Analysed by Robert Walton
For many years I have been meaning to analyse Walter Mourant’s Ecstasy but somehow I never got around to it. I can’t believe I left it so long, because it’s one of the few openings that made such a lasting impression.
The first time I heard it was in 1958 when I was an announcer in Whangarei, New Zealand, at 1XN Radio Northland. Those were the days before sealed airtight cubicles when there was an open window in the studio overlooking an attractive garden and heavily wooded hills. Very civilized! Incidentally four years before, sitting in that very same announcer’s chair was Corbet Woodall later to work for BBC Television in London as a newsreader. We were both learning the ropes of broadcasting on live radio. I met him only once in 1976 at his Marble Arch delicatessan in London.
The 78rpm Brunswick disc (05153) in question featured clarinetist Reginald Kell with Camarata’s Orchestra. As I placed it on the turntable and cued it ready to go on air, it was just another recording.
After a few seconds of introduction, mysterious high strings carried me off to another world. I was hooked. Harmonically it kept wandering off into Debussyian byways as well as quite a bit of diving down, but always returning to the home chord on a major 9 like Poinciana. And speaking of Poinciana, occasionally you’ll hear the David Rose string sound. Some of the chords reminded me of Tony Lowry’s Seascape. I wasn’t a bit surprised that Tutti Camarata was in charge as every aspect of the recording indicated quality.
Then taking over this meandering tune, Kell makes his first appearance with the orchestra and is soon joined by a violin, with which he produces an atonal moment. After going totally solo for a few bars, the clarinet is once more partnered by the orchestra. Note Kell’s distinctive vibrato for which he was famous. From here right until the end it’s the mournful clarinet of ‘roving’ Reginald playing the melody supported by those now familiar harmonies.
At this juncture it might help to give you a brief bio of the comparatively unknown American Walter Mourant (1911-1995) who began his career in jazz. One of his best-known works was Swing Low Sweet Clarinet performed by Woody Herman and Pete Fountain. Clearly Mourant loved writing for the clarinet. Also his chamber music and orchestral compositions are well worth Googling. Various assignments included arranging for the Raymond Scott Orchestra at CBS and composing a March of Time theme for NBC.
Ecstasy is that the somewhat dreary second half of the arrangement does not fulfill the initial promise of the ecstatic opening. In spite of that, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand but still recommend you to give it a listen and enjoy.
By Robert Walton
During the 1990s while living in Bath, my wife and I regularly attended the winter series of symphony concerts at the Colston Hall in Bristol. We always sat in the same seats in the choir stalls behind the orchestra facing the conductor. To all intents and purposes we were part of the percussion. In fact a certain timpanist was constantly tuning up. We were so close we could follow the music on his stand. We saw many of the world’s famous orchestras and conductors. Some Russian and East European orchestras were clearly struggling financially because their music was obviously well worn, not to mention their threadbare dinner jackets, but it didn’t affect their performances in the slightest.
And talking of Russian music, a member of the audience who sat right up at the back behind us looked the image of Tchaikovsky! And he never missed a concert but I’m sure he had no idea he looked like the great composer.
Which brings me to the noted popular 20th century composer-arranger-conductor from Webster Groves, Missouri, Gordon Jenkins who certainly didn’t look like him. His music though clearly caught the essence of Tchaikovsky. Jenkins’ detractors often unkindly placed his name at the top of the schmaltz lists. He might have been a 20th century clone of Tchaikovsky but cleverly incorporated the Russian’s style into his own compositions and orchestrations in his own individual way. In fact he could be said to have kept romance alive and well.
Jenkins’ Green from “Tone Poems of Colour” conducted by Frank Sinatra was inspired by a poem of Norman Sickel, a one-time radio scriptwriter for Sinatra. This 1956 recording session with a symphonic- sized orchestra celebrated the opening of Capitol’s new pancake-shaped skyscraper in Los Angeles known as Capitol Records Tower.
At the opening and closing of this tone poem, some Jenkins one-finger piano was required, but the man himself wasn’t available. So Sinatra’s pianist Bill Miller brilliantly simulated Jenkins’ so-called hunt-and-peck piano style (like a hen searching for food, the finger creeps along the keyboard ready to ‘pounce’ on the next note). When sad strings enter I dare you not to be moved. This is followed by the heavenly oboe and flute. You may hardly notice the French horn playing a legato counter-melody but without its contribution it would seem incomplete.
