■ The first item of Robert Farnon’s news in our last issue concerned a collection of string arrangements which Bob hopes will be recorded during the coming year. An extra title recently completed is called Un Place de mon Coeur and Bob has provisionally given this collection the title "Cameo For Strings". Naturally we’ll let you have more information as soon as a recording session is booked. Bob hopes that the Phoenix Studios in Wembley will be available, because he prefers the more intimate sound to larger venues such as Watford Town Hall.
■ Song of Scandia keeps reappearing on Bob’s music stand. The version for the above proposed CD is essentially for strings, and Bob has also written a new setting for bassoon. This is at the request of Margaret Pollock, the principal bassoon player with the BBC Concert Orchestra, and it may well be heard in a "Friday Night Is Music Night" before long. Originally this work featured the cello, and Bob explained to us that the cello and bassoon have many similar characteristics which suit this piece particularly well. If possible, Bob would like Margaret to perform some solos on the projected "Cameo for Strings" album (see our first paragraph). He has scored his new work A Place In My Heart (Une Place de mon Coeur) for bassoon; this is a slow blues number, and is in recognition of Margaret’s love of jazz. Please turn to page 47 to read more about Margaret Pollock.
■ Flautist Jane Pickles is adding a new Farnon composition to her repertoire. It is called Songbird and is a 10-minute work in two movements. Again it could be heard soon on "Friday Night Is Music Night".
■ Fred Mills, the trumpeter formerly with Canadian Brass, now has an active solo career which takes him to several countries for special concerts. Bob has composed Vivacity for him – a 5-minute work which is apparently not very easy to play!
■ Beloved is a recent Farnon work which is on the list for the "Cameos for Strings" collection. The vocal version is called This is my Beloved, and Brian Farnon is currently performing it with his band. Bob understands that Tony Bennett may also be interested, and there could be some positive news later in the year.
■ As we reported in our last issue, Marc Fortier in Montreal is working tirelessly to try and get a premiere performance of Robert Farnon’s Symphony No. 3 as soon as possible. Unfortunately he has recently received a letter from André Previn explaining that it will be difficult for him to conduct the symphony in Montreal, because he has no plans to be working there, at least in the next few years. However André is doing all he can to get it scheduled in to a programme in Norway, where he is currently working with the Oslo Philharmonic. We all remember the much quoted comment by André that he regards Robert Farnon as the greatest living writer for strings. In his latest letter to Marc Fortier he ends up: "I’m an enormous admirer of Mr. Farnon’s work and have been for a great many years. Please send him my warmest regards."
"Happy Birthday, Bob!" - on the Internet
FORREST PATTEN sent the following message to all his fellow-members of the ‘Beautiful Instrumentals’ web site in celebration of Bob’s 87th. We repeat his message in full, exactly as it was received around the world:
From: musicsfx [mailto:]
Sent: Friday, July 23, 2004 2:52 PM
Subject: [BeautifulInstrumentals] Happy 87th Birthday to Robert Farnon! Saturday, July 24 marks Canadian composer/arranger Robert Farnon's 87th birthday. The good news is that he's continuing to write with no signs of slowing down. From his home in Guernsey (in Britain's Channel Islands), the "Guv'nor", as he's affectionately known by his musical peers, is enjoying a renaissance in popularity. This is due, in no small part, to the availability of his vast Decca repertoire reissued on CD thanks to Michael Dutton's Vocalion label. There is also a thriving worldwide appreciation society dedicated to the works of Robert Farnon (and other composers/arrangers of light music) based in England. Their website (www.rfsoc.org.uk) is filled with all sorts of great information. On a personal note, it's been my pleasure to know Bob since the 1970's. We continue to stay in touch on a regular basis. His name alone has opened many doors and allowed me to meet and to interview a number of musical greats including Tony Bennett, John Williams, Henri Rene, Ron Goodwin, Dizzy Gillespie, Andre Previn, Frank Comstock, Henry Mancini, Peggy Lee, and Gene Puerling. They all have acknowledged Bob's influence on their respective careers. Listen to arrangements by Don Costa, Marty Paich and Johnny Mandel. You'll hear the "Farnon touch." Musically, he can write everything from classical to some of the hottest jazz you'll ever hear. But it is his "string" sound that captivates. When you listen to a Farnon recording, you'll end up asking yourself "how did he do that?" His arrangements are filled with so many surprises. His writing skills are all a very natural and flowing part of the genius of this man. While interviewing Bob back in the 1980's, I asked him why he wasn't as well known to the record buying public as the other conductors in the Decca stable like Stanley Black, Frank Chacksfield and Mantovani. His answer was that he simply didn't want to go through all of the promotional machinations that the others had to when selling their music to the public. His idea was to write, conduct and record the music, and to let the public react to it accordingly. It's safe to say that if the general public didn't initially embrace or respond, people in the music business certainly did! Today, Robert Farnon's music continues to be heard throughout the world. Besides the Vocalion CD releases, you can hear many of his Chappell Music Library pieces on the cult TV series 'The Prisoner.' Also from Chappell's is the haunting music box cue used for "Josette's music box" on early episodes of the ABC-TV gothic soap opera 'Dark Shadows.' His "Gateway ToThe West" will be remembered as the theme for the long running 'David Susskind Show'. And, of course, there are the movie scores for Gregory Peck's 'Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N.', 'Shalako' with Sean Connery and Bridget Bardot, and the final "road picture" with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, 'Road To Hong Kong'. Happy birthday to my friend Robert Farnon. Keep writing. We need your wonderful music in our world today.
‘Beautiful Instrumentals’ is the Number One Music Discussion Group Celebrating Beautiful Easy Listening Music Instrumentals and Vocals. For more information visit www.groups.yahoo.com/group/BeautifulInstrumentals/
Willi Tokarev is one of Russia’s top singers and entertainers, and he is a great fan of Robert Farnon. On Willi’s website (www.willitokarev.ru/robert_farnon.htm) you can read his tribute to Bob, but for those of you who might have difficulty in understanding Russian, Willi’s friend Alexander Korobko has kindly made the following translation for ‘Journal Into Melody’
If I was provided with something from God, then the rest I got from Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Robert Farnon.
Certainly, I marvel at Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, Mozart, and Beethoven! Yes, needless to say, every well-known composer, beginning with Gluck, grasped my attention, making me admire his brilliant works. In the melodic sense I was influenced by Peter Tchaikovsky, in the harmonic - by Igor Stravinsky, but Robert Farnon has literally influenced my entire musical credo: the melody, the harmony, the arrangement.
He instilled in me the taste, which determines the quality of work in any genre. When a musician's erudition is filled with all that is beautiful, beginning with the folk music and concluding with the most complex symphonic works, the treatment of his own creations under the influence of this very erudition, acquires its own unique value. In the 1960s we acquired a radio receiver at home and I tuned into radio from London, discovering music arranged with such highest craftsmanship, that it immediately became the object of my admiration. That was the orchestra of Robert Farnon, his music and his arrangements.
Later, I also familiarised myself with other conductors and their orchestras, which were I found very interesting. These are the orchestras of Andre Kostelanetz, Percy Faith, George Melachrino, Mantovani and many others, but none of them has reached Robert Farnon's level when it comes to arrangements.
Robert Farnon focuses attention on many aspects of his works: the irreproachable selection of musicians, splendid instruments, amazing soloists, the striking cleanliness of the intonation of the orchestra, an infinite quantity of "colours" thanks to the unique combination of instruments, and the main thing - the soul and the heart of the conductor, his special, finesse and taste, which one can feel in any of his works.
This absolute harmonic and melodic texture can be created only by highest, perfect intellect. The intellect of Robert Farnon. For example, each of his introductions to any piece which he arranges - is a mini masterpiece, making you admire the limitless possibilities of this composer and master of orchestration. Because of his fantastic arrangements many works acquired a timeless quality.
As a conductor, the skill of Robert Farnon, in combination with the craftsmanship of his arrangements provides a kind of pleasure that is difficult to define. It is a balsam, which cleans your heart and soul, making a man more noble and much happier. It would be a very useful practice to listen to Robert Farnon's music before the beginning of lessons in schools. Fifteen minutes of his celestial music, would fine-tune the emotions of schoolboys to something very positive, making further learning that much more effective.
One can say that Robert Farnon's creativity - is virtually an unattainable art and skill. Robert Farnon is the apex of musical Everest. The Lord himself listens to his music with pleasure. Robert Farnon's music - this is the Milky Way, where the scales and logic – are amazing. His enormous orchestra is a magic rainbow of sounds.
When dressing up well-known melodies, Robert Farnon applies to them an unusual "make up", conveying feelings of amazing beauty. In their design these "dresses" do not have anything equal in terms of beauty. In the theatre there is the acknowledged Stanislavski system. It would be wonderful if the world's musical institutions would teach the system of Robert Farnon. That would change our world into a better place.
The Titanic ability of Robert Farnon is amazing. Being the conductor of three symphony orchestras in London, he also wrote music for films, arranging it with his usual lustre. Robert Farnon is a unique phenomenon who extends into the infinity. His music is eternal, thanks to his unique orchestra, in which as Perpetual Mobile his heart is beating. Thanks to you, celestial musical envoy, for making happy the millions of people on our planet.
■ In March Robert Farnon advised us that he had just completed working on several new arrangements for strings, harp, piano and percussion. These have been conceived with harpist Suzy Willison in mind, and include several brand new compositions as well as a few old favourites: Alto Vista, Infatuation for Harp, Song of Scandia, Hopscotch, Novelette Sentimental, Moonset, Timeless Rose, Indecision, Piano Strings, Walkin’ Happy, Sacree et Profane (Debussy), Intermezzo for Harp, La Douzieme Jardin (The Twelfth Garden) and Beloved. These pieces are being held in readiness for a future recording project, which it is planned that John Wilson will eventually conduct. In the meantime John will keep these new works in his library, and possibly use one or two in his public concerts.
■ Symphony orchestras have to plan their concerts well in advance, so it is hardly surprising that the premiere performance of Bob’s Symphony No. 3 is still awaited. However the omens are good: Andre Previn has spoken to Bob about conducting it in Oslo, and Marc Fortier is trying to get it scheduled in Montreal. Several other orchestras have also expressed keen interest in this work, so it is only a matter of time before the paying public gets to hear it! Meanwhile the amateur musicians in the Guernsey Symphony Orchestra have been rehearsing it for the benefit of the composer, so that any ‘glitches’ can be removed from the manuscripts.
■ Robert Farnon has been commissioned to compose a major new work lasting around 15 minutes for an American Wind Band, based in New Jersey. It is likely that it will be premiered by the Roxbury High School Honors Wind Band conducted by Stanley Saunders in January 2006. The instrumentation comprises just about every possible instrument, except strings, and the large ensemble (nine clarinets and seven percussionists are just two examples!) will allow Bob’s creativity full rein. His initial thoughts are to give the work a Scottish theme, and no doubt we will have more to report later this year.
