Lovers in Rome / Lovers in Paris

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New from Vocalion – two great Decca albums of Light Music are available once more

MONIA LITER and his Orchestra


"Lovers in Rome"

1 CHIANTI SONG (Winkler)
2 LOVERS IN ROME (Winkler)
5 ANNA MARIE (Fragna)
10 TANGO DE CASINO (Ingelhoff)
13 GUAGLIONE (Fanciulli, Nisa)
14 MARIE LOUISE (Berg, Neisel)


"Lovers in Paris"

2 THE FLIRT (Silver, Alfred)
6 FRENCH FRIES (Hartley, Cassens)
8 MY NEXT SONG (Goehr)
10 PRENEZ GARDE (McDonald)
11 SHEBA (Gray)
12 TUMBLE HOME (Warner)
13 BLUE BLUES (Zacharias)

Vocalion CDLK4220 - 2 CDs for the price of 1

I can still recall a pleasant Sunday, early in 1958, when I was at the BBC’s Riverside television studios in London for one of Robert Farnon’s programmes. The guest pianist was Monia Liter, at that time highly respected as a concert pianist; he was also working at the famous music publishers Boosey & Hawkes in their Light Music department. Monia was closely involved with their Recorded Music Library, and I can remember telling him that, despite being a member of the Robert Farnon Society, it was impossible to get hold of Chappell 78s of Bob’s music. He asked me to let him know which titles I particularly wanted, and said that he would try to pull a few strings. It was only a matter of days before a parcel arrived at my home (via Boosey & Hawkes) containing several precious shellac discs featuring Farnon compositions then unrecorded commercially, which I still treasure to this day.

Such an act of kindness was typical of this charming man, so it was with a special sense of gratitude that I learned that Michael Dutton had accepted my suggestion that the two fine mono Decca LPs by Monia Liter from the 1950s should be reissued on CD. It turned out that the two albums lasted too long to fit on one CD, but rather than omit some of the tracks this new Vocalion release actually contains two CDs, but at the usual price for just one.

Monia Literwas born in Odessa on the Black Sea on 27 January 1906, where he studied piano and composition at the Imperial School of Music. He left Russia during the 1917 revolution for Harbin, in North China, where he managed to continue with his musical education. This provided him with the suitable qualifications that enabled him to join an Italian opera company in Shanghai, as assistant conductor and choirmaster, subsequently touring with them throughout China and Japan. When this engagement terminated, he formed his own dance band in Hankow.

Some while later he was in India with an American dance band, which involved touring throughout the sub-continent and Burma, eventually visiting Malaya. He decided to settle in nearby Singapore, and for seven years he was employed with his own orchestra at the famous Raffles Hotel, where he engaged the young Al Bowlly as a vocalist. While in that city he became a naturalised British subject. Monia Liter and Al Bowlly travelled to Britain in 1929, and different reports of this period of Liter’s career contain conflicting information. However it appears that Monia returned to China where he was appointed head of music at a commercial radio station in Shanghai; in 1933 he decided to make his permanent home in London.

His first appearance back in England was with his friend Al Bowlly in variety at the Holborn Empire (by now Bowlly had found fame, mainly as Ray Noble’s singer, although he had provided the vocals on 78s by numerous British dance bands), and thereafter Liter played the piano with virtually every famous dance band in Britain. He was a frequent visitor to the recording studios, firstly with Lew Stone (from 1933 to 1936), Nat Gonella (1934 - 1937), Jack Hylton (1936 and 1937), Harry Roy – where he replaced Stanley Black (1939 and 1940), then on various occasions with Victor Silvester (1940 - 1944). Sometimes these bands would be recording Monia Liter’s own arrangements for them.

In 1941 he joined the BBC as a pianist, conductor and arranger, initially with the Twentieth Century Serenaders. After 10 years at the BBC, he left them to concentrate on composing and concert work, which involved touring with famous names such as Sophie Tucker, Larry Adler and Richard Tauber. George Melachrino chose Monia Liter as the solo pianist on his HMV recording of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, and with the Mantovani Orchestra on Decca he recorded Clive Richardson’s ‘London Fantasia’ (reissued on Vocalion CDEA6019), Hubert Bath’s ‘Cornish Rhapsody’, Mischa Spoliansky’s ‘A Voice in the Night’ (Vocalion CDEA6044) and Albert Arlen’s ‘Alamein Concerto’.

