(Burke; Van Heusen)
Nelson Riddle’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
A Debussyian pug-nosed dream starts straight in with a short simmering shimmering vision of a country-dance. Then the strings play a magnificent symphonic-like surge in the whole-tone scale that completely overwhelms me. It might be only an impressionist effect from the main tune of Polka Dots and Moonbeams but the way Riddle scores it, we are almost into Sibelius territory. After recovering from this dramatic opening, things soon settle down as we arrive at a more conventional introduction for an arrangement of this 1940 popular song that was Frank Sinatra’s first hit vocal with Tommy Dorsey. The tension disappears when we drop down to the actual key of the song (F) with the rhythm section playing in a slow foxtrot tempo.
Jimmy Van Heusen’s beautiful melody is tailor made for Riddle as he effortlessly applies his own close harmony style to it. You’ll immediately notice he pays special attention to detail. On bar 3 (“I felt a bump”...) he unexpectedly makes the strings go soft, echoing the first two bars. It’s back to the original volume on bar 5 (“Suddenly I saw”...) then soft again on bars 7 and 8. It’s an extremely subtle effect and works every time. Very few popular arrangers use this classically inspired device. The same pattern is then applied to the next 8 bars.
As the strings continue into the bridge, one doesn’t miss the woodwind or brass at all. Riddle is perfectly happy with strings only. So are we. He was born to write for them. Again he softens the whole thing halfway through. In the final 8 the same moderately loud and soft tones prevail. In a repeat of the bridge the melody is unusually carried by the lower strings. You mightn’t be aware of it but we have just changed key to G.
In the last 8 the listener luxuriates in an abundance of string sounds, but all slotted in perfectly, creating a sound as rich and ravishing as a popular song will allow. Riddle’s constant “loud and soft” routine has never been incorporated so effectively in such a setting. And more than anything else it’s all so incredibly simple: no going off on a tangent. One vital ingredient that needs mentioning though are the brilliant lyrics of Johnny Burke, not least his highly original description of the young man’s potential partner for life referred to so lovingly in the opening gambit. Incidentally listen to the lovely last chord which is a gorgeous Gmaj 9,11+.
Can be heard on
“More Strings in Stereo”
Guild GLCD 5159
Andre Kostelanetz and His Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
As a child I didn’t really take much notice of André Kostelanetz apart from the name. It was years later I discovered his orchestra at a New Zealand friend’s holiday cottage near Auckland. It was the dawn of the long-playing disc and the “bach” was littered with his albums. So that was when I became aware of so-called commercial “mood” music. For me Kostelanetz was a pioneer of 20th century light music having been one of the first to take the Great American Songbook seriously and arrange it for a large combination.
Russian-born in 1901, Kostelanetz arrived in America in 1922 working temporarily as a singers’ accompanist but it was radio that launched his career with a 65-piece orchestra. His attention to detail of the technology of early recording was legendary. Apart from his arranging skills, the unique Kostelanetz sound was largely created by his choice of microphone positioning, a specially built floor for violins and a carpet for trumpets to absorb their sound so as not to drown the fiddles. I could never understand why the piano often sounded so far away.
So let’s examine one of his most famous recordings used as the signature tune for BBC Radio’s “Family Favourites”. I have always been fascinated by the introductory 13 seconds, which wasn’t included in the theme so let’s start right at the beginning. The humble celesta begins this classic Kostelanetz arrangement accompanied by quiet strings. Then something stirred in the orchestra and before we know it, after a piano and harp glissando, lower strings robustly start the tune whilst the remainder decorate in harmony. After an upward gliss, the brass takes over while unison strings sharply embellish the melody. At last, rich violins get a chance to play the tune followed by a little extension. Then we have a jazzy taster of the Kostelanetz woodwind sound, a ha’peth of harp, seven repeated muted trumpet notes and a short traditional light music intro.
A mellow old-fashioned clarinet solo with singing strings is interrupted by swinging brass and a darting flute. The woodwind continues the tune with pizzicato strings while arco strings finish the phrase. Brass, strings, horn and a solo oboe bring the piece to a close. A lovely violin solo is played, followed by a bluesy end with the strings having the final say.
