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.
An article by William Zucker.
As this is the height of the summer season we are into at this writing, I prefer to deal with lighter forms of music, assuredly of the same quality as the best in the more serious field.
I have stated on many an occasion that this is a genre that is insufficiently appreciated, and it should be realized that there will be found in this area pieces of fully the same quality as in some of the more profound types. In addition, it is a field that has largely fallen by the wayside, regrettably so, as the audiences for such have been reduced to a relatively small group of listeners and record collectors who have a considerable interest in this type of music, which frankly deserves the same degree of respect.
I have also often stated that in the field of light music we find pieces of quality put together with genuine skill that a classical musician would take delight in, that fully deserve attentive listening, and contrarily there is that which is a mere wash of background or wallpaper, as it is frequently described, suitable for use in restaurants or lavatories and not requiring any great degree of attention.
It unfortunately appears to be a lost art today, as in more recent decades, its surviving practitioners have been forced to commercialize or cheapen what they had to offer, before dropping out of the picture altogether.
Regarding Leroy Anderson, one of whose pieces is the subject of this essay, I have already expressed a great admiration for many of his arrangements of popular standards, the enhancements of which put them on a musical level far above what the original conceptions must have been.
I tend to give less attention to his shorter novelty numbers, but I must acknowledge that among this latter group, there are actually some very fine examples that really do deserve a degree of detailed attention regarding an ideal performance.
One such piece that has drawn my attention is a selection entitled "The Pennywhistle Song." One reason I am giving it such attention is that I sincerely feel that, given the ideal performance, more is to be had from it than is commonly realized.
For one thing, like so much else that we hear in all genres of music nowadays, it is almost always taken much too fast. What I conceive of is a much slower presentation, emphasizing the essential lyricism. Many others might tell me that with such a tempo it would tend to plod far too much. This can easily be avoided, if the rhythms in the ideas are very clearly articulated, and the dynamic inflections in the melody are given full attention. But even so, any plodding that might be evidenced would still in my personal opinion by far preferable to a certain flippancy that would occur with a faster tempo, and which I feel must be avoided at all costs. And at such a tempo, the innate charm of the conception would be quite lost. But to sum this point up, I could simply say that such would be true in all genres of music, as I have repeatedly pointed out in my other essays. In this case, the slower tempo would also afford the opportunity to fully savor what is being heard, with a better degree of attention.
To get on with the actual piece -- but first I have to mention, for me it lies in A Flat Major. The reasons I would have it so, results from its placement in an album wherein it originally appeared, in which I happened to observe Mr. Anderson (on television) performing his "Blue Tango," which was a popular hit at the time, in E Flat Major (I was able to watch his fingers on the keys and saw the evidence of it).
As I have already mentioned in a previous essay, the manner in which album selections of this nature have been put together to follow in a logical manner and thus in a sense belong together, is a factor for many of the albums produced during that period. It is a musical factor that would appear to stretch far beyond the individual items within the album.
Bearing this in mind, this will place the selection next but one to the piece I saw being performed in a key area that would perfectly match what came previously as we listen to it. As far as the use of the flat keys are concerned, as Mr. Anderson was a bandsman of a sort, this gives him a key area that in essence he might be instinctively drawn toward.
The alternative sections, meaning the second portion of the second strain and the middle section have digressions to the allied key of C Flat Major. A true musician should never be phased by reading music in an extreme flat or sharp key, and in my firm opinion, it is far more important that the notation used directly indicates what is really taking place in the music, and never resorted to an enharmonic notation for "ease of reading," even for only a few notes, unless the music goes farther afield tonally than takes place in this piece.
As indicated, the tempo adopted should be that of a gently walking pace or a stroll. The melodic idea should be sprightly in its articulation, with plenty of little hairpin dynamic inflections to add to its expressivity.
The second strain has an interesting contrast in the articulation, with the first half being in a light staccato, whereas the second half is legato and more cantabile, but upon listening, the attention is or should be rather drawn to the harmonic deflection that takes place, including the return to the home dominant to once again prepare for the repetition of the main idea.
This latter, following its formal repetition, has a particularly beautiful extension toward the final cadence, with a sidestep to the subdominant D Flat Major. All of these little felicities to be found in this piece should be brought out in performance, and may I add, they are the sort of thing that may be greatly appreciated even by a classical musician as well as one who simply has much enthusiasm for this quality of light music - it is decidedly not wallpaper or background music and should never be used or thought of as such.
The middle section, given with a greater degree of forwardness in the presentation, perhaps at a mezzo-forte, still is completely compatible with what we have had up to this point, and should be regarded altogether as a continuation despite the fact that we have had a full perfect cadence preceding. The melody apparently consists of two elements; on the up beat leading into the next measure, and that filling the space between the occurrences of the first. But I will always state that it is never a good thing for a melody to be presented in a very disjunctive manner, and in point of fact, it is rather simple to turn it into one line. At the very least one instrument or group of instruments can so present it to smoothen out the effect which is always under all circumstances desirable.
There is a slight uprise on a B Flat pedal approaching our home dominant which will be the preparation for the reprise. Even though there is a slight crescendo here, I would recommend that at the very last moment, perhaps on the last beat prior, the dynamic be pulled back to allow for a proper resolution on the E Flat which in turn will eventually return us to A Flat for the reprise.
And as a matter of fact, the reprise as I refer to it turns out to be almost a textbook term here, for the instrumentation overall is quite different from the way it appeared originally, though still recognizable. It would still give the effect of a continuation, of passing into another phase of the piece.
The second strain is essentially the same in presentation as on the first occasion; however, on this occasion there is some byplay in the inner parts for elaboration. It is strictly background material and needs no emphasis; in fact I would personally question the necessity for such (especially given the example that we have already had with Sleigh Ride). Therefore, I would suggest to any performer of the work to take complete discretion as to whether to include it or not.
After the main idea appears for the last time and fully cadences as before, we pass into the coda of the piece, entirely on the tonic pedal, within which a degree of earnestness creeps in, and which might be taken a hair slower in tempo. It is based on the second strain of the main section, but does not call for the same sprightliness in presentation. The last phrase is repeated in preparation for an upswing in the melodic line, giving us the final closure of the piece on the A Flat octave.
And though this did not occur to me when I started on this task of this essay, I must now say, looking back on the entire piece as a whole as presented in this manner, we have something actually akin to many of Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte, do we not?