When the strings get even more aroused, the emotion generated is conspicuously overwhelming by its presence. So moving in fact, it’s beyond words and tears! This is what music is all about. We have been elevated to a higher plain in much the same way as Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony does.In fact Green could be described as that work in miniature. The horn continues to decorate, adding its own special hue to the mix. The essential Jenkins has now come to life with this sublime songlike strain. I know Pyotr Ilyich would have approved. Listen out for a bit of Borodin (Stranger in Paradise)in slow motion borrowed from ”Prince Igor’s” Polovtsian Dances.
And with a definite pause, the second part of the melody doesn’t disappoint, continuing its dramatic journey downhill played by unison violins at the bottom of their range. We assume the orchestra is preparing itself for a big ending. “But no!” as Danny Kaye might have insisted. After numerous comings and goings with the said woodwind, strings and horn, stand by for two more thrilling string flourishes. The horn and flute finally bring Green to a gloriously peaceful close. But not quite. Bill Miller’s single note piano has the last say but not in its normal middle register. This time it’s uncharacteristically higher than usual.
If you’ve never heard any Tchaikovsky or indeed the 6th Symphony (ThePathétique) I can’t recommend Green highly enough as the perfect Tchaikovsky taster. If you like this, you’ll adore the real thing!
Green, originally from “Tone Poems of Colour”
Capitol (CDP 7 99647 2)
Also on “Scenic Grandeur” from Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5145)
Columbia Light Symphony Orchestra conducted by
Charles Williams featuring Clive Richardson, piano.
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was in 1990 that Carlin Music asked me to write a “Theatrical Overture” for their library. On the day of the session, imagine my surprise when one of my idols of music Clive Richardson casually strolled into CTS studios at Wembley. I had already met him at a Robert Farnon Appreciation Society recital but this you can understand was something else. His contribution to the session were two new compositions of his called Shopping Around and Mantovani Strings. While he was very generous in praising my work, I was totally immersed in that famous ‘Richardson’ sound. For many years it had been my intention to analyse his London Fantasia for JIM. So why not now?
Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto was undoubtedly the first of its kind and proved to be the most popular of the genre, but I have always maintained the Richardson composition deserved far more recognition because of its highly descriptive musical narrative. It was originally called The Coventry Concerto but the more he worked on the score, Richardson felt London Fantasia was a more appropriate title. In essence it’s a nine minute microcosm of WW2.
An instant attention grabber, the opening section of timpani, brass and strings immediately creates a threatening and uneasy atmosphere, reminding one of the evils and pointlessness of war. But suddenly the music becomes becalmed by a radiant string tune perhaps looking back to those halcyon days of a once peaceful prewar period. Maybe we hoped there was still an outside chance of averting conflict.
But that was all swept away by the first sound of the ‘boots on the ground’ of young men marching off to unknown destinations to fight for King and country. Note a single sustained string note continues right through from the tranquil tune into this dramatic sector. Then a troop-carrying train is brought into the picture. And yet again that calming optimistic tune reappears to even greater effect. After a suggestion of Londoners at work and children at play, there’s a touch of Carriage And Pair from which emerges the bells of old London. Conductor Charles Williams would have related to that, as there was a lot of ‘London’ in his music.
And then something absolutely magical happens - the music slows right down to a virtual standstill, creating one of the most moving moments in music. The piano enters with two lots of nine gentle chords. Never have minor chords sounded so effective. The simplicity after all the drama is mesmerizing. It may not seem obvious but the piece has finally come to life baring its soul.
After a definite break, the strings lead in to Richardson’s glorious theme played by the solo piano supported by a cello, later joined by the rest of the orchestra. Notice his fondness for triplets in the tune like David Rose. Twice the oboe is at the forefront of building up the momentum as we head towards a cadenza or flourish, featuring the frantic fingers of Richardson, demonstrating his dazzling technique and particularly sensitive touch. His use of single notes is far more powerful than any complicated writing. Back briefly to the theme before some more piano pyrotechnics.
Then, as children in the far off Empire, the moment we all used to wait for was an air raid siren brilliantly imitated by the strings, warning that heavy bombers were approaching. The Battle of Britain had begun. Richardson throws everything he can orchestrally at this musical canvas with particular emphasis on the percussion. He didn’t forget the rescue services either rushing along with their bells to where they were needed. Eventually the all-clear sounds, and life returns to some sort of normality.