In conclusion, there’s plenty of evidence that André Kostelanetz must have laid the foundations for Robert Farnon. You’ve only got to listen to a Kostelanetz score to hear for yourself how Farnon was undeniably influenced. He burrowed into the world of Kostelanetz to unearth many of the hidden facets of his music. The celesta alone was a favourite device. Of course the strings in all their various dimensions had perhaps the most enormous effect on Farnon’s psyche. The other André (Previn) considered Farnon’s string writing the finest, but we all knew that, even before Previn confirmed it. However perhaps the most unexpected feature was Kostelanetz’s merging of a dance band within all this symphonic-like framework later developed by Farnon. It’s one aspect we don’t always associate with Kostelanetz. And yet in it’s own way is as distinctive as the strings. Also we mustn’t forget Farnon’s straight woodwind flare clearly derived from the Kostelanetz model. To complete his “training” the brass too must have taught Farnon a thing or two.
One thing they had in common was that they both died on islands. Kostelanetz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1980 and Farnon at his home on Guernsey in 2005.
Can be heard on the
very first “Golden Age
of Light Music”
Guild GLCD 5101
Analysed by Robert Walton
I can’t believe I have only analysed one Campbell composition. That was Cloudland for the 186th edition of JIM. Disgraceful! So it’s high time I rectified the situation and wrote another one. There’s no doubt Robert Farnon’s music had a huge influence on Campbell’s creations but at the same time over the years Campbell developed an instantly recognizable style. Like Farnon, he inherited the elements of good taste, mainstream modernity and above all quality.
Just to remind you of Bruce Campbell’s connection with this highly specialized music. He was a fellow Canadian who came to Britain some years before Farnon and played trombone with well known British dance bands during the 1930s. Later as an arranger, Campbell assisted Farnon on radio, films and recordings and as composer became a regular contributor to mood music libraries. So let’s dissect one of Campbell’s most beautiful waltzes. He obviously had a knack for unusual titles too. Of course the idea for this title was borrowed from the traditional start to ‘fairy’ stories that has existed as a phrase for centuries. One of the first times it was used was in George Peele’s 1595 play “The Old Wives’ Tale”. 360 years later Campbell coined the phrase Once Upon A Dream.
There are two ways of introducing this piece. Either go straight from the top, or supply a few gentle warm-up bars to meet and greet the tune. The latter was Campbell’s wise choice. Judging from the gorgeous 4 bar opening, the harmonies suggest he was a jazzman at heart. Although basically a dance in three-quarter time, Once Upon A Dream is taken strictly in rubato tempo which does full justice to this laid-back hypnotic melody. It almost has overtones of church bells. Sensitivity is the name of the game here. The sheer lack of a steady “Silvester” beat is the very thing which brings it to life. This is purely rural music with not a hint of people, vehicles or cities. I know because I live in the country. So all those requirements are fastidiously taken care of by Bruce Campbell. Perhaps it was his Celtic DNA kicking in. The tune has a similar opening shape to Give A Little Whistle.
The melody gives the distinct impression it wrote itself. Calmly wending its way over the musicscape, the listener can easily trace the tune in what seems like a familiar strain. I vividly recall hearing the strings for the first time and getting the same feeling. There’s an undeniable freshness about the orchestration too, especially its simplicity. In fact it shows there’s no need to score intricate harmonies for such a basic tune. At bar 25 of a standard 32 bar chorus, listen out for a sublime moment before the tune first comes to a halt. This is in fact is the climax of Once Upon A Dream. Producing such an effect is like the magic emanating from the pages of a children’s story. I find it difficult to contain myself at this point.
Meanwhile manning the middle section, a flute forages in the leafy undergrowth of the woodwind section. This is answered by the rest of the orchestra. Eventually a horn and flute bring us neatly back to the beginning for some more glorious sounds. Once again we can wallow in those beautiful undulating string phrases. I just can’t wait to hear a repeat of that burst of brilliance just before the coda.