■ Although it is disappointing that the album Robert Farnon recorded with George Benson has never appeared, George does use some of Bob’s charts in his public performances. He recently said that "… the entire orchestra is lifted up with enthusiasm…" when they see the arrangements on their music stands. "The morale of the orchestra improves significantly!" [note: one track from the Benson/Farnon sessions did appear on CD in 1990 – "Portrait of Jennie" on Warner Bros 926295-2.] Two other legendary performers whose cherished ambitions were to record with Bob were J.J. Johnson and Eileen Farrell. J.J. was unhappy following the death of his wife, and the sessions with Bob came at just the right time to lift his spirits. He was very nervous during the recordings, possibly because Bob’s scores were stretching his artistic talents to the limit. But as we all know the result was the award of a Grammy! Similarly Eileen Farrell (who had also lost her husband) had told friends for years that she wanted to work with Bob before she died: in the event they did four CDs together.
■ The recordings featuring Kathryn Oldfield on the recent Robert Farnon CD "A Portrait of Farnon" reminded Derek Boulton that she was the only singer – male or female – who had ever achieved the distinction of having two radio series on both the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. At the time, the BBC normally ‘black-listed’ any of their performers who had dared to go to the commercial rival, but somehow Kathryn slipped through the net! For the BBC Kathryn sang with Bob and Laurie Johnson. Her Radio Luxembourg shows were sponsored by football and hair products.
■ John Parry tells us that he is very pleased that Robert Farnon’s album "Showcase for Soloists has finally made it on to CD. John produced it while he was in charge of the Recorded Music Department at Chappells, and he regards it as one of the best things he did for them. He was involved in everything, from the original concept right through to the final mix. The reason why the commercial release on Invicta was delayed was through technical mistakes – nothing to do with John. Invicta could have used the same plates that produced the Chappell LP, but they insisted on re-cutting it. Unfortunately the engineer failed to read the tape box label, and didn’t realise that the master was in Dolby. The tape was played in non-Dolby, with the resultant unsatisfactory results, so the LP master had to be made again. The new Vocalion CD also includes some tracks that John can remember recording in Europe, such as Power and Glory, Winter Jasmine etc.
■ Just recently Robert Farnon confided in us that next month (July) marks the 50th anniversary of the date when he and his wife Pat fell in love. Bob had just returned from the USA to work on the film "Lilacs In The Spring" which was being made by Herbert Wilcox. Patricia Smith was the casting director on the film, although she and Bob had first met back in the 1940s on films such as "Spring In Park Lane" and "Maytime In Mayfair". Pat was a good friend of the publicity manager at Herbert Wilcox Productions, Jackie Ward (her father was the leader of the orchestra on the ‘Titanic’). Bob chuckled as he remembered that Jackie told Pat that her romance with Bob would never last! When Bob arrived at the studios that July (back in 1954) to start working on "Lilacs In The Spring", Pat had arranged for a sign on his office door to read "Sir Shottis Bolt". He wishes he had kept it! Bob and Pat eventually got married in his home town of Toronto.
Robert Farnon is praised in Review of Harold Arlen Tribute Concert in New York
Harold Arlen was the only composer from the golden age of Broadway who was primarily concerned with celebrating the African-American experience. The son of a cantor from Buffalo, he first became famous by writing the scores for the all-Black Cotton Club revues of the early 1930s, then went on to craft hundreds of classic songs for Broadway and Hollywood.
From Lena Horne's "Stormy Weather" to Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow," to Ray Charles's "Come Rain or Come Shine" and Frank Sinatra's "One for My Baby (and One for the Road)," he provided many of America's greatest singers with their signature material.
On Friday 5th March the composer was the subject of a salute from Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The concert said a little about Harold Arlen but an awful lot more about the Pops form, illuminating both its strengths and weaknesses. The genre - most closely associated with the late Arthur Fielder of the Boston Pops - is a hybrid of classical music, show tunes, and jazz.
Pops orchestras generally start with familiar standard songs and set them in lush, semi symphonic arrangements, then spice them up with occasional jazz solos. At its worst, this music is pale and bloodless, a species of Muzak that differs from the kind heard in elevators only in the way it's presented: people actually listen to this in concert. But at its best, it's a wonderful vehicle for the Great American Songbook.
Certain composers - especially George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Arlen himself - wrote with a classical sense of melody and form but also used harmonies and rhythms that never fail to inspire jazz musicians. Mr. Henderson, most famous from his celebrated stint on the original, New York-based edition of Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," has been conducting Pops-style music for more than 60 years. In his time, he has been affiliated with great singers from Cliff Edwards to Sinatra and Bing Crosby (who gave him his nickname).
But the first half of the Pops Arlen presentation featured a vocal quartet known as Monday Off, who sing in roughly the same contortionist mode as the Manhattan Transfer and the New York Voices. As such, the first portion of the evening suffered from a distinct lack of soul - an ingredient essential to a proper presentation of Arlen's rich, jazz-inflected melodies.
The second half was a distinct improvement, and the reason was the fine singer Lillias White whose artistry, like Arlen's, is equally rooted in Broadway and the Blues. The second half's sole instrumental was also a highlight: the relatively rare "What's Good About Goodbye" (written for the 1948 film "Casbah" where it was sung by Tony Martin, and recorded by Sarah Vaughan, Eydie Gorme, and not many others) in a sumptuous orchestration by Robert Farnon and featuring Dianne Loesser on oboe. The Canadian-born, Britain-based Mr. Farnon, who at 86 is a year older than Mr. Henderson, is unchallenged as the greatest orchestrator of what the English call "light music." He weaves a stunning tapestry of sound with sumptuously rich harmonic voicings and a palette of tonal colours as distinctly idiosyncratic, in its own way, as Ravel or Ellington. His orchestrations make the point - too often unheeded - that light music doesn't have to sound like watered down classical music or jazz. His writing represents everything that's good about the genre. Would that every arrangement that Mr. Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra played was his.
Robert Farnon arranged "What’s Good About Goodbye" for the BBC Radio Orchestra in 1986. To date it has not been recorded commercially. The above report is adapted from Will Friedwald’s review of the concert in the New York Sun, 9 March 2004, with due acknowledgements. Our thanks to Malcolm Frazer for sending this to Journal Into Melody.
■ Robert Farnon completed his Symphony No. 3 in F major at the beginning of December. It lasts approximately 25 minutes, which Bob considers is quite long enough for him to be able to develop his ideas. He believes that so many symphonies last too long, allowing audiences to become bored with them before the end. As you will have seen on the opposite page (and later in this issue) the news of Bob’s new symphony has made the headlines in Edinburgh, and it is hoped that its premiere performance may take place in Scotland’s capital city later this year.
■ Once his symphony was completed, Bob began work on a new 2-part composition for flautist Jane Pickles entitled Songbird. It is not know whether this will be recorded in the near future, but she wanted a special work that she can perform at concerts with a fairly large orchestra. At the same time (unusually for Bob, since he rarely moves on to another piece of music until the work in hand is fully completed) he began sketching out a semi-classical work for the Canadian Brass trumpet player Fred Mills, which will be called Veracity. Fred has been performing Bob’s Schertzando for Trumpet regularly in his concerts, and he said it would be nice to have something else as well!
■ The latest Robert Farnon CD of new recordings with flautist Jane Pickles took place in January, and Bob told us that he was delighted with the work Jack Parnell did in conducting the orchestra. We hope to allow RFS members to hear a preview at our next London meeting on 4 April, and we will have further details of this new release in our June magazine.
■ Robert Farnon’s latest composition (as we went to press at the end of January) is a piece for full string orchestra (ten first violins, 8 second violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos and 4 double basses – plus harp and keyboards) entitled This Is My Beloved. Bob couldn’t say how long it would be: "It all depends where the inspiration will take me!" he explained.
■ Last November, the US President George W. Bush made a State Visit to Britain, and he was the Guest of Honour at a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace on 19 November, hosted by HM Queen Elizabeth II. The following day the London Times gave full details of the guest list, and what they had to eat and drink. The music performed by the Band of the Scots Guards, directed by Major R.J. Owen was also listed (16 pieces), and we were pleased to see that the third item was Westminster Waltz by Robert Farnon. Other featured composers and arrangers included Richard Rodgers, Michael Kamen, Sousa, Leroy Anderson and Charles Ancliffe.
■ Robert Farnon has contributed the foreword to Laurie Johnson’s new autobiography "Noises in the Head". Reproduced in his own handwriting, Bob writes: Whenever friends wish to know the name of my favourite British film composer, the answer has remained the same since I first listened to the brilliant underscoring by the true musician and gentleman who is responsible for this book of rich and varied musical tales, Laurie Johnson.
► The recording sessions for the latest Robert Farnon CD did not take place in July as originally expected (see page 3 of our last issue), but it is now hoped that they can be slotted in soon. The titles will be almost the same as previously listed, with the possible addition of Tete a Tete (solos on flute and oboe), and The Nearness of You (for bass flute).
► Robert Farnon gave us the exciting news in July that he had started work on his Symphony No. 3. Subtitled "I Love Life", the opening theme is based upon his recent composition of that name. Bob told us that he simply felt the urge to be creative, hence the decision to commence this major project. Does this mean that we may eventually hear the first two symphonies – are there any plans to revise them for public performance? Sadly, no. "I’ve already used many of the themes in them for other works!" confessed Bob.
► Robert Farnon’s Lake of the Woods was played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Wilson, in a recorded concert that was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 14 May.
► Richard Jenkinson performed Robert Farnon’s Pictures in the Fire at a concert at the Gatehouse, Barston, West Midlands on 28 June. This was a special evening of music for cello and piano, and Richard was pleased to have the opportunity to play this piece once again, shortly after he performed it in Canterbury on 10 May, alongside works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Debussy. Bob made this cello/piano arrangement for Richard last year, and he first played it in a recital at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, London.
► As we went to press, Brian Farnon and his Orchestra were due to play a special piece by his brother Bob – "Idaho Opening" – at an event in Idaho on 7 August. No doubt Forrest Patten will be able to fill in the details in his News from The States in our December issue.
