(Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
When I first came to England from New Zealand in 1957 with my family, one thing I was determined to do was to meet my idol of music, Robert Farnon. But it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. As time went by, for one reason or another, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I might miss him. Undeterred by this possibility, I then decided to take the bull by the horns and just present myself at his Gerrard’s Cross home. Nervously knocking on the door and not knowing what to expect, suddenly he appeared looking just like the photograph he had originally sent me. I needn’t have worried though because after an extremely warm welcome I was invited in and given a signed copy of his LP “Pictures in the Fire”. Mission accomplished!
Back down under I couldn’t wait to take the disc out of its sleeve, place it on the turntable and hear his latest creations. One arrangement that really stood out was the Doris Day hit Secret Love from “Calamity Jane”. Going straight in with no introduction, gentle strings in foxtrot tempo treat us to the classic simplicity and symmetry of a Farnon score with celeste and clarinet trimmings. Even with just the basic sheet music chords, the sound was like no other orchestra. So nothing unusual about the first 16 bars of harmony and orchestration.
Now the woodwind plays the melody. Following the words “The way that dreamers often do” something symphonic stirred in the strings. But there’s more. In the bar after “Just how wonderful you are” the most magnificent swell occurs, transforming the tune from a ditty into a miniature masterpiece. It literally took my breath away and over an hour later I finally identified that gorgeous chord of E9,11+,13 in the key of G. Robert Farnon was the first arranger to successfully employ shock tactics seamlessly, in the nicest possible way, in a simple song.
No need for altered chords in the bridge since we’re still reeling from that heavenly harmony. In complete contrast to singer Day’s strident strains, Farnon opted for a beautiful more laid back violin solo guaranteed to produce the inevitable goose pimples. The strings still enriched with that burst of musical uranium, wind down for more conventional chords. Then the orchestra sort of hovers, as if deciding what to do next. The woodwind, minus the rhythm section, repeats the bridge.
In the final 8 bars Farnon again turns up the heat with some magical examples of his own particular brand of slightly dissonant chords. The strings and woodwind suddenly slow down bringing this Great American Songbook standard to a perfectly natural Farnon finish with the guitar having the final say. Fain and Webster must have wondered what hit them!
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was my good friend composer and arranger Cyril Watters who first extolled the virtues of composer Frederic Curzon to me. Certainly there’s absolutely no doubt he was a superb craftsman. As a child I was already aware of his work especially in connection with the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Quite clearly though Curzon also had a flare for unusual titles like the eye-catching and indeed ear-catching Dance Of An Ostracised Imp written in 1940. It must have been bad enough being an imp without being ostracised as well, but somehow the composer managed to cleverly encapsulate this unwelcome mischievous child, elf or demon. So with a little help from Curzon, let’s try and get under the skin of an imp and find out what makes it so sociably unacceptable.
It’s unusual for a tambourine to appear in a light orchestral piece, but the jingle rattle off beats from this small single-headed drum of Arabic origin adds something to the mix. After quickly setting the scene with a four bar vamp (not unlike the clip clop rhythm of a horse), the strings enter with the tune in the key of G, but after only two bars are hijacked by the flute for another two bars in E flat. Back in G, the strings cut in for a further two while the waiting flute pounces yet again grabbing another two in E flat. Now in the key of B, the strings remind me of the opening phrase of Buttons and Bows.
And so this constant game of bouncing the melody between the two sections continues for 24 bars. More charitably it could I suppose be described as sharing and caring! Perhaps it’s the classical way of “trading phrases” like musicians in small-group jazz take it in turns to play solos. Dance Of An OstracisedImp is in many ways a modulatory nightmare keeping the listener on his/her toes trying to guess the next unexpected harmony. On first hearing some of the changes may seem a bit unconnected, but in the final analysis it all makes musical sense.
And then the cheeky imp emerging from its grotto makes its first appearance for the following 16 bars in the guise of an oboe. There’s a suggestion of Sidney Torch’s Comic Cuts about the orchestration. It cunningly darts about all over the place dreaming up trouble for whoever or wherever it fancies. The opening section is then fully repeated.
A 16 bar bridge begins with a very rich sustained note played by the lower G of the violins. Decorative woodwind dance above in various keys continuing the harmonic freedom of the first chorus. And then the imp re-emerges for another16 bars. The final 24 lead to a sudden coda with a giggling bassoon offering it up to pizzicato strings who end the piece, but not before the tambourine puts in a brief last appearance.
In some ways Dance Of An Ostracised Imp anticipates Robert Farnon because of its unconventional juxtapositions of harmony. However Curzon’s orchestral texture isn’t as light or as inventive as Farnon’s. Right near the end, I almost expected to hear the closing cascading strings of Farnon’s arrangement of Would YouLike To Take A Walk. They would have fitted Dance Of An Ostracised Imp like a glove.
Analysed by Robert Walton
Bronislaw Kaper had much in common with Victor Young. Firstly they were both Polish, could turn their hand to any sort of music, composed many film scores and as songwriters wrote some important popular standards. Three of Young’s were Stella by Starlight, My Foolish Heart and When I Fall in Love , while Kaper’s two major contributions were On Green Dolphin Street and Invitation.
Kaper was also capable of occasionally coming up with what can only be described as a pure light orchestral gem. The 1956 movie “Forever Darling” produced exactly that - Confetti . In fact it bore an uncanny resemblance to the British mood music model of the 1940s and 50s especially that of Robert Farnon. Did Kaper quite independently conceive this composition or was he directly influenced by what was happening across the pond? Judging by his songs, Kaper was more jazz orientated than most of the veteran Hollywood composers so would have had no problem with something bop influenced. In England, the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra gave definitive performances of this kind of material but the nearest thing in America just had to be the MGM Studio Orchestra conducted by Johnny Green which recorded Confetti . (Incidentally it was played by the John Wilson Orchestra at the 2013 BBC Proms as part of “Hollywood Rhapsody”).
Time now to follow the paper trail of Confetti , and discover what, if anything, we can learn from it. For starters the $64,000 question is who arranged Confetti? Was it Conrad Salinger? The percussion section was an integral part of the orchestration playing a vital role in the soundtrack of “Forever Darling” featuring tubular bells and snare drums.
