The article "Seventh Heaven", an analysis by Robert Walton can be found here (Ed.).
by William Zucker
I have read Bob Walton's article on this piece, and am induced to provide further notes and impressions on it, as I have long considered it one of Robert Farnon's best selections, judging from my own vantage point of serious music, as I feel that it exhibits a strong feeling of direction and purpose, most particularly in the latter portion of the piece.
These notes are intended to be strictly complementary to Bob's notes, and I have found nothing in them to cause disagreement, but rather for me to approach it from a different perspective, as my mode of analysis is of necessity quite different from Bob's, as I have pointed out on numerous past occasions.
First of all, I have to refer to the provenance of the recording. In a recent article I referred to the fact that many recordings released here in the USA were ambiguous as to their actual origin. I am aware of the musicians' strike that occurred in the late 40's to early 50's, during which period all recording for the purpose that "Seventh Heaven" and other selections were created had to be recorded abroad under assumed names such as in this case the Danish Radio Orchestra under Robert Farnon being presented as the "Melodi Light Orchestra" under "Ole Jensen." This is all very slowly being sorted out today, but I should mention that according to my friend Graham Miles' notes, the recording of this piece was issued in 1952, and here in the USA, an album containing this selection (the second of two albums under these auspices) appeared on the market in approximately late 1954 to early 1955. Very interestingly, regarding both of these albums, which incidentally appeared here with the name "Queen's Hall Light Orchestra" given as the performing group, with no further information about the conductor or any other specifics, also appeared in piano sheet music form, almost exactly as appearing in the albums, with the same selections and composers in the same respective order - totally unexpected, and quite a boon for anyone with a particular affinity for this genre of music.
Getting back to the musicians' strike for a moment, I should point out that we had one of our own immediately after the war. I didn't know too much about it at the time, being still in my early teens, but from what I subsequently ascertained, many recordings were made during this period that could be presented in broadcasts but were prohibited from commercial release. Undoubtedly many pirate recordings did circulate, but I can say that to this day I am discovering recordings made during that period that I had never heard of, some of which I found quite surprising.
In any event, I would suspect that Bob, who had a background in radio broadcasting as I did not, would have far more insights into these issues than I would have, and in any event I would prefer to concentrate on the music itself.
To begin, we get a preview of the main idea with its first phrase at the very outset, along with those downward arpeggio type flourishes that Bob refers to, completing the introductory portion, following which the piece gets under way.
The main idea is notable by a series of sequences following the initial rise upward, and this is repeated extending a step further up to start from a higher point, thus culminating on a different degree of the scale to pass into the next section.
This latter contrasts with the preceding in that the melodic movement is far more stepwise and conjunct than hitherto, with those repeated notes that Bob mentions, passing us into different remote keys that can be quite difficult to trace without sheet music for assistance. Especially at the end of this section, where for the moment we find ourselves back on an F pedal (F being the key of the outset of the piece), the sensation here is of having momentarily lost our way, somewhat similar to an effect I pointed out some time ago in a comment on Peter Yorke's "Melody of the Stars." But this "lost our way" effect can easily be thought of as something cleverly conjured by the composer, who was a master of this sort of effect (think of the middle section of "Promise of Spring," another of his better selections).
The tension and uncertainty is immediately resolved by the reappearance of the main idea, now stated in the horn to give it a degree of prominence which it clearly must have against the rather heavy accompanying background. What also immeasurably helps to this end is the harmonic step from F to B Flat which is a natural resolution; B Flat now being the key for the remainder of the piece.
After the full statement is disposed of, the aim is now not to once again head into uncertainty but rather to sum up everything, to pull it all together, which in this case I feel is phenomenally successful. One could point out the appearance of the main idea in augmentation, and also the final appearance over the tonic pedal with those Neapolitan and other flatward harmonies leading to the final B Flat chord, but for me, everything from the moment that the horn appears to restate the main idea to the very last note is rock solid and is subject to the highest praise as far as I'm concerned. This is what actually "makes" the piece for me. And in general, I find myself liking it far more than "Melody Fair" which Bob has also compared it to.
As far as the matter of this orchestra not having the same feel and "fit" with this material as the actual Queen's Hall Light Orchestra as Bob claims, for me the musical results sound entirely acceptable for the purpose, and I have always enjoyed listening to these recordings whatever their origin, so I would prefer not to nitpick on this issue but to simply enjoy the result as I receive it.
