A new box set from Nimbus promises to be the outstanding Light Music release of 2013 – if not the decade. Every commercial recording of Eric Coates conducting his own compositions has been collected together on 7 CDs, from his earliest acoustics in 1923 to his final sessions in 1957.
This is the brainchild of Alan Bunting, who has been working on this ‘labour of love’ for the best part of the last year. The sound restorations are all outstanding, which is hardly surprising when you consider that Alan is widely recognised as one of the finest digital ‘wizards’ in the world. He has gone to great lengths to obtain the very best copies available of the original discs, calling upon the willing participation of his many contacts in the record collecting fraternity. Sometimes he has had to reject some old 78s, and redouble his efforts to find better copies. The result is that the work of Eric Coates has now been preserved in amazing quality that would not have been possible only a few years ago. There are instances of Coates revisiting some of his earlier works to record them again when better technology became available, following the advent of electrical sound recording. And for the sake of completion a few tracks feature other orchestras playing Coates’ works, where he did not conduct them himself.
Originally Alan worked on this project without knowing for sure if it would ever be offered to record buyers by a commercial company. He simply felt that it was something that ought to be done, in recognition of Eric Coates’ magnificent contribution to the Light Music repertoire of the 20th Century. But always at the back of his mind Alan hoped that, one day, he might be able to convince a record company to release his restorations. At one time there was a vague possibility that the 7 discs might be issued singly over a period of several months, but this would have been considered only as a last resort.
Happily the English company Nimbus enthusiastically embraced the project, and the results have exceeded Alan’s wildest expectations. They have they produced a top quality product in all respects at a very reasonable price (internet retailers are offering the 7 CDs for little more than £20). The accompanying booklet features an extended essay by Michael Payne, the author of the recent published book ‘The Life And Music Of Eric Coates’ (Ashgate Publishing Ltd.).
The Definitive Eric Coates" Nimbus NI 6131
This appeared in the August 2013 issue of ‘Journal Into Melody’
GOLDERS GREEN HIPPODROME – 100 NOT OUT!
Anthony Wills Has Fond Memories Of A Distinguished Venue For Many BBC Broadcasts
The dear old Hippodrome – which we all miss so much – has a very special birthday this year. Designed by Bertie Crewe it opened on Boxing Day 1913 as a music hall. Its arrival on the scene was a direct result of the extension of the Northern line to Golders Green earlier that year. The Hip held more than 3,000 people at its inception but, thanks to local pressure, had no bar! Variety bills were the order of the day and it was not until much later that it was fitted out with proper stage facilities reducing the audience capacity to 2,485. In due course it became a West End "try-out" venue as part of a circuit that included the Streatham Hill Empire and the Wimbledon Theatre. Many famous stars such as Marlene Dietrich played one-night stands on its boards. It was also home to the Carl Rosa Opera Company and Ralph Reader’s celebrated Gang Shows. Audiences however began to decline after the war (apart from the lavish pantomime productions, the last of which starred Danny La Rue) and eventually the lease passed into the hands of the Mecca organisation which turned it into a Bingo Hall.
In 1969 the BBC were looking for a temporary London television studio while those at Television Centre were being adapted for colour transmissions. Many rock bands were recorded in concert there in the early ‘70s and the majority of these tapes survive and are frequently shown on BBC4.
From its beginnings in 1952 the BBC Concert Orchestra had been based at the Camden Theatre (now Koko’s nightclub and still worth looking inside if you can persuade the management to let you in when there’s no show on) and it was there that the BBC Concert Orchestra (formed in 1952) began broadcasting Friday Night Is Music Night under the batons of Gilbert Vinter and Sidney Torch. In due course it was decided to move the orchestra’s base to Golders Green and the Hippodrome became the home of FNIMN apart from many outside broadcasts all over Britain.
When I joined the BBC in 1979 I took many roles including being part of a small coterie within Radio 2 known as the "Light Music Unit" whose members included Robert Bowman, Monica Cockburn, Charles Clark Maxwell and Alan Owen. Apart from auditioning hopeful singers we also produced Matinee Musicale for Radio 3 which included a lot of Light Music, including the compositions of various composers who were unheard elsewhere on the BBC. The Concert Orchestra for Mat Mus (as we called it) was normally conducted by their Principal Conductor of the time, the softly spoken Ashley Lawrence. The first specialist programme of which I took charge was Listen ToThe Band introduced by Charlie Chester, whose scripts were written by Brian Matthew (a well kept secret!). Apart from commissioning brass band recordings from the regions for this series I personally recorded London area bands such as the Hendon Band in session at the Hip Every so often (when the budget allowed) I would book a full military band, which was always an exhilarating occasion. I trailed Friday Night Is Music Night under the tutelage of John Bussell and David Rayvern Allen but never actually took charge of it. As readers will know there was a small group of stalwarts appearing on the show including Cynthia Glover, John Lawrenson, Vernon & Maryetta Midgley and the then recently discovered Marilyn Hill Smith. The Ambrosian Singers were usually present and took a prominent part in the closing medleys brilliantly arranged by Sidney Torch, Robert (Bob) Docker and Gordon Langford.