With a little help from Farnon, Campbell has again not only written some excellent production music, but also captured our hearts in one of his most radiant of miniatures.
Available on New Town:
Production Music of the 1950s
Guild GLCD 5224
Analysed by Robert Walton
There are three songs I know with the English female name Ruby, popular from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th inspired by the gemstone. The name seems to be having a revival in Ireland at the moment.
The 1969 one by Kenny Rogers was Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. Two years before that there was Mick Jagger’s Ruby Tuesday, but by far the most musical was written for the 1953 film “Ruby Gentry”. Milwaukee-born film composer Heinz Roemheld’s beautifully crafted song Ruby became a standard almost overnight with words by Mitchell Parish. Despite its limited melodic range, the way it gradually builds provides as much emotional wallop as a song with a wider spread. Incidentally one of Roemheld’s best known scores from almost 400 films was that of “The Invisible Man” (1933).
The common element between the various arrangements of Ruby seems to be the harmonica, as in recordings by Victor Young, Max Geldray and Les Baxter’s hit record. Although I’m not a particular fan of Ray Charles, his soulful vocal on bluesy Ruby has remained with me ever since I first heard it, while the more conventional crooning of Vic Damone coming a close second.
For analysis purposes though, I’ve chosen Percy Faith’s interesting piano concerto-like arrangement that can be found in “That’s Light Musical Entertainment” on Guild’s “Golden Age of Light Music”(GLCD 5158). In fact Ruby, full of potential ideas for development, could have easily been the basis for an official piano concerto. If Faith hadn’t injured his hands in a fire, the soloist might well have been Faith himself, as he had every intention of becoming a concert pianist.
After a rousing start, the tune of Ruby gets maximum exposure followed by some relaxed piano reminders of Rachmaninov. Then the faithful Faith flutes with more piano including a touch of Carmen Cavallaro. See if you can fathom out how Faith achieves the sound of a harmonica. Then gorgeous unison violins give the tune a symphonic feel accompanied by that uplifting woodwind sound. Listen out for a wee suggestion of Mantovani.
Going into the bridge with a harp-like piano, the strings in harmony continue to dominate with the presence of horns. The strings now lusher slow right down to a standstill. After the “harmonica” returns, a brief encounter with a violin continues the pattern soon broken by a complete change of mood.
Like the opening, the orchestra suddenly bursts into an almost operatic moment. We’re back in “concerto” style with piano chords a-plenty while dramatic horns play the melody. Soon they swap parts and the strings play for all they’re worth answered by the horns.The middle section gently creeps back in, after which that sublime violin plays a most moving solo bringing Ruby to a peaceful end via an exotic Riddle-like downward string movement with two quotes from Mam’selle. There can’t be anything in the universe as soul stirring as a violin.
Listening to this tune again after so many years makes me realize that the much neglected and underrated Ruby must surely be one of the most dramatic and thrilling standards of the 20th century. It deserves nothing more than this magnificent arrangement and performance. Where has it been all this time? In fact I would go further and say it contains some of the magical ingredients of a Puccini - the ultimate praise of any melody.
Symphonia Orchestra conducted by
For some reason the music of Dolf van der Linden has largely passed me by, probably for the simple fact there wasn’t a lot of it about in my early years in New Zealand. I had to wait to come to England to discover it. Scottish comedian James Finlayson in Laurel and Hardy films unknowingly gave van der Linden a free plug every time his expression of surprise proclaimed “Dolf!”
Another musician I didn’t have a clue about was conductor Ludo Philipp. You won’t believe this, but he lived below me in his Kensington apartment for twenty-five years and in all that time I never met him. He probably had no idea I was working in the same business. I assumed he was Polish because after WW2 many of his countrymen settled in London.
From the very outset there’s no doubt that Cab Rank showed the composer must have been a Farnon fan, because Jumping Bean’s cheeky augmented 4th gets two quotes. In fact this jazz-influenced interval was a turning point in light music, inspiring many a Farnon piece. Oddly enough I can’t think of many other composers blatantly using it. Cab Rank from 1957 is an excellent example of a light orchestral piece in 1940s style. Also there’s something of Clive Richardson and Len Stevens about it. This jolly tune bounces along describing an obviously busy taxi rank. After the first 16 bars the strings go into a relaxed lyrical mode reminding one of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. After a little connecting passage, we’re back with the lively opening.