The thrilling opening clearly has ‘Hollywood’ written all over it, sounding very much like title music. For a moment it could have almost been the start of Starlight Roof Waltz by the Melachrino Orchestra. All through the drum driven military style introduction we get constant hints of what is to come. By the time the melody starts, we’ve got the general idea. It’s like eager racehorses behind the starting gate that can’t wait to get away. Shortly after we’re up and running, the Farnon influence kicks in with the first of two bursts of exciting woodwind. We have lift off! They might be fiendishly difficult but the MGM players take it all in their stride. Then the answering phrase goes into the soaring string sound of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra with three jazzy discords of American brashness before returning to the jagged tune.
And before you can say ‘David Rose’ we’re into the kind of bridge dreamt up by the London born maestro. The strings, supported by a brilliant brass section, having gone up a gear, are now ‘singing’ their hearts out. Then the brass showing you what they’re made of go soli with the ever energetic woodwind.
Just like the beginning, the orchestra gives us as much time as we need to prepare for the thrilling final chorus. Then after those soaring strings reappear for the last time, we find ourselves in the coda where the orchestra employs all sorts of delaying tactics like toying with the tune and guiding us gradually towards a show stopping last chord reminiscent of Alcan Highway .
The building blocks of Confetti have come a long circuitous route from Los Angeles (David Rose) via London (Robert Farnon) and finally coming home to Hollywood and Bronislaw Kaper. To acknowledge a multinational musical marriage created by an American, a Canadian and a Pole, let’s celebrate this meeting of minds with those tiny pieces of paper of various shapes and colours!
The MGM recording of Confetti is available on the Guild CD of the same name (GLCD 5175)[See also this page ]
By William Zucker
For those following my Notes and Suggestions on Performance series dealing mainly with works in the serious repertoire with an inclusion of a few light music selections, they may well be forgiven for wondering what exactly I'm pursuing in this essay - supposedly presuming that I'm referring to some pop number in the Latin manner of a sort such as might come from the hands of perhaps Xavier Cugat, Perez Prado, and the like.
This will take a bit of explaining before I get on with the actual essay, as, just as I have stated many times, I will only pick up on a piece that in some manner or form has impressed me as to its inherent substance.
First of all, in regard to the composer - his full name was Salvador Camarata, popularly known as "Tutti" Camarata, from the fact that he was a trumpet player, and thus somehow picked up the nickname of "Tootie" which stuck, but in point of fact, though a conductor of light music, perhaps not as well known as he might be, both his arrangements and his compositions have a notable individuality to them, fully worth cultivating.
He actually acquired full training in the serious classical field, and came out with a number of recordings that cross over into that genre of music - and produced some noteworthy arrangements in that area - notably a complete orchestration of MacDowell's Woodland Sketches, along with some orchestral realizations of operatic arias, in particular some by Puccini which many including myself might actually consider as more fulfilling than their originals by virtue of added compositional touches, mostly from a structural aspect.
He became interested in various types of popular music as well, associated briefly with Jimmy Dorsey's band, becoming a staff arranger for that aggregate, as well as playing lead trumpet with that and other notable bands of that era, besides working with vocalists in the popular field.
During the war, he was called to England by the J. Arthur Rank organization to score for a film in production entitled, "London Town," and while in England met Sir Edward Lewis who was the CEO for British Decca records. The two formed a very close professional association and together formed London Records, which was planned to be the outlet in the USA for British Decca.
Once this had been established, he made a few recordings on this newly formed label, leading an aggregate known as the "Kingsway Symphony Orchestra," and amongst the few selections that he cut was included the selection under discussion here.
Upon returning to the USA, he continued making more recordings for American Decca (not to be confused with the entity mentioned above), featuring many outstanding arrangements along with some of his own compositions of great individuality. These were all prized by those familiar with them, but unfortunately, this period of his career did not last long.
He was contacted by the Walt Disney organization to produce records for that entity, and eventually wound up as a record producer and executive, sponsoring some notable stars including Annette Funicello who was a discovery of his, but his actual work as a recording artist became infrequent, and the individual quality of what he had turned out during the late 40's and early 50's was regretfully never equaled, at least in this opinion, for based on his accomplishments of those earlier years, he had a lot to offer that was highly individual, but most light music specialists of today provide him with very little attention.
As for his artistic accomplishments of those earlier years, one could say that he produced arrangements that were very substantial musically, aside from writing pieces with a Latin or jazzy swing that nevertheless have very strong classical characteristics - harmonic language, formal structure, instrumentation, all of which he could impart to his pieces despite their frankly pop attitudes to them. To describe any of these works as "light music" might be stretching things just a bit, but the music is definitely not in the class of what is commonly categorized as "easy listening," and those who are expecting that sort of quality might be well advised to turn elsewhere, as in particular his compositions are not of a sort that admit of easy assimilation on a first hearing.
However, these works make sufficient use of traditional materials to enable a listener to maintain bearings, yet are notably individual to the point that they cannot be readily compared to other genres - they do not fall into a category that can be easily pigeon-holed, but nonetheless demonstrate that one does not necessarily have to visit cultures in remote parts of the globe to experience a type of music that may be considered different from what one may be accustomed to.
For now, enough of these preliminary introductory notes, and to get on with the piece at hand. But first I would like to point out that Morton Gould, in the earlier part of his career, also composed a piece by the same title, "Rumbalero," which is a cheerful, pleasant novelty number that could be described as light music. The Camarata composition under discussion here is a grimly serious piece in its bearings, and with a degree of stature such that around the time it appeared it was highly acclaimed by light music specialists if not by the listening public to the same extent; becoming in effect almost a "cult piece." There were a few recordings of it aside from the composer's own, and I remember in 1953 listening to a broadcast of a Paul Whiteman concert within which this piece was presented and received with great enthusiasm. And on a program of light music broadcast over a New York station that I regularly listened to, the announcer, whenever this selection was featured, would say, "Camarata's great recording of Rumbalero," implying that the piece already had a certain reputation attached to it.
To get now to the piece itself - it opens with the rhythm section introducing the basic pulsating rhythm which might be described as "quasi rumba-like," save for the fact that this is certainly not meant as an accompaniment to ballroom dancing despite this background, although a formal dance scenario with choreography would actually work quite well in conjunction with it.