► ENSA Complete Concerts is the title of a new 2-CD set from a new label – Rex. A Forces Broadcasting Service programme by the Bob Farnon Orchestra is included: Journey Into Melody, Begin the Beguine, All Through the Day (Dick James, vocal), What is this Thing Called Love, The Nearness of You (Carole Carr, vocal), Oh Susannah, Love Walked In, The Stars will Remember (Dick James), Getting Nowhere (Carole Carr), South American Way, Journey Into Melody. Colin Brown has compiled this collection, and he was also responsible for the 1997 President CD "Journey Into Melody" featuring Robert Farnon and the same soloists (PLCD564). In fact all the titles on this new CD are also on the earlier CD, although the introductions to each number were edited out of the President CD. Also the President CD includes many more titles, so it would appear that Colin Brown has access to more than one of these broadcasts. On Rex we seem to have everything as it originally was, with producer Arthur Adair also making the introductions. CD1 in this set features a "Break For Music" with Henry Hall and his Orchestra; "Over to You" Geraldo; and "Top Of The List" RAOC Blue Rockets Dance Orchestra. CD2 begins with the Bob Farnon programme, then moves on to "Break for Music" Lou Preager and his Orchestra with Edna Kaye (alias Mrs. Stanley Black); and finally another "Top of the List" with the RAOC Blue Rockets Dance Orchestra. Unfortunately no recording dates are given, but these shows must date from around 1946/47 – maybe slightly earlier. The sound quality is reasonable, and the catalogue number of this Rex 2-CD set is REXX300 (the retail price is around £10). The RFS Record Service can still supply copies of the earlier President CD for £7.50 [US $15].
During the Spring Robert Farnon was busy working on new arrangements and compositions for a CD which is scheduled for recording this summer – possibly in July. Once again Jack Parnell will be conducting, with Rolph Wilson leading the orchestra. The CD is a showcase for flautist Jane Pickles, for whom Bob has been adapting some earlier scores, such as Hey There, In a Calm, When I Fall in Love and Can I Forget You. Jane also wishes to record La Casita Mia and she is keen to tackle that 1940s ‘tour de force’ Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu which readers will recall that Camarata recorded for a Decca 78. Other titles provisionally selected are Little Miss Megan (Molly), Piccolo Flight, Flute Fantasy, Girl With The Flaxen Hair, I Dream of Jeannie and Magic Island. Another new work by Bob is called I Love Life for which he has also written the lyrics.
► As we went to press, we learned that the vocal version of "I Love Life" was due to be recorded in May by Jose Maria and the RPO at Studio Phoenix – the old CTS Studios in Wembley.
► French lyrics have been written for Robert Farnon’s "How Beautiful is Night" by Pascale Martin. This is also scheduled to be recorded by Jose Maria, but probably with only a piano backing.
► Two other projects, which have been in preparation for some while, are currently ‘on hold’ while Bob tackles other commitments, but he hopes that one day the projected ablums with Gordon Campbell and Peter Appleyard will emerge from the studios.
► Robert Farnon often receives kind messages from admirers, but it is not every day that one so perfectly sums up the feelings of many of us:
"This is a note of appreciation to a genius: Robert Farnon. I was introduced to his exquisite, imaginative arrangements through my musician sister, 40+ years ago and still cherish my mono LP’s: Melody Fair, Pictures in the Fire, Flirtation Walk, Two Cigarettes in the Dark [and the stereo LP] The Sensuous Strings of R.F. which were hers’. Since then, I have also feasted aurally on Sentimental Journey with the Singers Unlimited and Sketches of F. Sinatra & T. Bennett with the wonderful CD sound and bonus of selections with the London Philharmonic. Please tell Mr. Farnon that year in and year out, his music has been marvellously enjoyable, even therapeutic, for me. I know of none other whose works remain fresh with every hearing.
My thanks to RFS for the sample copy of your excellent journal [Issue 153]. One question: on p.9 of that issue, Andre Previn is quoted as saying RF is ‘the greatest living writer for strings.’ In the liner notes for Sketches, Previn is said to have written ‘Very few things remain a constant in the music world; however, Robert Farnon was the world’s greatest arranger many decades ago and he holds the same position today. The very best things never change.’ I heartily agree with both quotes, but prefer the greater accolade. Dr. G.G. Phillips".
► Richard Jenkinson performed Robert Farnon’s Pictures in the Fire at a concert in Canterbury on 10 May, alongside works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Debussy. Bob made this cello/piano arrangement for Richard last year, and he first played it in a recital at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, London.
► Judging by the favourable press comments, Charles Job conducted the Palm Court Orchestra in two excellent concerts of Robert Farnon’s music for Canadian audiences in British Columbia last March. The programme included Journey Into Melody, Lazy Day, Swing Hoe, Mr. Punch, The First Waltz, Dominion Day, Seashore, A Promise of Spring, Jumping Bean, Holiday Flight, Peanut Polka, Westminster Waltz and Goodwood Galop. Among other works (featuring Philip Dyson, piano) were Nino Rota’s Legend of the Glass Mountain, Charles Williams’s Dream of Olwen and two Billy Mayerl numbers – Autumn Crocus and Marigold. Next year Charles and his fine musicians will be paying tribute to Ernest Tomlinson in his 80th birthday year, and we understand that Gavin Sutherland will be a guest conductor of the Palm Court Orchestra. We look forward to giving further details of these important events nearer the time.
► Larry Paikin recently contacted us about the reference to Canadian Brass in our last issue.He wrote: "Your news item about my friend and retired Canadian Brass trumpet soloist, Fred Mills, was a joy to read. This brilliant player/arranger made his fellow Canadians so proud, as far back as his days with the Guelph (Ontario) Police Boys’ Band. Fred is currently a professor at the University of Georgia. No need for sadness about the Canadian Brass. Any rumours about their demise are somewhat exaggerated! They are alive and well and proudly performing Robert Farnon’s works with regularity. In late March they played RF’s Jerome Kern Arrangements (Fred Mills commissioned this for the CB) to three sold out houses in Edmonton, Alberta, home-town of CB hornist Jeff Nelsen. They also recently performed RF’s Farrago of British Folk Songs which Fred commissioned for the CB. Fred and RF go way back!" And Fred Mills himself sent the following message: "My memories of Mr Farnon go back to when he was the trumpeter on the old radio shows of ‘Happy Gang’ which I believe was a noon hour radio show out of Toronto. Robert Farnon also wrote a Brass Quintet Songs of the Emerald Islands which is a medley of Irish Tunes. Since I have left the Canadian Brass I have played this marvellous piece on two St Patrick’s Day celebrations. I have also performed Mr Farnon’s Scherzando for Trumpet about 100 times since 1996 when I left the CB. Mr Farnon also gave me permission to make a new set of finalized parts for the original Scherzando which I believe are for rental from Chappell who is the publisher of the Scherzardo for trumpet and strings and percussion, harp and piano/guitar. With Mr Farnon’s permission I have also rescored the Scherzando for Brass Sextet and another version for trumpet and woodwinds. The Farrago of British Folk Songs is a marvellous collection or Medley and while I was with the CB played that collection many times with many American Orchestras. I have also performed the Farrago many times since 1996 with Tim Morrison, David Ohanian, Marty Hackleman, Sam Pilafian, Dan Perantoni, Scott Hartman and Larry Zalkind. These fine musicians are ex-CB, Empire Brass and St Louis BQ alumni. Wherever I have performed, Mr Farnon’s music and orchestrations are played and they are finely received.
► In our last issued we mentioned that Bob has recently composed a special piece for flute, which he has dedicated to his 10-year old granddaughter, Megan Walsh. She has recently taken up the flute (at her grandfather’s suggestion!), and she is the daughter of Bob’s own daughter Judith – the original ‘young lady’ to whom Bob dedicated To a Young Lady way back in the 1950s. Judith is married to a schoolmaster, and the family lives in Essex. The completed work was sent to Megan in mid-February. Bob explained that he had based it on Little Miss Molly, so the title he chose (most appropriately) was Little Miss Megan!
This new Vocalion CD completes the major project to reissue Robert Farnon’s great Decca albums from the 1950s
"The Songs of Britain" and "Stephen Foster Melodies"
The Songs of Britain Decca LF1123
THE BRITISH GRENADIERS (Trad.)
DRINK TO ME ONLY WITH THINE EYES (Trad.)
THE LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER (Trad.)
THE LONDONDERRY AIR (Trad.)
STRAWBERRY FAIR (Trad.)
ANNIE LAURIE (Lady Scott)
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (Trad.)
EARLY ONE MORNING (Trad.)
Stephen Foster Melodies [The Robert Farnon Octet] Decca LF1034
JEANIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN HAIR
DEEP RIVER (Trad.)
COME WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING
SWEET AND LOW (Tennyson, Barnby)
17 APRIL IN PARIS (Vernon Duke) LF1020
18 INVITATION WALTZ (Richard Addinsell) LF1020 F9530
19 JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS (Cole Porter) LF1020 F9530
20 KISS ME AGAIN (Victor Herbert) LF1020
21 SHADOW WALTZ (Harry Warren, Al Dubin) LF1020
22 DONKEY SERENADE (Friml, Stothart, Wright) LM4509 F9185
23 PERSIAN NOCTURNE (Robert Stolz) LM4509 F9264
24 THE WALTZING CAT (Leroy Anderson) F10005
25 PROUD CANVAS (Robert Farnon) DFE6470
26 BIRD CHARMER (Robert Farnon) DFE6470
27 JOCKEY ON THE CAROUSEL (Farnon, Buchel) DFE6470
28 WESTMINSTER WALTZ (Robert Farnon) F10818 45-F10818
DFE series Decca 7" EP 45
F series Decca 10" 78 45-F 7" 45
LF series Decca 10" LP
LM series Decca 10" LP
28.1.49 Donkey Serenade
18.5.49 Persian Nocturne
27.10.49 Swannee River, Deep River, Camptown Races
28.10.49 Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming, Sweet and Low, Beautiful Dreamer
4.5.50 Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, Oh! Susanna
9.5.50 Just One of Those Things, Invitation Waltz
10.5.50 April in Paris, Kiss Me Again, Shadow Waltz
2.10.52 Waltzing Cat
27.4.53 ‘The Songs of Britain’ – all tracks
2.7.56 Westminster Waltz
12.2.58 Proud Canvas, Bird Charmer, Jockey on the Carousel – these three tracks were recorded in stereo, but originally issued on the EP only in mono
It is likely that the Stephen Foster tracks, and the 1958 sessions, were recorded at Broadhurst Gardens in London. The other tracks were probably recorded at Kingsway Hall.
Robert Farnon and his Orchestra
As many members of the Robert Farnon Society already know, Robert Farnon is a self-confessed lover of folk music, so when Decca asked him to arrange and conduct a selection of famous airs associated with the British Isles in honour of the Coronation of H.M Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, it was like being let loose in a sweet shop and told to savour all the goodies on the shelves.
It was perhaps a pity that he was only allowed a 10" LP, but it has to be remembered that long-playing records were expensive luxuries in the early 1950s, and the smaller discs (the same size as the familiar 78s they were gradually replacing) were considerably cheaper than the 12" ‘big brothers’ that would eventually become the standard format of sound reproduction.
Nevertheless in his album The Songs of Britain Bob Farnon managed to create eight brilliant orchestrations that cleverly captured, in turn, the majesty, romance, humour, sentimentality and sense of tradition that are intrinsic values inherent in the finest folk melodies that have been handed down through many generations.
