Analysed by Robert Walton
Robert Farnon was one of the first light orchestral composers to come up with a most original idea. He found that a complicated beginning of a piece (almost atonal) not only provided a sense of risk-taking like a high wire act, but kept the listener guessing as to where it would finally alight in a normal tonal context. His Manhattan Playboy has all the elements of such a format in which the opening bars of the actual tune are a sort of boppish free fall before landing in the safety net of the home chord. The effect of all this was mind-blowing.
The same thing effectively happens in the haunting theme The Bad and the Beautiful from the 1952 film of the same name, although this is a much slower tempo. It’s a more meandering tune than David Raksin’s masterpiece Laura. For the first few bars of The Bad and the Beautiful we’re on a restless (some might even say “reckless”) Raksin flight of fancy with the blues overtones of Harold Arlen. This is a ravishing piece of writing and I was totally captivated. After all this tension, the “sun” suddenly comes out courtesy of a French horn and we’re at last happily ensconced in a key of contentment. Still in the same key a solo violin keeps us on the straight and narrow giving an edge to the music, enticing us back to the exotic. We’re immediately whipped away from our comfort zone by a dance band-sounding muted trumpet into a repeat of that elaborate opening.
Now strong strings in close harmony play an absolutely gorgeous middle section of crying and sighing. Perhaps it should be called a “bridge of sighs”. No need to consult your physician as it’s only a case of cutis anserina (goose pimples). A perfect moment to compare the much improved recording quality of the Rose Orchestra of 1953 with that of its first attempts just ten years earlier. I’ve never quite understood why the quality of Rose’s early work, both in performance and recording quality, was sometimes not quite up to scratch on those old 78rpm discs. Other orchestras of the same period seemed to produce better results.
The sensitive violin is back for 5 bars of the start, after which the rest of the strings bring us neatly to a conclusion, and on the way, echo the opening of Artie Shaw’s Frenesi. However we’re still not quite finished as the horn quotes the opening.
This has been an extraordinarily sublime experience and one that I am unlikely to forget. Hollywood and Raksin are at their best. We owe an enormous debt to film soundtracks.
The Bad and the Beautiful (Raksin)
David Rose Orchestra
“Great American Light Orchestras”
The Golden Age of Light Music
Guild (GLCD 5105)
Analysed by Robert Walton
Whenever serious light music is discussed, the conversation inevitably turns to the finest orchestra in the genre, the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. And it’s not just the standard of playing - that goes without saying. It’s also those unique compositions written by the top writers of the 1940s and 50s - Sidney Torch, Charles Williams, Clive Richardson, Wally Stott and of course Robert Farnon. In comparison with the premier production company Chappells, which made these marvels, much of the music of the minor mood labels was corny, predictable and frankly amateurish. Occasionally though, one comes across a piece which could have come straight out of that elite stable. Eric Cook’s Polka Dot is one such title that has all the elements of a QHLO standard about it, and well describes one of a number of round dots, repeated to form a regular pattern on fabric. Come to think of it, professional musicians often refer to musical notes as ‘dots’.
The slick string introduction might sound like a main melody but after 8 bars it soon becomes obvious the official tune, beautifully supported by a subliminal counter-melody, begins at bar 9 after some muted brass sets the scene. Then a very playful Farnon-like flute requiring absolute virtuosity gives the introduction a woodwindy boost followed by a lovely fill section. Then the strings imitate the flute. And just before the tune reappears we’re treated to another few bars of delicious close harmonies. It all sounds so totally 1940’s treasure trovish and the constant bustling motion almost takes your breath away.
Immediately after that busy opening, the orchestra goes into rest mode for a typically rich vocal-like sweeping middle section with strings, first in gorgeous close harmony then the bare tune. Even in 1957 the David Rose influence was present. And before we know it, we’re back to the beginning for a repeat. The tune of Polka Dot is gradually brought to a logical conclusion but near the end it’s suddenly interrupted by some more thrilling bravura playing from the flute before coming to a final stop.
Polka Dot is one of the most satisfying little light orchestral workouts I know, and British composer Eric Cook deserves high praise.
Polka Dot (Cook)
New Concert Orchestra/Cedric Dumont
“A Box of Light Musical Allsorts”
Guild Light Music (GLCD 5157)
Robert Farnon’s 100th birthday
By Robert Walton
July 24th 2017 is exactly 100 years since Toronto-born Robert Farnon first saw the light of day. Much of my knowledge and praise of him has trickled down through my JIM articles especially in the miniatures. It’s amazing what one learnt from the music. Bob used to regularly ring me with a comment or two about my latest article. He appreciated my musical analyses and sometimes gave me details of the back-stories of his Canadian impressions.