The rhythmic accompaniment continues almost incessantly throughout the piece, which begins with a bare harmonic outline, to set the stage for the melody of the main section when it finally enters after eight measures. And as I do so often when providing suggestions for performance, I must caution the conductor to keep the tempo rigidly steady - there is no occasion in this entire piece that calls for any quickening or broadening of the basic tempo, and the music's inherent quality of inexorability will be conveyed more effectively.
The main idea of the first section, is a sinuous melody starting with a long note, ultimately being repeated in a cross rhythm of triplet quarters which goes against the basic meter and from which there is a skip upwards, after which it proceeds upwards stepwise chromatically. A slight dynamic inflection to respond to this movement as well as its restatement reaching farther upward would not be amiss at this point.
This rhythmic pattern repeats itself as the motive is restated in various melodic shapes. After a short extension, we have a repetition of the main idea, in a fuller instrumentation, and on this occasion, against the longer notes in the latter half of the motive (suspension and resolution), there is counterpoint in this cross rhythm triplet quarter movement. Henceforth, this new addition will appear at all restatements of this main idea when it reappears later on in the piece.
The harmonic pattern is of some interest as well, as it is quite pervasive throughout much of the presentation of the main idea. It takes the form almost of a changing note, for want of a better description, by use of the harmony a half step below the main major harmony, so that this fluctuates back and forth, in this case between F Major and E Major (even if over a tonic pedal on occasion). This will similarly occur in the second half of the idea, commencing on the subdominant B Flat Major, similarly shifting back and forth with the major harmony a half step down - A Major. This harmonic movement tends to give this idea quite a unique quality. And I should further point out that at times, the chromatic half step undulation works in contrary motion so that the alternative harmonies play off against one another, which also makes for a very individual effect.
After this is finally disposed of, we have another phrase extension, serving as a bridge leading to the presentation of the second idea. The dynamics, which should always be inflected to follow the rise and fall of the main idea, can similarly afford to be modified as the top line reaches upward to successively higher intervals before finally descending scalewise chromatically. Against this, there is a tenor line which rises chromatically in contrary motion.
The second idea now upon us contrasts with the first in a very interesting manner, being generally more "muscular" in feeling as distinct from the lyricism of the first idea, but the movement to be seen here is far more conjunct, with less of a reliance on intevallic skips.
The rhythm is syncopated to a degree, in direct contradiction to the pulse over a two measure stretch, and both the bass and top line parallel each other in that respect, leaving only the last four eighth notes in the second measure as "straight," with a repeated note in the top part and a steadily rising bass chromatically, which should swell dynamically to those last four eighth notes and then immediately pull back as the parts then move away from one another by contrary motion.
These two bars are repeated and then the total four bars restated in a higher register up a fourth which would call for stronger dynamics in response.
The second portion of this idea consists of pairs of chords which in a sense take up full measures although the first is slurred to the second which is immediately quitted, an accent being applied in all cases. And in the space in the measure left by the second chords in the set, the interstices, though following in sequence each time, are notably different whenever this idea is repeated. The harmonies themselves, proceeding by fourths and fifths, are strictly classical in procedure, "textbook" if one wishes to describe them, so that there is no likelihood that the listener will have trouble in following their progress.
There is a slight extension over a melodic ostinato with the notes D Flat-C-B Flat continually undulating back and forth, over a C dominant, but with a lowered fifth G Flat in the mix to add to the tension.
The section is once again repeated, in an enhanced presentation with fuller scoring, with everything following as before except for the interstices between the pairs of chords already referred to. When we arrive at the melodic ostinato, it repeats itself again and again, with the tension that should be permitted to build up almost unbearably, and eventually, with this ostinato quickened to notes of half the value, and with an E appearing over the top forming an out and out augmented sixth chord, at which moment there should be an enormous final push to the ongoing crescendo, at the end of which where it finally snaps, the harmonic resolution at this point marks the clear climax to the preceding, although it is a sharply accented staccato, following which only the rhythmic accompanying figure remains, along with simple melodic commentary fluctuating back and forth chromatically.
From this high point follows a long diminuendo, almost tortuous in its course, maintaining the F Major (tonic) /E Major juxtaposition we had at first until we finally settle down into a relatively less agitated emotional state and resume the first idea which restates itself structurally as before, though with considerable elaboration in the background, maintaining a feeling of latent restlessness, as the dynamic level is somewhat higher and the scoring somewhat heavier than we had at first. It goes without saying that as against this heavier scoring, every effort must be expended to insure the prominence of the main melody in the foreground, especially in the measures where it has longer notes, to enable it to be heard in full integrity.
When we arrive at the bridge passage leading to the second idea, the melodic line at this point is somewhat varied, reaching up by skip to different intervals than we had at first. As an aside, I should point out that in a version currently extant on YouTube (unfortunately not the composer's own) which is extremely poor in clarity, the indigenous rising tenor line is doubled high up above by an instrument that suggests a celesta - totally out of place in this context aside from obscuring the interesting variant in the melodic line - such intrusion, whether actually in the score or not, is something that by all odds should be eliminated, although it is not apparent in the composer's own recorded presentation.
The restatement of the second idea thus duly arrives in a punctual manner, and everything remains structurally the same as on the first occasion with this increased and steadily increasing scoring, save for the differences in the interstices between the slurred pairs of chords already referred to. When we arrive at the melodic ostinato which comes at the end of the statement, we eventually get that same quickening to half value notes, but on this occasion, instead of a steady build up to a resolution as before, we pass immediately to a grand restatement of the first idea in the entire brass section led by the horns. And the effect of the basic harmonies juxtaposed with those a half step down is further expanded by the use of minor sevenths and ninths added to the harmonies.
After the one statement, the F-B Natural C-germ of the idea is repeated a few times, the second part of the main idea is stated one last time, and before concluding it breaks off, affording us four measures of unaccompanied rhythm instruments that maintain the pulse.
After this four measure display, the three note germ is once again repeated in various elaborations, until the final cadence, occasioned by the off beat reiteration of a French augmented sixth, letting up at the end to resolve, followed in the last measure by a soft F octave, a most singular ending for a piece that can generate a great deal of tension as it presents itself.