The selection opens quietly with the fife and drums announcing the approach of a military band, which soon turns out to be a full concert orchestra. The British Grenadiers is probably the most famous march associated with the British Army, and Farnon’s clever score gives the impression of a band marching by on parade, finally moving on into the distance – until the final chords! Delicate strings support a solo viola in an unusual setting of Drink to me only with thine eyes. This is a very old song: Ben Jonson’s lyric dates from the 17th century, with the melody originally published as a glee around one hundred years later. The idea of lapsing into a 20th century slow foxtrot might alarm purists, but in the skilful hands of Farnon it works admirably. (It is not always easy to distinguish between the viola and a cello. Bob assures us that he used a viola in this arrangement; as he put it to us just recently – "Thanks to William Walton, the viola became a respectable instrument!")
The Lincolnshire Poacher is a carefree vagabond, who may be the scourge of local landowners, but is regarded as a popular hero for his harmless lawbreaking. Robert Farnon is a master at portraying humour in music, and his witty arrangement also suggests that the poacher enjoys the occasional drink as the climax to his escapades. In complete contrast the focus shifts across the Irish Sea from England to the Emerald Isle, for perhaps the most famous of all the folk melodies to emanate from that mystical realm. The strings predominate in Farnon’s affectionate and sensitive setting of The Londonderry Air, a work that has achieved popularity throughout the world. It is regarded as a genuine folk melody, having been handed down through many generations until it was eventually published in the middle of the nineteenth century.
It’s back to England where rustic merry-making is the order of the day in Strawberry Fair, with the muted brass, wood-winds, perky strings, and xylophone all clamouring for attention. After a brief pause to restore their energy levels, the dancers regroup for one final major burst of merrymaking. Robert Farnon next takes us north of the border to Scotland for Annie Laurie, the only non-traditional work in this collection, although Lady Scott’s melody has long achieved the status of a national air. It is introduced by the oboe, leading to a big swell of strings that dwells and lingers upon the passionate melody, subsequently taken up by the full orchestra.
The remaining area of Britain to be represented is Wales, and Farnon’s gift of being able to conjure up a serene, pastoral mood is perfectly suited to All Through The Night. Solo violin and harp set the tender scene right from the start, with the strings of the orchestra soon surging to embrace this ethereal melody.
To conclude this journey around the British Isles, we return to England for Early One Morning. Farnon originally orchestrated this bouncy folk song when he was musical director for the film "Spring in Park Lane" (1948). He re-worked his score for this album, using as the opening passage the sequence where Anna Neagle is seen walking along a fashionable Mayfair Street, only to be somewhat surprised when her front door is opened by Michael Wilding, instead of her usual butler. Such things used to happen in films light years ago! In one of his typical scores like this, Farnon employs the whole orchestra, so we hear the wood-winds almost in a question and answer session with the strings and muted brass. The melody happily flits around until it is finally, and firmly, grasped by the full orchestra which majestically builds into one of the finest musical climaxes that Robert Farnon has ever created.
The second 10" LP featured on this CD is Stephen Foster Melodies played by The Robert Farnon Octet (as opposed to the full orchestra, on all the other tracks). The smaller instrumentation allowed for a kind of chamber music quality which certainly suits some of the numbers, which were mostly composed in the middle of the 19th century, and would therefore have been played at the time by similar sized ensembles, both professional and amateur.
Stephen Collins Foster was born in Lawrenceville (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania on 4 July 1826, the ninth in a family of ten children. He died in New York on 13 January 1864, and during his 37 years he became America’s first professional popular songwriter, with more than 200 songs to his credit. Reports suggest that he received a basic formal musical training from a German immigrant, Henry Kleber, and he started writing songs when he was only 14; his first big success was Oh! Susanna, published in 1848. His inspiration seems to have been the singing and dancing of negroes he heard as a child on the wharves of the Ohio River, and he was profoundly affected by the traditional minstrel shows. Occasionally he employed lyric writers, but most of his best-known works featured his own words and music.
He married Jane McDowell in 1850, and composed Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair for her in 1854 when they were separated. (Way Down Upon the) Swanee River is also known as The Old Folks at Home and it appeared in 1851 which seems to have been one of Foster’s busiest years for new works. He wrote it for the famous Christy Minstrels, and Foster apparently permitted E.P. Christy to name himself as the composer. Camptown Races had been published the year before, and it became very popular with children; its alternative title was Gwine to Rune All Night - an unusual line to the ears of the many singers who have performed it over the years.
Come Where my Love Lies Dreaming was probably another tribute to his lost love. It comes from 1855 at the start of a five year period which saw far fewer new songs than previously. By the time Foster wrote Beautiful Dreamer in 1862 he was again producing numerous works at an increasing rate. But when he died from a fall induced by a fever that would have been easily curable today, he had just 37 cents in his pocket. His lack of riches can be blamed on the absence of enforceable copyright laws, and the impracticality of collecting performing rights fees at that time.
Two numbers in this collection are apparently not the original works of Foster. Sweet and Low surely evolved as a spiritual, with lyrics ‘borrowed’ from Alfred Tennyson. It would seem that a Joseph Barnby published it in 1863, claiming it as his own. Deep River also appears in reference books as a traditional black spiritual, published in 1917, but who is to say that many years before it had not reached the ears of Foster and his contemporaries?
Over the years, within the RFS there have occasionally been conflicting views about whether or not Bob actually conducted – or indeed arranged – the tracks on this LP. Your Editor discussed this with Bob at some length when writing the notes for this CD, and the explanation that follows will hopefully settle any friendly arguments once and for all! Bob clearly remembers conducting the sessions, but Bruce Campbell probably assisted with some of the scores. It was still a case of a ‘master and pupil’ relationship, with Campbell gradually learning more about the skills of arranging and composing. Farnon’s own busy schedule meant that he would occasionally sketch out the bones of a score, which Campbell would embellish before handing it back to the maestro for the final finishing touches.
Bruce Campbell was a fellow Canadian who had come to Britain in the 1930s to play trombone with various dance bands including Jack Hylton, Jack Harris, Sid Millward and Hugo Rignold. Eventually he developed into a talented light music composer in his own right.
‘Stephen Foster Melodies’ was recorded mainly for the American market, and it provides some interesting contrasts with the big orchestral sounds that had been associated with Farnon up to that time.
The remaining tracks in this collection come from various 78s, 45s and LPs that have escaped the net so far in Vocalion’s major project to reissue the vast majority of Robert Farnon’s orchestral recordings for Decca. In the early days of LPs, a few releases were made up of 78s, rather than special projects purely for LPs. Some of Bob’s 10" albums fall into this category, and because of the contents they have not been suitable for reissue on CD as individual albums, in the same way as major projects such as "From the Highlands" or "Canadian Impressions". Now those remaining tracks have been assembled, the only few exceptions being well-known numbers ("Comedians’ Galop" and "Huckle-Buckle" are two examples) which are already available elsewhere on recently released CDs.
The Vernon Duke song April In Paris hardly needs any introduction. At one time it was in the repertoire of almost every band and orchestra, and Robert Farnon often included it in his radio programmes. Richard Addinsell’s charming Invitation Waltz is also known as ‘Ring Round The Moon’ - the title of Christopher Fry’s play, produced in 1950, for which this haunting piece was specially composed.
Robert Farnon never actually got around to making an LP of Cole Porter’s music, although he featured the works of this American genius on many occasions. Just One Of Those Things finds the orchestra on top form, with brief solos from Sidney Bright (piano – brother of the famous bandleader Geraldo) and Dave Goldberg (guitar). Kiss Me Again, Shadow Waltz and Donkey Serenade were all popular songs from 1930s film musicals, suitably dressed up to date in Farnon’s own stunning orchestrations. However the next item, Persian Nocturne, is the one track on this CD where the Farnon touch is missing as arranger. Just after the war he got to know the famous Austrian composer Robert Stolz very well, and they both admired each other’s music-making. Stolz had taken some of Farnon’s early compositions to perform in Germany, so Bob returned the compliment by recording one of his own Stolz favourites. The arranger is unknown – maybe the composer himself?
While Robert Farnon was making a name for himself in Britain as one of the leading light music composers, Leroy Anderson was doing the same in North America. He had a string of big successes, such as Sleigh Ride, Blue Tango and Belle Of The Ball. When Waltzing Cat came out, Decca asked Bob to record it, and it is interesting that his arrangement is unlike any of the other 78s of this tune that were around at the same time.
To complete this compilation we have four Robert Farnon compositions. Proud Canvas is simply a wonderful piece of ‘sea music’, conjuring up the great days of sail. Not long after he composed it, Farnon was signed to score the seafaring epic "Captain Horatio Hornblower". The eldest son of Pat and Bob Farnon is David, himself a successful musician with many fine compositions to his credit. When he was very young, one day his mother made the comment that he could "charm the birds out of the trees". At the time his father was just finishing a new piece which lacked a title: Bird Charmer provided the answer.
During his time working on films produced by Herbert Wilcox (such as "Spring in Park Lane" and "Maytime in Mayfair"), Bob found himself scoring for dance routines dreamed up by Philip and Betty Buchel. Philip liked to write the odd tune, but he always needed help in finishing it. So from the few brief notes of one of Philip’s sketchy melodies, Bob createdThe Jockey On The Carousel.
Our final track introduces again one of the most successful numbers that Robert Farnon has composed. Like so many of his works, it was originally written as background music for Chappell’s Record Music Library, and started appearing in newsreels and radio programmes. The public quickly took note, and Bob made a commercial recording for Decca. The melody won him his first Ivor Novello Award, as the best piece of Light Orchestral Music in 1956. Perhaps some of its charm lies in the opening chimes. Originally Bob had been using a working title "The First Waltz", but his publishers suggested incorporating the famous Westminster chimes which naturally meant a change of name. Some years later Bob did compose another "First Waltz" which is a delightful melody, but it hasn’t achieved the same fame.
As stated at the top of this feature, the major project to reissue Robert Farnon’s Decca albums from the 1950s is virtually complete. However, readers will be aware that he continued to be active in the recording studios long after his ‘salad days’ with Decca came to an end. There are still many fine Farnon treasures patiently waiting to be rediscovered for a new lease of life on CD!