So what does Richardson do after that first raid? He calls upon the services of the instrument that has the range and capacity to provide a complete coverage of emotions, the violin. Great sadness descends across the nation, echoed from the darkest depths of the violin’s recesses. As it heads to the heights for the brighter top of its range, a major chord expresses a message of peace and hope for the future, now in tandem with the piano.
London Fantasia, Richardson’s magnum opus, gradually builds up to one of the most thrilling endings of any composition for piano and orchestra I know. If ever a piece told its own story then this is it. A tale of courage, endurance and above all humanity. No other composer has written a work of such power, originality and eloquence about such a momentous event. The general public thought so too in their millions.
Finally, with all the excitement and pleasure of meeting Clive Richardson, I almost forgot to mention another musician who happened to be playing on the Carlin session. My all-time favourite jazz drummer and long term member of the great Ted Heath Orchestra - Ronnie Verrell! My cup was overflowing that day!
“London Fantasia” available on Guild Light Music
“The Hall Of Fame” Volume 1 (GLCD 5120)
According to Robert Walton
Goose bumps, goose flesh, goose pimples, chill bumps or the medical term cutis anserina, are the swelling on the skin at the base of body hairs which may occur when a person is cold, scared or in awe of something. Basically it’s a rush of adrenalin. To be stimulated or overwhelmed is a very individual thing, depending of course what turns you on. It might be a structure, a view, a painting, a book, a person, a voice, or in my case, music.
The first time I ever experienced a serious attack of goose “bumples”, was when I was laid up with a far worse problem, a digestive disorder sometimes called the dreaded lurgy. But I completely forgot the pain when from my bedside radio I happened to hear the signature tune of New Zealand’s version of the BBC’s “Down Your Way” called “South Pacific Flight”. It was Robert Farnon’s Canadian impression Gateway to the West, once described as the thinking man’s Tara’s Theme from “Gone With The Wind”. It’s difficult to explain why Gateway to the West had such an effect on me but I suspect somewhere in my being was a dormant chemical reaction waiting to happen. I became totally absorbed in the music. In this completely random event, I was instantly caught up in its spell, and as a tsunami of emotion swept over me, it changed my life forever. A profusion of pimples broke out accompanied by an uncontrollable stream of tears. Who knows what triggers such reactions? Maybe it’s in the genes. In the case of Gateway to the West, it was the entire package of melody, harmony and orchestration. I guess it simply struck a chord! Trouble was, it took ages before I discovered the title and name of its composer. Once known, it opened the floodgates to Farnon’s music from which I never quite recovered. Strangely enough I had unknowingly heard his Jumping Bean that at the time meant absolutely nothing.
Not long after that memorable moment, another unexpected incident presented itself. I was on my own at a cinema when a trailer for the 195O film “Teresa” came up showing Pier Angeli in a corn field. Just the sight of her was enough to produce a similar reaction to Gateway to the West. It was her stunning natural beauty that caught my eye and left a permanent black and white imprint on my psyche.
It was in another movie “An American in Paris”, that I first heard the Gershwin composition that inspired the title. Just the opening, a revelation, was enough to send me into paroxysms of delight as the tune clashed with the bass line in a way that went right through me like an electric shock. It was a kind of pain caused by the dissonance.
Most sensible singers make it a practice to do a thorough sound and familiarization check before performing on stage, especially one that’s new to them. Vera Lynn was no exception and lucky enough to have the expertise of her fastidious husband Harry Lewis who always made sure that everything was just perfect. I was her pianist on a tour in the mid-1960s when the three of us entered the Stoke-on-Trent venue to give it the once over. As we walked in, the public address system was playing what I can only describe as “music from heaven”. I immediately went into a kind of trance. Vera and Harry couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I was in another world transfixed to the spot. After making inquiries, the engineer in the control room informed me it was the title track of George Shearing’s album “Touch me Softly” - a Shearing arrangement. Near the end of the piece, the ravishing strings go into overdrive in what I call “tone apart” harmony. Let me explain. On the piano, the right hand plays the chord of say G, while an octave below, the left hand plays the chord of F. Play them together and the dissonance it creates is absolutely sublime, especially if you move them up and down in tones.
