Sweet And Lovely
(Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
Robert Farnon had the unique ability to bring out the best in a song by always treating it with the utmost respect in terms of its original style, by adding just the right amount of modernism and freshness. In other words he was guided intuitively by his byword: “taste”. At the same time he was constantly ahead of the game with his original and daring orchestrations. Even now in the 21st century they still sound advanced.
The utter simplicity of the start of Sweet and Lovely, like one of his own light orchestral miniatures, belies the fact that from thousands of musical ideas going around in his head, he only selected sounds that were totally appropriate for the current job in hand. In his own world he was a self-disciplinarian knowing instinctively how far to go. He was never tempted to stray too far into foreign territory. Despite that, Farnon constantly relished discovering new things to say in his “travels into tunes”. It was probably the unusual harmony that first attracted him to this early ballad.
This 1931 ditty was the “sweet and lovely” theme song of Gus Arnheim’s Orchestra. The first recording was by his orchestra featuring vocalist Donald Novis but it was Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo who brought it to a wider audience.
After that haunting introduction, lightly swinging woodwind go straight into Sweet and Lovely for a double whammy of song and arrangement providing a romantic slow foxtrot with some decorative glockenspiel. A harp heralds the first appearance of the famous Farnon fiddles (“Who would want a sweeter surprise”). Staying with the strings a gentle cutting oboe continues the tune.
Then a muted trumpet advises that the bridge is ready for crossing with the saxes making the first move towards a beautifully controlled orchestral climax.
Back to the tune as thin-sounding ethereal violins on the same note shoot up high with the help of harmonics to have a commanding view over the proceedings. Frolicking flutes make themselves felt in no uncertain terms. Then another reminder of that warm Farnon harmony. The brass is back with the strings making a typically gorgeous key change like no one else in the business. The saxes are heard again and gradually the orchestra returns with the brass.
By now it becomes all too clear that Farnon’s arrangement of Sweet and Lovely is an excellent example of a series of thrilling climaxes. The orchestra sounds completely relaxed as it tags along for the ride, enjoying the many “swells” which abound. Strings, oboe and a violin playing the title in atonal style are parachuted into the coda mix. Talking of keyless music, Robert Farnon’s charts are famous for teetering on the edge of atonality, like a high wire act. That’s why his arrangements have an air of mystery and “what’s he going to do next?” about them. In retrospect, these early popular standards have proved to be perfect vehicles for Farnon’s inventiveness.
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