1 THE WIDE WORLD 2 OLYMPIAN MARCH Michael Hankinson and his Orchestra 3 RHAPSODY FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA Robert Farnon and his Orchestra Steven Staryk - violin soloist 4 SCENIC WONDERS Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner 5 I SAW MY LADY WEEP Robert Farnon and his Orchestra 6 SWALLOW FLIGHT 7 LAKE LOUISE 8 THE MAGIC ISLAND Paul Zaza and his Orchestra 9 CASCADES TO THE SEA – CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Farnon Peter Breiner - piano soloist 10 HOW BEAUTIFUL IS NIGHT Robert Farnon and his Orchestra 11 CRUISE WORLD Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Farnon 12 HOLLYWOOD STARS Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner 13 SPORTS ARENA 14 HOCKEY NIGHT Stateside Marching Band conducted by Charles Yates
All compositions by Robert Farnon
While still in his teens, back home in Canada, Robert Farnon had a yearning to compose classical music. He recently said: "At that time I thought of nothing else but writing serious music. And my teacher encouraged me to just start and see what would happen. I had a lot of ideas in my head, from which my Symphony No. 1 in D Flat Major was born. I wrote it during two summer holidays: one, in 1939, in northern Ontario, and the following summer out in Vancouver on Grouse Mountain. When I finished the score, I presented it to Sir Ernest MacMillan to get his opinion of it. He liked it very much, and decided to perform it with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra."
MacMillan conducted the first performance in January 1941, and it soon came to the attention of Eugene Ormandy who introduced it to American audiences with his famous Philadelphia Orchestra during a week of concerts in April 1942.
Elated by the reception to his first symphony, Farnon composed a second – in B Major (the ‘Ottawa Symphony’) – which was also conducted by MacMillan in a CBC broadcast.
This promising career was cut short when World War 2 intervened, and Captain Robert Farnon was posted to Britain with his Canadian Army Band. Serious music had to be forgotten, at least temporarily. The troops wanted popular music, and Bob and his musicians duly obliged.
Over the years admirers of Farnon’s more serious works have yearned to hear these symphonies, but the Maestro has always politely resisted all attempts to persuade him to release them for further public performances. True there are problems with missing scores (some of Farnon’s works were lost at sea en route from Canada to Britain during the war), but Farnon admits that the main reason is that he doesn’t consider that they had sufficient merit. In practice, these works have not been completely ‘lost’, because several of the themes have appeared in later compositions.
Fortunately Farnon’s army service proved to be not the end of his musical aspirations, but the launch of his multi-talented career on to an international stage. His talent for composing light orchestral cameos resulted in hundreds of delightful works for Chappells, and proved to be the basis of his successful career for decades.
Now in his mid-eighties, Robert Farnon is still composing and arranging from the serenity of his home on the beautiful Channel Island of Guernsey. Today he tends to concentrate more on delicate tone poems, rather than the bright, bouncy numbers which established his fame over half a century ago. Whatever he chooses to write, he knows that a loyal army of admirers across the world is waiting to marvel at the rich orchestrations which have become his trademark.
Many of the recordings on this CD are being released commercially for the first time. Composed in 1983, the opening number The Wide World presents the traditional rich sound of a Farnon composition extolling the virtues of nature in its finest form. Many of his works have a scenic feel, no doubt influenced by his upbringing in Canada.
Olympian March was written for a British Press Association Centenary Concert in June 1983, where it was performed by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band conducted by Ray Parr; this version, for full orchestra, was scored at the request of Farnon’s publishers. Concert marches are another of Farnon’s specialities, and his catchy themes have enlivened many reports of sporting events in television and cinema newsreels.
There are two major works in this collection, revealing the more serious side of Farnon’s composing aspirations. In 1958 the BBC commissioned him to write a new work for its annual Light Music Festival, and he chose to compose a Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra, being a showpiece for the famous violinist Raymond Cohen, for many years the leader of the Robert Farnon Orchestra. Initially the work was heard in a shorter form, but soon afterwards Farnon expanded it to its present length, and its premiere recording (with Raymond Cohen) was made in September 1959 at Walthamstow Town Hall. The work soon attracted the attention of other violinists, notably the Canadian Steven Staryk, heard on this CD. Once again Walthamstow Town Hall was the choice of venue (its ideal acoustics were much favoured by record companies at the time) and the session took place just over a year later, on 3 December 1960. Comparisons between the Cohen and Staryk versions are fascinating: as the first performer of the work, Cohen’s interpretation was regarded as definitive, but the speed at which Staryk handles some of the solo passages (particularly the scherzando section) left many listeners gasping in admiration.
Born in Toronto in 1932, Staryk first came to prominence aged only 24 when chosen by Sir Thomas Beecham as concertmaster and soloist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. After three successful years he resigned to take up a similar position with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, and as Professor at the Amsterdam Conservatorium. Later he moved to the Chicago and Toronto symphonies. His career as a leading international artist was probably hampered by his aversion to publicity, and his air of detachment on stage. Injuries forced him to retire from active playing in 1986, and for the next decade he taught at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Comparing the two interpretations of his work, Robert Farnon recalls how the technical brilliance of Steven Staryk contrasted with the romantic feel of Cohen’s interpretation; he regards both performances as being equally valid.
Steven Staryk’s version of Farnon’s Rhapsody was previously only available on LPs with limited distribution, so this is the first opportunity for many music lovers to hear this virtuoso performance.
Scenic Wonders was composed and recorded in 1999. As the title aptly suggests, it gives Farnon the opportunity to indulge his passion for the spectacular beauty of his homeland.
I Saw My Lady Weep was originally called Blue Moment, but a change of title was considered desirable for this April 1966 recording.
Canada is again the inspiration for the next three works – Swallow Flight, Lake Louiseand The Magic Island, which were commissioned in 1984 for a selection of works with a summery, outdoor feel.
The second important work on this CD is Farnon’s latest major composition. This is the premiere commercial release of Cascades To The Sea – Tone Poem For Piano And Orchestra, with Peter Breiner as solo pianist. Robert Farnon’s son David is conducting the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra in this recording made in March 1998. The work was commissioned in October 1997 by Mrs. Donna Grescoe Dojack in celebration of the 80th birthday of her husband, Charles E. Dojack. A short poem on the title page of the score reads: "Music is like painting in Sound. You take it into your inner heart and never lose it. It is eternally mysterious. Anon. "
In the early 1940s Robert Farnon wrote another work which he also called Cascades To The Sea. Although it was performed during the war, he felt that he never fully completed it, and he only retained the middle theme which he eventually developed into In a Calm. The two ‘Cascades’ – composed more than half a century apart - bear little resemblance to each other.
This new work is outlined in Farnon’s own programme note: "A descriptive composition in one movement for piano and orchestra, the music commences at the source of a mountain stream which wends its way, increasing in volume and speed, to the brink of a waterfall, descending to the river below and joining its path of adventure through the beauties of countryside, the excitement of rapids, the fluvial activities of a delta, eventually reaching the grandeur of the open sea where it meets a receding tide and joins the flow to the calm of a distant horizon."
Commenting upon the actual task of composing Cascades, Farnon said that the work flowed naturally, and was virtually completed by Christmas 1997. "It was as if it was something I had been waiting to compose all my life."
The piano soloist, Peter Breiner, was born in 1957 in Humenne, now part of Slovakia. His involvement in a wide variety of musical styles finds him recording jazz and pop, as well as symphonic music; he writes for films, is a musical journalist and also hosts television programmes. Since March 1992 he has been based in Toronto, and he travels the world conducting and playing the piano.
At the same April 1966 session for I Saw My Lady Weep, Farnon decided to record again How Beautiful Is Night, since his original version was in mono. This has become one of his most popular tone poems, made recognisable worldwide thanks to recordings by Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett and George Shearing. The inspiration was a poem of the same name by Robert Southey.
Two recent works illustrate Farnon’s penchant for full-blown glamorous numbers: Cruise World (1998) and Hollywood Stars (1999) remind us that this is the same composer who gave us Journey Into Melody and A Star Is Born.
The mood changes for the final two numbers in this collection. Marching bands are a popular feature at many sporting and outdoor events in North America, and it was almost inevitable that Robert Farnon would be persuaded to score something for this musical phenomenon that attracts so many amateur enthusiasts. Sports Arena was actually written as the signature tune for a TVS television series in 1983, but Hockey Night is purely a tribute to a game which still enjoys strong support across the Atlantic – both on grass and ice. The six main notes of the melody are based on the famous ‘charge’ theme which is always used in ice hockey games in North America, usually played live in the arena by a resident electric organist.
Although his work can be readily identified by his many admirers, Robert Farnon is far from a typical composer. He loves both jazz and the classics, and has worked with opera singers and top popular crooners. Jumping Bean is vastly different from Gateway To The West; it is hard to believe that the composer of the theme music for Colditz was also responsible for Peanut Polka. Such diversity, and mastery of so many varied styles of music, is represented in this latest collection of Farnon’s composing skills. It makes a truly valuable, and essential, addition to the existing vast repertoire of his recorded works.
A Great New Robert Farnon CD to celebrate his 85th Birthday in July!
The music of
played by the
ROYAL PHILHARMONIC STRINGS
Leader: Rolph Wilson
Recorded on 6 November 2001 at Angel Studios, Islington, London
Avid/Horatio Nelson AVHN101 - Price £12.50
RECORDS DIRECT, PO Box 1123, LONDON, SW1P 1HB
Cheques should be made payable to ‘Records Direct’
[This CD is also available through the RFS Record Service]
André Previn declared, many years ago, that Robert Farnon is the greatest living writer for strings. When he hears this new album, he will be reassured that his opinion was not misplaced.
At the age of 84, Farnon could have been forgiven for merely ‘polishing up’ a few old friends, which would certainly have been gratefully received by his many admirers around the world. But it is clear that his urge to compose is still as strong as ever, and five of these delicate miniatures are brand new works, while others are given fresh new settings which frequently amaze through their sheer beauty.
Today Bob prefers to leave it to other conductors to interpret his works, and he could have made no better choice than his old friend Jack Parnell.
"I was very honoured when Bob asked me to conduct his music for this CD" was Jack’s opening remark, when asked to reflect on the sessions.
"I have known, worked with, and deeply admired Bob for over half a century, and to conduct such beautiful music I considered one of the highlights of my career.
"The Orchestra were superb, and the exquisite playing of our leader, Rolph Wilson, and flautist Jane Pickles an absolute joy.
"I’m sure everyone who enjoys listening to romantic music will enjoy listening to this CD."
Robert Farnon was born in Toronto, Canada, on 24 July 1917. Still in his teens, he was well-known to radio listeners playing trumpet and cracking jokes with "The Happy Gang", which became a Canadian institution. He played in Percy Faith’s CBC orchestra, and eventually took over the baton when Faith was lured south to the richer pastures of the USA. During this period Farnon composed two symphonies, and he nursed aspirations to become a ‘serious’ composer. His first symphony was performed in the USA by Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, and both were played by the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras.
Unfortunately World War 2 intervened, and in September 1944 he arrived in England as Captain Robert Farnon, conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Working alongside Glenn Miller and George Melachrino (who fronted the American and British bands), he undertook a punishing schedule of numerous broadcasts and concerts for the troops. Although the AEF Programme of the BBC was aimed at the Allied Forces, its broadcasts were popular with the civilian population as well, and by the end of the war Farnon was highly respected by fellow musicians and his many fans.