And then we go into the bridge with a strong unison string sound repeated in harmony with added brass. Before we return to the middle section proper, a bright and breezy fill-in section (a bridge within a bridge) with lots of triplets keeping things moving.
From the top again it’s that famous Farnon trademark making two more appearances and another chance to hear the delightful opening with its smooth expressive string sound (very innovative for the 1940s). It’s a pity the end itself wasn’t a tad more extended.
Cab Rank from “Melody Mixture”
Guild Light Music (GLCD 5197)
by Robert Walton
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
The period of the early 1950s when Decca recorded a series of LPs by Robert Farnon’s Orchestra playing some of the top standards of the “Great American Songbook” is now considered more than ever in the 21st century a genuine Golden Era of arranging. Paul Weston was the first to make mood music albums but Farnon took it to another level. Music lovers and professionals alike were astounded by Farnon’s total originality when he borrowed freely from his own compositional idiom, as well as creating something completely unique. But it was much more than that. It was as if he had been waiting for the right moment to introduce his style to an unsuspecting world. Everyone else’s arrangements suddenly seemed sort of average. His gift for giving these songs a new freshness and feeling transformed them into undeniable masterpieces.
I first heard Cocktails for Two in 1946 sent up by Spike Jones and his City Slickers with vocalist Carl Grayson, although it was introduced by another Carl, Carl Brisson in the 1934 film “Murder at the Vanities”. It was also part of the repertoire of cocktail pianist Carmen Cavallaro. Like Carmen I have always preferred the tune in a Latin American tempo. However the original dotted rhythm as in the sheet music sounds perfectly fine in Farnon’s foxtrot arrangement.
So come with me to revisit an old friend, or if you’ve never heard it, allow me to be your guide while we explore the wonders and unexpected pleasures of a Farnon score. It may not be the greatest standard but after Farnon has worked on it, Cocktails for Two was converted into something really special. Duke Ellington tried to give it a face-lift as Ebony Rhapsody but the best he could manage was a jazzed-up version of Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody.
The introduction of Cocktails for Two is a gem of an orchestral flight of Farnon fancy inspired by squeezing every ounce of emotion out of the melody and leading to a beautiful climax. In just a few short bars we have been transported to another world. Did you hear the tiniest touch of a violin before entering “some secluded rendezvous?” The flute first takes up the actual tune with excellent support from the orchestra and rhythm guitar. Then the oboe solos for four bars before handing back to the flute. The first 16 bars are surprisingly straight; always a sign that Farnon has something up his sleeve but is not prepared to give up its secrets just yet.
Still comparatively straight, the bridge is occupied by a tight, lightly swinging, close harmony muted brass choir with unison lower strings and celeste. When the tune resumes, the oboe is brought in again and for the first time something stirred in the Farnon universe. Underneath, the clarinet plays a slightly discordant series of notes but even more daring is the next chord change, B flat 9,11+ (actual notes B flat, A flat, C and E). He always knows just how far he can go in “clever clever” land.
Time for a second swell. The orchestra expands its horizons into some lovely key changes with a gorgeous surge of string power terminating in a flutter of woodwind. Returning to the middle eight, this time it’s the woodwind in block harmony supported by a string descant climbing into harmonics territory. Lazy lush strings in harmony take over the tune and in a more subservient role the oboe chatters away.
Quite suddenly you get the feeling that the end is nigh as the strings begin to slow down for the woodwind who recall the opening melodic phrase. And adding icing to the cake, a tender violin repeats the same set of notes.
Cocktails for Two from
“Two Cigarettes in the Dark”
Vocalion (CDLK 4112)
Analysed by Robert Walton
In the 1940s there was an outpouring of potted pieces for piano and orchestra written specifically for British films. These include The Dream of Olwen (Charles Williams) from “While I Live”, The Legend of the Glass Mountain (Nino Rota) from “The Glass Mountain” and just for a change the real Rachmaninov for “Brief Encounter” borrowed from the Second Piano Concerto. It was Steve Race who cleverly coined the phrase “the Denham Concertos” after the film studio that often featured such works on their soundtracks.