As I have stated earlier, this piece was very highly acclaimed by light music specialists at the time it appeared in the early 1950's, and in fact, for those who can readily respond to it, it is musically a rather substantial piece for its genre, and although perhaps forgotten today except by those specialists I refer to, it really does deserve to be kept alive for the very qualities it possesses, even though it perhaps might not be a piece that will yield its full essence on a very first hearing, as it in fact took a few hearings for me to discover its secrets.
As usual, I welcome all comments.
MILOŠ: BLACKBIRD – The Beatles Album
Mercury Classics 482310
For his fourth album Miloš Karadaglić, the 32-year-old award-winning classical guitarist from Montenegro, gives us his distinctive “take” on 15 songs written by the Beatles [John Lennon & Paul McCartney and George Harrison] – music that seems to appeal to all ages – and a very good album it is, too. It was recorded in the famous Studio 2 at Abbey Road, London with some of the microphones used by the original Fab Four. There are just two vocals: Let It Be, for me a standout track from the behatted jazz/soul/gospel singer Gregory Porter and a moving She’s Leaving Home by Tori Amos, the eight times US Grammy nominated singer-songwriter. Our own world-renowned cellist Steven Isserlis is featured on Michelle and the sitar player Anoushka Shankar on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Several tracks also have some string accompaniment including The Fool on the Hill, And I Love Her, Eleanor Rigby, Something and HereComes the Sun. That big favourite Yesterday is in the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s classic solo guitar arrangement. At just under 45 minutes this release might be short on quantity [the Beatles did write over 200 songs!] but for quality of performance and recording it can barely be faulted.
COPLAND : Orchestral Works 1 - Ballets BBC Philharmonic / John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5164
Reviewed by Peter Burt
Aaron Copland (1900-90) was probably America’s greatest native-born composer. His continuing popularity primarily, although not solely, rests on his three folksy ballets. These are meat and drink to former RFS member and BBC Proms favourite John Wilson, with the BBC Philharmonic responding so well to his conducting that memories of Leonard Bernstein are sometimes evoked. On an album of 79½ minutes duration the first two items are the familiar Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), and El Salón México (1932-38), which widely uses Mexican folk melodies. The Suite from ‘Billy The Kid’ (1938) is well-known for its incorporation of several cowboy tunes and American folk songs. ‘Rodeo’ (1942) is in similar vein but leaves the folk element relatively intact with very little alteration on the part of the composer . Of the Four Dance Episodes here the final Hoe-Down is great fun. The well-known last variation in the Suite from ‘Appalachian Spring’ (1943-4) is the Shaker tune Simple Gifts that Sydney Carter used for his hymn Lord of the Dance . Chandos deliver their usual high quality sound and I look forward to further releases in the series.
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was in 1959 that the original Gang Show producer Ralph Reader wrote Strollin’, the song most associated with Bud Flanagan. Two years later in 1961 Robert Farnon composed the mood music equivalent, Strolling Home.
A one-finger piano in the style of Gordon Jenkins (sometimes in octaves) plays with a small string section. This laid back 1930’s type tune has a rhythm reminiscent of the clip clopping of a slow horse in a western. It clearly calls to mind Laurel & Hardy’s unhurried approach to Brushwood Gulch accompanied by a mule in “Way out West”. It’s also the sort of tempo associated with the Ink Spots.
The opening two notes of the intro are identical to Willie Nelson’s song Crazy made famous by Patsy Cline. After a short lead-in (the first of many sustained string passages), the actual melody starts out as if it’s going into These Foolish Things. As the piece progresses the ghost of Carroll Gibbons pervades the performance, though not in the decorative sense. In this case the piano fills owe more to ragtime. And then to end the phrase, Farnon’s melody once more quotes from Crazy while the harp wraps things up. Then something highly unusual happens. Normally after 16 bars you’d expect the tune to go into the bridge but Farnon repeats the last 4 bars of the chorus.
Now it’s really time to go to the bridge in a new key with the laid back strings now in the driving seat. After a suggestion of Have You EverBeen Lonely, the delightful middle melody provides the perfect contrast to the earlier sleepy piano, although even this section isn’t going anywhere fast! And waiting in the wings our soloist is gently awakened for a rerun of the opening. Again the harp finishes the phrase. Then the strings join the piano that eventually modulates twice, before going into Tom and Jerry mode for a soft landing/ending.
This is yet another example of Robert Farnon’s ability to turn his talent to almost any kind of music. Unlike his established compositions, this utterly simple instrumental is a rarity. Despite that, any perceptive Farnon fan will soon sus out the identity of the composer from those little touches he never lost. So whether you’re Strolling Home after walking the dog or returning from the pub, what emerges is an air of total tranquility. In other words, perfect retirement music!
The Chappell recording of Strolling Home is available on the Guild CD “Holidays for Strings” (GLCD 5189)
Analysed by Robert Walton
There can’t be many arrangements which are defined by a constant brass interjection, but that’s the very thing that attracted me to Wagon Lit . It’s a typical Torch touch on which the whole composition rests and is perfectly in keeping with his strict policy of crispness. This syncopated feature is first heard just after the third beat of the opening bar of the tune; in fact the second quaver of the third beat. Yes, I know it’s an unlikely component of a chart to choose, but this accentuation, part and parcel of the rhythm of a train, is somehow crying out to be noticed. You may have spotted the composition is slightly more subdued than most instrumental train records, perhaps giving consideration to the passengers in the sleeping compartment of this European railroad car!
Starting out on a bright and breezy note, Wagon Lit quickly gets into its stride with a perky little tune punctuated by the said staccato insertion that only Torch, a master ‘painter’ of mood music could create. Although the orchestration is basically lighthearted, there’s an element of drama and excitement too. And then taking a brief break from all this musical sandwiching, the brass takes over the tune in a new key. Before returning to the original key, Torch brilliantly brings the orchestra back down to earth free falling no less than nine times caught very neatly in a safety net by the harp. But no sooner has the first chorus finished, than Torch retains this wonderful sense of fun and freedom with brass and pizzicato strings darting about. Finally a French horn heralds the middle section.
