An article by William Zucker.
I'm sure my readers who regularly consult my notes on the many symphonic works and other staples of the classical repertoire will be absolutely flabbergasted upon discovering what I have now chosen to turn my attention to.
The fact does remain, however, that I will not turn my attention to any piece of music in this manner unless I see some genuine merit that I feel obligated to point out or at least acquaint my readers with. For the fact remains that in all genres of music, form the very serious to the lighter varieties, usually termed "For Easy Listening" (an unfortunately far too all-encompassing term); for all genres of music, there is what can be described as good and bad or rather inferior. I make no apologies for my choices. If a piece of music has communicated itself to me in some way, I like to see if I can share my experience with others.
Accordingly, regarding the music I am about to deal with, I propose to proceed along precisely the same lines as I would with a full length symphony. This music that I am presently covering I feel is deserving of the same amount of respect as its more serious counterpart.
Actually, this genre of music has always been with us. It responds to popular taste in a fashion, but the idea is still to produce something that is aesthetically pleasing. We have had in past generations our Johann Strauss, Jacques Offenbach, Franz von Suppe, Franz Lehar, etc., all of whom are given attention by top notch conductors. What we have here is actually no different, if representing a shift in popular taste and focus from former times. Whether such would be possible today under present day artistic trends is a question I am not about to take up at this point.
Leroy Anderson's Richard Rodgers Waltz Medley is an excellent example of the type I feel deserves serious attention. For one thing, unlike so many such show medleys we are subjected to, this one, along with others that Mr. Anderson has produced, are put together with particular care in that the different component sections follow one another in a musically logical manner, rather than simply a hodge podge of tunes following each other cheek by jowl without the slightest concern for the overall structure or compatibility of sections. He has produced several other such musical comedy medleys which show the same artistry and finish, completely the equal of the perhaps more immediately familiar ones (fully as satisfactory if a bit different in approach) by Robert Russell Bennett. I say this despite having known Mr. Bennett over an all too brief period, and having unfortunately never met Mr. Anderson.
To get to the Waltz Medley, it consists of four sections, as indicated in the title of this essay, but the subtitles will not be carried into this essay, as I vastly prefer to deal with it abstractly and simply as a piece of music.
With the first section, the rather jaunty manner of presentation is entirely appropriate, somewhat in the manner of the waltz from Gounod's Faust. As I always exhort, the dynamic markings are all-important and must be observed to the fullest. In turn, those occasional downbeat accents will actually maintain the forward movement in this case.
After the give and take D/A Flat/D Major extension to the forgoing, on the change to G Major for the second section, a carefully graded ritardando should be provided to lead gently into this section.
As throughout this piece, the byplay in the other parts, while contributory in their effect, must still never be permitted to obscure the main melody. The second portion of this melody is presented in a much more energetic setting, made evident by the all-important dynamics, but the tempo should always remain constant throughout this section.
After disposal of this material, there is an anticipation of the melody of the third section, still maintaining the tempo hitherto. Only in the last four measures, on the approach to E Major and the third section, there is a big ritardando on what is melodically at this point as several repeated Bs which of course will recur at the end of the second strain of this melody.
The ensuing section, at least at the outset, is to be presented at a tempo very much slower than the rest of the piece, almost suggesting a 12/8 meter or an adagio. The staccato subdivisions against the second strain of the melody are once again, contributory in effect, never under any circumstances to be distracting from the main melodic line.
After the end of the second strain to this melody, with once again the repeated Bs and the considerable ritardando to the end of the phrase, we move right back to G Major for the last portion, and back to the tempo of the second section, but following this, as we conclude this section, we have to pull the tempo back drastically, to a point even slower than before.
The final cadence, under a series of trills (how Straussian this really is, one must observe), is to be drawn out as much as practicable, and upon the resolution we are back in motion once again. The G in the treble at the outset and the F Sharp two measures later should be only briefly held; the main interest here being the undulating top voices of the harmonies, moving from G Major to B Flat Major to D Flat Major, and with a harmonic curlicue we turn right around, coming to a momentary halt on an F dominant chord, preparing for the B Flat Major of the fourth and final section, where there may be just a brief pause.