Why does music move us? It’s a very personal thing really. There are many reasons we are affected, mostly impossible to fathom, but in Farnon’s case it’s a totally spiritual experience covering all the emotions especially in his magnificent miniatures. The great JS Bach affected us in much the same way. Farnon’s might be brief but they contain such a huge range of melodic and harmonic originality that they come up fresh every time. Each aspect of the music sends out an unspoken message of positiveness and hope. Normal language ceases to exist as the music does the talking.
Take Melody Fair for example. This radiant classically orientated two and a half minute masterpiece demonstrates Farnon’s natural sense of musicianship in which every element slots perfectly into place. Like a river it flows beautifully from start to finish. There never was or indeed ever will be such perfectly formed pieces of creativity. Strangely you get more for your money with a miniature.
In Farnon’s obituary I omitted to mention his arrangements of popular songs from shows and films. It was the first time many overseas fans ever heard his work. However they were generously sprinkled with the seeds of his miniatures.
It’s hard to believe 100 years have passed since he came into the world but his music from symphonies and film soundtracks right down to those towering miniature masterpieces, continue to excite the old guard and thrill the up-and-coming generations,
Although Robert Farnon is generally regarded as the greatest arranger of his generation, he surely must also be a strong contender for the title “Greatest Miniaturist of the 2Oth century”. Just as Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, each lasting only a few minutes, is an entire world of music in miniature, so too are Farnon’s light orchestral pieces. Unfortunately because of his association with background music and particularly signature tunes, he never received the serious recognition he deserved. Only when his music is completely divorced from its original purpose and treated independently on its own merits, will it be properly appreciated. It may take a little time, but make no mistake that will come.
As well as his memorable music, it is not generally known that many musicians and arrangers including myself have reason to be grateful for his generosity with help and advice.
Happy 100th Bob!
Robert Farnon & His Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
There can’t be many arrangements that have such a variety of musical nuts and bolts - Canadian Caravan, “James Bond”, “Maytime in Mayfair”, Count Basie, Fred Astaire and Gilbert and Sullivan. The opening alone is one of the most thrilling in music taking full advantage of the arrival of stereo. You’ve never heard strings, brass and woodwind like it. Purists of comic opera were not exactly pleased but American audiences enjoyed Mike Todd’s “The Hot Mikado”, his first Broadway musical in 1939.
And then the orchestra swings like the clappers in a way that the original “Mikado” never did and never will again. A toe-tapping rhythm grabs you everytime and instantly brings back Gilbert’s lyrics in a most unexpected setting. And talking of feet, we’re treated to a dazzling display of ‘Astaires’s wares’ after which the ghost of Count Basie bounces in. (I once met Robert Farnon at a 1957 Basie concert in which he described the sound as “a shot in the arm!”).
The piece gradually builds up to a terrific climax influenced by the orchestra long considered one of the world’s best swing bands Count Basie, on a par with Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford. The Farnon sound still bears the stamp of Kansas City. The brass belts away with the strings having the final say.
Let’s remind ourselves of those clever catchy words we heard in our youth.
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time-
To let the punishment fit the crime,
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
A source of innocent merriment,
Of innocent merriment.
My Object all Sublime (Gilbert & Sullivan)
Jack Saunders Orchestra (actually Robert Farnon’s Orchestra)
“A Box of Light Musical Allsorts”
Golden Age of Light Music
Guild Records GLCD 5157
An extensively re-furbished Lauderdale House, in North London’s Highgate Village, was the venue for the annual Spring Concert given by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra. This was their sixteenth consecutive Bank Holiday event, which was well supported by many faithful ‘regulars’ – including several from the London Light Music Meetings Group – and in addition, a number of ‘first timers’.
Amongst the latter was Howard Del Monte, who had travelled from Hampshire to hear a spirited rendering of his father Sydney’s composition ‘ Bows and Bells ‘. This was a popular
favourite on BBC Radio around fifty years ago. Sydney Del Monte was a guitarist and banjo player, who was a regular member of The Banjoliers for many years.
We were treated once again to an afternoon of fine ‘Palm Court’ music in contrasting styles; a few ‘fast and jolly’ compositions, interspersed with some calmer pieces and garnished with some songs performed Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts.
Nearly one hundred years of musical heritage was represented, ranging from ‘light classical’ to ‘jazzy’. The programme featured a line-up of works, which, with one or two exceptions, have not previously been performed by the orchestra. These included two selections with a definite gipsy influence, from the Russian composer Yascha Krein and G. S. Mathis [a pseudonym of Hungarian émigré Matyas Seiber].
Other composers featured included Charles Ancliffe, Sigmund Romberg, Gerhard Winkler and Albert Ketelbey, who made two appearances with pieces written specifically to accompany silent films. A later generation was represented by, amongst others, Horst Jankowski, Ray Martin and Leroy Anderson.
A welcome surprise was the original version of the famous ‘American Patrol’ by Fred Meacham, in a very different rendition from the familiar arrangement made popular by Glenn Miller and others.