For once we can quite legitimately call this a ‘bridge’, the word not unconnected to a train. But an engineer called Rose who just happened to be very keen on trains himself originally designed this one! After that monumental moment in light orchestral history with his Holiday for Strings, subdivisions like this provided the perfect contrast to busier openings. Of course Torch made them entirely his own, like this one which sort of creeps in with nothing to indicate its about to start. But when it does, this gentle song-like tune provides the perfect causeway. Halfway through, the maestro can’t resist one of his favourite sounds, pizzicato strings. After the brass job-share an upwardly mobile broken chord, arco strings with more feeling and tension, leave us in no doubt that the main melody is about the return.
Which means of course we’re back to that delightful opening with those persistent trumpets slotting in at the exact moment with the now familiar exclamation. Torch never wasted a good idea so it was no surprise that he ended Wagon Lit in the same way as he embellished it. His imagination and arranging skill could well have been acquired from his organ playing days when he was required to improvise on occasions. Incidentally in that early part of his career he also caught the baton-waving bug.
Wagon Lit might not have been such a high profile number in its day, probably because it wasn’t available commercially, but after having been neglected for so long, I would thoroughly recommend you to give it a listen. The art of Sidney Torch is a wonder to behold. And with the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by the composer it’s a bonus.
The original Chappell recording of Wagon Lit is available on the Guild CD "The 1940s" (GLCD 5102)
An article by William Zucker
At this time of the year, the air waves are bombarded with broadcasts of Christmas carols almost non-stop, which of course we have come to expect as part of the holiday season. With some of this material or at least manner of presentation in some cases, the material is of such a quality that one could mildly regret that we do not get to hear some of it at other times of the year. The symbolic connotations, of course, is the raison d' etre for what we are hearing, not so much the actual material.
Certainly in the case of certain classical works, such as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker or Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve, one could ask that question. Regarding the Nutcracker, it is entirely possible that we might hear the familiar suite from time to time at concerts; however, it is almost certain that dance companies will not pick it up during the year at large when the seasonal presentations have become almost obligatory.
One item which has fallen into such a category, although such was apparently not always the case, has been Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. One of its composer's finest pieces, I would venture to say that it was composed as an individual picture or vignette in exactly the same manner as many of his other such pieces, without any thought whatever being given to the holiday season and that holiday season only. But because we are nowadays bombarded with it in presentations that are thoroughly bowdlerized, even when the original version appears, it is desirable to take stock of what is happening with this piece compared to what it was when it first came out, and probably not written, let alone conceived, during the holiday season.
We hear many of Leroy Anderson's pieces at open air concerts of light music, and they have been amply and frequently recorded, albeit with variable results. Hearing what I am now hearing every day from PA and sound systems in restaurants, etc. makes me extremely desirous to discard this and return to the original conception from the early 1950s.
I will add, however, that the adding of words such as supplied by Mitchell Parish, appears harmless to me in that sense. What I'm concerned about is the composer's original conception being turned into something not originally indigenous to the piece.
I would appear to be contradicting myself when I repeatedly say that I'm no authenticist, that I insist on taking serious works in the manner that has been accepted over the years, regardless of what original audiences might have heard. But I take each piece of music on its own merits, as I find it, and approach it accordingly to attempt to make it sound better as I see it. In the present case we are dealing with a period of 60 or so years, well within a lifetime, where one can actually be witness to some of the as I see it unwelcome changes that have occurred, actually not only with this piece, but with many others of Mr. Anderson's. It is a special issue here because it has been detached from its original settings and made to serve a totally different function during the holiday season. We are not dealing with "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night," or "Adeste Fidelis" here, even though Mr. Anderson has turned out some really wonderful arrangements of carols, along with a medley I refer to as the Christmas Festival Overture. This latter is a totally separate issue, although one can still judge those from the point of view of Leroy Anderson rather than Christmas.
With Sleigh Ride, the subject of this essay, I would like to return once and for all to the original presentation when the work was first recorded by the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler. I should hasten to add that in most cases regarding Leroy Anderson presentations, I would recommend the composer's original - not subsequent - recordings, but in a few instances including this one I would instead recommend the recordings as made by Mr. Fiedler as better presenting the composer's own wishes and ideas.
The matter of music for the holiday season is a matter in itself outside the scope of this essay. My concern is with the particular piece under consideration, and to return it to the setting within which it was originally conceived, as a separate vignette in itself possibly having no connection with the holiday season originally, but rather as part of a group of light orchestral novelty numbers.
To begin with, the whole needs to be taken in a far more relaxed, leisurely tempo than is commonly done today, and the tempo once established in this manner must be held throughout. Following the introduction, the main idea gets its full due as usual, but the inner tenor voice should be clearly heard, not in a melodic sense but rather as a means of filling in the very cogent harmonic movement. This is a characteristic feature of this composer, and one would do well to give it attention in that aspect. There is a slight swelling at the end of the phrase coincident with the harmonic progression prior to the repetition of the idea.
On the second strain, it must be seen to that the clippety clop of the wood blocks must never be permitted to overtake or drown out the melodic elements taking place. Looking once again at the inner tenor voice, it is to be noted that on the repetition the line skips upward by a seventh into the higher octave. This is a very witty effect and may be brought out by a very subtle dynamic inflection.
When the first idea returns on this occasion, responding to the use of enhanced forces, it is to be given with plenty of dynamic energy, even though the compositional substance of the original remains the same. The tempo of course remains constant.
After a short transition with an accompanying diminuendo, we arrive at the middle section. In order for the main idea, admittedly not an ambitious one as it mainly consists of a repeated note before arriving at its culmination, to which there should be a slight dynamic increase. The percussion effects, including the clop-clop of the wood block and the whip effect, must never be permitted to obtrude the melodic effect; however, the held tenor note in tenuto may be swelled somewhat in approaching the culmination of the phrase, exactly as with the top part.
At the end of this section, the declamation on a D dominant (from G Major) changes to an F dominant as preparation for the return. I would configure the harmony at this latter point so that the F is more prominent, in view of the return to the principal key of B Flat Major.
The original idea, when it returns, is given a rather jazzy, swing type rhythm, an effect that Mr. Anderson frequently throws into his conceptions, with varied results; however, in this case it works splendidly. The most should be made of this novel version, with the rhythms fully accentuated. On the repetition, we have a more muscular version of the same idea, with a B Flat-D-E Flat-E Natural-F ostinato (the last two in half time eighth notes), the effect of which is even more successful than the first version. And the conclusion of this phrase ends on an off beat with emphasis, another typical effect employed by Mr. Anderson to good purpose.