It’s important to note that there was plenty of other activity going on in the Hip, even if it was the Concert Orchestra’s base. Apart from the brass and military band sessions mentioned above I also produced specially assembled ensembles, often conducted by Stanley Black, for the waltzing part of Marching & Waltzing, presented on Sunday evenings by the eccentric Paddy O’Byrne. And the BBC Radio Orchestra often decamped there, as the Maida Vale studios were too small for its largest configuration (the ‘A’ Orchestra), especially for invited audience events. Among the most memorable of these were the brilliant concert performances of major musicals for which producer John Langridge flew in leading stars from the USA. Undoubtedly the most fulfilling part of my live music work (I was simultaneously co-producing sequences such as The John Dunn Show and Round Midnight as well as many documentary series) were the monthly concerts for the David Jacobs lunchtime programme, usually tributes to one particular composer such as Cole Porter or Frank Loesser. These featured the full Radio Orchestra under its Principal Conductor Iain Sutherland plus the Stephen Hill Singers, sixteen extremely versatile session singers who could read anything on sight and whose members took on solo passages as well. The singers would rehearse upstairs in the former ballet room and then join the orchestra for a quick run-through while David Jacobs practised the script I had written for him. I loved working in the Hippodrome as unlike the Maida Vale studios you had the run of the whole building and it was a proper theatre rather than a converted roller skating rink! On one occasion for a Christmas show I had Father Christmas welcome the audience in the foyer while on another I hired some Can Can costumes and persuaded four Radio 2 production secretaries to pose in them! I still have all of those concerts on tape and perhaps the Club would like to listen one on a future occasion.
In the early 1990s the live music scene began to change, as the BBC now had unrestricted needle time and did not require so many studio sessions. The Radio Orchestra was axed in 1991 though its Big Band section was retained. The Midland and Scottish Radio Orchestras also got the chop. The Concert Orchestra under its energetic manage Ian Maclay realized it had to supplement its income outside of its BBC duties and began to undercut the freelance London orchestras, for example playing Coppelia for a ballet company at the Royal Albert Hall. This caused great resentment at the time. At the same time series such as Melodies For You became all-record programmes resulting in a considerable loss of work. The last Concert Orchestra programme I produced was a 1994 New Year’s Gala which also featured a military band and was introduced from one of the Hippodrome’s boxes by Ian Wallace.
The story of the Hippodrome’s demise is well known and we can only be thankful that no-one was killed or injured by either of the ceiling collapses which caused the Concert Orchestra to refuse to continue playing there. For many years the orchestra became in effect homeless while there was grandiose talk of a new Music Centre at White City to house both it and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The Mermaid Theatre, which has been the home of FNIMN, has for some time been under threat and presumably LSO St Lukes and the Watford Colosseum will succeed it. Certainly the Finchley Arts Depot was most unsuitable.
After the BBC left the Hippodrome the building deteriorated rapidly until, despite strong objections from local residents, it was sold in 2007 for a paltry £5 million to the El Shaddai International Christian Centre, which already had premises in Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Cardiff. El Shaddai have done a magnificent restoration job, removing the clutter of the recording cubicle and painting the various tiers and ceilings in a beautiful blue colour whilst picking out the cherubs and other details in white. The original raked red seats remain underneath the flat floored stalls area where the bands and orchestras once performed and there is still a BBC Trades Union notice board in one of the corridors. The former star dressing room is now a children’s crèche! Ask very nicely and they may let you have a peep inside. Great times, great memories.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, issue 195 dated April 2013.
By Martin Moritz
‘Muzak’ is one of those words that is always used in a contemptuous way and it is not difficult to understand why. It is so pervasive that the more paranoid of us may well suspect that there is a global conspiracy to cause irreparable damage to our mental state, rather like musical ‘germ warfare’. It seems no place is immune from it. We are constantly aurally assaulted in lifts, hotels, pubs, bars, supermarkets, shops, waiting rooms and, surely demanding a Freudian analysis, public toilets.
It is generally bland, undemanding, unmusical and overwhelmingly irritating. Even Mozart and Vivaldi, who could hardly be called unmusical, have been subjugated and forced to wear a Muzak straight-jacket. Have we not been reduced to near hysteria while both composers’ works are incessantly played as we wait interminably to be connected on the ‘phone? It is certainly ironic that the ethos of Muzak, which, among other things, was designed to aid concentration, lend a harmonious atmosphere and create equable moods, did the exact reverse. However, these very benefits which would have an adverse effect on the public are to be found in many recordings which utilise background and mood music in a much more specific, valid and beneficial way .
The origin of this innovation in domestic listening is to be found in the late 1940s. One of the repercussions of the Second World War was a radical change in the American way of life that would include the nation’s musical tastes. Families were confronted with a marketing onslaught that had an underlying message of more, newer and better. At the core of the campaign was homes of the future which would include appliance-filled kitchens and luxuriant, softly-lit living rooms. Indeed, buyers were praised as patriotic citizens boosting a flagging economy, the result of fifteen years of depression.
Music would play an integral part in complementing this new life-style. The dynamic, extrovert Swing music of the war years was clearly unsuitable for relaxing to in the calm surroundings of these utopian homes. What was required was appropriate music that was much more in keeping, music that was soft, understated and mood evoking. These new homes would have ‘themed-rooms’ and there would be background/mood album concepts specifically created to musically enhance them. So there was music suitable for male-dominated dens, patios, play-rooms, dining-rooms, bedrooms and even barbecues. Thankfully, the toilet was not considered. One could immerse oneself in symbolic music that offered romance, induced relaxation, that soothed and calmed, that could whisk one away to exotic locations and trigger imaginary adventures. The records’ sleeve designs capitalised on this aura of ‘gracious living’ drawing on romantic novels, stylised magazine adverts, films and television for their inspiration , all reflecting an idealised life-style.