Adam Bakker, who runs and directs the orchestra, has recently acquired the entire collection of sheet music previously owned by Ann Adams, who was the founder of – and for many years conducted – the Ladies Palm Court Orchestra. Four of the items on the programme came from this source. Speaking to Adam during the interval, it became apparent that he faces a mammoth task of sorting and archiving this vast inventory of compositions !
As always, the orchestra’s performance was of a very high standard, the players obviously relishing the opportunity to perform repertoire from a ‘threatened genre’ which, most regrettably, achieves very little exposure these days.
Very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, for presenting another really enjoyable concert and especially for continuing to promote ‘Palm Court’ music.
By Robert Walton.
There was a school of thought that believed popular musicians with foreign sounding names had a commercial advantage over common or garden Anglo Saxon ones. Catchy names like Mantovani or Kostelanetz certainly had a ring to them but just because they looked or sounded more distinguished than say the Chacksfields or the Farnons of this world weren’t necessarily a guarantee of classier music. After all, most English born music directors had quite ordinary names, but unlike film stars and entertainers saw no reason to change them. Equally there were many serious composers like Harris and Bennett who didn’t find their names a problem. Nevertheless if you were born with an exotic name or had a nom de plume like Geraldo (Gerald Bright) or Roberto Inglez (Robert Inglis), there’s no doubt it added a touch of class to the image! Mind you, some musicians did exactly the opposite like John Gregori who anglicised his to Johnny Gregory. One English musician who was quite happy to keep his real name was George Melachrino, son of a Greek father and an English mother. Just as well he did because it certainly didn’t do his career any harm. It tripped off the tongue like any good solid homegrown name, and now after all these years seems as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!
It was my father who introduced me to the music of George Melachrino - well to be exact, the Melachrino Strings. What attracted him was the unfussy style. He was very fond of light classics like Chanson de Matin, Estrellita, La Serenata, Mattinata, Poéme, Serenade (Schubert), Song of Paradise, and especially Bercuese de Jocelyn. Although there have been many different arrangements of these, no one ever improved upon the Melachrino format - unison violins often in their lower register bursting out into a rich tapestry of strings in close harmony. There was nothing corny, Palm Court-ish or syrupy and certainly not gimmicky. I could never understand why Classic FM didn’t feature any of these, especially as they were never over arranged and always faithful to the original. In some ways the Melachrino Strings were the light orchestral answer to the Boyd Neel String Orchestra. However, light classics represented only a part of the Melachrino Strings repertoire. Current songs, novelty instrumentals and the great standards all fitted into the style. In 1947 Melachrino made Masquerade, a lesser-known waltz of 1932 sound like his own composition. He would have been familiar with it from his dance band days. This tailor-made minor miracle written by Maharajah of Magador composer John Jacob Loeb was originally sung by Sam Browne with Ambrose. On the other hand, Melachrino’s own Vision d”Amour could easily have taken its place alongside those authentic classics.
But strings were only a part of Melachrino’s world. The full orchestra of fifty played an even bigger role, not least with those selections of film and show tunes. Again Melachrino cornered the market with those lush Hollywood style interpretations, but the arrangements and indeed recording quality had come a long way since Louis Levy’s Gaumont British Symphony. While the Melachrino Orchestra continued that tradition, no longer were singers part of the package. You either hummed along or sang the words to yourself, if you could remember them! In fact a policy of non-vocals extended into all his recordings, apart from rare occasions when he accompanied artists like the Luton Girls Choir, the Peter Knight Singers or Jean Sablon. You probably got more melodies for your money with a Melachrino medley, because despite the time constraints imposed by the 78rpm format, he cleverly interwove little extras into the kaleidoscope.
Melachrino never compromised his standards by churning out tune after tune. It was the long playing disc that put an end to all that by giving the arranger more freedom to be inventive, so you got better value on each individual song. When George arranged Broadway Melody from “Parade of the Film Hits” I wonder if he gave a thought to the other Broadway in Worcestershire where his mother came from? As well as the Orchestra and Strings, Melachrino had a lesser-known third group called the Masqueraders - a 16-piece light music combination.
Born in London in 1909, George Melachrino was probably the most versatile of all the light orchestral leaders. He was a conductor, arranger, composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and occasional juggler and knockabout comedian! But these skills weren’t achieved overnight. Even as a youngster he must have been extremely focused, because from the age of four he knew that strings were to be his forte when he became the proud owner of a miniature violin. Apart from the piano and harp, he mastered every instrument of the orchestra. Although Melachrino had been classically trained as a teenager at Trinity, when it came to seeking employment he underwent a complete change of musical direction. It was his first BBC broadcast in 1927 that opened up a whole new world of dance music. His brilliant sight reading and natural ability on saxophones, clarinet, violin and viola made him in great demand for the bands of Jack Jackson, Van Phillips, Jay Wilbur, Harry Hudson (playing alongside Mantovani and Ted Heath), Ambrose and Carroll Gibbons. And being able to sing well was rare for an instrumentalist. By 1939 he had his own dance orchestra at the Café de Paris.