The second strain now follows, in a condition precisely as on the first occasion; however, when the main idea returns, it is this time presented very delicately, and in a continual diminuendo. On the last phrase, we reach to a key remotely distant - a tritone away - and then proceed from that point forward by fifths (always in diminuendo) until at the end of the phrase we arrive punctually at the original tonic.
Following the expansion of same (reminiscent of the opening accompaniment at the outset before the original idea began), the harmony changes momentarily to a Neapolitan chord C Flat-E Flat-F over which we hear what is evidently meant to imitate the whinnying of a horse; however, whatever the intent, it should never sound too strident, as the overall effect should be that the piece is winding down.
On the resolution back to B Flat, the final emphasis should be directed at the two last B Flat unisons which conclude the piece.
This piece really does deserve greater respect on its own terms than it has received in more recent years. I have read that Mr. Anderson, in his work, has brought in some novel instruments to add color and spice to his work. All power to those who can enjoy this sort of thing, but I must say, my view of his work is totally different. I do not wish to see or hear him spoken of as though he were Spike Jones, and though he apparently was diffident about it, his music really is strong enough to stand on its own, to speak on its own terms for itself, without the need for any extra-musical elements that at times really do spoil what he has set out to accomplish. The inherent quality of the music is far above what even he himself may have thought of it, whether he wished it or not - perhaps "overqualified" would be a good word to describe what I am attempting to describe. There is far too much refinement in the music for an excess of these sound effects to be absorbed in the basic conception to any great extent, and I consider this as a compliment of his work in the most sincere sense, regardless of whether he might have agreed had I ever been able to convey my thoughts directly to him.
As usual, I welcome all comments; as much with commentary in this music as well as with those on more involved pieces that I have written on.
An article by William Zucker
In the course over the years of collecting recordings of light music, reading books on the subject, or looking at YouTube postings, I became aware of the fact that exactly as with serious music, there are segments of this repertoire that remain unknown even to interested specialists, for which there are historically many reasons. Before going into these, I have to first point out that all forms of music, whether light or serious, are received by their recipients in widely divergent manners.
Some listen to these selections of whatever genre very attentively, carefully noting the various features and details along the way while others simply submerge themselves in a wash of sound without attending any further to the source, and be it noted, this latter method of reception, for want of a better word, may occur in more serious forms of music as well, particularly with the more impressionistic variety, exemplified by such composers as Debussy and Delius but not necessarily limited to those.
Without going further afield, I would like to examine the reasons why much of the music of the light music variety has remained a virtual closed book to many exploring this field. I should hasten to add a disclaimer that if any of my assumptions given herein are incorrect for any reason, I will welcome any explanatory comments to clarify any issues that I have raised. Also, I should point out that there may be a degree of overlap between the various categories that I have outlined below.
1 - Released on other than First Rank Labels. - If an artist recorded for other than one of the big name record labels, the chances are that he did not receive the same degree of promotion and publicity as might otherwise have been the case, so that many artists recording under such auspices might in time fall by the wayside, forgotten even to the specialist, regardless of any intrinsic merit in what the artist has produced.
One such artist who immediately comes to mind is Domeinco Savino, who was a venerated composer and arranger of light music selections well known and appreciated during the late 1930's through the early 1950's, composing music for films in addition. His recordings under his own name appeared on the Kapp label, which was in existence for a number of years but hardly to be described as front rank. Later on, some further selections of his appeared on the Camden label which was RCA Victor's budget label given to recordings that previously appeared under the artist's name but apparently for contractual reasons were given a "nom de disc" although alert record collectors could shrewdly guess the real names of the performers and orchestras.
In the case of Mr. Savino, he recorded for this Camden label using the name "David Whitehall," although anyone already familiar with his work on the Kapp label would immediately recognize his style and manner. In this opinion, the arrangements and many original compositions to be heard from these sources are of exemplary quality and are thoroughly recommendable. His masterpiece is undoubtedly a suite of selections entitled "Portraits of Italy," contained in a complete album, which by all odds should be listened to from beginning to end and not excerpted. Unfortunately, much of his accomplishments lie almost totally forgotten today. On YouTube one can catch a single solitary selection from one of his Kapp albums, indicating how interest in his work has unjustly waned over the years.
The Camden label also offered an album of rather ancient vintage, judging by the sound quality, of some wonderful selections presented by Dolf van der Linden which today have virtually disappeared from sight. I have had occasion to refer to some of the selections from this album in a recent article on this site; "Differing Versions of the Same Set Light Music Selections."
2 - Format Never Updated. - Many selections during the 1940's and early 1950's released as 45 or 78 RPM singles or albums of such singles under one bound album never made it to a 33 1/3 LP format or later type of presentation, but rather remained in their original format and thus unperpetuated for the benefit of later listeners and even interested specialists in light music. It covers a vast area, and regrettably, Reuben Musiker, in his otherwise excellent book on the subject of light music, declined to cover it, although in his defense, I would own that it is excessively large in extent; however, this omission would appear to accentuate the problem.
I will run quickly over some of the items that at this point would be overlooked by listeners and interested specialists of today.
Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler - three singles came out during the early 1950's featuring selections that never made it to LP despite their considerable merit, consisting of "Delicado" (Azevedo) with "Francesca" (Feller), "No Strings Attached" (Hayman) with "Wing Ding" (Singer), and "Song from Moulin Rouge" (Auric) with "Doo-Wacka-Doodle" (Singer). Three of these selections competed directly with versions by others which may have some bearing; nevertheless, all these settings were sufficiently outstanding in themselves to warrant greater familiarity, despite popularity charts extolling their competition.
Camarata - I refer here to the entire group of recordings he made on the London/Decca label, which existed in a singles album of 45/78 RPM discs, but were never transferred to LP. Although many of those in this group touched a more serious genre, the selections of interest here are Leroy Anderson's "Fiddle Faddle" in what may have been the piece's very first recording, along with Mr.Camarata's own "Rumbalero," "Rhapsody for Saxophone," and "Fingerbustin'," as well as Landes nee Hamner's "The Breeze," and an exemplary if drastically abbreviated version of Toye's "The Haunted Ballroom." None of these selections are in common currency today amongst light music specialists. On the American Decca label, there is one single disc I would mention: Mr. Camarata's own "The Fluter's Samba" with "Cuban Nightingale." Both of these selections use a chorus which adds to their attractiveness but neither has ever made it into an LP album to be perpetuated from the time they appeared.