An article by William Zucker.
In this essay, I am dealing with four musical comedy medleys that were arranged by Leroy Anderson as staff arranger for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. This aggregate recorded these settings during the early 50s, and though these were generally available in this form for some time, they have remained in relative obscurity. It is a shame, because these settings are of outstanding quality in their own right.
A conductor of a summer band series who was situated at the Manhattan School of Music for some time, Mr. David Simon, was familiar with the many musical comedy medleys of Robert Russell Bennett, outstanding in themselves, as well as numerous Leroy Anderson selections, and regularly conducted works from both categories. He was very surprised when I told him about the Leroy Anderson arrangements of these medleys; I urged him to sample them and possibly conduct them, with the words, "They really are very good," and his answer, in a way a tribute, as seemingly knowing what to expect. "I guess they would be." I don't at this point know how successful he was in tracking these down, or whether they remained at the time under any copyright protection or any ownership rights by the Boston Pops Orchestra or Arthur Fiedler, but either way, they should be clearly better known than they have been all these years, and perhaps for very unexpected reasons.
In most instances of these prepared medleys, it has been a case of a string of melodies from a given production run together in helter skelter fashion without any thought as to how to make them fit together.
The Robert Russell Bennett arrangements, probably the best in common currency that are available for performance, are to a degree noteworthy and of considerable quality, for Mr. Bennett was an estimable composer as well as arranger in his own right, and I can say that I have personally witnessed his conductorial skills as well. His arrangements tended to be tied more to what would be expected in a Broadway production, successful for that reason, but still retaining a recognizable element of individuality.
The arrangements of Leroy Anderson tended to concentrate more on the
purely musical elements involved in putting settings like these together. They were more independent of Broadway considerations (although they were still capable of exhibiting a jaunty, American, often syncopated manner when it was desired); being more independent was probably the reason that Mr. Anderson ended up writing the music for only one Broadway production, "Goldilocks." This independence may have cost him the opportunity to write for more such productions, although for the music itself it was altogether beneficial. (After all, Beethoven ended up writing only one opera, "Fidelio," even though there were a few other incidental music settings.)
The lesson from all of this is that in all cases, it is the arranger, whether Bennett, Anderson, or others, whose work makes its impression musically, which is what counts. Two different arrangers working on the same material will produce settings as different as day and night. The ones who bang out the tunes with one finger - in this case Rodgers, Berlin, Porter, and Loewe remain practically insignificant in this case, a fact that many tend to forget when it comes to credit where credit is due. In general, the arrangements by Robert Russell Bennett, in their greater reflection of Broadway, tend to be more rugged, and more rough and tumble, more a matter of taking chances, so that occasionally something might work rather less well. In the case of Leroy Anderson, the setting is a bit more distant from Broadway, bearing a much greater degree of musical refinement, and especially in this case, most definitely not designed for casual but rather for attentive listening, very much here being dealt with in the same manner as I deal with various classical works I have written on to provide suggestions for ideal performances. For those who approach these settings, even those by Mr. Bennett, as a source of all their favorite melodies fed to them one after the other, I can only say that they should not be reading this essay - it is not meant for them.
There is another factor to be considered in dealing with this set of medleys: the matter of the album as a coherent, indissoluble unit, meant to be presented and heard as one. At the time this album and others dealing with light music were produced, in many instances the producers, which would include the arrangers/conductors/composers involved, took especially great care to fit selections together that would precede and follow one another with a degree of logic, perhaps by key relationships, perhaps by contrasts. Upon repeated listening to many of these albums, one could begin to feel in many instances a certain pull of the various selections or movements toward one another. In some instances it was only a part of rather than an entire album, but the effect of it was still there. In addition, the effect is such that upon hearing these settings, one will get the impression that they were actually so composed and are inconceivable presented in any other manner. The best arrangers of that period, representing a lost art of today, were capable of providing this same illusion.
I need to divert for a moment. In the process of obtaining the sheet music for many of these items of light music, I came across a publication entitled "Cocktail Music for Your Enjoyment." This was actually based upon an album of superior salon music as recorded by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra, with selections taken from the Chappell Library, and released in this country under the title, "Very Very Dry." To my astonished pleasure, the selections in this publication directly followed the recording in its selections by the diverse composers presented, in the same order and in the same keys. Of course, as always, one must make allowances when piano transcriptions are involved if it is desired to more closely emulate the orchestral sound, but the point is that it was a faithful presentation as transcribed for piano of the entire contents of this album, exactly as though the whole were one vast composition.
In those days, as I have just stated - this point needs emphasis - many conductors of light music as well as record producers took great care in putting selections together in these albums so that they go together very logically from a musical standpoint and thus may be listened to with a degree of attention in this manner from beginning to end.
I have identified many such albums or parts of albums in which this prevails, not only by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra or by Robert Farnon - or by Leroy Anderson - but also by the likes of Alfred Newman, Andre Kostelanetz, Morton Gould, Domenico Savino, Alec Wilder, and Percy Faith. I myself have assembled several selections by Victor Young and have grouped them into an album (hypothetical, but I can retape them so that this grouping is established for myself), into a musically logical assemblage. It is a thought to do writeups on some of these groups for possible performance, intermixed with other essays I have produced on composers ranging from J.S. Bach to Mahler, soon to be extended forward to include such as Sibelius, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams.
To get to the set of Leroy Anderson musical comedy medleys I am about to deal with, I will discuss performance of these very much under the assumption that the four movements (as I insist on referring to them) are really meant to be presented and heard in the manner and order that they appeared on that original recording by the Boston Pops Orchestra.
(I - South Pacific - 1, I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair; 2, Bali H'ai; 3, Happy Talk; 4, Some Enchanted Evening; 5, I'm in Love with a Wonderful Girl)
I must emphasize that in all these movements, these subtitles just given will be purely for purposes of enabling the reader to follow the account of the movement - such subtitles will NOT be carried forward into the description, as the overall musical issues take absolute priority in all cases. Also, as I have stated in a previous account, I vastly prefer to deal with this material from a purely musical, abstract standpoint.
After the introductory flourish, which previews some of the material to be heard later in the movement, we get on with the first section, and I would simply mention here, in addition to emphasizing the prevailing rhythms, that the dynamics be given some attention. Each of those statements beginning with the repeated notes should have a perceptible crescendo to the second element of the phrases, and on the second occasion, the dynamic effect should be even more pronounced. The contrapuntal imitations on the last statement may be used to convey the vastness of the setting as it presents itself.