One factor that was pivotal to the sales of mood music was the introduction of the long-playing record in 1948. The annoying necessity of having to continually turn over 78 rpm records with an average duration of around three minutes each side was replaced by the ease of a single and more robust disc that offered up to thirty minutes per side of continuous, cleaner reproduction. The advantages of sustaining a mood or a theme were substantial.
WH Auden described the 1930s as the ‘Age of Anxiety’ but, judging by the plethora of LPs that were released to help ease the load of daily life, it could well apply to that decade. RCA Records, for example, released a series of albums featuring George Melachrino that were formulated to reduce stress and create happier dispositions. Equally, Capitol issued six thematic LPs with an overall title that grandly proclaimed: ‘Background Music – Music Blended to Mix Graciously with Social Gatherings’. An early release from Reader’s Digest, which had created a music division in 1960, was a ten LP collection entitled ‘Background Moods’ that featured music for a wide range of moods and themes including carefree, wistful, intimate, dancing , exotic, haunting, soothing, latin, swinging and festive.
There were concepts such as ‘Music for Faith and Inner Calm’, ‘Music to Help You Sleep’, ‘Music for Courage and Confidence’, ‘Music for Daydreaming’, ‘Music for Dining’, ‘Music for a Rainy Night’ and ‘Music for a Nostalgic Traveller’. Some themes bordered on the bizarre seemingly to embrace any form of work, function or recreation: ‘Music for Washing and Ironing’, ‘Music for Baby-Sitters’, ‘How to Belly –Dance for Your Husband’ (yes, really!), ‘Music to Paint By’, ‘Music to Make Housework Easier’, ‘Music for a French Dinner at Home’ and ‘Music for Cooking with Gas – A La Carte’, which had the sub-title ‘Music that’s Rare and Well-Done!
There was even an album of music to help one stop smoking which "will relax you, make you feel good, and keep your hand from groping toward a pack of cigarettes. Reach for a melodious bud….instead of a butt". If this did not work, there were LPs of courses in hypnosis and self-hypnosis that might. There was help on hand as well if the neighbours were continually playing loud, bothersome music although ‘Music to Break a Lease’ or ‘Music to Break a Sub-Lease’ could not actually guarantee it. Its object was defeated by the music which was not of the 1812 Overture variety but sing-along 1920s tunes! One wonders why they bothered.
The sleeve-notes would reinforce the therapeutic benefits of background, mood music. Here is an example from an album entitled ‘Soft & Easy in Percussion’:
‘Soft and easy is a mood. Soft and easy is also a style of music which is prescribed only for dreamy listening. Add percussion to this and you have music for dreamy, relaxed listening. This is an album for those who take their musical pleasures subdued and with ease….The ingredients for your soft and easy mood are all here within the jacket of this album. Close the doors, shut the windows and turn off the telephone……’
Domestic stereo arrived in 1958 and the industry, unsurprisingly, released an extraordinary number of albums produced solely to convey the vitality of stereo techniques. Most made for disconcerting listening with one being subjected to a form of aural tennis as one’s head shot from right to left and vice-versa so as to catch the array of sounds coming from each speaker. Inevitably, technological novelty would also require musical novelty, and, accordingly, producers and engineers began to explore uncharted musical areas so as to exploit a melodic canvas which seemed tailor-made for this new format.
So ensued a seemingly unending flow of exotic-sounding LPs invariably featuring Spanish, Mexican, South American and Gypsy melodies. Whole Pacific island cultures were practically invented for the sake of rhythmic and sonic innovation. Ultimately, although initially developed to create a more ‘realistic’ sense of sound in space, record companies finally realised that they needed to demonstrate the superiority of the advances in stereo more literally and less ‘realistically’ as it turned out. This, as it transpired, would fit very comfortably with a burgeoning style that would become known as ‘easy listening’.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, issue 195 dated April 2013.
This autumn of 2012 is turning out to be most productive and rewarding for all who admire the composing talents of the Hungarian-born Miklos Rozsa and his two chosen paths of composition. Firstly, both the film scores QUO VADIS and THE RED HOUSE are scheduled for release at the end of October on respectively, the Prometheus and Intrada labels; in addition, no less than eight of his concert works are set to appear on three other discs devoted to his music. Both the film scores have been greatly anticipated as neither have been recorded complete before; QUO VADIS has been best represented up to now by a forty minute disc of highlights with the composer conducting the RPO (recorded in 1977 at the much missed Kingsway Hall in London), and only short suites from THE RED HOUSE have previously appeared, the last conducted by the versatile Charles Gerhardt with his famed National Philharmonic on one of the "Classic Film Score" series, also from the ‘seventies.
In fact it was this very recording that gave American composer/orchestrator Kevin Kaska the desire to one day present this fine RH score complete on disc, and he set about preparing the many scored scenes for just such an occasion. This latest Intrada CD is now just that, his dream come true, with the equal enthusiasms of film expert and record promoter Paul Talkington, conductor Allan Wilson, and the boss of Intrada Records, Doug Fake. The results of this are fantastic: revelatory and rich in musical ideas, all heightened by Rozsa’s use of the unique-sounding theremin, which he had first used so effectively in his two Oscar nominees from 1945, SPELLBOUND and THE LOST WEEKEND, the first of which gained him his first statuette for the Hitchcock melodrama. The seldom shown RED HOUSE is a dark and rather confusing tale starring Edward G. Robinson as a very enigmatic character living near the woods which conceal a grisly secret he tries to keep hidden away from other visitors. The score highlights the intrigue and disturbing madnesses of the key figure, and the theremin, weirdly wailing in many scenes, heightens the suspense.
