Robert Farnon’s arrangement
Analysed by Robert Walton
These days we’re constantly bombarded with attractive specials from supermarkets and shops like “buy one and get one free”. In a Robert Farnon arrangement you get “three for the price of one”. The song comes first (often from the “Great American Songbook”) followed by the actual arrangement and then to top it all it’s full of elements of his own compositions both serious and light. There is no musician on earth who has the ability to mix and match with a sound that is completely unique. He re-invented the word taste. Wherever you happen to land on any of his recordings, even briefly, it’s unmistakably Robert Farnon and often all under 3 minutes. To hear Farnon is to hear an open-minded composer who has absorbed such an enormous amount of music, put it all together and created his own universe. In fact every time I listen to a Robert Farnon arrangement I can’t help feeling Hollywood lost out to his talents (similar to those of MGM’s Conrad Salinger). It’s understandable though because Farnon fell on his feet in so many ways when he came to England and stayed. Of course he was a remainer!
It’s unusual for a songwriter to praise a specific arrangement, but Arthur Schwartz did just that when he personally corresponded with Farnon, singling out Louisiana Hayride from the album “Something To Remember You By” as one of the finest orchestrations and performances he’d ever heard.
Starting straight but soon let loose into swing mode, the first thing I noticed about this brassy piece of big band/light orchestral music is that Farnon keeps the whole thing under control. It could have so easily descended into chaos under another conductor. Also there’s always a temptation with this kind of material to show off. The fact that he kept his cool and made it simple was the very reason that made it attractive.
After a chorus, things begin to warm up with a little Bach-ish like polyphony between the brass and saxes and snatches of the sort of tricky woodwind one might hear in a light orchestral Farnon score. And keeping things moving, a touch of the Ted Heath sound from the saxes. The strings enter for the last time before the drummer (remember Farnon in his youth was one?) keeps the orchestra under strict order with his sticks. There are some echoes of Pete Rugolo in this final section.
Robert Farnon has always been associated with strings but let’s not forget his brilliance with brass and wizardry with woodwind. In fact the whole orchestra is his world.
For some time, I have realized that the best arrangers and composers of light music selections had a complete classical music training, in the sense that their best work betrays this solid background in the form of structural integrity and solid harmonic functioning. These contributory factors provide the intended illusion that an arrangement of a song as presented to us is meant to be so heard and is inconceivable presented in any other manner.
This sort of presentation, of course, will delight a devotee of classical music, and will draw the attention in exactly the same manner, as this is not and should not be considered as background music piped through in restaurants, shopping malls, airline and train terminals, or even in lavatories.
Many of these arrangers in addition have made a study of various types of popular dance music, such as that of the big bands from the 30's, 40's and 50's, or the Latin bands from the same periods, and when partaking of these genres, have still managed to display classical elements in their work, which could only render their product that much stronger.
I bring this out merely to mention that Robert Farnon, while an outstanding example of what I'm referring to, is by no means the only figure to have turned in different directions within their output, and at times even within the same selection. To name just a few examples, we have Camarata, who from his compositions alone displays an enormous variety and range, from serious compositions such as "Evening Mist," "Tall Trees," and Pizzicato Rhumba" to the dance band/jazz-like "Fingerbustin'" or the "Rhapsody for Saxophone" which falls in between, or the raucously Latin "Brasiliero" which despite the heavy overlay of Latin rhythms, has in places harmonic movements that might well have been learned from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Manual on Harmony." and quite expertly done at that. Or by the same token we have Percy Faith, whose work similarly exhibits a wide range, with classically sounding selections such as "Perpetual Notion,' or his arrangement of "My Shawl" where these classical elements similarly betray themselves, to the swing-like arrangement of "What is this thing called Love" or his composition "Carefree." All these characteristics are well in evidence in all of his original selections and arrangements, and in some of my previous articles it gave rise to my comment that Percy Faith's arrangements of Latin music were so expert, considering that he was altogether a non-Latin, that all other purveyors in this field such as Xavier Cugat, Perez Prado, Noro Morales, Edmondo Ros and even Stanley Black, could well afford to step aside for him, high as the quality of their own work may have been.
My whole point of all of the forgoing is simply, in regard to Robert Farnon, great in his field as he was without question, was that he was not the only outstanding figure in this field as this article I'm commenting on appears to imply; that there were other figures who were equally great and this is not subjective opinion but fact. Opinion only enters into it when it comes to preferring one figure over another, and even that is not necessarily absolute - we might prefer Arranger A with one song or selection and Arranger B with others, even when direct comparison of the same selection or song is made, and at times, both may be regarded as superlative to the point where we cannot even make a choice to that end.
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I happen to own a copy of the album conducted by Robert Farnon featuring arrangements of songs by Schwartz and Dietz in which "Louisiana Hayride," the subject of the article above, happens to be the first in the album.
Some time ago, in my preface I wrote years ago on four Leroy Anderson Musical Comedy Medleys, I referred to the idea of various albums or selections in albums or parts of albums being combined in a manner so that when heard in succession they appear to somehow belong together and set each other off, in a manner of speaking. I also suggested that these may have been intentionally so put together by all concerned with the production of the recordings, meaning the conductor-composer-arrangers as well as the record producers.
I find this to prevail with the first four selections in this album; I always listen to them together in succession, and I may well consider an analysis along with suggestions for performance of the four pieces together.
There is a strong and engaging contrast between these four numbers, ranging from the stirring and exciting "Louisiana Hayride," the lush romanticism of "Something to Remember You By," with its deeply touching ending almost suggesting an embrace, the darkly mysterious "Alone Together," which after the opening phase of the piece very soon comes out of its shell, and the very seductive "Maria," in beguine rhythm, ending on a whistle (in the wrong key!). These are peppered with unusual harmonies which are common with Robert Farnon although upon closer examination these may be seen to be traditional harmonies overelaborated with chromatic additions but the functional root movements can always be traced.
It should be noted that in all of the above I did not once mention instrumentation - which instruments are playing at any given time or are answering one another. I vastly prefer to maintain my perspective of the whole rather to delve into details that may be merely contributory, although that is simply my method and I am very far from instructing the next one as to how to listen to a piece of music. I also have to point out a comment by Bob in his article where he refers to "Bach-like polyphony." There are certainly contrapuntal effects in the second half of the piece he is writing on, where the main idea, originally in E Flat, now up a whole step to F, is stated. But I would hardly refer such counterpoint to J. S. Bach or in any way be reminded of him, especially within the context of this piece.
As usual, with either my essays or comments, I will always invite further comments from others.;
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