This first section, due to the tonal deflection about to take place in passing to the second section, tends to detach itself from the rest of the movement, having little if anything to do with what follows. This is due especially to the very remote key relationship - the A Flat Major section is interrupted by a deceptive cadence and by a further modulation leads us to D Major, which in essence is basic to the remainder. The tritone relationship very definitely cuts the sections apart here. A considerable ritard in passing from the first to the second section is clearly desirable.
So we now get underway with the second section, which not only keywise but also materialwise, turns out to be basic to the remainder of the movement. The second statement should be given with much more dynamic emphasis than at first. At the end of this, passing to the second strain, the rising violins must not be permitted to be overly prominent at the point where the second strain first begins, from the upbeat, and the same precaution should be taken at the end of this, where we return to the first strain. The last statement gets plenty of emphasis, as usual taking care that the byplay is never permitted to obtrude, and at the end, there is a considerable diminuendo and ritardando in preparing for the next section, in G Major.
I would not spurt ahead in this next section; in fact, I might consider
moving even more deliberately than indicated in the Boston Pops recording. The clue lies in the nature of the music. With Robert Russell Bennett's still very creditable setting, the "cutesy" approach, along with a touch of jauntiness might directly reflect the Broadway musical, but Mr. Anderson has clearly something different in mind here, which is much more suave in character, and might perhaps be more reflective of a table discourse at an afternoon tea party in a sense, but the important thing is that if it works musically, and fits in organically with what comes at least before, that is all that really should matter. Mr Anderson, as we well know, was fully capable of being "cutesy" and jaunty whenever he desired to be.
The tempo here should remain relentlessly steady and the smoothness of the setting should be emphasized in every way possible. At the end, there should be no ritard as the accompanying figure, the last aspect to remain at the end, rises from one octave to the next one up and the whole finally concludes. It is desirable to take a short pause here before beginning the next section.
The major second progression, of which we shall see more of in the succeeding movements, is used in the interest of separating the settings from one another. The key is now F Major; under normal conditions one would not recommend having two sections side by side in an awkward tonal relationship such as this, but a master composer can handle this situation smoothly, especially when it is clearly demonstrated that the sections are really meant to be broken apart to suggest separate pictures.
Little comment is called for here; the section needs to be presented in a walking tempo, and rather unassuming in its character. Once again, it must be seen to that the byplay in the other parts will not interfere with the main melody. On the last statement, a little more of a surge forward is desirable, broadening for the latter portion and the cadence, before the second strain which serves as codetta makes its final appearance.
Very carefully and smoothly, on the last F Major chord, as the section needs to properly conclude, the 3/4 meter and faster tempo for the following section should steal in, with a gradual crescendo to the A, hitherto the top line, and now filling the whole texture as the home dominant preparing to return us to D Major. The very direct relationship in this case makes the process inordinately simple. The crescendo resumes on the upward scales, finally leading us into the forthcoming section, upon arrival of which there should be a momentary accent as outcome to the preceding and then immediately subito piano, but not so much that the accent referred to would ring across the first bar or so.
The dynamic level will continually rise as expressing greater and greater enthusiasm as to the character. Finally, with the final setting, the composer (by whom I am of course referring to Leroy Anderson, not Richard Rodgers), pulls up his shirt sleeves by the extreme forward presentation, extending out the last phrase in his own favorite manner, at the end of which there is an enormous broadening and significant preparation ultimately leading us to what we have already learned to regard as the destined outcome.
This last presentation of the second section, grandly presented, should make its point with each of the repeated notes of the melody given an enormous crescendo each time, always again watching that the byplay does not obtrude. The closing phrase needs to be considerably broadened.
With the final flourish, still based on this material even though now in 3/4, we must move ahead to allow for a properly brilliant close, without any broadening at any point. The final downward D Major arpeggio goes straight into the held D unison, upon which a further crescendo will provide the occasion for the D Major chord at the very end to be cleanly cut off, with a considerable accent.
(II - Annie Get Your Gun - 1, I Got the Sun in the Morning; 2, They Say that Falling in Love is Wonderful; 3, The Girl that I Marry; 4, Doin' what comes Naturally)
The preceding movement concluded in a manner quite satisfactorily and with a certain completeness, although I am not necessarily suggesting that it be performed separately. Rather it is a matter of what we are covering now representing a complete break, thanks again due to the key progression by the major second, being less smooth and less directly related, and used almost throughout the movement, giving us a somewhat rougher, more earthy setting, which would probably be quite appropriate in the situation. Plenty of rhythmic emphasis should be indulged in here, both with the introductory flourish and the first section itself. In addition, with the second strain, an accent on the very last eighth note of each measure, perhaps not in the Boston Pops recording, will give the whole a very desirable "kick" to the setting, so to speak.
There should be even more emphasis rhythmically as the first strain restates itself, and then, after the held chord, already pointing to a different tonal center which again will set itself off as a separate picture, a gradual ritardando should be taken, considerably broadening as we approach the next section.
A very ample sound is called for here, with the melody really singing out, and by contrast, with the second strain pushing ahead just a bit until returning to the first strain which should again be given with plenty of warmth and ampleness. A momentary uprise will takes place as the melody extends itself in the last phrase, wherein a broadening of the tempo is also called for. At its conclusion, there may be an appreciable pause, as the following portion goes in an entirely different direction.
Again there is a complete break, suggesting once again a separate picture as the major second key progression once again is utilized. For this next section, a waltz tempo is adopted, and the whole is meant to be presented in this "cutesy" manner that I referred to earlier. Another arranger might have perhaps a more lyrical, sentimental view of this melody, but Mr. Anderson is providing us with his own personal impressions of it, and if it works musically within this context, that is after all what counts. The whole is to be taken in a thoroughly nonchalant, non-committal manner which will admirably present what is clearly desired here.
Another pause, indicating another separate picture, and we embark on a more animated section, suggesting a very earthy aspect by the homeliness of both the melody, the harmony, and perhaps even the song from which it was originally derived. A rhythmic emphasis is clearly desirable here, with a complete absence of any sentiment or dynamic subtlety.