In Britain Robert Farnon had discovered that Concert Music was very popular, thanks to the influence of composers and conductors such as Eric Coates and Haydn Wood. Films also needed a steady supply of background music. Farnon decided that there were opportunities for him to develop his composing skills that were absent back home, so he chose to remain in England when he was demobbed from the Canadian Army.
He was soon in demand from radio, recording companies and the film industry. But perhaps the most significant turning point in his career came when Teddy Holmes, boss of the Chappell Recorded Music Library, put Farnon under contract to compose a steady stream of light music cameos covering many varied moods. It retrospect it seems that this event was akin to a dam being burst; dozens of wonderful melodies that had probably been kicking around in Farnon’s subconscious for years, suddenly found an outlet. Chappells was pleased to publish anything that Farnon created, allowing us all to marvel at miniature masterpieces such as Jumping Bean, Portrait of a Flirt, A Star is Born, Journey Into Melody, Peanut Polka and Westminster Waltz.
The arrival of the long playing record brought Robert Farnon’s brilliant arrangements and compositions to the notice of music lovers worldwide, and he was soon in demand to work with international stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, George Shearing, Lena Horne, Jose Carreras, Eileen Farrell, George Benson, Tony Bennett and Eddie Fisher.
The need to support a large family meant that Farnon had to provide the kind of music that would pay the bills. However, he has never forgotten his early ambitions to compose more serious works, and occasionally this has been possible. One of his first film scores was "Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N." which contains some tender love themes among the stirring, swashbuckling excitement demanded by the script. In 1958 the BBC commissioned Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra, a beautiful romantic work, which has been unjustly neglected by concert promoters. The harmonica virtuoso Tommy Reilly persuaded Farnon to write specially for him, which resulted in Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra, a work which forced harmonica manufacturers to redesign their instruments.
Saxophone Triparti is a three movement work for soprano, tenor and alto saxophones, which the Musicians’ Union commissioned in 1971 for Bob Burns. Other important scores include A La Claire Fontaine, Lake of the Woods, The Frontiersmen and A Promise of Spring.
This latest collection opens with a new composition Lovers Love London. According to Robert Farnon, his inspiration was an affection for lighting-up time on the streets, and the parks, of Westminster, and along the river. Some of this magic can be seen in the cover photograph of this CD, reproduced on the front page of this magazine.
En Bateau is a delightful work by Claude Debussy, which Farnon once orchestrated for the 1948 film "Spring In Park Lane", a very successful British movie starring Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding. It was Farnon’s first major film score, and could have resulted in a Hollywood career, had he not decided to remain on this side of the Atlantic. On this CD the work takes on a simplified setting of the two main themes, with a lovely music conversation between Jane (flute) and Rolph (violin).
Laura has always been one of Farnon’s favourite film themes. He first orchestrated it back in the 1940s, and hoped that one day he would hear it performed by a large orchestra in a major concert hall. He has had his wish fulfilled on more than one occasion (including a memorable concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1974), and he could not resist allowing the Strings of the Royal Philharmonic to weave their special magic with David Raksin’s timeless melody.
Little Did I Know is the second brand-new Farnon score, and he plans to write a lyric to this pensive tune:
"Little did I know about her,
Not even her name.
She was shy
So was I … "
To a Young Lady is a proud father’s tribute to his daughter Judith.
Occasion to Reminisce is one of the many works that Robert Farnon originally composed for the Chappell Recorded Music Library – a vast storehouse of music that can be used by film, radio and television companies around the world. Although first published over forty years ago, this is the first time that it has been available on a commercial recording.
The ‘Eileen’ in the title of For Eileen is a very special lady who was held in high esteem in North America – the opera singer Eileen Farrell, whose recent death is reported elsewhere in this issue. During the 1990s Robert Farnon arranged and conducted four albums with her, and as a surprise item on the last of these he included this purely instrumental tribute. It is sometimes known under a different title, Our Romance.
The Touch of Your Lips is one of the enduring melodies written back in the 1930s by the British bandleader Ray Noble. It has become a popular ‘standard’ in the true sense of the word, and this superb string arrangement, like the others, is a joy to listen to.
During his long career Robert Farnon has worked with many of the finest musicians on the London scene. One of the most charming was the harpist Marie Goossens, who was frequently in the orchestra for its radio and television programmes, and numerous recording sessions. Intermezzo for Harp was composed by Bob especially for Marie, and it has become a firm favourite with the many harpists who have performed it subsequently.
Lady Barbara is the main love theme which Robert Farnon composed for the "Hornblower" film in 1951. Although it was an integral part of the score, it stands alone as a tender portrayal of the searing passions – both happy and sad – which mark all great love affairs. Lyrics have been added, and the title of the song version is On the Lips of Lovers.
A Violin Miniature comes from a suite "Showcase for Soloists" highlighting many instruments of the orchestra. It bears a passing resemblance to Farnon’s longer work Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra.
Coeur Brisé (literal translation ‘Heartbreaks’) is another new composition, receiving its premiere recording on this CD.
Peacehaven - also a new work – is a tone poem in the finest Farnon tradition, dedicated to the children’s home founded by Gracie Fields on the south coast of England.
In August 1998 Robert Farnon arranged and conducted an album for the great Scottish jazz singer Carol Kidd. For "C.K." (his fifth new composition on this CD) is Bob’s present to her, reminding them both of a joyous occasion which resulted in some superlative performances of great songs of the last century.
How Beautiful is Night reveals Robert Farnon at his most lyrical. Written in the 1940s, it has become a standard thanks to vocal recordings by Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughan, and remains one of his best-known works. The title comes from a poem by Robert Southey, which provided the young Robert Farnon with the necessary inspiration.
Jack Parnell is one of the best-known and most popular British jazzmen. Born 6 August 1923, he is fondly remembered as drummer with the famous Ted Heath band, before his long association with Associated TeleVision. For years he conducted the theatre orchestra for the legendary ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, and provided the orchestra for many of ATV’s top musical shows, culminating in ‘The Muppet Show’. Later in his career he returned to his jazz roots, leading the London Big Band. Widely admired in the music profession, he has worked with Robert Farnon on numerous recordings, and was a natural choice to conduct this album.
The 6th Robert Farnon CD from Vocalion finally restores two classic LPs to the catalogue
ROBERT FARNON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Presenting Robert Farnon
1 Yes! We Have No Bananas (Silver, Cohn), 2 Always (Irving Berlin), 3 Blue Skies (Irving Berlin), 4 In The Blue Of The Evening (Alec Wilder), 5 When I Grow Too Old To Dream (Romberg, Hammerstein II), 6 Don’t Blame Me (McHugh, Fields), 7 To A Wild Rose (Edward MacDowell), 8 Dawn To Dusk (Alec Wilder), 9 Laura (Raksin, Mercer).
10 Would You Like To Take A Walk? (Warren, Dixon, Rose), 11 Reflections In The Water (Loeb, Webster), 12 It’s Always You (Heusen, Burke), 13 Two Little Girls In Blue (Graham), 14 Sweet And Lovely (Arnheim, Tobias, Lemare), 15 So Do I (Burke, Johnston), 16 Flirtation Walk (Dixon, Wrubel), 17 By A Waterfall (Kahal, Fain), 18 Can I Forget You (Hammerstein, Kern), 19 It’s Easy To Remember (Rodgers, Hart), 20 Flirtation Waltz (Heywood, Sarony), 21 Down By The River (Rodgers, Hart), 22 My Foolish Heart (Young, Washington), 23 I Love A Lassie (Lauder, Grafton).
"Presenting Robert Farnon" was originally on Decca LK4067, released in September 1953; "Flirtation Walk", Decca LK4083, was released in October 1954.
Now available on CD: Vocalion CDLK4118
The cover of this new CD is featured on the front page of the December 2001 issue of Journal Into Melody.
"Presenting Robert Farnon" was recorded in January and February 1950, but Decca did not release it as a complete album until September 1953. Although intentionally conceived as an LP (Robert Farnon confirmed this in a recent interview), it is interesting to recall that the sessions actually took place before Decca released the first long-playing records in Britain in June 1950. However these modern recording miracles had been launched in the USA some months earlier, so Decca had some clues as to their likely attraction to the general public.
But did they get cold feet? Why was there such a long delay? Perhaps wishing to recoup some of their costs, all of the tracks (except for the two longer Alec Wilder pieces) were put out on 78s in Britain and/or the USA, so they were familiar to Farnon’s admirers long before the vinyl eventually appeared. Were sales disappointing? 12" LPs were expensive in the 1950s, and a year later (in November 1954) seven of the tracks suddenly appeared on a 10" LP with the same title. This didn’t happen again to a Farnon album, although several of his LPs were issued in 4-track sections when 45 rpm Extended-Play records appeared on the scene.
The album was produced by Tutti (Toots) Camarata, the American musical director who was one of the founders of London Records in the USA. He first attracted attention in Britain when he was engaged for the expensive Technicolor musical "London Town" starring Sid Field and the Ted Heath Orchestra. The film flopped, but Camarata continued to work for a while in Britain, making LPs under his own name and also producing others, such as this Farnon album.
The two Alec Wilder works were Camarata’s choice, with the rest of the album featuring what might be termed Farnon’s standard repertoire at the time - the kind of top-quality popular music heard regularly in his BBC radio and, later, television programmes.
On 3 January 1950 the first sessions took place at London’s Kingsway Hall (both LPs on this CD were recorded in this famous venue), featuring the Robert Farnon Strings: Always, When I Grow Too Old To Dream, To A Wild Rose and Laura. Without exception they illustrate Farnon’s mastery of string writing. Farnon once confided that one of his early ambitions was to hear a large string orchestra play his arrangement of Laura.
The next sessions for the album took place on 27 January 1950, with the full orchestra assembled for the two Alec Wilder compositions. Farnon remembers that he used Wilder’s original scores, making only minor alterations to suit the special requirements of his orchestra. In The Blue Of The Evening featured Frank Reidy on clarinet. In later years Reidy performed on many Farnon sessions, and eventually became the ‘fixer’, hiring the other musicians for the orchestra.
In Dawn To Dusk (known in the USA as Rhapsody For Piano And Orchestra) Farnon chose fellow Canadian Denny Vaughan for the solo piano part. Vaughan was a talented musician who also possessed a fine singing voice. Like Farnon, he was brought from his homeland to Britain during the war, and appeared in numerous broadcasts. After the war he worked with Geraldo, before eventually returning to progress his career in radio and television in North America. (Readers are reminded that Murray Ginsberg’s fine tribute to Denny Vaughan appeared in our June 2001 issue).
Alec Wilder has been described as an urbane, well-read, intelligent and rather poetic individual. His work was highly regarded by his peers, and he wrote a book about popular music which is almost regarded as a ‘bible’ by many in the music business, while others strongly disagree with some of his findings. He came into contact with the young Frank Sinatra, who did him the honour of conducting several of his works in December 1945, which were released by Columbia Records in the USA. Wilder’s best-known tunes include I’ll Be Around and Who Can I Turn To.