I can report, having been fortunate enough to attend the sessions in Glasgow in January 2011, that this 2-CD set (Intrada MAF 7122) – produced by Kaska – will be a true highlight in the ever-increasing Rozsa discography. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was a joy to listen to under the expert control of Allan Wilson. Another highlight without a doubt will be the complete QUO VADIS score also on 2 CDs (Prometheus, PROX PCD172) – over sixty years since the film was released – as this marked Rozsa’s initial encounter with 1st century Roman antiquity (eight years later leading up to his supreme masterpiece, BEN-HUR). The musical canvas he painted for QV after many months of research was utterly effective and brilliant – even by his high standards of movie scoring. Many readers will have seen this flawed epic and be familiar with the vivid scenes depicted in and around the Forum Romanum and arenas of degradation and slaughter, as well as the love tangles between Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) and Lygia (Deborah Kerr). Peter Ustinov as the crazed Nero was the other main protagonist, and he overacted quite delightfully! There are so many musical sequences one can hear now for the first time as they were either completely omitted from the soundtrack or dubbed so poorly as to make them inaudible. These Prague sessions were produced in March this year by the scrupulously meticulous James Fitzpatrick, assisted by Rozsa expert Frank K. deWald and orchestrator Leigh Phillips who were both also in the control room during sessions. James has worked with his Czech musicians at Smecky studios over many years, and they certainly play masterfully for him. Sitting amongst them listening to this latest recreation was a rare privilege and a wondrous experience for me. The City of Prague Philhamonic was ably conducted by the always highly discerning Nic Raine, whose interpretation of an earlier Rozsa epic on the same label (EL CID) has been rightly much praised.
As if these two additions were not enough, Chandos have just released Volume 3 in their series of complete Rozsa orchestral works (CHAN 10738) and it is arguably the most welcome so far, containing a veritable "greatest hits" from the composer’s 45 opus works. The ‘Theme, Variations and Finale’ from 1933 has remained one of his most admired and performed orchestral showcases, and is here played in its original uncut version prior to a later revision. This is the premiere recording of this version. It is a superb set of contrasting variations on an original theme, ending with a furious and dance-like Finale. The ‘Concerto for Strings’ of 1943 is yet another brilliant conception: hard-hitting, strident and darkly brooding. This piece comes closest to those brutally jagged gangster and film noirs movies he scored later in the ‘forties (BRUTE FORCE, THE KILLERS, CRISS CROSS, THE NAKED CITY). Rozsa later quipped that he was at that time considered as the musical Al Capone! The other work on this fine CD is his Violin Concerto he wrote for Jascha Heifetz in 1953, which has become an oft-played virtuoso showcase; this latest version features the young, talented Jennifer Pike, who shows she has encompassed the Rozsa Hungarian folk idiom completely, with an interpretation full of power and flowing mastery. So, three great works played by the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba, who has made a unique name for himself recording much varied and little-heard repertoire.
Mention must also be made of a recent limited edition on the Kritzerland label containing the original tracks in very good sound of Rozsa’s THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, another ‘forties score hardly remembered these days. Producer Bruce Kimmel had located these acetates in the Paramount vaults, and the resulting disc is well worth a listen. Also just reissued is a suite fashioned by Rozsa from some of those gangster films I previously alluded to, entitled (not by the composer) "Backgrounds to Violence". This was originally from a US Decca LP, as was the coupling here of three concert works from another Decca LP (in mono sound), the whole CD composer conducted: (Disques Cinemusique, DCM 141). Lastly, we can expect soon the latest volume in the ongoing Naxos/ Rozsa series; this – the fifth devoted to his concert music – has his two String Quartets plus the Op 1 String Trio from 1929, all played by the Tippet Quartet. The Trio, written as a student, was his first ever composition to be accepted by his now long time publishers, Breitkopf and Haertel. Rozsa was very proud of this, and tells of when he had propped up the score at the end of his bed, so that he could awaken the next morning and proudly stare at it afresh! It is a most assured composition from one so young, and well worth getting to know.
What a long way he progressed and developed since those early days; forty plus more concert works, nearly a hundred film scores (and three Oscars won from countless nominations), a teaching post in Los Angeles for many years, conducting at concerts in various countries as well as on numerous recordings, and an international reputation both highly successful as well as much revered. His autobiography, "Double Life" nicely sums up his dual composing roles in his two chosen musical areas, and so we now welcome these new CD releases which underline his importance as a 20th century master figure, as well as show just how successful he became in these chosen paths.
(Alan Hamer represents the MIKLOS ROZSA SOCIETY in the UK and Europe; contact him at or visit the Society website at miklosrozsa.org )
This article first appeared in Journal Into Melody, issue 194 December 2012
By David Barton
One thing which I’m sure is periodically on our minds, is whether our enthusiasm for light music will transfer to another generation of musicians and listeners. Many of you will know that I’ve been giving music lessons for over 11 years; a lot has changed in that short space of time, not least the pieces which are now considered ‘acceptable’. Instrumental exams have, in the past, been mainly classical-based, but over the past few years, we’ve seen a real ‘opening-up’ of the repertoire and there’s a strong possibility that light music might benefit from this.