This moves into a faster tempo, once again via an unrelated key progression by major second. The melody itself is considerably elaborated, and the virtuosic aspect of this setting should be fully encouraged. As the full orchestra eventually takes over, and the first strain returns for the last time, there is a momentary break at the end of the phrase which should be observed, and when the phrase is concluded it is expanded out in an enormous ritardando which leads into the big restatement of the melody from the second section, beginning with the second strain.
A broadening should occur at the end of this display, and then the tempo, will push ahead as the material from the last section reappears, rhythmically varied by upbeats. There is a momentary pause before the final gesture, which is simply the culmination of the phrase from this last section which concludes the movement.
(III - Kiss Me Kate - 1, Another Op'ning, Another Show; 2, Wunderbar; 3, So in Love; 4, Always True to You in My Fashion)
We begin the third movement in the same F Major that the previous movement concluded on, although the approach for what we are now embarking on is totally different. The major second key progressions referred to all along are used here as well, but on this occasion the intent is quite different, without the attempt to produce separated pictures. This can be seen by the fact that the transitions between sections are carefully designed so that unlike in the previous movement, the key progressions will work out much more smoothly. The whole character of the movement is much more earnest in expression, quite in contrast with the earthiness that I continually refer to in the second movement.
Before proceeding, I have to emphasize (as I very often feel the need to) that the key progressions and key relationships in any piece of music really do play a major part in shaping the whole, and I feel that it is desirable for even a casual listener to acquire a rudimentary knowledge of such as it will greatly facilitate understanding of what takes place.
I referred to Robert Russell Bennett earlier, making a comparison with the work by Leroy Anderson in the production of the sort of medleys that we are dealing with here. I indicated that his medleys tend to be more directly reflective of the Broadway scene, and that they tend to be more rough and tumble, with more of a willingness to take chances, so that often something that is attempted may work out less well.
I am now thinking of the Show Boat medley which Mr. Bennett produced, and note that in particular the key progressions used are exactly the same (in reverse order) as those in this third movement by Mr. Anderson.
I will suggest that though the individual sections may be magnificently wrought, the same care in connecting the respective sections has not been taken, resulting in what sounds to me as a degree of perfunctoriness, and in that sense would tend to work less well, as I would put it. To be sure, Mr. Bennett fully redeemed himself with such efforts as the medleys for South Pacific (the shorter version, in full competition with that by Mr. Anderson; our first movement in this account) and My Fair Lady, which are fully exemplary in the sense I am referring to.
With Mr. Anderson, nothing is ever left to chance; there is a much greater degree of refinement in the work, with everything very carefully and meticulously worked out, possibly due to its greater proximity with classical practices. I realize that in making such an invidious comparison I am leaving myself vulnerable to getting brick-batted for my views, but my readers and also would-be performers of this set of pieces (hopefully as I am advocating here played as a complete set in order) are perfectly free to disagree with my views.
To get underway, we have an opening flourish which takes us directly into the first section, in the same F Major as carried over from before. The rhythmic character will immediately manifest itself and the performer should fall right into its rhythm, and make all the due emphases as called for, including the exclamations at the ends of the phrases in the second strain - they are quite typical of the composer - Leroy Anderson.
When the first strain finally restates itself for the last time, a well graded crescendo is called for, which must be applied very gradually over the entire portion of the phrase as the sequences rise. At the end of the phrase, in addition to the enormous broadening, there is a hemiola effect occasioned by displaced accents, over two measures. Although obviously it has to be conducted in its written meter, I would very much urge that these accents be fully indulged in - and the ritardando here should be considerable, throughout this tonal sequence ultimately leading to the A Major chord where the 3/4 meter begins, and the tempo is released.
The ensuing passage, picking up the 3/4 meter - no further tempo adjustment is necessary once it begins - serves as a bridge to the second section. Although the second section is in G Major, a key once again representing a major second step from the original, potentially incompatible on the face of it, the key progression in this case is handled so deftly and smoothly that there is no clash of tonalities as might otherwise be the case, and one would as a consequence be scarcely aware of it. One might also note here some rather obvious references to motives by Johann Strauss, Jr., which is a rather engaging feature.
The second section itself calls for little comment, except that at the end of the second strain, a slight broadening and swelling of the dynamic level would be appropriate, and when the first strain returns, it is presented in a far more assertive manner than before. On the last bar, following the last note, we are once again back in a 4/4 meter, and prepare for the third section in the parallel G Minor. The basic melody from the next section appears within this preparation, and to call some attention to what ultimately will be in the foreground, a slight accent on the long second beat is to be applied, which will not be continued when the section proper gets underway. A ritard into it is desirable, and this can be done very smoothly on the sixteenth notes which appear at the cadence immediately prior to the onset of the next section. In addition, this ritardando, will allow us to present the whole as though the sixteenths in this ritardando go directly into the melody of the section, as one line.
This section is to be taken in a gently walking rhythm, with at first no variation of tempo of any sort, but rather in a very smooth and even manner. When the first strain repeats itself, some caution is necessary to see to it that the melody gets full prominence with a minimum of disturbance, as the byplay at this point is a trifle animated and thus needs a degree of restraint.
When the first strain finally is restated for the last time, there is now a degree of urgency which calls for a push of the tempo, until the point just before the high point of the melody, where there is a broadening, following which the tempo should continually expand to the final cadence of the section. Thus the additional measures following, on the tonic B Flat pedal, are taken very slowly where the harmony is still resolving itself plagally, following which there is an uprise during which the tempo must start to move faster as the line rises.
At the arrival point, the high B Flat is given an accent and then it is necessary to immediately pull back, quitting the note and lessening the dynamics. The percussion pulsation at this point gives us the basic movement, but ever in diminuendo; it should be to all intents and purposes gone when we reach the introductory phrases introducing the next section (on a B Flat dominant preparing us for an E Flat Major statement).
The general feel of this section should be one of narrative, with the aspect of relating a story. It is to be given in the most gracious manner possible despite the intermittently "swingy" feel to it, and it would be well to dispense with any percussion punctuation throughout. The whole should be presented with considerable warmth and affection.
After the main idea is stated, the melodic interjection following the last note should be regarded as a continuation, the line going directly into and including the second statement of this first strain which is a bit fuller in scoring and dynamics. The same should be observed at the end of this second statement - the melodic curlicue following the last note should proceed directly from that note as one line.