Analysed by Robert Walton
The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.
The earlier New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra existed from around 1916 until 1927 for the performance of Chappell Ballad Concerts. But in 1942 a new aggregation on the block was born, comprising many players from London’s symphony orchestras. All it needed now were conductors and composers but there was no shortage of them. Charles Williams took care of the first batch of 78rpm discs and later Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon added their considerable talents. The results of this teamwork became legendary and almost overnight modern state-of-the-art light music in its finest form came like a bolt from the blue into the 20th century. Like big band music of the time it never really dated. The sounds it produced were out of this world. The old-fashioned compositions of the 1930s and before were now just a memory.
But sadly this state of affairs was not to last. A dispute with the Musicians’ Union in the late 40s forced publishers to switch their recording sessions to the continent. This unfortunately had its downside as European orchestras weren’t capable of interpreting light music in quite the same way. Hence the “electricity”, “feel” and indeed expertise established by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was simply not replicated by the new orchestras. And it showed. But before we examine Seventh Heaven, let’s find out the origins of the title.
Being in seventh heaven is a state of ecstasy or perfect bliss. The term occurs in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Heart of Midlothian” Chap.33 (1818) - ‘You may go to the Seventh Heaven’. It may also have been popularized as “Seventh Heaven”, the title of a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell silent movie (US 1927). But the concept of a seventh heaven is an ancient one. In the Jewish and Muslim religions there are seven of them. The Jews also call it ‘the heaven of heavens’ where God and the most exalted angels live. The division probably derives from an ancient Babylonian theory of astronomy in which the seventh ring of stars was the highest, and represented supreme bliss.
Going straight in, the main melody acting as an introduction, sets the scene for a glamorous Hollywood premiere, pageant or show. Then the strings effectively play two muted “fanfares” over which descending broken chords prepare for the official tune. This typical Farnon surge in a very danceable tempo like Melody Fair is propelled along by the rhythm section. It’s as if Seventh Heaven has just been unleashed and found a new freedom. There’s also a feeling that “everything in the garden’s lovely”. In other words ‘all is well’ with the world.
The tune literally sparkles under Farnon’s floodlights and then a beautiful key change tells us we’re well and truly on our way in one of his famous “travels into tunes”. Then, unusual for this type of majestic piece, the melody loosens up with three staccato string notes repeated after another key change. A climax takes us into an exclusive universe where we are free to wallow in the world of Robert Farnon. The horns join in for yet another chance to hear this gorgeous tune gradually slowing down and working towards a fabulous finish but not before the strings show who’s really boss!
It may not have been the pre-1950s magical Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, but I have to admit the performance was very good. Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of the composer himself conducting at the recording session, because the Danish State Radio Orchestra played so well!
CD AJA 5470
Following this article, William Zucker was induced to provide further notes and impressions on it in a follow-up article "Some Further Notes on Robert Farnon's "Seventh Heaven"". His article can be read here.
Another twelve months have sped by, and it was time for the 2018 May Bank Holiday concert performed by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, which took place once again in the Gallery of Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, in North London. This house has a long history; it dates from 1582 and was briefly the home of King Charles II's mistress, the famous (infamous?) Nell Gwyn, whose ghost is reputed to haunt the building even unto this day!
Uncharacteristically glorious weather encouraged an excellent turnout, including several from the LLMMG (and their guests) and an unexpectedly large number of most welcome 'first-timers', in addition to many loyal 'regulars' – some of whom have supported every single one of these concerts during the last sixteen years.
As one of woefully few contemporary exponents of the Palm Court genre, the orchestra always manages to surprise and delight its audiences with new material, which is continually being added to an already extensive repertoire. This year's programme was no exception, and much of the music was totally new to the players!
Their mission is to feature compositions which have been totally forgotten or ignored, alongside more familiar favourites, and these can range from 'the highlights of the Palm Court era to the delightful but obscure', to quote from their concert programme.
Amongst the roll-call of 'more familiar' composers were to be found the names of Jack Strachey, Vittorio Monti (of Czardas fame), George Gershwin (his opus 1, Rialto Ripples) , Albert Ketelbey, Matyas Seiber, Oscar Straus, Haydn Wood, (who lived for some years in Highgate, quite close to the venue), Gerhard Winkler and Cole Porter.