Our exam syllabuses now feature a wide range of light pieces and composers, and consequently, albeit from an unlikely source, learners are now exposed to a far greater variety of music. If you did music exams as a child, rest-assured, the ‘old standards’ still appear, but you’d be surprised how breadth of repertoire has widened. Musicians are benefitting too, with previously out-of-print sheet music now being reissued as these pieces appear.
One area which has now become far more accepted is that of arranging. Several exam boards now actively commission arrangements, and more and more are beginning to appear, including: Warren and Gordon’s Chattanooga Choo-Choo (Piano, Grade 1); Gershwin’s Do It Again (Piano, Grade 7) and Summertime (Viola, Grade 3); Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz (Violin, Grade 3); Kurt Weill’s September Song (Viola, Grade 5); Leroy Anderson’s Fiddle-Faddle (Viola, Grade 8); Ron Goodwin’s 633 Squadron (Horn, Grade 3); and Miles Davis’ So What? (Double Bass, Grade 5). As you can see, there are some pretty odd instrument combinations!
Composers associated with the RFS are well-represented too, with: Paul Lewis’ Blue Fiver (Harp, Grade 6); David Snell’s Toccata (Harp, Grade 8); and Philip Lane’s Malagveña (Clarinet, Grade 5) all featuring.
We probably know William Alwyn best for his Festival March, and his music continues to appear with his Sonatina (Violin, Grade 8) and Crépuscule (Harp, Grade 7). Most famous for his piece The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, but also an established composer for Chappells, Buxton Orr features with his Diatonic Preludes (Harp, Grade 4) and several pieces in the brass section. Another library music composer to feature is Gilbert Vinter, with his Playful Pachyderm (Bassoon, Grade 8) and Reverie (Bassoon, Grade 7).
Several other composers who can justifiably claim an association with light music include: Henry Mancini’s Charade (Viola, Grade 2) andinevitably The Pink Panther (Cello, Grade 2); Geoffrey Burgon’s Dawn (Harp, Grade 2); Madeline Dring’s Italian Dance (Oboe, Grade 7); Paul Reade’s Suite from The Victorian Kitchen Garden (Clarinet, Grade 5); and George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland (Euphonium, Grade 5).
If you’ve got children or grandchildren taking music exams, ask them what they’re playing; some of their choices may be more familiar than you might think.
This article first appeared in Journal Into Melody, issue 194 December 2012
Says Martin Moritz
As with so many misunderstandings, invariably riddled with misconceptions, false assumptions and half-truths, it was generally accepted that the worlds of classical and popular music were sworn enemies. These labels were deliberately conceived so as to differentiate them and in the process created an unfathomable gulf between them. However, a truce in hostilities was declared, albeit a conditional one, and so, inevitably, suspicions still remain.
What real difference is there between them and perhaps more importantly what does one define as popular? Beethoven’s Fifth is a classical work but it is also very popular. As is Messiah and Swan Lake. The unlikely Carmina Burana, a fairly obscure work by an even more obscure composer, is now familiar to millions, courtesy of a TV ad., and would Saint-Saens ‘Organ’ Symphony be as popular as it is now if it had not been featured in a film about a pig who longs to be a sheepdog?! So each fulfils the criteria of being both ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ but that conclusion is far too simplistic.
A label is often a convenient yet misleading device. It ties up disparate strands all too neatly making an unwieldy knot which then occupies a ‘pigeon hole’. How we all love ‘pigeon holing’! To be precise and irritatingly pedantic, the ‘catch all’ term ‘classical’ specifically embraces Baroque, the Romantic period, Chamber, Lieder, Oratorios, probably Opera, and the fearsome word itself, Classical , which actually covers the age of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and their contemporaries. And does that imply that everything else is ‘popular’? Well, what about jazz? Is that ‘popular’? Not being ‘classical’, the easy option is to often classify it under ‘popular’. Modern Jazz is ‘serious’ music, perceived as intellectual as well as elitist. These same descriptions apply to Classical music. By comparison, does this suggest that ‘popular’ music is none of these and therefore is lightweight, undemanding and not to be taken seriously? Well, the two have met amicably and in the process the supposedly frivolous sibling acknowledged the melodic and approachable content of its older, more profound, relative.
Popular, mainstream, music is a voracious guzzler of other musical forms. Consider folk, blues, country and even the unspeakable rock ‘n’ roll, each has been washed in musical detergents to make them whiter than white. And the classics, a word itself which has now become so debased, have become homogenised too.
Let’s commence with Rachmaninov. In 1918, George Cobb was compelled by a friend to create an impromptu rag while they were dining out and he chose Rachmaninov’s by then famous, or more probably infamous, Prelude in C Sharp Minor as his inspiration which he called Russian Rag. To his great surprise, the grim-looking and foreboding composer was also present in the restaurant and said to Cobb after he had heard it, "Nice rag, but you’ve got the wrong rhythm". Not the reaction that one would have expected. Almost thirty years later, both Freddy Martin and Sinatra would have a hit with Full Moon and Empty Arms, adapted from the third movement of the composer’s Second Piano Concerto.
Chopin would be another obvious choice and who better than Perry Como to sing his innately romantic music. Till the End of Time , an adaption of the Polonaise in A flat, sold more than a million copies in 1945 and, hard on its heels, was I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, based on the Fantasie Impromptu in C major. In 1950, Jo Stafford would record No Other Love (not to be confused with Ronnie Hilton’s hit some six years later written by Rodgers and Hammerstein)) which had the Etude No.3 in E as its source. And let’s not forget Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic (Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Op 28).