The second strain, featuring a trumpet solo, needs to be lessened in dynamics, but at the end of this strain, which is followed by the second half of the main melody, the trumpet must quit its held high F by the time that final portion is reached, given with much more fullness and energy than hitherto. This needs to properly conclude before we proceed to the faster version of the forgoing in F Major, hence there will be no cymbal stroke on the downbeat, representing the end of the phrase, and the accelerando necessary to accommodate the faster tempo that follows will be much more gentle and gradual than that indicated on the Boston Pops recording, admittedly not an easy task to convincingly put across. In any event, it should never be done in a slam bang manner.
The forgoing is now repeated as stated in this faster tempo, carefully prepared, and the key progression will be less jarring if this precaution with the tempo is taken. One may note that in the second half of this first strain, there is a quite masterful elaboration of the melody as evidenced in the figuration, excellently conceived. I had mentioned Johann Strauss, Jr. earlier; this immediate section might remind just a bit of Leo Delibes, although I am not necessarily suggesting a choreographic presentation of this music (actually classical ballet set to this music would not be such a repugnant idea, after all, provided of course that the musical integrity of this entire work of four movements is maintained in its proper order). I am making this comparison simply to point out the true stature of this music as it was conceived and is presented to us, far above any mere arrangement of a collection of pop songs, and deserving of far more respect. And as far as the Delibes allusion goes, I should mention that it is fully adapted to the style of Leroy Anderson and any Americanism that may creep in.
At the end of the second strain, there is a hold on its last note melodically, although the motion continues. Upon the statement of the second half of the first strain which would follow, we have a presentation in double time augmentation, and the metronomic relationship must be exact for it to make its point. There is an enormous broadening to the cadence which is ultimately deceptive, landing on the submediant D Minor as there is now a statement of the third section.
This is eventually to push ever faster as we approach the cadence, although the material is drawn out a bit in the composer's favorite manner. Leo Delibes rears his head in this portion as well as we push on to this cadence, following which we have a further allusion to the second section (adapted to the 4/4 meter), and eventually the final flourishes to conclude the movement. One should make the most of the brilliance exhibited here and simply speed on to the final bars and the momentarily held F octave and chord which cuts the whole thing off, summing it up in the most satisfactory manner.
(IV - Brigadoon - Intro. and 1, Down on Macconnechy Square; 2, The Heather on the Hill; 3, Almost Like Being in Love; 4, Come to Me, Bend to Me; 5, I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean)
For the fourth and final movement of this set, we have a structure that is notably different and a bit more ambitious than those we have had hitherto, although in the final analysis, one could still say that no two of these are really alike. For one thing, instead of an introductory flourish to introduce the first section, there is instead a full fledged section in itself before the actual first section begins.
Moreover, the final section, rather than merely summing up the preceding, is introduced in a manner that suggests itself as an independent section. The multiplicity of sections and the manner in which they proceed from one to the next is also peculiar to this movement, making for a more complex affair than we've had hitherto, although again, each of the forgoing movements as already stated still have their own special characteristics. But in this case, the composer's preoccupation with material of this nature, as exemplified by the Irish Suite and the Scottish Suite fragment, could have some bearing.
Tonally we experience the same ingenuity in key progression we've seen earlier in how we progress from the concluding F Major of the preceding movement to our ultimate destination of C Major, the key of the first actual section. The movement actually begins in D Major, a key directly allied to the F Major we had, and by sequences eventually lands us in C Major, in a very subtle manner such as we would be scarcely aware of the change in tonal orientation. This is despite the fact that the succeeding sections will respectively fluctuate between C Major and F Major. I must repeat here that key movement in any piece of music is always a primary factor in its working and shaping.
We come in on a dance scene apparently already in progress, and the material should be stated with plenty of energy, both rhythmic (and where called for) dynamic. Upon finally arriving in C Major through the modulatory sequences referred to, the 6/8 jig meter changes to a 4/4, actually to be presented in alla breve cut time. The dynamic has to be abruptly pulled back in a subito piano, but this is the occasion for a fresh uprise, as a crescendo, ultimately leading to the first section.
In the latter stage of this demonstration, there is a contrary motion movement in eighth notes in the outer parts, coming toward one another, and the downward moving upper part must be worked so as to go directly into the melody of the first section as one line. It is really a shame that I am unable to use musical notation to illustrate my point more clearly.
This forthcoming first section should be given in an appropriately rambunctious manner, with the eighth note background texture a continuation of the movement we had in approaching this section, even though melodically, as I have just suggested, they should be presented as one line. The displaced accents in the melody should be fully indulged in and given their due, even though obviously the music has to be conducted strictly according to the meter. The repetition of the opening phrase, in a lower voice, may be pulled back somewhat to provide for a fresh burst of dynamic energy on the second phrase of this restatement. And in the latter portion, where the second portion repeats itself, the emphatic offbeat accents should really be made prominent. At this point, as the recording is not too clear, I would say that the bass on those accents should be F Natural, not F Sharp as some may be tempted to regard it; the F Natural will provide a much more interesting harmonic progression before the final cadence of the section which should be quite emphatic.
The next section is a much smoother affair, with a diminuendo to be applied in the transition bar upon entering it. What should be immediately apparent (and definitely should be made clear in the performance) is the pulsation which has changed from an alla breve cut time to a straight 4/4, with the very clear quarter notes marking each beat. The basic tempo has actually remained the same, with quarter note equalling quarter note, and there should be no deviation of tempo upon entering the section, only pointing the change of metrical orientation.
The whole thing needs to be presented with a casual swing to it; otherwise little further comment is called for, other than at the very end, a slight ritardando might be taken before passing to the following section.
On the recording this following section evinces a slight quickening of the tempo; although this is a possible interpretation, I see it as an altogether discretionary matter and personally feel that actually such a tempo adjustment seems quite unnecessary, as it would work just as well if the ongoing tempo were to remain as it has hitherto.
The second strain of this section is given with plenty of emphasis, particularly the last phrase, with the repeated notes in the melody. At this latter point, with the phrase having been extended, there should be a broadening as we approach the cadence, with a considerable ritardando in the last bar.
Following the conclusion of this section, we pass to a 6/8 meter, which could be considered almost basic to everything that follows from this point. However, in this present situation, the music needs to become progressively more placid, as we approach the very reflective fourth section which provides a welcome contrast with the remainder of the movement.
