20 Sep

Going for a Ride

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(Torch)

Analysed by Robert Walton

In the early 1950s when most people were requesting the top pop hits of the day, I was unashamedly asking for light orchestral numbers on the “Listeners’ Request Session” at our local radio station, 1ZB Auckland. I always signed my name “Blue Eyes of Remuera”. Anyhow, the very first record I requested was Going for a Ride by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra.

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(Torch)
Analysed by Robert Walton

In the early 1950s when most people were requesting the top pop hits of the day, I was unashamedly asking for light orchestral numbers on the “Listeners’ Request Session” at our local radio station, 1ZB Auckland. I always signed my name “Blue Eyes of Remuera”. Anyhow, the very first record I requested was Going for a Ride by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Incidentally Torch’s Radio Romantic was the programme’s signature tune.

I’m amazed I hadn’t already analysed Going for a Ride in one of my JIM articles, but it’s never too late I guess. This Sidney Torch classic happens to be the second item on David Ades’ introductory compilation of “Golden Age of Light Music” on Guild (GLCD 5101).

Going for a Ride starts straight in with nine identical bright staccato notes played by a mellow flute with the orchestra. Keeping up the interest and making sure the listener is concentrating, this catchy tune repeats itself in a higher key. Now comes what we’ve all been waiting for, the first of those thrilling Torch fillers. It’s almost as if the main tune is purely a prop inspiring a whole chorus of connecting passages - like a delayed introduction. It’s those crisp incidental interludes that are the lifeblood of these light orchestra gems. The reason we know them so well is that they were heard constantly as production music on newsreels, radio and television. To us light music enthusiasts, they were the soundtrack to our lives.

Analysing the aforementioned, the strings keep us on tenterhooks with some dramatic bow gestures. Woodwinds offer up some wonderfully rapid phrases answered by the strings and then we’re in true Torch territory with the brass blazing away in preparation for an imminent return of the opening tune.

Now it’s bridge time with first off, the Torch brass and strings enlivening things up, before an oboe’s plaintive tone adds its colour to the mix. Gradually the orchestra builds while Torch in his element is doing what he does best, exciting us with more of those imaginative ideas in his orchestrations. Never had light orchestral music been proclaimed so powerfully within a composition. Though the actual melodies might have acted as props they were extremely tuneful and appealing.

There’s no doubt the two top light orchestral talents in the 1940s and 50s in Britain were Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon. They were both original and prolific and towered above the rest. It’s a pity Torch didn’t arrange more music for the “Great American Songbook”.

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11 Sep

The Story of The Light

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A series of two programmes entitled 'The Story of The Light' are to be aired on Mondays 18th and 25th September at 10pm on BBC Radio 2 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of 'The BBC Light Programme'. Former JIM correspondent Brian Reynolds will be participating in the second of these programmes talking about 'Music While You Work' and light music programmes in general with comparisons to today's radio.

BBC link to info about the programme:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/38/the-story-of-the-light

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05 Sep

Moonglow/Theme from “Picnic”

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(George W. Duning)
Analysed by Robert Walton

One of the most romantic scenes in cinematic history has just got to be the moment William Holden sensuously dances with Kim Novak in the 1955 film “Picnic’. From a laid-back piano/guitar quartet playing Will Hudson’s 1934 standard Moonglow, emerges George Duning’s glorious melody of the theme song from “Picnic”. This is one of the most effective musical juxtapositions of all time. The haunting orchestration was by Arthur Morton.

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(George W. Duning)
Analysed by Robert Walton

One of the most romantic scenes in cinematic history has just got to be the moment William Holden sensuously dances with Kim Novak in the 1955 film “Picnic’. From a laid-back piano/guitar quartet playing Will Hudson’s 1934 standard Moonglow, emerges George Duning’s glorious melody of the theme song from “Picnic”. This is one of the most effective musical juxtapositions of all time. The haunting orchestration was by Arthur Morton.

On the flipside of a Brunswick 78rpm disc No 05553 is the full version of the Theme from “Picnic” featuring the composer conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra. Although you’re getting your money’s worth in its completed form, to hear it with Moonglow is an experience not to be missed, particularly the constant jazzy phrase first heard in bars 7 and 8. The atmosphere is electric especially when the strings make their 6-note entry in ascending thirds in the key of C on the chord of A minor 9,11. So let’s take a closer look at this double whammy of keyboard and orchestra with Morris Stoloff conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra.