In addition to the purely instrumental pieces, the proceedings were - as always - enlivened and garnished with some songs from Liz Menezes (who also plays second violin) and Camilla Cutts.
As has been remarked upon in the past, the members of the ensemble perform with great competence and enthusiasm, and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra can arguably be regarded as one of the very best of its type.
Congratulations and very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and his players for another splendid and extremely enjoyable afternoon of wonderful music.
© Tony Clayden 2018
Pictures courtesy of Brian Luck
Footnote – The ADRO will be our guests at the next LLMMG event in October, at our usual venue in Central London - click here for full details.
As part of the Camden Fringe Festival, they are also giving two concerts at Burgh House, Hampstead, North West London, on Sunday 19th August, at 2.30 pm and 7.00 pm - click here for full details.
Al Caiola’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
Of all movie music there’s nothing so instantly recognizable as a western theme. This is because many of the best stories of the Wild West captured the ultimate desire and desperation of the human spirit to journey into the unknown in search of a better life. This was the dream of millions of Americans. Still is perhaps. According to the Marx Brothers, “Go West” is where the sun always shines and the fun never sets! But in reality it was nothing like that. Anyone determined enough would take the “plunge”. And there were not only mighty rivers to cross, but also plains and deserts to traverse and mountains to climb. And with that hope came an almost religious fervour calling upon God to give them guidance in their quest and bring them safely to their destination. So hence good western themes have an almost hymn-like or folkish quality with the immigrant’s blind faith in their future prospects. All this positivity produced good vibes and hopefully a happy ending. So let’s focus on one such theme.
Television arrived in New Zealand as late as 1960. One of the first series I remember was “Laramie” in back and white. But even more than the storylines, what truly struck a chord was the gorgeous theme by Cyril Mockridge. British-born Mockridge, arranger, pianist and composer emigrated to America in 1922 and was staff composer for 20th Century Fox from 1935 until 1961. Although he wrote the soundtracks for many well known films including “River of No Return”, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Cheaper by the Dozen” his name never meant much to the general public. Perhaps it was because he often orchestrated scores for some of the big names and didn’t always get the credit. Incidentally his surname has Devonian origins.
Al Caiola, a highly respected studio guitarist, who played for Percy Faith and André Kostelanetz, takes care of the opening chorus. Then what we’ve all been waiting for, the strings enter in clippity clop-trot tempo with that unforgettably strong tune supported by the horns. From here to the end, the guitar and strings take it in turns to play. It’s the strings that eventually win out declaring their total dominance of the situation. Listen to the way the melody climaxes before coming down to earth.
Hear it on 100 Greatest American Light Orchestras - 2
Golden Age of Light Music, Guild Records (GLCD 5231)
Analysed by Robert Walton
In the 1970s when British commercial radio became legal, George Elliott was Head of Productions at LBC (the London Broadcasting Company off Fleet Street). We first met in that capacity when I was a voice over artist. He was also a commentator but I had no idea he was a composer as well. Clearly a man of many talents.
His Piccadilly Playboy was along the lines of Robert Farnon’s ManhattanPlayboy but eminently less frantic with a more basic orchestration. Strangely enough before Bob moved to Guernsey, the Farnons and Elliotts were neighbours in Gerrard’s Cross. Perhaps George caught the musical bug in Buckinghamshire. He remembered the occasion Bob wrote Bird Charmer for his son David. The inspiration for the title actually came from David’s mother Pat who said that “he could charm the birds out of the trees!”
But this is George Elliott’s Piccadilly Playboy written in 1958 and played by the Symphonia Orchestra conducted by Curt Andersen. It starts with 4 bars of busy woodwind and muted brass straight into the arms of waiting unison strings for a lesson in the art of smooth legato phrasing. At the appropriate moments decorative woodwind slot in to this pleasant 1940’s-type mood music melody.
There’s a noticeable moment’s silence before the bridge begins. Normally this would be filled with orchestral activity but the arranger decided on this occasion to have a deliberate pause. The rhythm section you’ll observe is barely audible. The brass takes the lead while arco strings steadily climb up for decorative duties changing to pizzicato. Another silence.
Back to the main strain as the strings now in harmony keep things moving. Yet another silence. Unison strings play another section, effectively a bonus bridge. After much coming and going we eventually find ourselves back at the official bridge.