It’s a sad fact of history that wars can often tragically cut short promising careers, but equally they can offer undreamed of opportunities for entertainers and musicians. In WW2 while serving as a military policeman, Melachrino suffered a back injury that proved to be his lucky break. He became musical director of the Army Radio Unit and toured with ‘Stars in Battledress’. This allowed him to work with a 50-piece orchestra. When the British Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was formed he was the obvious choice for conductor alongside Glenn Miller and Robert Farnon who directed the American and Canadian Bands - the most amazing triumvirate of talent ever assembled in Britain.
Now Melachrino was given an incredible 80 players, virtually a full-sized symphony orchestra, and in retrospect a heaven sent opportunity for his civilian style to be developed. One of his early arrangements was Pennsylvania Polka, a song originally introduced by the Andrews Sisters, whose father was also Greek! Being part of that exciting environment must have been a tremendous learning curve. As well as the usual dance band lineup of saxophones and brass, each orchestra had its own string section, so it must have been an unprecedented opportunity to compare notes. It was during this period that Melachrino acquired a lot of his string ideas, not necessarily from strings, but saxophones. After all, arranger Melachrino being no stranger to playing tenor sax and clarinet, could relate to reeds. He might not have been aware of it but even when he was playing in dance bands he was serving an apprenticeship for string writing. I believe the Melachrino Strings were firmly rooted in the Glenn Miller sound (clarinet, 2 altos and 2 tenors). In string terms that would be something like distributing a 5 note chord between the violins (3 notes), and the violas and cellos one each. And yet Melachrino sounds a million miles away from Miller. Listen to Moonlight Serenade played by the Strings. Even a simple four note close harmony chord (E,G,A,C) has the Melachrino sound written all over it.
A vital element for any successful composer/arranger is a right hand man. Robert Farnon had Bruce Campbell, Nelson Riddle had Gilbert Grau and George Melachrino had William Hill-Bowen. He was a brilliant arranger, composer and pianist and a great asset to the Melachrino Organization. Three well known compositions of his were Paris Promenade and Paris Metro recorded by the Orchestra, and Park Avenue Waltz recorded by the Strings. In Robert Docker’s Legend, William Hill-Bowen showed what a superb soloist he was.
Melachrino might not have been as prolific as Farnon or Torch but nevertheless he wrote some beautiful miniatures, starting at the age of 4 with Up the Mountains, the notation of which resembled a mountain range. Most of them exuded a certain Englishness, just as Coates’s music had. There’s never a dull moment in one of Melachrino’s most interesting instrumentals, the playful Les Jeux living up top its name (Playing) with its teasing time signature changes. Violins in the Night obviously has a lyric because the title fits so perfectly with the opening strain. I half expected to hear George himself singing it with the strings. And talking of vocal numbers, in the hands of arranger Melachrino, Robert Farnon’s My Song of Spring was truly transformed into a Sophistication Waltz! Busybodies was in the Shooting Star mould and the Vaughan Wiliams-like Woodland Revel again reveals Melachrino’s facility for strings. Copper Concerto possibly inspired by Melachrino’s experiences in the military police, contains quotes from If You Want to Know the Time Ask a Policeman, Policeman’s Holiday and his own Winter Sunshine. Starlight Roof Waltz has to be one of the most exhilarating waltzes of all time. In Portrait of a Lady there’s a passing resemblance to Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and one of the most untypical Melachrino tunes was the Danse d’Extase from the film “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”. But the undisputed Melachrino masterpiece is Winter Sunshine with its slightly sinister Slaughter on Tenth Avenue-like opening and its absolutely thrilling build-up to a colossal climax, followed by one of the most peaceful passages in all music.
I first learnt about George Melachrino’s untimely death on June 18 1965 on a newspaper display board outside Earl’s Court tube station in London. It hit me particularly hard because only the day before I had met up with a member of the Melachrino team, a Mr Jones. As well as a fixer for Melachrino recording dates he was also looking for background material for America and asked me to write some. He played several Melachrino tapes but what really impressed me was seeing at first hand George’s original score of I Remember the Cornfields.
If Paul Weston was the pioneer of mood music albums, then Melachrino was the undisputed master on this side of the Atlantic. Of all British light orchestras, Melachrino’s stood alone as the truly “symphonic” aggregation even if it wasn’t quite as modern or light as some of the others. In spite of the mighty Melachrino Orchestra’s international reputation, George Melachrino will be remembered, not for those powerful cinematic images, but something far more subtle and understated - that sublime string sound which he made his own.