David Rose - It may be surprising that this figure would even fall into this category, as virtually everything that he recorded, even his early attempts on RCA Victor, made it into an LP album or else some subsequent compilation, but nevertheless, there in fact are some recordings he made from his early MGM days that have faded into total oblivion, for no conceivable reason I can imagine. These were Friml's "Song of the Vagabonds" which wound up missing from just about every listing of his recordings; "Misirlou," made at about the same time, fared little better. Both of these are noteworthy arrangements that have deserved a better fate than virtual disappearance from catalogue listings and consequently, accessibility.
Victor Young - Some time during the 1930's or 1940's - hopefully I can obtain at some point an accurate date - Mr. Young collaborated with a lyricist, Edward Heyman, to produce a musical entitled "A La Carte." The musical excerpts from this production appeared in an album of single 78 RPM discs. One of the selections from this production, entitled "There's No Man Like A Snowman," has endeared itself to me to the point that I've thoroughly familiarized myself with it and can perform it handily. Unfortunately, here too it is a case of what I consider thoroughly meritorious material having never made it into an LP recording so that its perpetuation would be enabled.
Percy Faith - One disc here comes to mind - "Amorada" (original recording) with "Funny Fellow," a curious omission from any album of his exemplary work from his earlier years, especially when virtually everything else he recorded has been preserved in LP and subsequent albums.
Henri Rene - His wonderful setting of Pryor's "The Whistler and His Dog" I have had occasion to mention a few times already, tragically having fallen totally out of sight in the world of light music.
Mantovani - Here I refer to the numerous single discs he came out with in the earliest part of his career, which I will cover under the next category.
3 - Overshadowed by More Spectacular Accomplishments - In many cases, an artist commands attention for some factor in his work that tends to divert attention away from other and often equally if not more meritorious accomplishments, a situation in all parts of the musical field, with serious as well as light music that is far from uncommon.
Many years ago, I was conversing with a colleague in the serious field who happened to express an interest in light music of the sort under discussion (and who was enthusiastic about Robert Farnon in particular). I happened to bring up Mantovani in conversation, and his expression immediately changed, thinking almost reflexively of the cascading strings effect which has eternally been associated with Mantovani's name. It was a feature that he was less than enthusiastic about, and I must say that I am hardly a fan of it myself, finding it rather campy and even mawkish. My colleague was very surprised to find out about this artist's earlier recordings, made before he adopted that effect, and I encouraged him to listen to as many of those as he could lay his hands on, as I still do today to other light music specialists.
These early recordings to which I refer were all available here in the USA at the time they were released, although many listeners, apparently distracted by the novel string effect featured in the recordings that came out later, virtually ignored the earlier ones unjustly despite their considerable merit. A few of them did make it into LP albums but many did not, ultimately rendering them a closed book to those who would explore this field. Some dozen singles (including a few that were on 12" discs) were released during the late 40's and early 50's falling into this category - the list of selections is too large for a detailed listing to be provided here, but upon request I will be happy to furnish specifics.
It was almost a parallel situation with George Melachrino, with whom listeners automatically think of the Melachrino Strings, completely overlooking that many recordings he made used a full orchestra; moreover, he was a respectable composer of light music selections in his own right, as was Mantovani. However, in Melachrino's case, a good many of his singles remained on the HMV label and were not taken over into the American Victor catalogue, as a result of which they were never released in this country, quite unlike the situation with Mantovani. I was able to obtain for myself a very small number of these HMV singles from a specialty record store, but that aside, these recordings remained largely inaccessible here, many remaining unmissed, as most sought out the purely string selections. But one record dealer I visited happened to have an HMV catalogue on hand, and he permitted me to hand copy the listing of Melachrino HMV recordings, there being no copy machines in those days. The list I had thus assembled remained for me as a source of reference for many years.
Most of us when we hear the name of Victor Young automatically bring to mind the numerous film scores that he composed, but not many are aware today that he was a consummate composer and arranger of light music selections. And amongst this latter, not all of these were necessarily for strings alone as may be supposed; in quite a few of them a full orchestra including woodwinds and brass were featured. Here too my list is too extensive to include, but once again I would be more than happy to furnish specific details if requested.
The name Alfred Newman is even more firmly tied with Hollywood film scores, yet he did make a few recordings with an aggregate described as the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra in other genres, most of them of selections more in the serious field. However, two selections for me stand out - his rendition of Lecuona's "Malaguena" is one of the best performed that I know of, and I have mentioned a few times his presentation of Benjamin's "Jamaican Rhumba" in an arrangement by Herb Spencer and Earle Hagen that for me surpasses in interest even the composer's own original setting, let alone the complete transformation of the piece by Percy Faith which is in a category of its own.
Mr. Newman also wrote a piece entitled "Street Scene," which exists in two transmogrifications. The traditional one is far flung and goes through various vividly emotional episodes, and which may be heard in a recording by Morton Gould in his album "Manhattan Moods," and as I have done many times before, I advise the listener to stick with Mr. Gould's original recording on Columbia. However, I vastly prefer the simpler and more sedate setting for strings alone, under the title of "Street Scene - A Sentimental Rhapsody," which may be heard in a recording conducted by Mr. Newman himself. It first appeared in the late 1940s, and was a true classic in its day, but who even among light music enthusiasts is even slightly familiar with it nowadays?
4 - Overshadowed by the Work of Other Artists. - Many of us when dealing with serious classical music, whether we are professionals, amateurs, or simply lay listeners, tend to naturally give first attention to the big names - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc., and in more recent times perhaps Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and I could name a host of others. But if we delve further, going past masters of the second rank (remember that relative ranking is in the province of the individual listener of some experience), we come upon names of composers of genuine merit whose work has unfairly remained a closed book to most, such as Berwald, Svendsen, Halvorsen, Dohnanyi, Weiner, Glazunov, D'Indy, Finzi, Chadwick.