But there were three really outstanding Rachmaninov-inspired works for piano and orchestra, two from movie soundtracks. The most popular was Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto from the 1941 film “Dangerous Moonlight”. Then there was Clive Richardson’s independent composition London Fantasia (1945), a brilliant depiction of the Battle of Britain. The third, Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody from the film “Love Story” (1944) was another World War 2 composition that caught the public’s imagination mostly because of the music. It’s the story of a concert pianist, played by Margaret Lockwood, who learning she had an incurable illness, moved to Cornwall.
Apart from the title Cornish Rhapsody that gives away its location, two other connections with the piece have a distinct English west country association. The composer’s surname reminds you of the famous Roman city but his birthplace was actually Barnstaple in neighbouring Devon.
The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer with pianist Harriet Cohen goes straight into the main tune. Then everything changes with sudden dramatic chords followed by a rippling run from Cohen who continues the theme. Back comes the orchestra until a solo violin produces a brief tender moment supported by an oboe, horn, and sustained double basses.
Now Cohen sensitively plays the melody on her own; the first time we hear it clearly. After the orchestra creeps in, she acts as decorator until a distinct break occurs. Heading for the heights, she goes into solo mode including some bird-like chirps in the treble (Messiaen would have approved). Then she gets heavy-handed working up a bit of a lather before quietly welcoming the orchestra back with some gentle highly technical pianistics. Thunderous percussion precedes the orchestra that spells out the tune in the strongest of terms. Cohen again joins up with some thrilling playing for some musical tennis, tossing the tune around with the orchestra. From there it’s all go to the end, building up to a colossal climax and giving the glorious main melody its final outing with soloist and orchestra coming together for a magnificent finale. That performance is guaranteed to make any audience applaud rapturously.
And that’s exactly the feeling I used to get each time I heard Cornish Rhapsody all those years ago. For me it was the best of the film piano and orchestra compositions probably because it was a simple tune yet at the same time so dramatic.
“The Composer Conducts” (Vol. 2)
“The Golden Age of Light Music”
Guild (GLCD 5178)
Analysed by Robert Walton
For me the name Joyce Cochrane has always been synonymous with just one composition, her beautiful Honey Child immortalized in Robert Farnon’s arrangement for the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. So it was a nice surprise to come upon one that almost got away. Flowing Stream is included in the Golden Age of Light Music series in “A First A-Z of Light Music”. (Guild GLCD 5169).
With no intoduction the opening immediately calls to mind two great light orchestral classics - Clive Richardson’s Outward Bound and Benjamin Frankel’s Carriage and Pair. But this is Flowing Stream of 1958 played by the New Century Orchestra conducted by Erich Borschel. It was used in the same year as the theme for a British Southern Television series called “Mary Britten, MD”, starring Brenda Bruce. The juxtaposition of the two tunes works remarkably well in quite a different arrangement from the originals. Flowing Stream has a lighter textured treatment with a lovely feeling of peace and calm in a troubled world guaranteed to make you smile. Pure nostalgia you might say from a vanished era. Each time the strings go into a holding pattern, flutes ripple their way over the chord.
After 16 bars we go into 8 bars of a contrasting tune perhaps suggesting a change of scenery but with more tension. Listen to a descending string bass before the main theme repeats and completes a 32 bar chorus with a definite finish. In fact it’s a double closure of the first section.
And now the bridge. Modulating to a new key, a pleasant melody played by a horn provides clear echoes of the theme with a slightly bluesy effect but quickly returns to the delightful main strain. And then the tune (more laid back) is repeated yet again in two keys before going into that earlier 8 bar passage. Finally after a gentle restart the haunting Flowing Stream gradually builds up to a truly triumphant ending. By now it has become a fast moving river!
