26 Feb

Notes and Suggestions for a Performance of Camarata's Rumbalero

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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.

William Zucker

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.