By then I thought I’d heard it all, but I had to wait another thirty years before the next big musical discovery. It was as a member of the City of Bath Bach Choir I discovered Mahler. Not just any old Mahler mind you, but his 2nd Symphony (“The Resurrection”). Back in the 1950s Mahler’s music was almost unheard of, but a jazz pianist friend of mine, Crombie Murdoch, was even then extolling the virtues of it. At the first rehearsal I sensed this was going to be one of the biggest weepies of my life. That was entirely confirmed when we performed the work with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth, Bournemouth and the Royal Albert Hall. It might have been only the last ten minutes of the symphony but what an unforgettable ten minutes! These were some of music’s most moving moments with shades of Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer, itself probably inspired by Mahler. As it gradually builds, I became so overwhelmed with emotion I found it impossible to sing. The only way to participate was to become totally detached. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do!
I have read Bob Walton's article with interest, and although I have already left a comment, I indicated that I might wish to expand on it once having looked at the article in closer detail.
I gather from his comments that he gives the palm of outstanding song writing and quality songs to American song writers while on the other hand that of quality instrumental mood music composers to those in the UK.
I had indicated something along those lines in an article that was published in the JIM magazine several years ago, implying that relative strong points in the genre of light music received different respective emphasis in the USA and UK, although I was thinking of purely instrumental selections, citing the pre-eminence of outstanding arrangements of popular standards by American arrangers and a more advanced tradition of light music compositions within the UK. This is the common assumption, although in both cases, I would venture to say that the opposite is definitely true as well - put a little more directly, I would say that here in the USA we have our Leroy Anderson, Morton Gould, Camarata, David Rose, Victor Young and Percy Faith, etc., as regards original work, all figures whose work shows considerable individuality, while in the UK there are arrangements of popular standards by such men as Robert Farnon, Mantovani, George Melachrino, and Stanley Black which are viable as well. Thus there is really no monopoly on either aspect of light music despite the fact that different emphasis has been applied in different areas in the two countries.
Now, as far as popular standards go; yes, many of these have certainly made their way in the sense that they have caught on with the general public who can unthinkingly sing or hum them, with or without the lyrics. Different people may have different preferences in this area as is always the case, but as far as what may be considered greater or rather more popular with a larger percent of the general public, exactly as in serious music, I like to think of this phenomenon as a certain greater versatility of contact. Please note that this does not take into account inherent quality which again comes from how a listener of some experience receives the song or selection in question.
It should be borne in mind that a song writer is a very different sort of musician from a serious composer or arranger. Very often, his work is totally dependent on a skilled arranger to make its way - something that those who unthinkingly sing or hum it to themselves might not be aware of. A song writer can be a musician of considerable substance, as was the case with the likes of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml and Sigmund Romberg (in the UK there are Eric Coates and Haydn Wood as examples), or they may be someone who simply hacks out melodies which are catchy in themselves but otherwise lacks basic musical skills - some of these, such as was Irving Berlin, do not even have the ability to read music. Still others, like Richard Rodgers, may fall somewhere between the two extremes but still whose work is best left to top notch arrangers. The point I am making here is that the two aspects in song writing - constructing a melody that immediately catches on with the public and the musicianship required in providing a suitable setting for these melodies are totally separate and do not necessarily go hand in hand together. This is something many of us tend to forget, and as a result are guilty of this sort of erroneous thinking.
The best example of this distinction that I can provide is with Richard Rodgers, who as I just stated, falls somewhere in between the extremes of substantial composer song writers and melody hacks. In the case of Rodgers, we can listen to the magnificent settings by such as Robert Russell Bennett, Andre Kostelanetz and Morton Gould, and later with Leroy Anderson, and contrast these with recordings made by Richard Rodgers himself performing some of his songs at the piano with an orchestra. This latter may be an interesting historical document, but from a musical standpoint, many who relish the well crafted arrangements by the figures I just named might be turned off by the excessive blandness of Rodgers' presentations, oftentimes bordering on insipidity.
As I stated above, UK composers of light music Eric Coates and Haydn Wood have notably written songs of their own, some of which have even caught on, although I couldn't say whether in the composers' own settings. In any event, I personally choose to deal with these two figures as full fledged composers of pieces of some substance of which they have shown their full capabilities.