Analysed by Robert Walton
In the early 1950s when most people were requesting the top pop hits of the day, I was unashamedly asking for light orchestral numbers on the “Listeners’ Request Session” at our local radio station, 1ZB Auckland. I always signed my name “Blue Eyes of Remuera”. Anyhow, the very first record I requested was Going for a Ride by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Incidentally Torch’s Radio Romantic was the programme’s signature tune.
I’m amazed I hadn’t already analysed Going for a Ride in one of my JIM articles, but it’s never too late I guess. This Sidney Torch classic happens to be the second item on David Ades’ introductory compilation of “Golden Age of Light Music” on Guild (GLCD 5101).
Going for a Ride starts straight in with nine identical bright staccato notes played by a mellow flute with the orchestra. Keeping up the interest and making sure the listener is concentrating, this catchy tune repeats itself in a higher key. Now comes what we’ve all been waiting for, the first of those thrilling Torch fillers. It’s almost as if the main tune is purely a prop inspiring a whole chorus of connecting passages - like a delayed introduction. It’s those crisp incidental interludes that are the lifeblood of these light orchestra gems. The reason we know them so well is that they were heard constantly as production music on newsreels, radio and television. To us light music enthusiasts, they were the soundtrack to our lives.
Analysing the aforementioned, the strings keep us on tenterhooks with some dramatic bow gestures. Woodwinds offer up some wonderfully rapid phrases answered by the strings and then we’re in true Torch territory with the brass blazing away in preparation for an imminent return of the opening tune.
Now it’s bridge time with first off, the Torch brass and strings enlivening things up, before an oboe’s plaintive tone adds its colour to the mix. Gradually the orchestra builds while Torch in his element is doing what he does best, exciting us with more of those imaginative ideas in his orchestrations. Never had light orchestral music been proclaimed so powerfully within a composition. Though the actual melodies might have acted as props they were extremely tuneful and appealing.
There’s no doubt the two top light orchestral talents in the 1940s and 50s in Britain were Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon. They were both original and prolific and towered above the rest. It’s a pity Torch didn’t arrange more music for the “Great American Songbook”.
(George W. Duning)
Analysed by Robert Walton
One of the most romantic scenes in cinematic history has just got to be the moment William Holden sensuously dances with Kim Novak in the 1955 film “Picnic’. From a laid-back piano/guitar quartet playing Will Hudson’s 1934 standard Moonglow, emerges George Duning’s glorious melody of the theme song from “Picnic”. This is one of the most effective musical juxtapositions of all time. The haunting orchestration was by Arthur Morton.
On the flipside of a Brunswick 78rpm disc No 05553 is the full version of the Theme from “Picnic” featuring the composer conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra. Although you’re getting your money’s worth in its completed form, to hear it with Moonglow is an experience not to be missed, particularly the constant jazzy phrase first heard in bars 7 and 8. The atmosphere is electric especially when the strings make their 6-note entry in ascending thirds in the key of C on the chord of A minor 9,11. So let’s take a closer look at this double whammy of keyboard and orchestra with Morris Stoloff conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra.
It’s the contrast of small group and orchestra that is the perfect musical balance for underscoring the action. The first time I heard the strings creep in was a total surprise and revelation. If the quartet with its Teddy Wilson-type piano had just continued playing while they were dancing it would have been satisfactory, but the bonus of strings added an extra ingredient to the mix, making it special. George Duning was spot on. This very lyrical strain was perfect for the job but Steve Allen’s words for the McGuire Sisters’ didn’t exactly catch on. The romantic aspect had been sealed with a “smooch of strings” which seemed to go on forever. The George Cates million seller wasn’t a patch on the other George’s version.
It’s difficult to explain why, but this is a typical Hollywood sound. Couldn’t be anything else. The ultimate in schmaltz you may say. Part of the explanation I think is the simplicity and yet the modernity of the melody. Perhaps it’s because it’s based on a song. After all, As Time Goes By literally made “Casablanca”. There are very few English movies that fall into that category. One that comes to mind was Malcolm Arnold’s “Whistle Down the Wind” theme but it didn’t have the American touch. The Los Angeles string sound is nothing like London’s. You just know when you hear it. It’s perhaps more alluring.