At the commencement of the section, the two chords at the outset, representing the first two notes of the melody should be held, perhaps for two measures apiece. The underlying motion for the ensuing section should be a good deal heavier than what we had in either of the first two sections. This is the summing-up portion, so to speak, and the most should be made of it. Once again, the dynamics are all-important and must be observed to the letter.
At the end of the second strain, there is a slight ritard and pause once again, perhaps not as drastic as at the outset of the section. Resuming the first strain, we must give the same emphasis to the first two chords as before. This time, the repeat of the first strain leads to a reminiscence of the melody from the third section, which is the climax of the forgoing.
After we get three-fourths of this reminiscence, there is a subito piano, and from this point we may very gently begin an accelerando along with the crescendo. After the hold on the dominant seventh chord, the section that resolves to the tonic gives us a much faster tempo, to conclude the piece, in a manner hardly at all different from the conclusion of a Strauss waltz.
The piece by Mr. Anderson, "Song of the Bells," may be very profitably considered in direct conjunction with the preceding, to show the strong family resemblance. I myself, in playing this set, transpose this piece to D Flat Major, down a half step from the original, to emphasize this strong family resemblance, as this gives us a much more closely related key following the B Flat Major conclusion of the preceding.
I am also adding this to the essay, as I consider this as one of Mr. Anderson's best pieces, of all the single sided record selections that he has produced. In general, the less explicitly descriptive the music is, the more congenial I find it. In some of his earlier such works, where one might imagine that due to a perceived lack of confidence in the ability of his own music to speak for itself (assuredly groundless), he resorted to various gimmicks, adding some sound effects which in this humble opinion, only succeeded in spoiling and defiling his work. There is no such problem here; one must only see to it that the bells and tam-tam are never permitted to overwhelm the overall musical substance.
With the brief introduction, we are immediately made aware of a feature almost always present, in that the second bar of a two bar set frequently gets an accent, leaned toward in the phrase. This effect may be explicitly present, as in the very opening gesture where our attention is immediately called to it, or it may be latent; present but not immediately obvious and not requiring any emphasis - simply an underlying feature that one may note. It is not at all the same as we find in Beethoven's work, where we actually have strong measures and weak measures; each measure in effect constituting a beat. In this case, the first measure of the phrase still constitutes the down beat, except that there is a strong emphasis or latent pull on the weak measures.
The tempo itself is much faster and lighter than that typically given in the preceding piece, more as a lighter French waltz than what we've had previously Otherwise there is little in this first section that calls for further comment.
The Trio section, which for me would be in G Flat Major, comes in two settings, the repeat being highly varied from the first. The so called "bell" effect must be presented so that the melody. with one note per measure, is heard integrally without any interference from any other part in that respect. On the repeat, where this melody now appears in the strings, the byplay in the upper parts, should be heard sufficiently only in order that there is the proper lilt to the whole, and the melody still must get its priority.
The reprise, again introduced by the brief introduction we had at the outset, at first proceeds as before, but on its restatement there is a more energetic setting in preparation for the conclusion. On the second phrase of this there will commence a very gradual accelerando and crescendo. After the momentary hold, there is a four bar phrase where the music will momentarily broaden, with the accent on the second bar of each pair; i.e., the dominant seventh chord. At the resolution, the quicker tempo reasserts itself, and may push ever so slightly faster through this final gesture. The B Double Flat of the flat submediant chord should really ring out before the emphatic perfect cadence which closes the piece.
As I may have indicated, we do Leroy Anderson a grave disservice when we think of him merely as a "tunesmith," exampled by those compilations of "your favorite Leroy Anderson melodies" thrown together, one after the other. This is emphatically not what his work was about; there is a very distinctive manner, which can best be appreciate in his arrangements of musical comedy medleys, the Irish Suite, and the like. His best original work will also give us an idea of his capabilities; however, that which had become popular on the hit parade charts back in the early 50's, while recognizably his when his own arrangements are used, do not necessarily represent him at his best, but that is in the nature of things. At the same time, that which he penned in response to the holiday season, also frequently heard in bowdlerized settings, should likewise be heard from his own hands detached from its context. From this point, I leave it to the listener to judge, but I continue to feel that this music should be kept actively alive because it communicates, which is most important. This communication will come about because there is that in the music which responds to a listener's previous experiences and consequent expectations, to a greater or lesser degree. The response to such experiences must always be present, if only to be directly answered or thwarted in some way.
As usual, I am always open to comments.
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