"The Great British Mood Music Album" deals with composers who have contributed to the Chappell Library of Mood Music performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra. Bob has mentioned a number of these composers whose contributions have considerable value, but I feel that other composers not forming a part of this group should be mentioned as offering works of equal substance and value, at least in my opinion.
Of those that came out of this Chappell group I have already mentioned Felton Rapley, one of my own personal favorites, and in this connection, Joyce Cochrane should also be mentioned, as one who was an actual composer of substance as well as a melodist.
Of those who did not work out of this group, we have Ronald Binge and Richard Addinsell, although I should also point out that both George Melachrino and Mantovani, far better known as conductors, were actually in addition composers whose work show considerable skill and insight. Ronald Hanmer (nee Bernard Landes) is another figure who deserves recognition along those lines, though not part of the Chappell group. Lesser lights might include figures such as Ray Martin and Malcolm Lockyer.
Bob's article I felt was well thought out and I found nothing whatever to criticize within it, but I felt that certain points made called for an expansion and further explanation of some of these points.
By Robert Walton
I don’t know when the expression “The Great American Songbook” was coined and by whom, but a more suitable name for that magical era from about 1920 to 1960 was long overdue. Will Friedwald and Michael Feinstein both use the phrase freely. Before it entered the language, those evergreens, mainly from Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals, were usually described as “standards”. This is the term for tried and tested songs of outstanding quality and originality that have earned their place over the years for their sheer staying power and have become established in the repertoire. But the word “standard” isn’t exactly the most descriptive of names.
On the other hand, “The Great American Songbook” somehow perfectly sums up the entire period. Certainly there’s no denying the best and the bulk of the songs were written by Americans, especially the Big 5 (Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, and Rodgers), so the term is spot on. Although these songs were first associated with singers, a large part of their continued fame is due to non-vocal versions. So without the bonus of instrumentals “The Great American Songbook” wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience. The word “songbook” suggests a massive imaginary tome of vocal compositions each one containing two main ingredients (words and music). But tunes by themselves can be just as potent. Even in an instrumental, the lyrics can be “sung” subconsciously, especially by older listeners without being aware they’re doing it. Younger people will hopefully enjoy the melodies for their own sake.
Andre Kostelanetz may have been one of the first conductor/arrangers to elevate these songs to a new level of symphonic treatment, but it was Paul Weston who invented the mood album concept in 1944 with “Music for Dreaming”, consisting of four 78s. Using the framework of a big band and a string section (a forerunner of the Farnon format), Weston’s arrangements appealed more to those who had enjoyed the swing era. In the process he, and others, gave “The Great American Songbook” more publicity than it could have dreamed of. In fact this constant exposure of standards also acted like a permanent reference point for anyone on the lookout for material.
On the other side of the Atlantic in the early part of WW2, another kind of mood music was stirring, that of the Chappell Recorded Music Library. But this was “pure” mood music designed specifically as background music for films, newsreels, documentaries, television and radio that also generated many memorable signature tunes. Because of public demand, a number of these were released commercially. This particular Golden Era of works by the finest composers, conductors and arrangers has never been equaled. A world away from the light music of the 1930s, these compositions were totally fresh and modern unlike anything heard before.
And the main men responsible for this event were two of Russian descent and a Canadian. The latter, the prodigious Robert Farnon, created a whole new genre of music with his unique melodic and harmonic style. The two other light orchestral composers were Sidney Torch who wrote many original cameos of extraordinary quality, and Charles Williams, another prolific writer who conducted the first recordings in 1942. And proving to be the perfect interpreters of these gems was the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Other talented writers from the same stable included Jack Beaver, Robert Busby, Bruce Campbell, Eric Coates, Frederic Curzon, Trevor Duncan, Vivian Ellis, Philip Green, Geoffrey Henman, Byron Lloyd, Angela Morley, Clive Richardson, Colin Smith, Len Stevens, Jack Strachey, Edward White, Haydn Wood and Peter Yorke.
Many other publishers, composers and orchestras contributed to this vast library of subjects, situations and emotions that lasted well into the 1960s. This twenty-five year phenomenon is unlikely ever to be repeated. Inspired by the title “The Great American Songbook”, this most exclusive and original back catalogue of highly specialized music has more than earned its place as “The Great British Mood Music Album!”
It is wonderful to note that much music of worth formerly inaccessible to us save through radio broadcast or as background or signature use on television programs or documentaries may now be fully accessed by interested listeners thanks to the internet with postings on YouTube; much of this material though not all of it originating in those recently released series of Guild recordings of light music.
