Roger Quilter: Where the Rainbow Ends

The childrens’ fairy play Where the Rainbow Ends was written for Christmas 1911 by Clifford Mills and John Ramsay, and subsequently adapted into a book by Mills. The theatrical production was immensely popular, running for 47 years of professional performances. In 1937 the audience included the Queen and Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II). In 1921, a film was made of the play.

Quilter took to the play with great enthusiasm and indeed its authors were surprised by just how much incidental music he had written. The fairy and fantasy (and possibly also the national and patriotic) themes called forth some of his best and most attractive music. This was broadcast often on the BBC, and I remember some of the numbers still being aired in my own childhood, though by then the play had long since ceased to be produced. A Suite was extracted from the piano version of the play and has been recorded, but the complete score is making its first appearance here.

The play seems not to have been revived in recent years. It deals with various themes, one being the transformation of the individual through acquiring qualities of courage (or as the Edwardians would say pluck) and finding a vocation, whether through service to one’s country or through homemaking. As in the best traditions of such things, virtue is rewarded while villains uniformly meet a horrid end. It also champions the nuclear family, dealing with the quest by two children to find their mother and father. The girl has the outstanding sense to use one of the two wishes she has been granted to summon St George to be their bodyguard, and in due course there is much subduing of dragons. This St George has his priorities in the correct order, for his battle-cry is “God for George, England and the Right”. He gives a colourful description of the English victory at Agincourt, and elsewhere in the play there is much reference to British military might and the golden victories of past years.