive melody and had a conservative, operetta-like character.

Novello was born in Cardiff, England, on January 15, 1893. He showed rare musical gifts in his childhood, exhibiting an exceptionally attractive boy soprano voice and a talent for creating original melodies. His mother, a prominent voice coach, began to prepare him for a career in composition, with an eye toward opera. Novello studied at Magdalen College Choir School and later took private instruction from Herbert Brewer.

Despite Brewer's negative assessment of the young composer's potential, Novello wrote the music for the song, Till the Boys Come Home (1914), later renamed Keep the Home-Fires Burning (lyrics by Lena Guilbert Ford), which became enormously popular and served as a patriotic song in England during World War I.

Along with overnight fame Novello had earned handsome royalties from the song, but after collaborating on some musical revues during the war, he largely withdrew from composition and turned to acting and writing. He appeared in a string of plays, beginning with the 1921 Deburau. He had roles in two plays in 1922: The Yellow Jacket and Spanish Lovers. In 1924 he starred in and co-authored the play (with Constance Collier) The Rat, which became an immediate hit.

He soon began appearing in silent films, including the 1926 Hitchcock classic The Lodger. Novello remained active in the theater and films until 1935, the year he wrote the musical hit Glamorous Night. While he continued turning out popular musical plays in the pre-war years, he did not abandon acting: Novello received high praise for his performance in The Happy Hypocrite (1936).

But it was his musicals now that provided him his greatest triumphs: Careless Rapture (1936), Crest of the Wave (1937), and perhaps his most sensational hit, The Dancing Years (1939). Novello's turned out musicals throughout the war and postwar years, with Perchance to Dream (1945) achieving 1,020 performances and King's Rhapsody (1949) garnering wide critical acclaim. Novello's health declined in 1950 and he died the following year.