Tonally, it would appear that we would make another excursion to F Major, having shuttled back and forth between C Major and F Major for the previous sections; however on this occasion, the F Major assumes a "Neapolitan" aspect, and we make instead a firm step in the direction of E Major, which tonally will also contrast with the other sections.
It is typical of Mr. Anderson in these medleys to take this step three-fourths of the way through the structure, retiring into a somewhat distant key far in the sharp direction, away from the field of action of the remainder. We have seen it in the Richard Rodgers Waltz Medley already covered, as well as in the Christmas Festival Overture (the "Silent Night" section) and in a manner of speaking the fifth movement of the Irish Suite; this must accordingly be looked upon as a favorite structural device of the composer.
The tempo here must be fully drawn out to allow all expressive elements to have their say. The English horn (cor anglais for the benefit of my readers in the UK) must be given full cooperation by all others playing in this section, and a conductor must be fully sympathetic to allow the solo instrument every opportunity to express whatever may be called for.
The second strain, now with the orchestral strings must sound as a integral continuation, and when the first strain returns, now appearing in the lower strings, the sixteenth note movement in the upper parts, though contributory to the effect, must be properly restrained so that the melody itself may be presented without any interference. In the second half of the phrase, the scoring is fuller, and as we approach the second half of this, with its pause, the emotional fervor and dynamic level must grow. This very last portion must be given with full emotional passion for its context; there will be a diminuendo as we approach the cadence. There is no need of a ritardando until we take the transition bars leading to the final pause on E, before the uprise to the next section. A final word: the apoggiatura in the melody at the cadence should be taken on the beat, and in no way rushed, but presented as though it were an actual melodic element, which in a sense it is; it should be very exquisitely shaped.
And so, after the final pause - and one must remember, the section must be heard as fully concluding before we proceed with the uprise, which consists of a menacing crescendo on a timpani roll on E. It would almost suggest a similar uprise in the last movement of Mahler's Second Symphony, where the earth seems to open up prior to the commencement of the march section, but here the context and intent is totally different even if calling attention to that effect referred to.
The material of the final section bursts out almost as a fanfare, and after this has stated itself, we make a diminuendo with four bars of pulsation on a bare C to emphasize the already established jig-like 6/8 meter. And during this section, there is a very strong upbeat 6-1 (referring to the eighth notes) feel to it; sometimes explicitly brought out, sometimes latent in the background, but one should always be aware of it in both performance and in perceptive listening.
The first statement of the idea is relatively sparse, with a minimum of harmonization, to emphasize the folkish aspect. On repetition, however, the setting is quite full and well conceived from what the original patter song must have been like, and hearing it in this form, one would be hard pressed to imagine how it could in any way be further enhanced or improved upon, even without the text. With the second strain, the upbeat 6-1 element gets full emphasis, with a hold on the second half of the phrase before finally cadencing.
After the cadence, the main idea repeats itself in imitation and in a steady diminuendo to a pianissimo, eventually leading to another uprise which culminates in a restatement of the second phrase of the third section. The forgoing triplet texture from the 6/8 meter continues for the first half of this statement, but there is a further crescendo and a broadening leading to the concluding phrase of the section which sums the whole up. At this point the triplet background is temporarily held in abeyance until the final flourish. The phrase is first stated majestically and broadly, but on the phrase extension we take an accelerando as we approach the cadence.
The final flourish, with the jig-like triplet figures having resumed, is based on the motive from the fifth section. A further acceleration can be allowed to add to the brilliance of the close of the movement and the entire work, but never so much as to allow it to run out of control. The final F octave sums up the whole thing.
This account, which I have been working on for a long time, has been a labor of love for me, as I have endeavored to have others see this music the way I see it. It is most unfortunate that in many places I had to resort to hard technical language, made necessary by the fact that I have no way to set down musical notation here to illustrate the points that I wished to make. It has been done entirely from memory, without my having listened to the recording while working on it - there being no need to, as I know the entire contents quite thoroughly as result of repeated listening to it in the past. Also, I do not have any access to a score, although I do hope that there are conductors out there who do have such access and could put it to good use - for themselves! In any event, I would invite anyone reading this account who happens to have a recording to listen and follow my account along with it at the same time (without any need to refer to the subtitles at the beginning of each chapter as mentioned).
For those who take the opportunity to listen to this group repeatedly in order as on the recording and as set down here, not only will the music come to mean more to them, but they will for the first time become acquainted with Leroy Anderson for what he really was, and let me assure, this represents some of the best of his work. It was produced during the salad days of the Boston Pops Orchestra when he was staff arranger for this aggregate, and in this capacity produced work that ranks with the very best of its type, touching the classical tradition in a manner that frankly very few of his short novelty numbers manage to, although I will still say that there are some very fine selections among this latter group that I hope to be able to touch on at some point.
And not only will the real essence of what he was about come out on repeated listening, but also it will be possible to instantly identify some of the arrangements that the Boston Pops recorded as his even though not so identified. The enhancements of many of the popular selections represented will instantly impress themselves as conceptions that outclass what the originals must have been like. I often say that it is most unfortunate that this quality I refer to did not carry over in the same manner to many of his original shorter selections, although the essence still remains. I feel the need to go into this in some length, as most who read this may not have been aware of the genius involved in putting these settings together and continue to laud him for what I feel are the wrong reasons. But as I will always aver, we hear all music in our own manner, but still owe it to ourselves to partake of many different types and genres to get a rounded appreciation of all forms of music.
As usual, I am open to comments.
An article by William Zucker.
Again I turn my attention to some outstanding items in the field of light music, an area that unfortunately has been either neglected or else subject to a degree of condescension.
One might understand better my own stand in this matter when I state that in all genres of music, there is that which may be described as good or on the other hand inferior. In this case, I make the distinction between these two by stating that in the first case the quality, in a considered opinion, would be that where a lover of serious music would still take a certain delight in. On the other hand, that belonging to the second group could be described as akin to wallpaper or background music, and necessitating no further attention, except to say that admittedly opinions will differ as to just where this line of distinction should be drawn, as we all hear various musical works in our own manner, listen in regard to our own preoccupations, and most important, form our own images absolutely regardless of what the composer's original inspiration might have been or of any coincidental biographical occurrences.