Equal fair game was, unsurprisingly, Tchaikovsky. Tonight We Love took the First Movement of the Piano Concerto No.1, complete with piano, and gave Freddy Martin a massive US hit. Two Swing maestros, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, offered their contributions with Moon Love (Fifth Symphony – 2nd Movement) and Our Love (Romeo and Juliet – Overture), respectively. Far less inhibited was Nut Rocker by B Bumble and The Stingers and perhaps a discrete veil should be drawn over The Move’s Night of Fear (1812 Overture). However, Annie’s Song from John Denver restored the balance using the Fifth Symphony as its basis.
Two composers whose raison-d’etre would appear to be adapting classical melodies , adding lyrics to them and then creating successful musicals were George Wright and Edward Forrest. For ‘Kismet’, first staged in 1955, they used the music of Borodin, resulting in such songs And This Is My Beloved; Baubles, Bangles and Beads, and most notably, Stranger in Paradise. Grieg’s music formed the basis for ‘The Song of Norway’ and for ‘The Great Waltz’ their inspiration was Johann Strauss. In the same vein, Eric Maschwitz and Hy Kraft utilised music by Dvorak for their 1956 musical ‘Summer Song’. Whilst discussing Dvorak, mention must be made of the glorious and timeless Goin’ Home, drawn from the slow movement of his ‘New World’ Symphony, and forever associated with Paul Robeson.
Was nothing sacred? Most certainly not if you happened to be Spike Jones who brought his, shall we say, individual touch to such gems as the William Tell Overture (as did a more restrained David Whitfield for the title tune of a TV series); The Dance of the Hours (step up Alan Sherman and the equally comic Hello Muddah, Hello Fuddah); Liebestraum, The Blue Danube and, improbably, None But the Lonely Heart.
The great Beethoven was not immune either. Ken Dodd singing the slow movement of his Pathetique Sonata in the form of More than Love might strike many as heresy but how many tore their hair out after experiencing Miguel Rios and his Ode to Joy? And is the melody a fitting anthem for the European Union? Who felt that an overdose was the only course of action immediately having endured a disco version his Fifth Symphony? Should a statute of limitation been enforced before the even more sacrosanct Mozart fell victim to Mozart 40 by Waldo de Los Rios?
To the purists, this cross fertilisation will always be anathema. How dare one deface the Holy Grail! The reality is that these adaptations and arrangements have given the original melodies a much wider reach than the more limited one they have. It is not really a new lease of life but rather but more of one being made aware of music that one might or, indeed, would not be familiar with and perhaps, as a result, lead to seeking out the classical original. The comparison should be, at best, enlightening and, at worst, unhelpful. Music must not be placed on a pedestal - popular music is as valid as its classical counterpart with the caveat that there are unworthy elements in both. As a final thought, consider the fact that had not the classics been explored for a wider audience, we would never have had The Wombles and their Minuetto Allegretto, displaying an insightful grasp of Mozart!
This article first appeared in Journal Into Melody, issue 194 December 2012
The Robert Farnon Society invited The London Salon Ensemble to play at its London Meeting on Sunday 13 May 2012, and it proved to be one of the most enjoyable occasions in the 56-year history of the Society. Among the well-known works performed by the Ensemble, were three composed by one of its members, Daryl Griffith, who was born in Wallasey, Cheshire. And what made the event even more noteworthy, was the fact that one of Daryl’s works was a World Premiere. This was entitled Bohemian Nights, and his other two works played were The New Year Belle and Sunday On The Southbank.It quickly became obvious to everyone present that Daryl’s music was tuneful and instantly appealing – two of the important requisites of the best work in the light music genre.
Journal Into Melody Editor David Ades asked Daryl if he would be willing to be interviewed for the magazine, so that we could learn more about this talented musician. At the meeting he was playing celesta, percussion and the violin, but clearly there was a lot more to learn. Daryl’s website informs us that he is a composer, orchestrator and conductor working in both the classical and commercial sectors. Although he is still young, he is regarded within the profession as a veteran musical virtuoso whose work has graced the stage, radio and screen. After studying at the Royal College of Music and winning the Hecht and Alchin prize for Composition in his final year, Daryl began his career as a freelance violinist and pianist, appearing with the likes of the BBC Concert Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, the Hallé, the Liverpool Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestra. He subsequently had a full time job with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
In 1989 he joined the English National Ballet as the Company Pianist and was quickly promoted to Principal Pianist and Conductor in 1990. With the English National Ballet he performed at all the major theatres across the UK and composed arrangements and orchestrations for the full and mid-scale Companies. In 1992 Daryl was invited to join the London City Ballet as Principal Conductor; in 1993 he was promoted to Music Director.
In 1998 Daryl began composing orchestral music for production companies, including KPM Music. His extensive orchestration credits include scores for Nick Hooper’s films Messiah III, The Future Is Wild, The Girls of Chernobyl and The Young Visitors (which won the Bafta for best music). His production music compositions have been extremely successful and have been licensed worldwide to programmes and commercials, including Sex and the City (HBO), Love Child (ITV), Chuck (NBC) and Häagen-Dazs.
He has also performed many of his compositions on BBC Radios Two and Three with the London Salon Ensemble and the BBC Concert Orchestra, including Orient Express, Aladdin and A Simple Life. Daryl’s film scores include Sacred Journey (2001) and In Search of an Impotent Man (2002), as well as numerous shorts that have been screened worldwide.