The full orchestra returned to Kingsway Hall on 3 February 1950 for three numbers showcasing Farnon’s affinity with orchestral jazz: Yes! We Have No Bananas, Blue Skies and Don’t Blame Me. Each scintillating score includes a feature for Dave Goldberg, the legendary guitar player. He was a member of the Ted Heath Band in the early 1950s, and went with them on an American tour. His undoubted talent was recognised, and he decided to stay there for a while. For some reason he chose to use the surname ‘Gilbert’ (rather than Goldberg) and the US release of Don’t Blame Me credits ‘Dave Gilbert’ as the guitar soloist with the Robert Farnon Orchestra. Sadly this genius became disenchanted with the way in which the popular music business was going, and he died at an early age from a drugs overdose.
"Flirtation Walk" was recorded in April 1954 and released in Britain the following October. The titles nearly all come from American films and shows of the 1930s and 1940s, the ‘baby’ of the set being My Foolish Heart, first heard in 1950 in the Susan Hayward film of the same name. One other number stands out for its surprise inclusion on the LP: I Love A Lassie, co-composed by the Scottish comedian Sir Harry Lauder, who made it world-famous. It provides the perfect lesson for aspiring arrangers, showing the way in which Farnon can give a bright new treatment to a well-known piece which almost defies being scored for a ‘serious’ orchestra (the other obvious example on this CD is Yes! We Have No Bananas).
The title tune Flirtation Walk contains one of the maestro’s musical jokes, which he has only recently publicly admitted. It was actually noticed around ten years ago by American musician Jeff Sultanof while working on a reconstruction of the score for a possible performance. It is Farnon’s one and only brush with atonal music, and occurs at around 1 min 10 secs and lasts for just 15 seconds. It is a short bridge at the end of the first chorus, and sounds like a lapse into one of the extreme jazz styles that were emerging at that time. Farnon greatly admired (and had once met) Bela Bartók; when asked why this was his only example of atonal music he explained: "It is really a kind of mathematical music - not quite my scene. I prefer to leave such matters in the hands of the experts like Bartók."
As a young arranger, Farnon’s wicked sense of humour often delighted fellow musicians. There is a story of a new score he did for Geraldo, which contained a terrible chord - obviously unmusical and completely wrong. When the musicians protested that they couldn’t play it, Geraldo sternly told them: "If Bob Farnon’s written it, it must be right, and you must play it!" Fortunately he was let in on the joke before the work was actually broadcast.
The two albums featured on this CD are prime examples of Robert Farnon’s undoubted talent in being able to transform often simple tunes into minor light orchestral masterpieces. Each and every one of these melodies has been carefully crafted to provide a wealth of beautiful sounds, bringing fresh rewards for the attentive listener at each successive hearing.
The American releases of these albums were packaged in different LP covers, and these are reproduced in full colour on the back page of the CD booklet:
"Presenting Robert Farnon" London LL812; "Flirtation Walk" London LL1053.
Robert Farnon completed the first movement of "The Mountbatten Suite" earlier this year, and as the December issue of Journal Into Melody closed for press the first performance was scheduled to take place on 18 October in Portsmouth. RFS members who attended our London meetings in the early 1990’s may well have had the pleasure of speaking to Sir Vivian Dunn. This distinguished ‘Man of Military Music’ was also a great lover of light music, and his LPs conducting the Orchestra of the Light Music Society are still regarded as being the definitive performances of many of the works included on those fondly recalled EMI albums from 30 years ago.
Sir Vivian died on 3 April 1995 aged 86. At the time he had been working on a "Mountbatten Suite", and had already completed the second and third movements, which he called Broadlands and Man of Action. For some reason he decided that he would compose the first movement last - it was to be called Man of Destiny. Sadly he never finished his work.
Early in 2000, Sir Vivian’s son Paddy (also a welcome visitor to our London meetings) decided to try and see if his father’s suite could be completed, and he asked Robert Farnon if he would be willing to compose the first movement.
Bob and Sir Vivian had known each other during World War II (both had conducted orchestras for the entertainment of the armed forces), and had remained friends ever since. Indeed the strength of Sir Vivian’s admiration for his work was such that Robert Farnon’s music became firmly established in the repertoire of the Royal Yacht orchestra during most state and private occasions during the post war years of Vivian Dunn’s appointment as Director of Music until 1954 and, it is understood, that tradition continued uninterrupted until HMY Britannia was de-commissioned some 45 years later. One of the light music works conducted by Sir Vivian for EMI was Robert Farnon’s A La Claire Fontaine.
In the biography of Sir Vivian Dunn Fiddler on the March, there are several references to Bob and their long friendship. On page 238 Bob completes a warm tribute by saying: "It was a special privilege to have known such a great man who became, not only a personal friend, but a great hero." The book also contains a summary of the relevance and importance of the "Mountbatten Suite".
Paddy had first sought the approval of Countess Mountbatten, who was delighted at the thought of Bob being approached. Her husband, Lord Brabourne, apparently knew Robert Farnon’s wife Patricia very well, from their days in films together.
Bob agreed to the commission in July 2000, and his completed score was delivered to Paddy Dunn in May - the delay mainly due to the move from ‘La Falaise’. (Bob jokingly told Paddy that he could have finished the work sooner, but he had mislaid his copy of his treasured Lloyd Webber chord chart during the house move!)
The Principal Director of Music, Royal Marines, Lt. Col. Richard Waterer, has been arranging to have the complete score and parts copied and printed, and as we went to press we learned that Man of Destiny’s first public performance would occur in Portsmouth on 18 October at St. Mary’s Church, Fratton, played by the orchestra of the Royal Band - the new title, by Royal Command, of what was the Royal Yacht Band. The reason for this somewhat strange location is that is where the Royal Marines School of Music currently holds its monthly winter concerts, a tradition introduced by Sir Vivian when the School was located at Deal. It is also hoped that the work will be recorded for commercial release, possibly by a symphony orchestra.
Both Robert Farnon and Paddy Dunn are keen that RFS members should have the opportunity to see Bob’s original pencil sketches for the first movement, Man of Destiny, and these are reproduced in the December 2001 issue of Journal Into Melody.
Robert Farnon will be featured on a new CD in the Naxos Historical ‘British Light Music’ series. This will include both Decca and Chappell recordings, and the titles selected are: Jumping Bean, A Star Is Born, Portrait of a Flirt, Journey Into Melody, Willie the Whistler, Melody Fair, Canadian Caravan, Ottawa Heights, Mountain Grandeur, Gateway to the West, Huckle-Buckle, How Beautiful is Night, State Occasion, Taj Mahal, High Street, Sophistication Waltz, Manhattan Playboy, String Time, In a Calm, Peanut Polka. Readers will recognise that all of these tracks are available on other CDs, but Naxos is widely distributed around the world so it is good that Bob’s music will now receive strong exposure. The CD is expected in January 2002, and the catalogue number will be Naxos 8110849.
Richard Jenkinson was formerly principal cellist with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He has recently recorded a new CD of British works for the cello, and one of the tracks is Song of Scandia by Robert Farnon. In our March issue of Journal Into Melody we hope to have further information regarding the release of this CD. We understand that Richard has expressed the wish to continue the association with Robert Farnon, and Bob may compose a piece specially for him. In fact he has recently re-scored Pictures In The Fire for cello and piano, and Bob feels that it works wonderfully for this combination of instruments.
As we have reported previously, in recent months Robert Farnon has been working on a collection of new arrangements and compositions, concentrating on strings, harp and flute. As we go to press (early in October), Bob is just putting the finishing touches to the last of them, and the CD was scheduled to be recorded on 8 November at the Angel Studios, Islington, with the Royal Philharmonic Strings conducted by Jack Parnell.The titles are: Romancing the Phoenix, Little Did I Know, Coeur Brisé, For Eileen, Lady Barbara, She is Fair to be Uncompared, *En Bateau, *Laura, How Beautiful is Night, Peacehaven, For "C.K.", A Violin Miniature, Intermezzo for Harp, Occasion to Reminisce, *The Touch of your Lips and To a Young Lady. All are Robert Farnon compositions, except titles marked*.
Three Farnon Tributes to Great Songwriters reappear at last on CD
ROBERT FARNON AND HIS ORCHESTRA Victor Schertzinger, Hoagy Carmichael and Vincent Youmans Suites
1 The Fleet’s In*, 2 Dream Lover*, 3 Sand In My Shoes. 4 Marcheta, 5 One Night Of Love, 6 Kiss The Boys Goodbye*, 7 Love Passes By BONUS TRACK, 8 Tangerine BONUS TRACK
9 My Resistance Is Low*, 10 Stardust, 11 Little Old Lady, 12 Georgia On My Mind, 13 One Morning In May, 14 Lazybones*
15 Hallelujah**, 16 Tea For Two, 17 Sometimes I’m Happy, 18 Without A Song, 19 Great Day**, 20 Orchids In The Moonlight, 21 More Than You Know, 22 Time On My Hands, 23 The Carioca BONUS TRACK
* with The Johnston Singers ** with The George Mitchell Choir
VOCALION CDLK4137 Recording History:
"Victor Schertzinger Suite" Decca LK4055 released March 1953
"Hoagy Carmichael Suite" Decca LK4055 released March 1953
"Music of Vincent Youmans" Decca LF1052 released September 1951
Love Passes By BONUS TRACK not on original LP - London L 1240 (78)
Tangerine BONUS TRACK not on original LP - London L1242 (78)
The Carioca BONUS TRACK not on original LP - Decca F9185 (78)
Robert Farnon is generally regarded as the greatest living composer of Light Orchestral music in the world. He is also revered as an arranger of quality popular songs, having influenced most of the top writers on both sides of the Atlantic during the second half of the 20th century. In his long recording career he has been responsible for brilliant orchestrations of melodies crafted by the finest songwriters of the last century, and the latest release in Vocalion’s landmark series of Decca reissues concentrates on three fascinating men.
Victor Schertzinger was born on 8 April 1880 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, USA; he died aged 61 in Hollywood, California, on 26 October 1941. As a child he was a gifted violinist, and during his formative years he toured as a concert soloist and studied music in Europe. In 1913 his song "Marcheta" was published, and three years later he moved to Hollywood where an early commission involved composing a special score for Thomas Ince’s "Civilization". Very soon he also started directing films, and managed to combine this new career successfully with his songwriting. The arrival of talkies resulted in Schertzinger contributing complete scores and individual songs to many top musicals, including the title song for "One Night Of Love" (1934); "Dream Lover" from the Jeanette MacDonald hit "The Love Parade" (1929); and "Sand In My Shoes" and the title song from "Kiss The Boys Goodbye" (1941). Two of his biggest hits reached cinema screens shortly after his death, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer - "Tangerine" and the title song from "The Fleet’s In". As a film director his credits included numerous dramatic features, but he is probably remembered best for his musicals, especially the first of the ‘Road’ movies starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in "The Road To Singapore".