ELGAR Complete Works for Wind Quintet, Chandos CHAN 241-33 Athena Ensemble. Don’t be put off by the title because this is one of the most charming and delightful double CDs you will ever encounter. Light and jolly salon music of the very highest quality it comes at a bargain price of around just £10 and you won’t find better value anywhere. Before Elgar became famous he wrote several light tuneful pieces for a youthful wind quintet in which he played the bassoon. The members amused themselves privately but with an occasional public performance, including a local mental hospital. It is quite possible you may recognise some of the pieces from radio and television themes, and after you have played them you will definitely want to hear them again. You will also find the tunes buzzing around in your head for the rest of your life which, just for the record, are as follows: Harmony Music No. 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5; Five Intermezzos; Six Promenades; Four Dances; Evesham Andante; Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Originally released as a double LP it makes a wonderful double CD, deal for the car or background music at home. Beware, though, the tunes are addictive and you will find yourself humming them incessantly! Why? Try Harmony Music No. 4 which is subtitled The Farmyard!
Analysed by Robert Walton
When Tony Tamburello died in 1992 at the age of 72, a brief obituary in the New York Times described him as a jazz pianist and vocal coach of the famous. His pupils included Tony Bennett (whom he once managed), Judy Garland, Juliet Prowse, Jerry Vale and Tommy Leonetti. The story goes he had a van permanently parked in a New York street for the purpose of teaching. The only recorded evidence I have that he played piano, was on a 10” LP of selections from Oklahoma and South Pacific by the Tony Burrello Trio, spelt you’ll notice with two r’s. When questioned about the identity of the pianist he immediately denied it. But his real love was composing, especially of the lighter kind but like songwriters Vivian Ellis and Jack Stachey who often strayed into the world of light music he couldn’t orchestrate, so it was necessary to seek the services of an arranger.
I only met him once but what a get together that proved to be. It was in London and I was showing him a few of my songs for Tony Bennett. It wasn’t long before the subject of light music came up, and just a mention of a certain Canadian soon revealed Tamburello was Farnon crazy. But when I casually threw in the title Melody Fair to get his reaction, Tony said “Now you’re talking, it might be only two and a half minutes but that’s my favourite piece of music of all time!” Clearly Farnon was his God! I had never met anyone who was quite so besotted.
There’s no doubt that ‘busy’ music if played well can be very exciting especially if it’s imaginatively arranged. Bach was one of the first composers to test musicians’ technique to the limit with lots of quick notes and if it came off the result could be thrilling.
In the field of light orchestral music the effect can be just as exciting. In the mid-1940s one of the first such British successes to appeal to the public was RunawayRocking Horse. Sidney Torch’s Shooting Star was another classic proactive piece. If you want to experience an exceptional roller coaster of a ride in a classical vein, have a listen to the opening bars of Glinka’s overture to Ruslan andLyudmila then you’ll understand what exceeding the speed limit means!
However when it comes to Tony Tamburello’s Always Busy it’s comparatively relaxed, not too fast but a very listenable composition. That’s because it has a good tune unlike many soundalikes of the period that were just thrown together with corny backings.
The flute is basically in charge of the introduction with a touch of the Scotch Snap - a rhythmic device in which a dotted note is preceded by a note of shorter value. And then it’s all systems go as this exciting string exercise gets underway, reminding us of the work ethic or someone who simply can’t relax. It’s a beautifully logical tune that you might find yourself humming. As soon as it’s finished we’re into Angela Morley country with a lovely contrasting jazz-influenced bridge, a sort of staycation for strings. And talking of string breaks, the David Rose influence is loud and clear. Right on cue the energetic strings return with another vigorous rendition.
What follows is an expansion of the previous ‘Morley’ section starting with the flute and then strings. Before leading back to the intro, the sound of another intro, that of RadioRomantic takes us back to AlwaysBusy for what effectively is a repeat from the top. More bustling strings of which I honestly can’t get enough. Then more ‘Morley’ but in elegant waltz time before the lively strings complete the workout. Radio Romantic is brought back to finish the job with the woodwind having the last staccato say.
Always Busy is a good example of a musical ‘baton’ being passed down from one composer to another. Robert Farnon gave it to Angela Morley while she handed it on to Tony Tamburello. Whatever Tony wrote was always of a very high standard indicating a real understanding of this unique genre with its refreshingly modern tunes, harmonies and implied decoration. I’m only guessing but I suspect the arrangement was by Bruce Campbell. I’m already looking forward to analysing more Tamburello, so watch this space.
Always Busy is played by The Telecast Orchestra on a Chappell 78rpm disc C598.
Analysed by Robert Walton
After constantly analysing a great deal of light music in all its diverse forms, it’s always nice to return to the comfort zone of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, rummaging through its archives for more marvels I may have missed. Such is its worldwide reputation, it’s one orchestra always guaranteed to give a perfect performance with state of the art compositions. One such classic is Dance of the Blue Marionettes written by Leslie Clair. His real name was Leslie Judah Solley (1905-1968) who was at one time an MP for the Thurrock constituency of Essex.