The same is true in the light music field. We automatically think of names like Leroy Anderson, Robert Farnon, Morton Gould, Andre Kostelanetz, David Rose and Percy Faith, and here too we could name several more of whom we might consider the big guns, so to speak. But again, if we dig a bit deeper, we will similarly find music of individuals that have remained largely unfamiliar, though their music might be found to be quite rewarding if one would take the trouble to explore further. The chief problem in many such cases is that they were not prolific and did not contribute much material that has remained available to us. It is in specific cases like this that the Guild series "The Golden Age of Light Music, " can become genuinely beneficial in promoting the work of these lesser known names, by the use of the existing format for such presentations. (I have always opted for single artist recordings for those artists whose contributions have been more voluminous.)
One such name that comes immediately to mind is that of Frank Perkins, whose light music contributions are of a very high quality and which I would readily recommend to enthusiasts of this music, especially to those in the UK who might not have been exposed to it, as this artist was a New Englander and worked entirely within the USA, so that in all likelihood his discs did not travel internationally as much as might be desired.
His song, "Stars Fell on Alabama," became immensely popular would appear to have overshadowed much else that he accomplished. The instrumental selection "Fandango" was also quite well known, though possibly not in his own setting (the Hugo Winterhalter version which made the charts, was quite decent even if widely different from the composer's own). But I would like to mention a 10" LP album "Premiere," which featured eight of his original compositions, perfectly matched so that this album can be enjoyed and listened to from beginning to end (the 12'' expanded LP album broke this continuity somewhat, which is why I refer to and prefer the original smaller format and smaller number of selections offered).
I personally find that this music is not something I have to be in a special mood to listen to, as is the case with the "big guns" I referred to at the beginning of this section. Here the music, while still containing much substance and very far from being superficial or anything like an empty background wash of sound, nevertheless offers its wares with a much lighter touch so that one can feel completely comfortable with it regardless of mood or state of mind. Those I named above would by comparison tend to dig a bit deeper into our sensibilities, almost to the degree of serious, classical music.
One of the many composers whom Dolf van der Linden featured in his numerous recordings was one Emile Deltour, known through Dolf's recordings of his "Fiddles and Bows" and "Polka for Strings" and a few other selections. Not generally known is the fact that Mr. Deltour made a light music album of his own, entitled "Continental Merry-Go- Round," which displayed the same engaging quality in the selections offered that we have come to expect from Dolf.
Norman Greene is a name virtually unknown to light music enthusiasts, and this artist produced extremely few recordings, easily to be overlooked and lost in the shuffle. There was a 10" LP album on an obscure label - Rexford - entitled "Colors by Greene," which consisted of simply routine arrangements of popular standards whose titles bore the names of colors. It was not successful in my opinion; nevertheless this artist still rates mention for a lone single produced on the MGM label with "Blue Porcelain" by Alex Alstone - an incredibly beautiful setting - coupled with Mr. Greene's own "Suspicion," a selection very attractive in its forcefulness and purposefulness. This is another item that should be included in the Guild series, "The Golden Age of Light Music."
And finally, an extremely obscure item that could easily be swept under the rug - I would have overlooked it myself if not for the fact that radio stations back in the 1950s were playing selections from this album, entitled "Musical Notes from a Tourist's Sketch Book," performed by an aggregate entitled, "The World Symphony Orchestra," conducted by one H. J. Lengsfelder. This recording had everything going against it in perpetuation despite the engaging qualities of some of the selections - the conductor and his orchestra being virtually unknown, the relatively small amount of material the group released, the far out of center record label - Request - and the generally meagre sound quality of the recording itself. However, I mention it because one of the selections in the album, frequently exposed in radio broadcasts, was a rather attractive piece entitled "The Typewriter Concerto,"which I will hasten to mention well predated Leroy Anderson's iconic selection, and may well have been the very first to use a typewriter within an orchestra. In my opinion, it does not deserve to take a back seat simply because Anderson's piece is so well known, as it has its own notable qualities.
5 - Inaccessibility. - Most of the factors here have already been covered in some way in previous articles, so that in a sense this is a summing up. I refer to the items from the Chappell Mood Library, many of which could be heard in radio broadcasts of programs of light music or as television signature themes or background music for documentaries. With a very few exceptions, exemplified by three albums of selections performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra released in the USA under the titles "Concert of Popular Music," "Invitation to Romance," and "Very Very Dry," this material was not made commercially available to interested listeners. The three albums I mentioned were for me almost a tease, as from their content I was desperately anxious to obtain more from their source which of course was not forthcoming at the time. For my part, by continual listening to radio broadcasts of light music and noting the various uses on television such as signature themes and in documentaries, I became acquainted with many of these selections, and it was by happy chance that on some occasions I happened to stumble over opportunities to obtain further details such as name and composer.
In one case, a signature theme on television attracted me to such an extent ("Ecstasy" by Felton Rapley, as it turned out), that I decided to call the station to obtain such details, and was given the name of the selection and simply told that it was a Chappell recording. I guessed the composer by comparing it with his better known "Romantic Rhapsody" which I was already familiar with, but it seems a really sorry state of affairs that this was only available to radio and television broadcasting stations but not to the general public until only very recently. This situation is being slowly rectified today as the Chappell vaults are being dipped into bit by bit.
I had occasion above to mention the HMV recordings by George Melachrino that were never released in this country even though local radio stations here were continually broadcasting them on programs of light music despite their general commercial unavailability. But one could probably give plenty of other examples of recordings that for some reason did not travel in either direction across the Atlantic (and by the way, this would include the European continent as well), and if I thought about it for a while, I could probably come up with specific examples here as well. The overall point I am making is that these recordings were completely available to broadcasting companies for their own uses, and could be broadcast to the public, but not commercially released to the public in any manner or form, although some specialty record shops did have their own means of laying their hands on some of them for possible sale to interested purchasers.
This generally covers my survey of items within the light music repertoire that have remained obscure and largely unknown even to interested specialists. It covers a large area and as a consequence I could not hope to touch on everything or present anything that could be regarded as near complete. I will offer any apologies if any of my readers know of some items of this nature that I have not mentioned herein.
As always, I will welcome any comments. I have to very regretfully reflect that if I chanced to have written this article a few years ago, when David was still active at the helm of the RFS, he could have offered me some valuable insights into many of the issues I have raised. But it is only within the last month that I conceived of this idea and decided to put it in writing.