I should point out that first of all, I am a pragmatist, in the sense that I take music as I find it. That is to say, I lay it out and examine it further to determine its real essence as I see it and how it may be made to best sound. This perhaps is not as fashionable a view today as it might have been say around the turn of the 19th/20th century, and perhaps in that sense I might be considered an anachronism, perhaps to a degree controversial as well. But I set my thoughts down to cause people who hopefully read my notes to think, even if they might not accept my premises. I should hasten to add, perhaps as a consequence of what I have just stated, that I am no friend of any authentic movement, nor do I believe in slavishly following a printed score, including the watermark on the page if it comes to that, without any further thought or asking any questions. A score at best can be only a rough guide to what is intended; one must be prepared to read between the lines or rather the notes - otherwise a performance will totally lack spontaneity and be rendered as altogether dry and lifeless and without any real interest.
In my descriptions I resort to a lot of technical terms. There are several reasons for this:
First of all, as I am unable to reproduce in musical notation any examples of what I am referring to, I have to strain to describe exactly what it is that I am endeavoring to point out in any given score. At the same time, I frequently refer to tonal relationships which I feel is an important factor in any composition. I mention these because they are a very powerful governing factor in the structure of a piece - in a sense they are our compass points - and in actuality, I feel that it would be desirable in any event for my readers to have at least a very basic knowledge of some of the musical elements when dealing with a piece of music. There are many books on the subject that will set these definitions down in a manner that the average listener will be able to absorb and understand.
I have gone into this rather extensive dissertation as I have included some new members of my reading audience in these descriptions, so I felt it desirable to give a summary of what my essays on the performances of various works (as well as my impressions of live concerts) are really about. I will quickly add that I do not do these professionally, but simply share my views with those who are colleagues or interested listeners of my personal acquaintance.
Robert Farnon in his time was a consummate creator of light music of the most engaging and creatively original sort, and his own arrangements of popular standards had a distinction to them not to be found in that of many others engaged in this sort of work. He performed and recorded with some of the top popular vocalists of the day, but we are here dealing with him as a composer. I have picked out two of what I consider as among his best single sided selections, although as with any composer, to be perfectly candid, I would never claim to admire absolutely every note he has written any more than I would that of any serious composer - even from the great classical period, and I have written essays on the performance of works ranging from J.S. Bach to Mahler and R. Strauss, and hope to extend this to eventually include such names as Elgar, Sibelius, and Vaughan Williams. But I should sum this up by stating that I only write such essays on works that have in some way very strongly and favorably left their impression on me to induce me to write such an essay. I must also confess herein to a certain lack of zeal for many of the fashionable trends in music of today and at least one generation previous.
Anyway, enough of this introductory dissertation and to get on to the pieces I am dealing with here. I consider Poodle Parade by Robert Farnon as worthy enough to spend time on, and I value it quite highly compared to other similar pieces written in this genre.
We begin with an introduction which immediately gives us a representation of what will become the main material of this piece. It goes through an enharmonic circle flatwards by downward major thirds, which takes three measures to return us to the original key, with the fourth measure engaged in providing a perfect cadence, followed by four measures of accompaniment to set the feeling and rhythmic pace of the whole. Following this, the piece proper with its main material gets underway.
I must caution the conductor that the tempo - hopefully a suitable one for the general character and mood of the material - once established is never to be varied; there is no place in this entire piece that would call for such bending of tempo despite the contrast of ideas, especially within the middle section, to be dealt with in due course.
The main idea itself is a rather jaunty affair that skips around the range of the instrument executing it, with a liberal sprinkling of chromatic decoration to spice it up. It is characterized by a certain "joie de vivre" which is very infectious and should be reflected in the performance.
The second strain moves up by sequences for each phrase, and the attendant crescendo should be very carefully graded; at the end of which, following the accent at the mini-climax, it must be seen to that the re-entrance of the main idea following this second strain will not be swamped on its first note. A certain pulling back is clearly desirable to ensure a clearer re-entrance just referred to, and perhaps the up beat notes might be taken just a bit heavier in dynamics for just that moment, to allow for this.
We now come to the middle section following two transitory bars, in which I must unfortunately state that there are some issues that have come up - not in the piece as I know it, but rather in commentary that I have been reading, which I will get to after first dealing with what is presented first hand.
We have a lyrical theme which contrasts nicely with the sprightliness of the ideas that we have had hitherto. Quite obviously, this melody should get full priority over everything else that might be taking place at this point. In the background, we have a rather energetic byplay in the accompanying instruments - this may incidentally serve a function of filling in harmony along with those parts already so engaged. but the chief interest of it is rhythmic. As such, it must be seen to that it serves purely in that function and is never permitted to interfere with the melody taking place, The melody itself must be heard in a completely integral manner, so that the last note of a phrase may be heard to progress to the first note of the next phrase despite the break in this melody. And the background byplay must never be heard independently so that the attention is misdirected toward it. (I hope that I am making the point I'm struggling to put across.)
As the melody actually has triplet quarters in its course in various places, the four sixteenths per normal quarter in the background may be seen to provide a very engaging rhythmic contrast which should be latently felt, as it will give the melody a character of its own without obtruding itself. The repetition of what I just outlined is given with further dynamic energy and consequently fuller scoring, but the whole general approach should be exactly the same.
The second strain of this middle section is again in contrast, with a degree of syncopation, and with all instruments participating engaged in the same manner unilaterally so that there is no rhythmic counterpoint involved here. The modulations by sequence are another welcome change, as to this point we have never left the main tonic F Major. We return to the lyrical idea with an eventual softening in dynamics and with the last bar before the cadence repeated in a further diminuendo, leading to the reprise which I see as one of the best handled I have come across in this genre; very smoothly done and thus a pleasure to listen to.
The reprise is virtually identical to what we had earlier with the main section, and thus all nuances, etc. should be applied exactly as before. There is a slight expansion at the end as the main part gets a rather charming cross imitation treatment taking two additional bars (not to be considered as one line as I so often suggest in other situations). After this cadences, the opening or introductory gesture reappears to round off the piece, and the whole closes with an energetic perfect cadence.