Hoagy Carmichael had a successful career as a composer, pianist, singer and actor. He was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael on 22 November 1899 at Bloomington, Indiana, USA, and died aged 82 on 27 December 1981 at Palm Springs, California. Largely self-taught, he grew up in a poor rural community, but his future career in the music business seemed pre-destined when he became friendly with the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, for whom he co-composed "Riverboat Shuffle". Based in New York in 1929 (the year when "Stardust" was published, although it had been composed two years earlier), Carmichael formed close relationships with many jazz musicians later to become famous, especially Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. For his songs Carmichael occasionally wrote both words and music, but he often collaborated with the best lyric writers, notably Johnny Mercer ("Lazybones"), Mitchell Parish ("Stardust" & "One Morning In May"), and Frank Loesser ("Little Old Lady"). "My Resistance Is Low" came from a 1951 film "The Las Vegas Story". Althought "Stardust" is reckoned to be the most recorded popular tune of all time, "Georgia On My Mind" (lyrics by Stuart Gorrell) has proved to be one of Carmichael’s most enduring successes, with each new generation of performers seeming to ‘rediscover’ this great standard.
Vincent Youmans was a leading composer and producer for stage productions during the 1920s and 1930s, but his career was cut short by a long battle against tuberculosis. Vincent Miller Youmans was born on 27 September 1898 at New York USA; he died aged 47 at Denver, Colorado on 45 April 1946. He served with the US Navy during the first World War, and co-produced musicals for the entertainment of his colleagues. Later he worked as a song plugger, and was a rehearsal pianist for the influential composer Victor Herbert. Youmans’ first Broadway score was "Two Little Girls In Blue" (1921) which opened a long and successful association with the theatre. From this period came "Tea For Two" (reputedly written almost as a joke for "No No Nanette" - 1927); "Hallelujah!" and "Sometimes I’m Happy" (from "Hit The Deck" - 1927, later filmed by MGM in 1955); "Without A Song", "More Than You Know" and the title song (from "Great Day" - 1929); and "Time On My Hands" (from the 1930 musical "Smiles"). Like many of his contemporaries, he was attracted to Hollywood, but his only major original score was for "Flying Down To Rio" (1933), the movie which launched the legendary screen partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Two of the big hits from this film were "The Carioca" and "Orchids In The Moonlight". By comparison with many of his contemporaries, his song catalogue is small, and he rarely used the same collaborator. But the quality of his music survives, and he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
These three talented songwriters all received the special Robert Farnon treatment, when the maestro honoured their contributions to the popular music scene of fifty years ago. Through his masterly arrangements, Farnon has preserved each of these melodies for later generations to enjoy, without knowing the stars or shows with whom they were originally associated. To be able to survive in isolation, as they undoubtedly do, is ample testament to their quality.
The front cover of this CD booklet reproduces the British and American LP sleeves for the Hoagy Carmichael / Victor Schertzinger 12" album. Vincent Youmans occupied a 10" LP, and it was released at a time when LP covers in Britain were not individually designed. Therefore we see the standard Decca design for their ‘popular’ releases, merely carrying basic details of the music and orchestra in the overprinting. The back of the sleeve simply told purchasers that the record had to be played with a special pick-up, and should be cleaned with a barely damp cloth. Record companies quickly discovered the sales potential of attractive designs on their LP covers, so examples of early releases such as this are definitely in the ‘historical’ category.
The recordings on the Hoagy Carmichael and Victor Schertzinger Suites (including the two ‘bonus’ tracks not included in the original albums, but released as singles only in the USA) were recorded at the Kingsway Hall, London during May and June 1952. The Victor Youmans tracks were recorded in February 1951, with the exception of the ‘bonus’ track "The Carioca", which was recorded on 18 May 1949.
Dedicated to taking Light Music seriously
"Frankly, he gives a damn" was the headline chosen by Clive Davis for his interview with John Wilson, printed in the London Times on 9 January. He was quoting Clark Gable’s famous line from "Gone With The Wind", one of the scores being revitalised for the Royal Festival Hall concert of Hollywood Film Music on 19 January.
Valuable publicity such as this is essential if concert halls are to be filled, but the day is fast approaching when it will be John Wilson’s name alone that is all that will be required. Because this young man (he is still only 29) has already built up an enviable reputation for his records and concert appearances.
Davis reminded Times readers that John has emerged as a champion of Light Music since graduating from the Royal College of Music, where he was awarded the much-coveted Tagore Gold Medal. Apart from his recordings (which include the acclaimed ASV series on Eric Coates), he orchestrated Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for the BBC adaptation of "Gormenghast", which led to the Orchestral Jazz CD with Bennett for Vocalion in 2000 (CDSA6800). A second, highly-praised CD (also for Vocalion) involved re-recording many of Angela Morley’s classic scores ("Soft Lights and Sweet Music" – CDSA 6803).
We are proud that John is a member of the Robert Farnon Society. During the past five years we have enjoyed meeting him at our London recitals and at various concerts, and his infectious enthusiasm for his music has impressed us greatly. Clive Davis picked up on it, recognising that John’s "great passion is his orchestra, which also performs swing-flavoured arrangements from the pen of Nelson Riddle, Robert Farnon, Billy May and other arrangers who tend to be lumped together as ‘easy listening’ …. which is, of course, back in vogue."
According to Davis, John’s greatest concern is that he finds himself working in a cultural no-man’s-land. "We haven’t really got a Pops culture in this country, the way they do in America" he says. "Light music here is always treated as a poor relation. It’s usually played very badly, when what it needs is a virtuoso orchestra … it needs to be performed by musicians who can make the notes spring off the page. If you do it well, you realise these pieces really can stand the test of time. You have to pin people back in their seats, make them judge with their ears rather than their preconceptions."
The great day of the concert finally arrived: Saturday 19 January 2002. At the Royal Festival Hall many RFS members were spotted among the enthusiastic near-capacity audience, and it was a treat for sore eyes to see such a large symphony-size orchestra waiting to perform. Seated behind the orchestra were the 100 members of the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
John Wilson entered to sustained applause and cheers, and then opened the concert with the magnificent 20th Century Fox Fanfare (with CinemaScope extension – as they used to say!) leading into Alfred Newman’s Street Scene as it was heard at the opening of the film "How to Marry a Millionaire". From 1939 to 1960 Newman (1901-1970) was head of the music department at 20th Century Fox, and it is no exaggeration to say that it was his influence which contributed greatly to the high standards of the music in many of the major Hollywood films of the middle years of the last century.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of several European composers who made their home in Hollywood during the 1930s, and his score for The Sea Hawk proved his mastery in scoring for adventure movies.
The classic David Raksin (b. 1912) Laura made a nice contrast, leading into what many in the audience regarded as the concert’s high spot – the Conrad Salinger arrangements for MGM musicals.
The baritone Richard Morrison made an all-too-brief appearance singing the Howard Keel role from "Kismet" – Night of my Nights, ably assisted by the choir. The classic Central Park scene from "Band Wagon" brought us the beautiful Arthur Schwartz melody Dancing in the Dark; even without seeing Fred Astaire, this arrangement still hits the spot.
The sparkling main title and fountain scene from "Gigi" led into two Gene Kelly numbers, most ably sung by Gary Williams – Singin’ in the Rain and Heather on the Hill. Then to close part one, a real ‘tour de force’ from orchestra, choir and Gary Williams performing the Fred Astaire classic from "Ziegfeld Follies" – Harry Warren’s This Heart of Mine. In his introduction John Wilson hinted that it may have been Conrad Salinger at his most self-indulgent, but what a wonderful number all the same. Everyone involved was simply magnificent!
During the interval you could sense that all of us were on a ‘high’ as you walked around this great concert hall.
Just as the first part opened with probably the most famous film fanfare of them all, so the second began with one that could have been almost equally well-known, if Warner Bros. had decided to use it for more of their movies. Composed by Max Steiner (1888-1971) it was the natural introduction for his memorable score for that Bette Davis weepie "Now Voyager".
Then came the main work of the evening, a new symphonic suite, arranged and reconstructed by John Wilson, based on the various themes by Max Steiner for "Gone With The Wind". It opened to the David O. Selznik fanfare, then launched into the familiar Tara theme. But very soon the audience realised that Steiner had written a considerable amount of music for this epic, some of it based on the melodies associated with the days of slavery in the deep south. John Wilson has done a major service to film historians by restoring this music as an important work in its own right.
To conclude this wonderful evening, the orchestra excelled themselves in The Ride of the Cossacks from "Taras Bulba" by Franz Waxman (1906-1967). When it finished the applause and cheering was deafening; I didn’t time it, but John Wilson returned to the podium three times to acknowledge the appreciation of us all. The audience would have loved more, but possibly anything else would have been an anti-climax after the Waxman fireworks. In any case, I have it on good authority that John had been working until the small hours the previous night finishing the scores for the concert. He must have been thinking of his bed!
But on such occasions the body’s adrenalin kicks in, and shortly afterwards a queue of well over 100 people had formed near the Farringdon Records area where John was signing copies of his latest CD, and anything else that his fans put in front of him! He deserved all the congratulations that were heaped on him, and can be justifiably proud of everything that he achieved on that memorable January evening in London.
What are the lasting impressions? First and foremost the delight at seeing so many young musicians in the orchestra, and the fact that they seemed to be enjoying themselves so much. Then the singers, especially Gary Williams who could not be faulted in his recreations – he must have worked very hard on them. And one cannot forget the wonderful sound of the chorus, creating that gorgeous curtain of sound enveloping orchestra and singers as they used to do, until the sheer cost presumably meant that the studios eventually decided to dispense with them in such numbers.
The audience also deserve a mention, not only since they were so enthusiastic, but because it has to be said that it cheered the hearts of those of us who can remember this music from the first time round, to see so many younger people enjoying it as well. The future of quality popular music may not be as gloomy as some doom-laden critics would have us believe.
As for John Wilson himself, it was a treat to observe his rapport with his orchestra. He coaxed them to give of their best, and rewarded them with a beaming smile when they inevitably did. John’s passion for the music permeated the entire proceedings, and he had players and audience in the palm of his hand. It takes a very special person to be able to achieve that.
Now that this triumph is behind him, what are John Wilson’s plans for the future? Let’s return to his Times interview. Clive Davis told us that he plans to continue his excavation work on the great Hollywood musicals. He has High Society in his sights, not to mention Singin’ In The Rain and Gigi. "When I left college, I made the decision that I wanted to be a re-creative rather than a creative artist," he explains. "I’m not one of those film music nerds who listen only to soundtracks. I listen to ‘proper’ music too. These great scores deserve to be reconstituted as concert music in their own right."