It’s the contrast of small group and orchestra that is the perfect musical balance for underscoring the action. The first time I heard the strings creep in was a total surprise and revelation. If the quartet with its Teddy Wilson-type piano had just continued playing while they were dancing it would have been satisfactory, but the bonus of strings added an extra ingredient to the mix, making it special. George Duning was spot on. This very lyrical strain was perfect for the job but Steve Allen’s words for the McGuire Sisters’ didn’t exactly catch on. The romantic aspect had been sealed with a “smooch of strings” which seemed to go on forever. The George Cates million seller wasn’t a patch on the other George’s version.

It’s difficult to explain why, but this is a typical Hollywood sound. Couldn’t be anything else. The ultimate in schmaltz you may say. Part of the explanation I think is the simplicity and yet the modernity of the melody. Perhaps it’s because it’s based on a song. After all, As Time Goes By literally made “Casablanca”. There are very few English movies that fall into that category. One that comes to mind was Malcolm Arnold’s “Whistle Down the Wind” theme but it didn’t have the American touch. The Los Angeles string sound is nothing like London’s. You just know when you hear it. It’s perhaps more alluring.

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30 Aug

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, Symphony no.5, The Hebrides

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MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto, Symphony no.5, The Hebrides
Isabelle Faust ● Freiburger Barockorchester cond. Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia mundi HMM902325 (61:37)

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) was a terrifically talented Hamburg-born composer

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25 Aug

The Bad and the Beautiful

Written by

(Raksin)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Robert Farnon was one of the first light orchestral composers to come up with a most original idea. He found that a complicated beginning of a piece (almost atonal) not only provided a sense of risk-taking like a high wire act, but kept the listener guessing as to where it would finally alight in a normal tonal context. His Manhattan Playboy has all the elements of such a format in which the opening bars of the actual tune are a sort of boppish free fall before landing in the safety net of the home chord. The effect of all this was mind-blowing...

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(Raksin)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Robert Farnon was one of the first light orchestral composers to come up with a most original idea. He found that a complicated beginning of a piece (almost atonal) not only provided a sense of risk-taking like a high wire act, but kept the listener guessing as to where it would finally alight in a normal tonal context. His Manhattan Playboy has all the elements of such a format in which the opening bars of the actual tune are a sort of boppish free fall before landing in the safety net of the home chord. The effect of all this was mind-blowing.

The same thing effectively happens in the haunting theme The Bad and the Beautiful from the 1952 film of the same name, although this is a much slower tempo. It’s a more meandering tune than David Raksin’s masterpiece Laura. For the first few bars of The Bad and the Beautiful we’re on a restless (some might even say “reckless”) Raksin flight of fancy with the blues overtones of Harold Arlen. This is a ravishing piece of writing and I was totally captivated. After all this tension, the “sun” suddenly comes out courtesy of a French horn and we’re at last happily ensconced in a key of contentment. Still in the same key a solo violin keeps us on the straight and narrow giving an edge to the music, enticing us back to the exotic. We’re immediately whipped away from our comfort zone by a dance band-sounding muted trumpet into a repeat of that elaborate opening.

Now strong strings in close harmony play an absolutely gorgeous middle section of crying and sighing. Perhaps it should be called a “bridge of sighs”. No need to consult your physician as it’s only a case of cutis anserina (goose pimples). A perfect moment to compare the much improved recording quality of the Rose Orchestra of 1953 with that of its first attempts just ten years earlier. I’ve never quite understood why the quality of Rose’s early work, both in performance and recording quality, was sometimes not quite up to scratch on those old 78rpm discs. Other orchestras of the same period seemed to produce better results.

The sensitive violin is back for 5 bars of the start, after which the rest of the strings bring us neatly to a conclusion, and on the way, echo the opening of Artie Shaw’s Frenesi. However we’re still not quite finished as the horn quotes the opening.

This has been an extraordinarily sublime experience and one that I am unlikely to forget. Hollywood and Raksin are at their best. We owe an enormous debt to film soundtracks.

The Bad and the Beautiful (Raksin)
David Rose Orchestra
“Great American Light Orchestras”
The Golden Age of Light Music
Guild (GLCD 5105)

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17 Aug

40th Anniversary London Meeting and Banquet,1996

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The printed programme for the 40th Anniversary London Meeting and Banquet in 1996.

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The printed programme for the 40th Anniversary London Meeting and Banquet in 1996.

 

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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.