One selection I have discovered as a result of my explorations in this area is Peter Yorke's "In the Country," and having found it sufficiently engaging of my attention and interest, I have decided to share a few personal responses to it, as many light music enthusiasts, though familiar with the name of Peter Yorke, might not be familiar with this piece.
I find this to be an absolutely exquisite piece, offering the best to be had in light music, by virtue of its very straightforward manner, in both harmonic language and structure. It is in fact so straightforward that I have found no need to write any sort of analysis of its workings nor include any suggestions to any would-be conductor who delves in this sort of light music as to how to interpret it as it speaks to us so simply and directly that I would hardly imagine that any problems would arise in its presentation. I would hope at this point that there really are some light music conductors who would turn their attention to this piece and others of this nature.
Peter Yorke has been cited for showing many traits of classical music in his original work, in that a number of his selections bring to mind various works from the serious repertoire, although he does not appear to have consciously borrowed some of these traits that would cause myself at least to note such resemblances.
"In the Country" for me brings to mind one of Frederick Delius' best pieces from his earliest period, entitled "Summer Evening," especially in regard to its main idea. Of course the two pieces are very different in scale and different in purpose, but there nevertheless appears to be some resemblance in the sense that I at least seem to receive the same images from them.
The title of the piece does not reflect my reception of the piece, which as I stated, is closer to the "Summer Evening" aspect of the Delius piece. Moreover, I do not at all sense a rusticized country-like atmosphere, but on the contrary an urban environment well peopled, perhaps in an outlying residential area of a large city, on a summer evening to be sure, with people sitting on their porches or standing in the streets and chatting. It was an environment I remember vividly from my childhood back in the wartime and post-war years where urban neighborhoods were like small towns where everyone knew everyone else, and in a sense looked after everyone else, without this anonymity of contact that is more typical in today's society. This music as I listen to it, with both pieces in fact, directly conveys to me the picture I am attempting to describe.
The lesson to be learned from this is that despite a composer having an image in mind upon writing a piece, and advising us what may have inspired him/her to write such, we will always receive it in our own manner, with our own faculties, and form our own mental images, however subconsciously or subliminally. These images are our own; in a sense they are what introduced us to a piece to begin with, and any additional aspects and insights that are later given to us, even if having originated with the composer, may be taken by some to be intrusive and quite frankly, unwelcome. What I am essentially saying is that in regarding a piece of music, we should not become a slave to the composer's description of it, either by listening or by interpretation. Such description may or may not work for us, but in any event, we can only determine such by direct acquaintance with the piece in question.
This piece may be heard as part of an album entitled "Moonfleet," consisting of other selections by Peter Yorke, in all probability performed by Mr. Yorke himself with his own orchestra.
Analysed by Robert Walton
One of the most underrated light orchestral composers, arrangers and conductors of the 20th century was unquestionably Peter Yorke. He successfully introduced the element of surprise into his work and in some ways was even more symphonic than George Melachrino. Yorke was a master of the dramatic gesture. A typical example of what I mean is in “Till The Clouds Roll By” selection. Listen to the connecting passage between Who and Ol’ Man River. Talk about putting an instant stamp on your music. No one slept during a Yorke performance, especially live!
His formula probably had its roots in his 1930’s soundtrack work for British films and especially as chief arranger for Louis Levy’s Gaumont British Film Orchestra. The opening of “Blue Skies” (1946) has a suggestion of “James Bond”, showing that Yorke was clearly ahead of his time. Everything he wrote contained constant references to serious music, and how effective it was. Yorke was also an enthusiast and expert of the big finish. Above all he was a ‘mood’ writer in its purest form.
And for those of you familiar with his film selections, you’ll know, unlike Eric Coates for example, he had a natural feel for jazz, having appeared as pianist/arranger with many British dance bands. His brilliant string writing was full of imagination and humour, but the sound most associated with Yorke, (a total antidote to all the drama) were his shimmering, simmering saxophones. Unlike Wilbur Schwartz’s clarinet lead for Glenn Miller’s reed section, Yorke opted for a pure saxes-only subdivision. Lead by golden-toned soprano saxist Freddy Gardner, there’s never been a blend to equal it in all music. Reverberating around the world, it was one of the most unique sounds in the light orchestral firmament.