He has composed and arranged classical crossover and pop albums for artists including Summer Watson, Finbar Furey, Dominic Miller, Chage & Aska, as well as on the Myleene Klass album Moving On, which reached number two in the charts and was subsequently nominated for a Brit award. Daryl also provided arrangements for the Italian pop sensation Cesare Cremonini and for commercials by MasterCard, Citroën and Virgin Trains, and he composed all the orchestrations for the rebranding of the Sky News channel.
Daryl has worked as orchestrator and conductor with bands such as Arcade Fire and McFly, as well as orchestrating the music for TV dramas, including the Bafta-winning Prime Suspect. In 2006 Daryl was commissioned by KPM to write KPM 668 and 669 Our Grand Designs – a large orchestral work incorporating electronic instruments – which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and released in 2007. Daryl has also worked as orchestrator for the feature films Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros., 2009) and Bedtime Stories (Disney, 2008), and composed idents for Baileys's sponsorship of Films on 4. He orchestrated and arranged the music for the English National Ballet’s children’s ballet Angelina’s Star Performance and recorded the score for the ballet’s subsequent DVD release. He is in demand as a session conductor, and is one of the few classically trained conductors who is able to employ the clicktrack.
David Ades began by asking Daryl if he could remember when he first realised that he was interested in music:
DG: I have always been involved in music. My mother was originally a professional singer with the BBC Northern Singers, so music was always around in the house. I started to play the piano and sing at a very early age, and because it is something that I have always done, it has never seemed strange to me.
DA: Having a love for music is something that many fortunate people experience at an early age, but it takes a great deal of courage to embark upon a musical profession. Were you always determined that you would earn your living in this way, or did you begin with something completely different?
DG: Originally I had no intention of becoming a musician. As a child, I wanted to be other things, notably an architect or a dancer! However, it became pretty clear in my early teens that because I had no talent for either of these, and enjoyed music so much, considering entering the music profession seemed the logical thing to do. In any case, music has always been so important to me that I don’t think I would have been happy doing anything else.
DA: Who were the people who exerted the biggest influence on you at The Royal College of Music?
DG: There were many people, including Adrian Cruft, my composition teacher. However, I think that one of the biggest influences on me regarding the way I think about music was my Piano teacher Phyllis Sellick. She taught me a lot of things that I could apply to all aspects of my music making, not just piano playing.
DA: Have any of your fellow students been similarly successful?
DG: Quite a few people I was at College with have been successful in various parts of the profession, including composing, but I don’t know of any others who have been quite as successful in media composition as I have.
DA: When you left the RCM, was it difficult to find work as a professional musician?
DG: Not really. I had both teaching and performing qualifications, and being good at more than one instrument meant that there was always work to be picked up, be it playing in an orchestra as a freelance, or accompanying student exams. When I first left College I took a post as a music lecturer for a couple of years, simply to give me time to prepare myself fully for the profession, so in that case I think my route was less stressful than some others, who basically had to rush around taking as much low paid work as they could get, in the hope that eventually they would be able to get a full time job in a contract orchestra.
DA: Although you won the prize for Composition at the RCM, it cannot have been easy to persuade publishers to accept your work, given the strong competition from established writers.
DG: To be honest, I’ve never tried to get a Publisher to accept any of my concert work. It is all un-published. In the Media it is very different, as Publishing has nothing to do with the written score; it is all about the recordings. When I started it would normally have been difficult to find an opening, but I was lucky in that I met a composer (Richard Harvey) who helped me to get started.
DA: The bills have to be paid, so you need to accept work where it is available. If you had complete freedom to choose, in which area of the music business would you prefer to concentrate your efforts?
DG: Actually I don’t accept any work that I don’t want to do! My current catalogue pays my bills quite comfortably, and as long as I continue to top it up, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to choose what I do. However, there are things that I’m interested in that I haven’t managed to achieve yet. For example, a couple of years ago I wrote the music for a children’s dance show, and was intending to produce the show myself. Unfortunately, even though I had a tour planned, the project fell through, due to contractual difficulties. Hopefully I will have time to resurrect this project at some point. I also think that I would like to write more concert music, and it may well be that at some point I will do so.
DA: Which projects are you currently working on?
DG: I’m currently working on two more albums for EMI/KPM, both of which should be released later this year.
DA: Looking further ahead, how do you envisage your career developing over the next ten years?
DG: I have a feeling that I might do more film and TV, as well as concert music. However, I’m very happy with the things are now, so I’m in no hurry to change my current workflow.
Editor: I am most grateful to Daryl for sparing the time from his busy schedule to tell us about his work. We look forward to following his future career with great interest.
This article first appeared in the September 2012 issue of ‘Journal Into Melody’.
Gareth Bramley conducts an in-depth investigation into
THE FILM & TELEVISION MUSIC OF DAVID ROSE
The name David Rose may not mean much to the average TV viewer or cinema-goer but when you explore the wealth of material he composed and arranged in this medium you begin to appreciate the vast legacy of music that was left behind when he died in 1990. Hardly a day went by in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when a TV show bearing his trademark theme or background score wasn’t being shown somewhere in the world. In fact, by 1970 a survey showed that David Rose’s music was being used in twenty two shows in syndication and re-runs and that was just in the United States!