The issue that I referred to regarding the middle section concerns a review of a recorded performance where it is claimed that a counter melody may be heard here that could not be heard in the original recording (the only one I am truthfully familiar with). I am not in any way doubting the veracity of the statement I read, but I am objectively questioning, and very seriously, the purpose of having a counter melody in addition to what is taking place, especially with the rhythmic complications that I referred to. As the section as I know it seems absolutely perfect in its presentation, I personally would feel that any additional detail, which I would see as intrusive, would only spoil the effect. It is possible that the composer had originally conceived the piece with that addition which did not come out in the recording, but based on what my senses tell me, especially after a lifetime in music, I feel constrained to stick to my guns on this issue. A similar matter has arisen with another work by the same composer, entitled a la Clair Fontaine, where I actually have heard the additional and to me intrusive material, but I will not go into that on this occasion.
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Let me at this point proceed to the other piece of Mr. Farnon's that I have selected, Pictures in the Fire, within which let me assure that there are no such issues such as I have mentioned regarding this latter piece, at least none that I know of.
Overall, it has a searching, almost improvisatory character that really endears itself, quite different from the usual A-A-B-A configuration that is the usual scheme in most pieces in this genre (akin to a popular ballad). This piece has a form all of its own, and let me add, I thoroughly enjoy playing this over on the piano (as I hear it - what I hear I find particularly easy to translate, without the aid of a score, as would be necessary in many other instances). The character that I am attempting to describe is akin to many of those ruminative works by Frederick Delius, many though not all of which I can similarly absorb myself in.
Mr. Farnon has frequently departed from or elaborated on the more usual A-A-B-A scheme, and I would like to cite here another conception that I greatly admire - the original elongated version of Journey Into Melody, perhaps less familiar to most, but the overall effect for me is far more interesting and engaging than the more familiar shortened version, as the momentarily ambiguous, searching introduction gives the rest a whole different perspective, and I definitely advocate the retention of this version in the repertoire of those conductors who specialize in the field of light music.
Anyway, getting on with this piece, Pictures in the Fire, I first have to make a general comment regarding tempos. As the movement overall is quite free, with, as will be presently seen, much in the way of ritards and piu mossos as expressive devices, the most I can suggest would be to adopt a tempo for the respective sections that might seem the most reasonable and rational - neither too slow or too fast - but simply based on common sense when dealing with material of this sort.
The opening idea, which will carry over for a short distance, consists of an arpeggiated motive which reaches out to a note foreign to that arpeggio and repeatedly turns upon itself in basically coming back to that note.
There should be a considerable ritard on the II-V progression as we approach the perfect cadence introducing the tonic D Major for the first time, upon which we may resume the original tempo we started with. The motive at this point, given by the solo violin (which assumes a primary factor in this piece) is similar to what was offered in the opening and frankly introductory section, but in this instance the arpeggiated motive reaches downward rather than upward as it did at first.
Those who simply read by what is on the printed page and so attempt to analyze what is taking place might be apt to think of this as a sort of counterstatement or response to the opening gesture, but if one actually would use one's ears, one would realize that such an analysis is erroneous. The tonal movement always plays an enormous role in the proceedings, so that the appearance of the tonic at that point for the first time should be perceived as the point where the piece first really does get underway, regardless of what may take place later on. What the ear will pick up is of paramount importance despite how the composer may have thought of it originally.
The violin solo statement, after that one reference to the opening material, proceeds along quite its own lines, and as we approach the end of this manifestation, we may take a ritard, and especially hold the bars situated on the subtonic C Major before further proceeding.
After the C Natural in the bass has resolved downward to B, the transient modulations or rather key digressions range far and wide. I would suggest at this point pushing things just a little - very carefully - until we arrive at the submediant major B Major, a relationship which is perfectly chosen, as it betokens a key area directly allied with the principal key, with a total absence of any tonal conflict or polarity. At this point, we may for the moment settle into a stable tempo, perhaps the same as we had in the first portion. The bluesy suggestions in the harmony add a tone of wistfulness and are most appealing in this context.
The texture for the moment breaks off and we proceed to an element calling for more earnestness of expression, so once again, we may push the proceedings just a bit, although we are still in B Major. I of course here refer to the portion where the top part proceeds upwards F Sharp G Sharp D Sharp C Sharp F Sharp B etc.
At the end of this portion we must slow down again as we arrive at a frankly improvisatory display, consisting actually of a double enharmonic circle sharpwards for the most part by major thirds (meaning major mediant to major mediant). Everyone of the phrases here should be considerably elongated in tempo and thus should increase as we move through the final stage of this, with the reappearance of the solo violin and its replacement by the oboe in the very last measure.
Thus, having come this way in this searching, rather tentative manner, with a considerable (though not excessive!) hold at the very last moment, a D Major chord, that of our original tonic, signifies a return to our original opening for this piece, to be given in precisely the same manner as at first, appropriately to be considered a Come Prima at this moment.
When we arrive at the original perfect cadence we had before and the solo violin re-enters as on the first occasion, after the first arpeggiated downward motive, the aim on this occasion is to sum up the piece as a whole. We remain on a tonic pedal for the remainder of the piece ultimately to fully cadence the whole plagally. The violin, after the first phrase, proceeds to rise to the stratosphere of its register, and for this entire statement, from its final re-entry to the closing bars, where it sustains the high D, a heartfelt mode of expression is very much desired here and should be indulged in by the soloist to the fullest - which is of course not to say that the solo violin's earlier appearances should have a lesser degree of expression, but simply that this particular factor is more of an issue here. And the closing D Major chords by the orchestra will bring the piece to a fully satisfactory conclusion.
I have great pleasure in dealing with material of this nature even though I realize that much of it has fallen out of fashion; fortunately, there are some specialists in this field who are seeking to keep this genre alive.
I must regretfully comment that, while I am from the USA, having gone through examples of light music from various sources, must regretfully comment that the old tradition of both producing light music by skilled practitioners as well as the audiences for such, was always far more advanced in the UK than anything on the musical scene in this country. This is not to say that we do not have something of our own to show for it - we do, after all, have our own strengths in this area, but I have to note that we have never produced a composer of light music so thoroughly embedded in this tradition than has the UK with Eric Coates, Albert Ketelbey, Edward German, and Haydn Wood, and I could name many others in this category. The music of Robert Farnon is simply a further development of this same tradition.
Unfortunately, this sort of music appears to have become virtually a lost art, and the audiences for such appear to be not as extensive as in former times. Personally, I would love to be informed that I am completely wrong in my assumption, with examples to show for it amongst some of our own, although as I will repeat, we do have our own strengths, but of a tradition that has for the most part lesser viability, and regrettably so.
As usual, I welcome all comments.