From a personal point of view, I owe a lot to Peter Yorke’s film selections, because that’s exactly where I first heard some of the great standards which have remained with me ever since. He had a knack of somehow getting under the skin of a tune and treating it with genuine respect. Also his medley format probably acted as a model for both Wally Stott’s selections for Sidney Torch and his symphonic suites for Stanley Black’s Kingsway Promenade Orchestra.
There’s quite a bit of drama too in the real life story of Yorke. I call it a “Tragedy in Triplicate”. Firstly the maestro himself died at the relatively young age of 63. His soloist, alto sax supremo Freddy Gardner passed away at 39, whilst Yorke’s stylish singer Steve Conway with a similar timbre to Al Bowlly, was taken from us far too early at the age of 31. Thank goodness so much wonderful material had already been committed to wax by the talented trio. Gardner’s alto sax solo classic was I Only Have Eyes For You while Conway’s Souvenir de Paris somehow captured the atmosphere of the French capital as never before.
Away from his film selection commitments, Yorke also arranged for other popular singers of the time. One of his best string backings was For You for Donald Peers. I once spoke to Peers in New Zealand about that arrangement and he totally agreed.
After all that background information, let’s take a close look now at that very English sounding tune, Melody Of The Stars, but be prepared for a slight shock at the start, especially if your volume control happens to be a little too high. Yes, Yorke’s at it again! Just as we’re beginning to settle down to this lovely gentle tune, two musical “clunks” remind us that Peter is lurking. The first chorus gathering up a bit of steam comes to a typically positive end that only Yorke could dream up.
Then an even lovelier lighter section takes over, but don’t be fooled by its apparent Yorke-ish charm. Be prepared for a series of menacing warning shots creating tension before returning to the main tune. As Melody Of The Stars gradually builds for the last time, listen out for Yorke’s unique melodic style at the closing moments of this stirring piece. Briefly leaving the light orchestral world behind, we enter what could almost be the triumphant finale of a Mahler symphony.
Compared with an earlier elegant and dainty age of 1930s light music, Peter Yorke introduced more daring features into his “Roaring 40’s” orchestrations, while at the same time composing some of the most beautiful melodies of our time.
Revisiting the work of Peter Yorke after all these years has been a total revelation and joy, finally recognizing his amazing talent and true worth in the world of popular music and particularly light orchestral music. In this genre, Yorke had no rivals!
Melody Of The Stars is available on
“The Show Goes On” Guild Light Music
During the course of my travels over the light music segment of the music repertoire, through various selections, some familiar, others less so, I came upon a rather unique situation upon revisiting a piece that I've known for the longest time.
That piece is David Rose's "Gay Spirits," which was one of the earliest light music selections that I acquainted myself with, and incidentally, even before encountering the composer's "Holiday for Strings" which would inevitably remind me of "Gay Spirits," as these two pieces are remarkably similar in their bearings. But I didn't know the name of the selection due to its manner of usage as accompanying music in what they refer to in the UK as a test card and in the USA as a test pattern. As hours of daily broadcasting have considerably expanded over the years, one is much less likely to encounter these intervals between live broadcasts, at least here in the USA. But due to the circumstances of my initial exposure to this piece, I was not to obtain the much desired particulars about it - the title and composer - until a few more years had passed. And this latter took place on a radio show entitled, "The Charlie Stark Music Shop" which I had occasion to refer to when commenting on Bob Walton's analysis of "Frenesi."
In one of my earliest articles on this site, "Differing Versions of the Same Set Light Music Selections," I compared differing versions of the same pieces as presented by different conductors. In some cases, the versions were identical though by diverse conductors who adopted different tempos or emphasized different facets of the piece. In others, the orchestration was noticeably different or perhaps the piece was in some manner abridged or extended, either by revision or by the necessity of fitting the selection on a single 78/45 RPM side. But in all these cases, the piece still remained essentially recognizable and thus easily identifiable as such.
In the case of "Gay Spirits" I have noted a situation that is totally different from anything I referred to above, as here we have a transmogrification of a piece that is utterly different from the original presentation of it, though still bearing the same title. It uses only one small feature of the original and then proceeds along quite its own lines. Those who are expecting to hear an updated version of the original will likely emerge from it quite disappointed, at least if they have a special affection for the original version, as I have.
