Sweet And Lovely
(Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
Robert Farnon had the unique ability to bring out the best in a song by always treating it with the utmost respect in terms of its original style, by adding just the right amount of modernism and freshness. In other words he was guided intuitively by his byword: “taste”. At the same time he was constantly ahead of the game with his original and daring orchestrations. Even now in the 21st century they still sound advanced.
The utter simplicity of the start of Sweet and Lovely, like one of his own light orchestral miniatures, belies the fact that from thousands of musical ideas going around in his head, he only selected sounds that were totally appropriate for the current job in hand. In his own world he was a self-disciplinarian knowing instinctively how far to go. He was never tempted to stray too far into foreign territory. Despite that, Farnon constantly relished discovering new things to say in his “travels into tunes”. It was probably the unusual harmony that first attracted him to this early ballad.
This 1931 ditty was the “sweet and lovely” theme song of Gus Arnheim’s Orchestra. The first recording was by his orchestra featuring vocalist Donald Novis but it was Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo who brought it to a wider audience.
After that haunting introduction, lightly swinging woodwind go straight into Sweet and Lovely for a double whammy of song and arrangement providing a romantic slow foxtrot with some decorative glockenspiel. A harp heralds the first appearance of the famous Farnon fiddles (“Who would want a sweeter surprise”). Staying with the strings a gentle cutting oboe continues the tune.
Then a muted trumpet advises that the bridge is ready for crossing with the saxes making the first move towards a beautifully controlled orchestral climax.
Back to the tune as thin-sounding ethereal violins on the same note shoot up high with the help of harmonics to have a commanding view over the proceedings. Frolicking flutes make themselves felt in no uncertain terms. Then another reminder of that warm Farnon harmony. The brass is back with the strings making a typically gorgeous key change like no one else in the business. The saxes are heard again and gradually the orchestra returns with the brass.
By now it becomes all too clear that Farnon’s arrangement of Sweet and Lovely is an excellent example of a series of thrilling climaxes. The orchestra sounds completely relaxed as it tags along for the ride, enjoying the many “swells” which abound. Strings, oboe and a violin playing the title in atonal style are parachuted into the coda mix. Talking of keyless music, Robert Farnon’s charts are famous for teetering on the edge of atonality, like a high wire act. That’s why his arrangements have an air of mystery and “what’s he going to do next?” about them. In retrospect, these early popular standards have proved to be perfect vehicles for Farnon’s inventiveness.
'Here is another slightly left-field release of the kind that makes this label so fascinating. It will definitely be of interest to lovers of brass bands and, indeed, anyone who favours instruments being blown rather than bowed. So, we have the principals from four of the UK's top bands, including Black Dyke, Foden's, and Brighouse & Rastrick … don’t know why the fourth gets no mention.
CD Review – Richard Addinsell
British Light Music - 1
Philip Martin, Roderick Elms, Piano
BBC Concert Orchestra / Kenneth Alwyn
Naxos 8.555229 [68:16]
It is good to have this album back in the catalogue. It was originally released on the Marco Polo label in 1994 and appears to be the first in a new series from Naxos of 'British Light Music', which is something to be celebrated.
CD Review - Nicola Benedetti
Decca 4851891 [52’26]
It was not my intention to review this album here but then I read what Nicola Benedetti had written in her introductory notes, that "Many find it (the Italian baroque) light fare: too populist, repetitive and predictable." So maybe, putting these descriptions aside, it will appeal to our reader.
CD Review - Sumertime
Isata Kanneh-Mason piano
Decca 4851663 [62’52]
My last review was of a new release from one of the world’s best-loved queens of the keyboard and now we have this album of 20th century American music from a princess of the piano. Aged 25, Isata is the eldest daughter in the remarkable Kanneh-Mason musical family.
(Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II)
Analysed by Robert Walton
Whenever I’m asked to name one of my favourite songs in that largely neglected period, the Golden Era of Popular Music between 1920 - 1960, without hesitation my reply is always The Folks Who Live on the Hill sung by Peggy Lee.
(Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II)
Analysed by Robert Walton
Whenever I’m asked to name one of my favourite songs in that largely neglected period, the Golden Era of Popular Music between 1920 - 1960, without hesitation my reply is always The Folks Who Live on the Hill sung by Peggy Lee. But as you’ll find out there’s a heck of a lot more packed into just one short track. For some reason the location in my imagination has always been the Tauranga region of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty - a truly rural spot a few miles inland from the mighty Pacific Ocean. What a setting and what a singer! So much so, I simply can’t wait to proceed with my analysis. Before that though I must tell you the song was composed in 1937 and first sung in the film “High, Wide and Handsome” by Irene Dunne. Twenty years later in 1957, Capitol Records revived it for surely what must be the definitive version, which is not surprising with all the talent involved.
This Mahler-inspired hymn-like miniature miracle begins with strings and harp creeping in to create one of the most beautiful feelgood atmospheres ever heard. The whole thing is cradled by Nelson Riddle’s brilliant score. And as if that isn’t enough, a solo trumpet pops up proclaiming something of great importance is about to be announced. Then a haunting oboe continues this short introduction via more trumpet with an added horn bringing the section to a close. (It reminds one of Western movie music).
Husky-voiced Peggy Lee now delivers Hammerstein’s glorious lyric making a very ordinary scenario quite special, with Kern’s equally gorgeous melody. Plan A, building a home on a hill has overtones of the TV series “Grand Designs”. The 43 bar tune including a bridge of 6 bars might be unusual but the overwhelming message is one of complete normality. Peggy sings about two people falling in love, bringing up kids and refers to many things families experience during one’s life. Every time she mentions the title, that trumpet joins her and goose pimples magically appear. And she insists on being called “folks”. No problem. We will oblige. It’s more like a prayer of thanks and hope for the future.
Oh yes, I almost forgot one small detail. Frank Sinatra waved the baton over the whole affair! At this difficult time of Covid and Climate Change, it was like a breath of fresh air!
CD Review – Love Songs
Angela Hewitt piano
Hyperion CDA68341 [75’57]
We are constantly being encouraged to meditate during – and beyond – these still uncertain times. Researched, put together and recorded during lockdown, this album with its musical declarations of love across the centuries would be an ideal accompaniment to any such activity.
Recorded in August 2020, this is another non-orchestral release possibly brought about by the Covid lockdown – and another successful foray into our kind of music for the enterprising award-winning Somm label.
It is with profound sadness that we record the death of Vernon Anderson, who peacefully passed away on June 15th, after a period of ill health borne with great courage and dignity.
A native of Benfleet, Essex, Vernon was educated at Bearwood Royal Navy School in Berkshire and saw military service with the RAF, being stationed in the (then) British colony of Aden (now Yemen). Returning to Benfleet, he became a member of the Barking Choral Society, where he met his future wife Beryl and they married in 1971. Sadly, Beryl passed away in 2005, after having been cared for by Vernon during her terminal illness.
During the 1980s and 1990s, he worked as an Architectural Technician for the London Borough of Newham, but took early retirement. He then volunteered as a care assistant with the Alzheimer's Society and eventually became employed by that organisation.
Vernon had been a stalwart member of the Robert Farnon Society, attending almost every meeting for many years, and regularly presenting as well. He enjoyed, and had a wide knowledge of, many different musical genres, including of course Light Music, particularly that of Robert Farnon and his contemporaries. One of his great 'loves' was jazz piano and he often championed the brilliant playing of the very talented Scottish pianist Bill McGuffie.
I was always very appreciative of Vernon's assistance at RFS events, for he frequently helped me to dismantle, pack away and load the Audio-Visual equipment into my vehicle at the end of each afternoon's programme. It gave us a good opportunity to talk about music – and architecture, another of our mutual interests.
Although more recently he was no longer able to attend the London meetings at the Lancaster Hall Hotel, we kept in intermittent touch by telephone. I visited him during the summer of 2020 at his home near Ilford, just before he relocated to assisted living accommodation in Basildon. He was later hospitalised, before ultimately being moved into a nearby high-dependency nursing home, in March 2021.
Vernon was a thorough gentleman – and indeed a very gentle man. It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to know him and he will be greatly missed. On behalf of all former RFS members and LLMMG attendees, our sincere condolences are extended to his daughters Lynda and Claire and his son Keith – who, back in the 90s, also supported the Robert Farnon Society meetings at the Bonnington Hotel.
© Tony Clayden June 2021