(Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
When I first came to England from New Zealand in 1957 with my family, one thing I was determined to do was to meet my idol of music, Robert Farnon. But it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. As time went by, for one reason or another, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I might miss him. Undeterred by this possibility, I then decided to take the bull by the horns and just present myself at his Gerrard’s Cross home. Nervously knocking on the door and not knowing what to expect, suddenly he appeared looking just like the photograph he had originally sent me. I needn’t have worried though because after an extremely warm welcome I was invited in and given a signed copy of his LP “Pictures in the Fire”. Mission accomplished!
Back down under I couldn’t wait to take the disc out of its sleeve, place it on the turntable and hear his latest creations. One arrangement that really stood out was the Doris Day hit Secret Love from “Calamity Jane”. Going straight in with no introduction, gentle strings in foxtrot tempo treat us to the classic simplicity and symmetry of a Farnon score with celeste and clarinet trimmings. Even with just the basic sheet music chords, the sound was like no other orchestra. So nothing unusual about the first 16 bars of harmony and orchestration.
Now the woodwind plays the melody. Following the words “The way that dreamers often do” something symphonic stirred in the strings. But there’s more. In the bar after “Just how wonderful you are” the most magnificent swell occurs, transforming the tune from a ditty into a miniature masterpiece. It literally took my breath away and over an hour later I finally identified that gorgeous chord of E9,11+,13 in the key of G. Robert Farnon was the first arranger to successfully employ shock tactics seamlessly, in the nicest possible way, in a simple song.
No need for altered chords in the bridge since we’re still reeling from that heavenly harmony. In complete contrast to singer Day’s strident strains, Farnon opted for a beautiful more laid back violin solo guaranteed to produce the inevitable goose pimples. The strings still enriched with that burst of musical uranium, wind down for more conventional chords. Then the orchestra sort of hovers, as if deciding what to do next. The woodwind, minus the rhythm section, repeats the bridge.
In the final 8 bars Farnon again turns up the heat with some magical examples of his own particular brand of slightly dissonant chords. The strings and woodwind suddenly slow down bringing this Great American Songbook standard to a perfectly natural Farnon finish with the guitar having the final say. Fain and Webster must have wondered what hit them!
An excellent article -- Secret Love has long been a favourite of mine!Report Comment Link
Robert, I too tended to deify Robert Farnon in my younger years, a period that lasted from my late teens, when I first encountered his music, through my twenties, and extending up until my mid-thirties. At that latter time, I had an experience that taught me that no figure in music, even among the great classical composers, or even the top or rather most highly regarded performing artists were perfect, as all were human, and of necessity subject to various foibles and imperfections.
In October, 1971, I had the opportunity to hear Robert Farnon live in Carnegie Hall here in New York City. It was actually an event featuring vocalist Tony Bennett, who was the chief attraction of this presentation, and Mr. Bennett allegedly chose Robert Farnon to be his backup accompanist, describing him from the stage as the "Shakespeare of Music."
The concert was divided into two halves, with the first half featuring Robert Farnon on his own conducting his own compositions and arrangements, and was joined by Tony Bennett in the second half, with the introduction at this latter portion, "And now, here is the man you have come to hear." (Of course, for me the opposite was true!) I glanced at the program and noted the selections to be performed - "Journey into Melody," "A Star is Born," "A la Clair Fontaine," etc., all of which I eagerly looked forward to. I was sorely disappointed when the announcement was made of a change in the program, whereby the featured items in this first half would consist of his arrangements of native folk songs, none of which arrangements I was familiar with, and only "A la Clair Fontaine" was to be presented of the items mentioned above.
I listened to this and heard two things in its presentation that I did not like, as I was and am intimately familiar with the version appearing in the album "Canadian Impressions" which I have always treasured, and considered that this performance I was listening to had its shortcomings. I have little comment on the second half of the program, although some of the background arrangements I was hearing were engaging in their own way.
The concert having concluded, I nervously made my way to the back stage area, hoping to gain an audience with the individual whom I had so idolized all those years. I was worried that I would be overwhelmed by the crowds but perhaps had little to be concerned about, as most present were ostensibly seeking to catch a closer glimpse of Mr. Bennett. In any event, in the backstage area, I found myself in a crossfire of musicians from the orchestra coming and going, and started to ask myself if I was possibly in a restricted area, as there were no hall personnel to guide me in my quest.
In addition, even at my age (I was 36 at the time), I was so overcome by nervousness that I felt I might well flub my introduction. All of these factors combined persuaded me to give it up as a bad job, and to rather post a letter to him, as I had his address in the islands of Guernsey or wherever it was.
In my letter, I mentioned the two things that bothered me about the performance of "A la Clair Fontaine" that I heard.
He answered me very graciously, referring to me as "Master William Zucker, Esquire," finishing off his letter by stating that he would be very interested to hear further about my musical activities, as I understand today was his normal habit.
Regarding the two points that I brought up, he provided me with explanations that were none too convincing to me, and when I attempted to pursue these further in a follow-up letter (perhaps it was not the very best idea on my part) he simply ignored my second letter. I afterwards discussed this encounter with a close colleague of mine, and he advised me that I probably made Mr. Farnon rather uncomfortable by the close scrutiny I gave to his work.
Nevertheless, this whole experience - be assured that my diplomatic skills are today far in advance of what they must have been in those days - this whole experience has caused me to step back somewhat from my position of extreme deification that I had up until that point to a stance with a more realistic opinion. I still have a degree of respect for many of his accomplishments - not unqualifiedly all of them by any means - and this respect nowadays has something of a cutting edge to it. But if see or hear something of his that I regard as exemplary, such as I mentioned in that essay I wrote on two of his selections recently, I would be the first to point it out - same with the few lines I wrote on his arrangement of Youmans' "Hallelujah" which was featured in an issue of the JIM magazine.
As for the LP album "Pictures in the Fire" which you refer to, Robert; for me the most memorable selection in it is the title piece, which I have always highly regarded, but only in the presentation it receives in this particular album.
As a final note, let me thank you for your continuing contributions to this website of your varied analyses, as I find that in them I seem to always have something to say even if I first have to listen to the piece you refer to if it is unfamiliar to me. Please keep them up!
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