To be sure, the so-called original version I refer to that came out on disc in the early 1950s was preceded by an earlier version, evidenced by comparing this with the piano sheet music publication of the piece. In this latter, the introduction to the main idea is slightly longer by a few bars and the reprise section is given in its entirety. More than likely, Mr. Rose felt compelled to make these very slight abridgements out of concern whether the complete version could be handily fit on the side of a single disc.
In 1964, in the process of scoring for a film entitled "Quick before it Melts," he used a small portion of this material in this film, and subsequently, in a desire to preserve some of this on disc, created a boiled down version of it, not necessarily in the same order as appearing in the film, and not necessarily in the identical arrangement. This result was released on disc under the same title, "Gay Spirits," as the one that appeared years before, although to all intents and purposes this was an entirely different piece and should clearly not have borne the same title as the earlier one.
Upon listening to it, I heard a rather hard introductory gesture which eventually leads into the lyrical middle section of the earlier piece, in the version that it first appears (with strings) but not identically - I have noted some very slight changes in the melody. This leads to its own middle section - somewhat engaging as to specific material but still difficult for me to relate to the other main idea that was formerly the middle section.
Eventually, this is reprised, and at the end of the statement there is a move that almost suggests that we will next hear the flute version of this melody as in the original, but this does not occur; very soon after, the piece abruptly ends.
One may regard it as a reminiscence of a moment from the film, as obviously Mr. Rose desired to preserve it for some reason, but as an independent movement, for me it simply does not work, although I have already encountered opinions to the contrary, favoring this piece over the original "Gay Spirits." In any event, I would invite debate on this issue.
I should point out that the sister piece, the far better known "Holiday for Strings," has similarly been knocked around for all sorts of usage - I recently watched a choreographic sequence with Cyd Charisse using a version that had a few deviations - with such frequent re-usage, this is bound to occur. But I have encountered nothing with this piece such as I have with "Gay Spirits" and I would hope that the newer piece bearing that title but sharing little in common will never come to supplant the earlier one which I continue to regard as one of David Rose's most quintessential creations.
And I will add that in 1955, Mr. Rose made some changes in regard to "Holiday for Strings," regarding the reprise which was somewhat expanded, and a completely different ending, featuring a slight allusion to the middle section idea. It is still recognizably the same piece, with none of the total overhaul that occurred with "Gay Spirits." But in general, I prefer the more straightforward reprise of the earlier version.
Analysed by Robert Walton
[Written before the composer underwent a change of identity to Angela Morley]
Just mention the name Wally Stott/Angela Morley and that’s your guarantee of the highest quality music. And that’s not just in the orchestration department that was this composer’s first forte. Once ‘up and running’ with compositions for the Chappell Library, all Stott’s tunes just oozed with class from the word go. There was no stopping him after the first effort A Canadian in Mayfair inspired by his great hero Robert Farnon’s Portrait of a Flirt. Although unquestionably influenced by Farnon, Stott went on to develop a very personal style that became quickly established in the world of light music.
Take Lap of Luxury, for example, written in 1957. It might not have been immediately obvious but the model for this composition was Farnon’s Westminster Waltz even though Lap of Luxury was in 4/4 time. I must admit I never noticed this until I took a closer listen. The harmonies might have been more complex but there was no denying the spell of Farnon isn’t far away.
After a brief mysterious introduction and not wasting any time getting down to business, we go straight into the ravishing Lap of Luxury, effectively Westminster Waltz as a foxtrot. But not for long. The melody soon goes off on its own tangent aided by some rich chords giving the feeling of absolute opulence. One might say from ‘lush’ to plush! If this tune doesn’t give you goose pimples I don’t know what will. After two gorgeous jazzy chords we’re back to Westminster Waltz territory again with an oboe solo and much less tension. Completing the first chorus the strings in close harmony produce another dazzling display of pure diamond-studded glitz.
Taking a leaf out of Stott’s Tinkerbell, two bars of playful warm-up woodwind continue to play when the tune restarts enriching the proceedings. Climbing to a new key the final 16 bars only confirm his arranging prowess with his love of strings shining through.
The lack of a bridge doesn’t seem to matter, as some compositions just don’t need one. And the fact that there are virtually no filler passages is a tribute to such a strong tune that just playing it through does it full justice.
The Chappell recording of Lap of Luxury is available on the Guild CD “The Show Goes On” (GLCD 5149)