Albert William Ketèlbey (9 August 1875, Birmingham, England – 26 November 1959, Cowes, England) was an English composer, conductor and pianist.
Ketèlbey was the son of an engraver, George Henry Ketèlbey, and Sarah Ann Aston. At the age of eleven he wrote a piano sonata that won praise from Edward Elgar. Ketèlbey gained a scholarship to the Trinity College of Music in London, where he showed his talent for playing various orchestral instruments reflected in the masterfully colourful orchestration, especially of oriental inspiration, that became his trademark. At Trinity, he beat Gustav Holst in competition for a musical scholarship. He used the pseudonyms Raoul Clifford and Anton Vodorinski for some of his works. Ketèlbey held a number of positions, including organist at St. John's, Wimbledon, before being appointed musical director of London's Vaudeville Theatre. Whilst at the Vaudeville, he continued writing diverse vocal and instrumental music. Later, he became famous for composing popular light music, much of which was used as accompaniments to silent films, and as mood music at tea dances. Success enabled him to relinquish his London appointments.
He was active in several other fields including being music editor to some well-known publishing houses and for more than twenty years from 1906, served as Musical Director of the Columbia Graphophone Company, where over 600 recordings were issued with him conducting the Court Symphony Orchestra, the Silver Stars Band, and other ensembles. Although not proven, he is frequently quoted as becoming Britain's first millionaire composer. In 1929, he was proclaimed in the "Performing Right Gazette" as "Britain's greatest living composer", on the basis of the number of performances of his works.
His work fell out of favour after the Second World War and at the time of his death he had slipped into obscurity, with only a handful of mourners at his funeral, held at Golders Green crematorium.
On the other hand, such criticism, arguably misjudging his programme music by the principles of absolute music, has failed to extinguish the enduring popularity of his compositions. In the 21st century, Ketèlbey's music is still frequently heard on radio. In a 2003 poll by the BBC radio programme Your Hundred Best Tunes, Bells Across the Meadows was voted thirty-sixth most popular tune of all time.
Works for Winds
- Bells Across the Meadows (arr. Godfrey) (1923
- Chal Romano (1924)
- In a Chinese Temple Garden (1923)
- In a Monastery Garden (arr. J. Ord Hume) (1916)
- In a Persian Market (1920)
- In the Mystic Land of Egypt (1931)
- Mayfair Cinderella, A
- With Honour Crowned (1935)