Cinema organist Sidney Torch recorded an old-fashioned syncopated version of Dance of the Blue Marionettes in 1933. Fourteen years later in 1947, Torch having reinvented himself as a light orchestral composer, again had a part to play, albeit a smaller one as conductor of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. You would have thought Torch was in the ideal position to score it himself but it was not to be. Instead, one of the best backroom boys in the business, Len Stevens, fulfilled that role creating a brilliant makeover of Dance of the Blue Marionettes. In a slower tempo than the original, he gave it the wash and brush up it badly needed. Composer Clair couldn’t have dreamt of the result. Ironically it sounded very much like a Torch arrangement full of invention, crispness and wit. So with that in mind let’s dissect it and investigate the anatomy of a marionette.
Pizzicato strings, flute and muted brass set the scene in an unusually long introduction (12 bars) including a particularly skilful section just before the start. The composition promises to be a great little workout for all concerned. The opening of Dance of the Blue Marionettes is identical to the first two bars of Music, Music, Music, but there the resemblance ends. We continue with that toe-tapping tune completely comfortable and contented in its new clothes. In bar 9 to avoid monotony that same tune is heard in a new key. Then sensitive strings come into their own with 8 bars of gorgeous sweeping brushstrokes acting as an excellent contrast. So back to the familiar strain low lighted with a bass line of sustained strings.
Warm woodwind repeat the strokes in closer harmony but the strings can’t resist the chance to show how it’s really done. The whole thing is then repeated (except the warm woodwind) until we finally reach an imaginative fun-filled coda and Dance of the Blue Marionettes comes to a carefree close.
I can’t think of a better example of a 1930’s tune being transformed so deftly into the 1940s when light music truly came of age and sounding quite at home in its new surroundings. This was an undoubted triumph for boffin Stevens!
Dance of the Blue Marionettes can be heard on “Childhood Memories” on Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5125).
An article by William Zucker.
Just a little over two years ago, I wrote an article for the RFS site with the title "Differing Versions of the Same Set Light Music Selections."
Over this time period, I have obtained information that would necessitate my adding additional material, as well as correcting some erroneous assumptions that I had made in the absence of such information.
Much of this that I now have to share has come and is continuing to come from the uploads of Mr. Graham Miles, a fellow RFS member whose channel on YouTube I now subscribe to.
There have been made available a considerable number of recordings that originated in the various mood libraries, not previously available. I in turn have shared many videos from YouTube with Graham, and the exchange of information has become mutually profitable, even though at present, I do not have the ability to upload files whereas with Graham it is a passion - he will even take recordings that I request that he upload if I observe that they have not been uploaded by others, if he happens to have them available. As may be gathered, his collection of light music selections from various sources is considerable, and he does explore other channels offering such music, as I have been myself.
What I would like to embark on here would be to go over my article of January, 2015, and take it point by point to make additions, corrections, and general observations as a result of this additional information I have obtained over this period, throwing in some comments that I feel are pertinent:
With Leroy Anderson, I had mentioned that the earliest versions he had recorded of his selections were in my considered opinion, the best ones, and gave my reasons for this preference, and have even urged any interested listener to consider these when a choice was to be made,
The same, by the way, would apply to the Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler recordings I had specified; namely, "Serenata, "Sleigh Ride," "Fiddle Faddle," and the Irish Suite. Here too, I would give the palm to the earliest versions. With the Irish Suite, I have noted that all performances by the Boston Pops that have been posted on YouTube are apparently from a live performance, not from the original recording, as there is applause between each movement. Many listeners conceivably might not wish to have this intrusion within the work but would greatly prefer to listen to it uninterruptedly, fine as the rendition itself may be.
David Rose comes under discussion here as well, as Graham has uploaded a later version of "On a Little Country Road in Switzerland," one of Mr. Rose's most endearing selections - actually the two versions were uploaded side by side so that a direct comparison could be made.
In this later version, which I have hitherto remained totally unaware of, unlike the case of the drastic overhaul with "Gay Spirits" and the major touchups with "Holiday for Strings," in this case the composition remained essentially unchanged, save for the elimination of the charming yodeling effect that appears at the beginning and end of the piece. One might well ask why Mr. Rose saw fit to eliminate this when it so beautifully sets off the piece in its original version. The overall instrumentation is somewhat heavier as well, whereas a light touch is clearly needed in this piece.
Which brings me to Percy Faith, whose work along these lines is a subject in itself.
Quite recently, I became aware of the fact that when Mr. Faith was contracted to make recordings for Columbia, he expressed a lack of interest in working with soloists in his recordings, whether vocal or instrumental. The deal was made sweeter for him when he was advised that he would only need to cut a few recordings with soloists, and with all the rest of these he could produce as he wished. This disinclination and lack of interest I refer to unfortunately evidenced itself in his recordings, and it potentially represents a side of him that I could well imagine that his admirers would choose to overlook and forgive.