Before you can say “George Elliott” the opening is repeated and we go headlong towards the close. Piccadilly Playboy builds up to a satisfactory conclusion with a positive brass assisted finish. It all sounds so effortless.
The English playboy mightn’t be quite as hurried as the American but predictably is more formal and laid back.
Can be heard on
“Light and Lively”
Golden Age of Light Music
Guild Records (GLCD 5160)
Lou Busch’s version analysed by Robert Walton
The hit parade has never exactly been littered with light orchestral pieces, but from time to time one appeared amongst a sea of vocal numbers. The most original and imitated in the 20th century was David Rose’s Holiday for Strings, his first disc to sell a million. Mantovani’s Charmaine, Leroy Anderson’s Syncopated Clock and Frank Chacksfield’s Limelight were three others to make the charts. Sometimes though, the B sides of million sellers deserved to be heard too.
One such title turned up on the radio in the mid-50s when I was doing three months Compulsory Military Training in New Zealand. It was Rainbow’s End on the back of Lou Busch’s Zambesi and stood out as a relaxed waltz of quality in an era when rock ‘n roll was threatening to take over. I must admit I had completely forgotten its name, let alone the melody. Consequently it took a bit of time to track down.
It has an unusually long introduction and for a generally quiet arrangement the record begins with a startling blast like a wind storm, gradually becoming softer. The listener is hypnotized into a kind of dream world. A trilling flute gently welcomes us to this tender string tune. After a while woodwind and an ascending Les Baxter-type humming chorus join the orchestra. When the strings, piano and singers really get going one wonders why Rainbow’s End didn’t become better known. In fact it’s not unlike a Henry Mancini melody. Later the arrangement creates a joyous atmosphere with a distinct bell-like effect. Then the brass contributes to a key change.
An accordion leads the way with brass, orchestra and more bells. Suddenly we find ourselves in a hauntingly peaceful coda with the strings high on harmonics. A flutter of flutes, muted brass, sustained strings and a glorious harp glissando gives a solo flute the final fling.
In conclusion, a few words about composer Pober (born 1920 Massachusets died 1971 Los Angeles). Four of his best known songs are Sweet Treat, Tangi Tahiti (The Call of Tahiti ), Tiny Bubbles and Pearly Shells. Artists who have recorded Leon Pober’s songs include, Burl Ives, Don Ho, Billy Vaughn and Dean Martin. In 1960 Pober wrote the musical Beg, Borrow or Steal with jazz tenor sax player Bud Freeman. Also they composed Zen is When for the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Did you realize “rebop” is Pober spelt backwards?
Can be heard on
The Golden Age of Light Music “Light and Lively” Guild Records (GLCD 5160)
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham (14thApril 2018)
(The Halle Orchestra conducted by Stephen Bell)
I had seen the famous 86-piece Halle here in Nottingham when they played ‘The Music of James Bond’ in May 2016. I had been very impressed with the high standard of playing. They came back here in March last year, with their conductor Stephen Bell, to play an impressive set entitled ‘Great Sci-Fi Movies’.
This latest ‘thriller’ from The Halle – "Classic Movie Thrillers" -part of the Nottingham Classics concert series - was faultless as was the informative compeering from a very knowledgeable Petroc Trelawny who presents BBC Radio 3’s ‘Breakfast’.
The concert got off to a cracking start with one of my favourite pieces – ‘The Dance of the Witches’ from John Williams’ score to ‘The Witches of Eastwick’. Pleasingly, this has now become a staple part of Williams’ concert music. The pace got even faster for the next piece – Lalo Schifrin’s great title theme from the TV series and film ‘Mission Impossible’. Flawlessly played it was preceded by ‘The Plot’, which always played out in the series before the end title theme.
It was now the turn of the great Ennio Morricone and a tune I had never heard before. I must admit I was a little surprised, but delighted – the main theme from Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 Western ‘The Hateful Eight’ was a terrific tune and I’m now wondering whether to invest in a CD of the complete score, which won a Golden Globe and, incredibly, Morricone’s first Oscar!
A concert of film music wouldn’t be complete without at least one track by Bond regular John Barry and, for the second time, I heard the Halle play a lovely version of Barry’s ‘Piz Gloria Escape’ / ‘Ski Chase’ from ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ There was some great twangy guitar playing; and kettle drums towards the middle of the tune. Simply great. The orchestra then toned it down a little for Barry’s 2nd piece - a nice version of ‘The Ipcress File’, where the guitar aptly doubled for cimbalom, which had played out on the soundtrack to the film.
