Composers Datebook®

Marvin Hatley goes cuckoo

Composers Datebook - April 3, 2024


The composer of “Dance of the Cuckoos” was born on this date in 1905.

Thomas Marvin Hatley worked for the Hal Roach film studio that produced the famous Laurel and Hardy comedies, for which he wrote memorable music. His “Cuckoo” theme was originally used as a time cue for a radio station located on the Hal Roach studio lot, but when Stan Laurel heard it, he knew it would be perfect as the Laurel and Hardy signature theme.

Between 1929 and 1940, Hatley wrote over 800 compositions for the studio. His scores for two Laurel and Hardy films were nominated for Academy Awards. But Hal Roach didn’t seem to appreciate Hatley’s music. In 1939, Hatley was fired by Roach, but at the insistence of Stan Laurel, Hatley returned to score one final Laurel and Hardy film.

Hatley went on to become a Los Angeles-area cocktail lounge pianist, and quipped that he earned more in that career than he did working for Hal Roach.

In his senior years, Hatley would attend meetings of Laurel and Hardy fan clubs in California, happily playing the piano to accompany old silent film era Hal Roach comedies.

Music Played in Today's Program

Marvin Hatley (1905 - 1986) — "Dance of the Cuckoos" (Van Phillips and His Orchestra) British 78-rpm recording ('Dance of the Cuckoos')

On This Day


  • 1889 - Romanian composer and violinist Grigoras Dinicu, in Bucharest. He is best known for his virtuoso violin showpiece Hora staccato (1906).

  • 1895 - Italian-born American composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, in Florence


  • 1850 - Bohemian composer Jan Václav Tomášek (Johann Wenzel Tomaschek), 75, in Prague

  • 1868 - Swedish composer Frans Berwald, 71, in Stockholm

  • 1897 - German composer Johannes Brahms, 63, in Vienna

  • 1950 - German-born American composer Kurt Weill, 50, in New York City

  • 1972 - American composer and arranger Ferde Grofé, 80, in Santa Monica, California


  • 1748 - Handel: oratorio Alexander Balus (Julian date: March 23)

  • 1786 - Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, with the composer as soloist

  • 1869 - Grieg: Piano Concerto, Op. 16, in Copenhagen, by the Danish Royal Theater Orchestra conducted by Holger Simon Paulli, and Edmund Neupert the soloist

  • 1911 - Sibelius: Symphony No. 4, in Helsinki, with the composer conducting

  • 1923 - Roussel: ballet Le Festin de l’araignée (The Spider's Feast), in Paris

  • 1925 - Holst: opera At the Boar’s Head, in Manchester

  • 1931 - Hindemith: Concert Music, by the Boston Symphony (commissioned for the orchestra's 50 th anniversary), with Serge Koussevitzky conducting

  • 1998 - Tan Dun: Concerto for Six Players in Durham, North Carolina, by the Bang On A Can All-Stars

  • 2003 - Elliott Carter: Boston Concerto, by the Boston Symphony, Ingo Metzmacher conducting


  • 1834 - The Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal of Music) begins publication, with Robert Schumann as contributing editor

  • 1843 - The Leipzig Conservatory opens, with Felix Mendelssohn as its director

  • 1871 - American premiere of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, at the Stadt Theater in New York City

  • 1926 - American premiere of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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