In one or two of the recordings he made with a soloist, his accompaniment in itself was so flamboyant (think of "Rags to Riches" he made with Tony Bennett as an example) as to threaten to steal the attention from the soloist who quite properly should be in the foreground. In them, Mr. Faith sounds almost like a caged animal fighting to break the bonds of his imposed limitations.
This had other manifestations in that a number of recordings that he did make with a soloist or soloists, he felt that he actually had to go back and rerecord these totally on his own, and one can only speculate on the need for this.
Thus we have his classic hit with Felicia Sanders of Auric's "Song from Moulin Rouge," although here at least in his later instrumental version he gave us an expanded double length version which did not occur elsewhere in these instances. We have the song "Non Dimenticar" which he originally recorded with Jerry Vale, which recording made the charts, but then he immediately went back to record a nearly identical version musically, entirely on his own, without the vocal line.
Two of the most enchantingly beautiful settings he recorded was with a wordless chorus dubbed "The Magic Voices" featured in "Zez Confrey's "Dizzy Fingers" and Rodgers' "If I Loved You" from "Carousel;" both really lovely settings I still listen to with pleasure today, and then for whatever reason he had to go back and redo both of these selections without the wordless chorus, and without the charm of the original, to dubious purpose.
And I already mentioned the selections from his album "Music Until Midnight" which featured Mitch Miller as oboe/cor anglais soloist, which was one of the most successful albums of mood music ever made, and then Mr. Faith right afterward had to rerecord many of the selections from this album without the wind solos, with a corresponding loss of shape and focus in the way the selections now presented themselves.
One may well ask, why did he feel the need to rerecord so many selections that he did with featured soloists over again without them? Was the matter of working with soloists so disagreeable to him for whatever reason that he felt the need to "cleanse" them in some way? I do not have a clue as to the reason for what unmistakably took place, and knowing the circumstances under which he signed his contract with Columbia records, I can only say that it is perhaps kindest to overlook this facet of his work as not entirely complimentary to him, as he was a truly great artist in this genre, so perhaps we should allow him some slack as he has overall more than earned our admiration for his accomplishments. But one could also point out the numerous remakes even of outstanding instrumental selections from his earlier years, which prompts me here too to advise people to stick with the earlier versions as much better showing off the genius in his settings, as against the cheapening and coarsening of his work in their later incarnations, probably in the interests of commercialization, although in that regard he was not alone in this field, as has been pointed out.
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The situation with the recordings from the UK, notably those that originated in the various mood libraries, remains as confusing as ever. Often a piece was recorded more than once by the same conductor, producing two different versions, although in most cases I indicate a preference for the composer's own original versions, with the exceptions as I have noted in the article, but with the additional information I have received from viewing Graham's uploads, questions still abound. I find dealing with this to put things in their proper places as inordinately challenging, and for the moment I don't know where to begin.
Take "Portrait of a Flirt," for example. Robert Farnon's first recording of the piece with his own orchestra (the best, in my opinion) has appeared in the market with the orchestra designated as "his orchestra," the "New Promenade Orchestra," and the "Kingsway Symphony Orchestra." I couldn't at this point state which is correct, but the fact remains that they are the self-same identical recording, not to be confused with a later one he made of the same piece. There are also two recordings by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra, stated as being conducted by Robert Farnon and by Sidney Torch as given to us. These are two noticeably different recordings, neither of which I give a recommendation to, for various reasons. Of course, I am not taking into account the version by David Rose which in my opinion is a distortion, and I will not include it for purposes of this discussion.
I raised the question as to whether Sidney Torch conducted two different recordings of Haydn Wood's "Wellington Barracks," distinguishable to me by the final cadence at the end, and have finally established that such was indeed the case, but would then raise the question as to why the rerecording was even necessary. (Incidentally, the longer version of Wood's "Soliloquy" I referred to in my article was performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, probably under Adrian Leaper, but as I had stated, I greatly prefer the shorter version with the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Robert Farnon.)
I stated in my article "pieces by Felton Rapley and by Peter Yorke, as performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra and by these composers conducting their own orchestras," or words to that effect. This was a natural assumption made in the absence of complete information. As it turns out, Felton Rapley was not a conductor and did not conduct any of his pieces - he was an organist and pianist. Peter Yorke did lead an orchestra of his own, but actually recorded very few of his own pieces. Most of these were done by Robert Farnon or Sidney Torch with the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra, although the former recorded some of these with the Danish Radio Orchestra under an assumed name due to a musicians' strike occurring at the time these recordings were made. Other Yorke selections, rather interestingly, were recorded by Dolf van der Linden, who frequently crossed over into this repertoire by the composers who wrote for the various British mood music libraries, a rather interesting combination of talents in this case.