It was time for another John Williams piece – in fact, the 2nd of 5 on the night! ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was a lovely jazzy cue from Spielberg’s 2002 film featuring a charming saxophone solo.
The next cue was an odd one – a very slow, simple theme from a composer I’d not heard of – David Julyan – who was, in fact, sitting in the audience at the very front of the upper tier, taking his bows at the end of this very short cue. It didn’t do anything for me; and even the audience delayed slightly before applauding - though, to be fair, they probably hadn’t expected it to finish so soon.
One of my favourites was next, the headline cue for this concert. This was the great overture from ‘North by Northwest’ by the late, great Bernard Herrmann. This music is always great to hear but the second part of the section was quite laid back and I can only assume this was the cue ‘Conversation Piece’.
Side one of the concert finished with Michael Giacchino’s awesome theme from Pixar’s computer-generated animation film from 2004 – ‘The Incredibles’. Compeer Trelawny reminded me of a fact that I had long-forgotten. Yes, it was John Barry who had originally been chosen to compose this score - but Barry wanted to look forward for his inspiration for his music and the producers wanted him to look back to his old scores / music. In fact, the film’s actual trailer was tracked to Barry’s ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ theme. Nevertheless, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable piece of music.
Side two opened with Stephen Sondheim’s theme from Tim Burton’s 2007 horror film ‘Sweeney Todd’. Quite enjoyable. Next up was a charming waltz theme (Waltz No.2) for Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ from 1999; originally composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. Another horror from 1999 followed - James Newton Howard’s piano theme from ‘The Sixth Sense’. I have to admit that all three of these themes were new to me but they were all played splendidly and were very enjoyable.
It’s hard to think of a concert where ‘Jaws’ isn’t played these days and sure enough this was Williams’ third piece of the night. I’m not a keen fan of ‘Jaws’ – the theme has never done anything for me, aside from Lalo Schifrin’s pounding 6-minute disco rendition that reached No.14 here in the UK singles charts in 1976.
Perhaps one of the best themes of the night was to follow. How can one omit ‘Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Psycho’ masterpiece from a ‘Classic Movie Thrillers’ concert? I’d only just watched ‘Psycho 2 & 3’ a few days before so this was surely one of the highlights of the evening for me. ‘The Rainstorm’ cue preceded the famous, but all-to-short shower sequence – great to hear the screeching / shrieking violins. This had been yet another polished performance from The Halle, who received a fantastic reception from the audience. They then went on to play what would be the third Herrmann theme of the night – in fact, the atmospheric theme to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976) was to be Benny’s last as he sadly died Christmas Eve, 1975 before the film’s release.
Time for another Williams piece! Selections from the Indiana Jones series of films always go down well and this time we were treated to the main theme from ‘Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade’, another Spielberg film from 1989. Stirring stuff – Williams’ scores for these films were all very energetic.
It was horror time again and a film I’d seen on TV not too long back. Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992) was composed by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar – another chilling and rarely heard piece of music that went down well.
I’d never been keen on Hans Zimmer but he occasion comes out with a corker. Surprisingly, the next pieces were two of those - ‘Batman Begins’ (2005) and ‘The Dark Knight’ from 2008. Rousing stuff.
After a great concert it was sadly time for the final selection of the evening. The 5th John Williams composition and one of my favourites – the 5 minute plus main theme from Spielberg’s dinosaur epic from 1993 ‘Jurassic Park’. I’ve heard this many times before in concert but like it immensely – it’s like you get two themes in one. Later on this year, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, there is to be a live concert, with the music performed to film and conducted by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
After rapturous applause Stephen Bell reappeared to announce an encore – Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. This certainly got the crowd moving - and I was humming this great tune all the way to the bus stop! Of course, it had to be good – the great Quincy Jones had produced it.
Another great concert of film music was over. Again The Halle proved faultless and the concert had been a refreshing change from the previous space themes. Highlight of the evening??? There were too many nice tunes to choose from but ‘Witches of Eastwick’ / ’Mission Impossible’ / ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ / ‘North by Northwest’ / ‘Pyscho’ / ‘Batman…’ / ‘Jurassic Park’ were perhaps my favourites. Here’s to the next one!
© Gareth Bramley – April 2018
(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