He was also in demand for films, recording and television, as well as working in the Light Music department at Boosey & Hawkes, writing numerous works for their Recorded Music Library. In 1956 the BBC commissioned him to compose a serious work for their Light Music Festival, for which he wrote his ‘Scherzo Transcendant’. Other original works include ‘Andalusian Girl’, ‘Black Chiffon’, ‘The Valley of the Kings’, ‘Prelude Espagnole’, ‘Spanish Suite’, ‘Two Southern Impressions’ and ‘The Puppets’.

In his later career Monia Liter preferred to concentrate more on writing, rather than performing. He died in London on 5 October 1988 aged 82.

Although the titles of these two LPs were designed to appeal to record buyers’ nostalgia for romantic places, the truth is that they are really just collections of attractive pieces of light music, written by talented composers from several different countries over a period of many years. Through his work with music publishers, and as a result of his long broadcasting career, Monia Liter would have had personal knowledge of probably thousands of suitable numbers, so it would not have been difficult for him to make highly entertaining selections such as these.

The original album sleeve-notes provide attractive descriptions of the delights of Paris and Rome, but unfortunately they do not go into any helpful details regarding the actual melodies and their talented composers. Despite this distance in time, happily some of the names do still strike a familiar chord, but it is not always easy to avoid the traps laid through the use of pseudonyms – that bugbear of researchers.

Lovers in Rome opens with two melodies from the pen of a distinguished continental composer. Gerhard Winkler (1906-1977) is a German composer, whose name may not be familiar internationally, but his music certainly is. Perhaps his best-known piece of light music outside his homeland is his Neapolitan Serenade, although Chianti Song runs it a close second. He seems to have been inspired by Italy for many of his works, but his greatest success was Answer Me My Love which Nat ‘King’ Cole took into the US hit parade in 1954, where it remained for 40 weeks.

Monia Liter has admitted to composing Soft Lights of Rome, but his publishers also identify him as the composer of Andalusian Girl so, presumably, Sicilian Lullaby is also his creation as well, since both have the same composer credit – ‘Gaze’. Andalusian Girl may be familiar, because with an added vocal it became a pop song Pepe which enjoyed some success around 1960. Another well-known novelty is Guaglione – possibly better known as The Man Who Plays The Mandolin. The two numbers by ‘Wayne’ are most likely the work of American composer Bernie Wayne, who wrote many catchy pieces of light music in the 1950s (such as Vanessa, Port-Au-Prince and Veradero), although his biggest success was the song Blue Velvet.

The title track of Lovers in Paris offers a charming melody from the same pen as the composer of Sentimental Afternoon. Unfortunately the name ‘Sherman’ is not uncommon among composers, so without additional information it is well nigh impossible to attribute these attractive numbers. Perhaps an educated guess can be made in the case of The Flirt, since one of Monia Liter’s colleagues at Boosey & Hawkes was Bassett Silver (who was in charge of the Recorded Music Library), although the co-composer ‘Alfred’ could be a pseudonym – maybe for the maestro himself? We are on slightly safer ground with French Fries, because Fred Hartley was a highly respected broadcaster and composer, and he would have worked with Monia Liter on many occasions.

Two other numbers from this LP can be credited with certainty. Ken Warner (real name Onslow Boyden Waldo Turner – 1902-1988) composed several catchy string novelties, perhaps the best-known being Scrub Brother Scrub. Tumble Home first appeared in the Boosey & Hawkes Recorded Music Library. Warner could play violin, clarinet and saxophone, and during a long and varied career he worked with the likes of Peter Yorke, Max Jaffa, Reginald Leopold and Fred Hartley. He was a BBC employee until 1959, when he decided to retire to Cornwall and raise pigs.

Helmut Zacharias (1920-2002) the famous German violinist achieved international fame with his ‘Magic Violins’. In the 1950s AFN dubbed him ‘the best jazz violinist in the world’ and during his long career he received many awards, notably for his Tokyo Melody which the BBC chose for its coverage of the 1964 Olympic Games, helping it to achieve sales of over 13 million copies worldwide. Blue Blues finds Helmut in a sad, reflective mood.

The delicate touch of Monia Liter at the keyboard can be heard among the rich orchestral sounds on these two albums from the mid-1950s, although he never attempts to overwhelm the melodies. As a highly respected concert pianist he could have been forgiven for using these LPs as a showcase purely for his own talents, but it speaks volumes for his own good taste, and his respect for the gifted composers whose works he conducts, that he allows the music to hold centre stage. Many of the tunes will be unfamiliar on a first hearing, but one suspects that they will soon become established favourites of the music-lovers who appreciate such pleasant sounds as these.

David Ades

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