With "Spring Cruise" by Peter Yorke, a very confusing situation exists in regard to the genesis of the recording. I have long known this piece as the final number in an album by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra (no conductor's name given) entitled "Very Very Dry," released in the USA in the mid-1950's. I next came across it on YouTube in an uploaded album of Peter Yorke selections entitled "Melody of the Stars." In an album put together in that manner, I reasonably assumed that the aggregate of all Yorke selections was conducted by Peter Yorke himself. Most recently, Graham has uploaded a recording from his collection of this piece as performed by the "Melodi Light Orchestra" as conducted by "Ole Jensen" which was the nom de disc for the Danish Radio Orchestra under Robert Farnon during the musician's strike concurrently taking place. The point that I am making here is that all of these recordings that I am enumerating of Peter Yorke's "Spring Cruise" are the identical performance - there is no discernable difference between them. Which designation, then, should we go by, and what actually took place in the preparation of these recordings - what is the actual truth of what had occurred here?
Similarly, a selection entitled "Pizzicato Boogie" by Jerek Centeno, appearing in an album conducted by Dolf van der Linden (recording under the name "Van Lynn") in an LP album entitled "Escape" on the American Decca label, also appeared in an EP set entitled "Dutch Treat" featuring what is dubbed the "Hilversum Orchestra" on the "X" label, which appears to have been an offshoot of RCA Victor, judging by the graphics on the label. The two recordings are identical; they are the same rendition. Both of these cases I bring up can be very confusing to individuals attempting to determine the actual genesis of a recording.
There is a video posted on YouTube of Acquaviva's performance of Bob Haymes' "Curtain Time," claiming to be an "original version" as distinct from the recording on MGM records that was commercially available for many years and which is also posted, but upon listening to this alleged "original version" I could find absolutely no difference from the version commercially available and will assume that it is the very same rendition.
Oftentimes, when a recording appearing on a 78/45 RPM single was taken over into an LP album, it was not a simple transfer of a recording but an entirely different take was used. I have noted this in a few cases such as with Robert Farnon's own original recording of "A Star is Born" which originally appeared as a single and then in the 10" LP album "A Robert Farnon Concert." Looking back, I have also noted that the Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops recording of Leroy Anderson's "Jazz Pizzicato" on the original single and the one appearing afterward in the album "Classical Juke Box," both from the late 1940's, were noticeably not the same recording.
And we can often assume when a group of compositions by a given artist appear together in an album, especially when that artist is an established conductor, we might well assume that all of these selections were recorded by the artist himself in his own music, but such is not always the case. I raised the question above about "Portrait of a Flirt" in two performances by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra which are notably different, one by Robert Farnon himself and the other apparently by Sidney Torch. This remains an open question but it is generally known that the original version of "Journey Into Melody" with its expanded introduction was conducted not by Robert Farnon but by Charles Williams.
Charles Williams himself was a notable conductor and composer who made many recordings conducting both the Queen's Hall group and his own orchestra, yet his "A Quiet Stroll" which exists in two renditions were both conducted by Sidney Torch.
All these situations that I refer to are enough to drive the would be cataloguer of these light music recordings absolutely insane, and I'm beginning to doubt that even David, had he been approached on these questions, would have been able to answer all of them. What I'm witnessing here is something absolutely unknown in the USA, at least to the extent I have just described. Conductor/composer/arrangers stuck with their own material, and there was never a dispute as to whom each of the selections belonged to when there was any sort of duplication - even the multiplicity of version many were wont to come out with always remained clearly distinguishable from one another, so that the only issue in question was why these individuals saw fit to release these multiple versions, although they still did not record each other's selections for one another to the same extent (or when such occurred, the distinctions were always very clear) as we are seeing today from the days of the Chappell and other mood libraries whose material is thankfully being brought to light once again. But my reasons for going into all of these situations is simply to correct any erroneous assumptions I had made in my article of just over two years ago. I also have to correct the final sentence in my article on Peter Yorke's "In the Country" for reasons I have already outlined above.
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I had made a comment on Camarata's "Rumbalero" stating that though I claim to have heard a performance by Paul Whiteman leading a group at a live concert (via a radio broadcast) in 1953, I knew of no recorded performance other than the composer's own, which remains as my standard.
More recently, I discovered a posting on YouTube of a recording by a group billed as the "Broadway Orchestra," no conductor's name given, on an off-label given as "Halo." There are apparently other recordings in this series that were posted.
In my article on this piece I wrote some time afterward, I commented on this recording but did not provide any information, as the quality evidenced regarding both performance and sound was not sufficiently viable in my opinion to furnish further details, although for completeness of information, I am providing that here, even though I would still not recommend the recording and urge interested readers to stick with the composer's own recording on London/Decca records, where he is conducting the Kingsway Symphony Orchestra, despite the slight disadvantage of a bad side break occasioned in this double length selection.
The recording of De Freitas' "Fiddlesticks" that I could not recall was by Roger Roger.
With Cyril Stapleton, I had meant to also include "Latin Lady" as a selection that he recorded appearing in another version.
I hope these updates that I am offering are helpful to my readers, and as I continue to obtain additional information, I will accordingly present further updates.