Sadly, a lot of David’s glorious music for these shows remains unreleased but it is here that we will now explore his output for film and TV, paying particular attention to the latter where most of his later work appeared. In addition Rose recorded hundreds of popular songs and tunes - not only composed by himself, but those written by others – firstly for RCA, then MGM and Capitol; before his final studio recordings for Polydor in the early 70s. One only has to check his discography to appreciate the full range of his talents and to discover that he arranged so many of the contemporary themes composed by his colleagues. These included many ‘epics’ such as ‘Ben Hur’, ‘Exodus’, ’Spartacus’, ‘10 Commandments’, ‘The Robe’ and ‘Cleopatra’ (to name only a few) and westerns such as ‘Cimarron’ and ‘The Alamo’ in addition to his own score for ‘Hombre’. He also recorded his own versions of the scores from ‘Butterfield 8’ and ‘The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm’. Add to this the hundreds of orchestral themes and songs he covered and you can well imagine the number of recordings he made.
I personally stumbled upon David’s music from watching episodes of ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie’ when they were repeated. But even before this I had bought those superb albums he had recorded in London for Polydor in the 1970s: The first was ‘Portrait’ (1972) – an album of twelve popular tunes from the time issued in January 1973 and later reissued in July ’76 as ‘In the Still of the Night’. The second was ‘The Very Thought of You’ (April 1974) with two of his own compositions ‘When You’re With Me’ and ‘King’s Road’; and finally ‘Melody Fair’, an album of 13 contemporary easy listening tunes, issued in September 1977.
His 1962 ‘Stripper’ LP - recorded for MGM - was re-released in November 1971. Some of his popular MGM material was also re-issued on ‘The Special Magic of David Rose’ (December ’74), including the self-composed: ‘Holiday for Strings’, ‘One More Time’, ‘Holiday for Trombones’ and ‘Dance of the Spanish Onion’; and ‘Great Orchestras of the World’ (May 1978) was a re-issue of some of the popular film themes he arranged and recorded for MGM in 1961.
David was actually born in London on 15 June 1910, and during his career he was an established composer, arranger, conductor, pianist, and orchestra and band leader. His work for TV alone earned him four Emmy awards. Having moved to Chicago at the age of four Rose entered the army during World War 2, and it was at this time that he met Red Skelton who asked him to be the conductor for his ‘Raleigh Cigarettes Programme’. He joined the cast in 1948 and then worked with Skelton on his TV show for over 20 years between 1951 and 1971. He even worked in radio with NBC and Mutual, where he had his own show (with orchestra) for which he wrote the tune ‘California Melodies’ after the title of the programme. He worked for MGM from 1949-1963, composing both for films and records – writing the scores for more than thirty-six of their films. Other radio show themes composed by Rose in the 1940s and 1950s included ‘Hallmark Theme’ for the radio series ‘Hallmark Playhouse’, and ‘Bold Venture’ for the radio and TV series of the same name.
Most people, however, remember David for his striking composition ‘The Stripper’ which was recorded in 1958 and reissued countless times on single, LP and CD - though when first issued in May1962 it was actually a B Side (of ‘Ebb Tide’ from the MGM film ‘The Sweet Bird of Youth’). This tune has since been used in many film and TV shows and topped the charts in the States in May 1962. It was actually adapted from a short piece originally created for the 1958 TV show ‘Burlesque’ for which he wrote the score, and had only come to light when MGM executives were looking for a B side for the ‘Ebb Tide’ single. ‘Stripper’ was re-issued by MGM in April 1971 - this time backed with another 1962 track called ‘Night Train’.
It was Rose’s ‘Holiday for Strings’ which was used as the theme for the aforementioned ‘Red Skelton’ TV show; recorded for an MGM LP in 1950 but not released till August 1955 (being a remake of his earlier 1942 RCA recording which reached No.2 in the US charts in 1944). A version was also released by HMV on an EP in 1955, the same year that an extended concert version was written for the MGM film ‘Unfinished Dance’ and issued on the ‘David Rose Plays David Rose’ LP. Rose also composed other themes for the show including his ‘clip-clop’ theme for the character Freddy the Freeloader (‘Lovable Clown’) which has recently been issued on the 2-CD set ‘King of Strings – The Hits and More’ by Jasmine. Others composed for the show were ‘Silent Spot’ (‘The Sad (Sad) Rockin’ Horse’) (1961) and ‘The Christmas Tree’ (1959) (both recorded on ‘David Rose Plays David Rose’) and ‘Our Waltz’ written as far back as 1942 winning him one of five Grammy awards.
Whilst composing for ‘Red Skelton Show’ and ‘Red Skelton Revue’ David was conductor and musical director on eight episodes of ‘It’s a Great Life’ (1954-55) and after acting as Musical Director on the Academy Awards show of 1956 was MD on two episodes of the TV series ’Showers of Stars’. The same year he composed and conducted the theme music for the popular US TV series ‘Highway Patrol’ which ran from 1955-1959. This piece was composed under his pseudonym Ray Llewellyn and versions by Ken Mackintosh and Cyril Stapleton were released in Britain. This main theme bore a resemblance to ‘march’ theme which was written for ‘Men into Space’. The name Llewellyn was used when he needed to score for TV shows when working outside union jurisdiction, especially for the low-budget series produced by ZIV-TV. Other shows scored under his pseudonym were ‘Martin Kane - Private Eye’ (1949-54), ‘I Led Three Lives’ (1953-56), ‘Meet Corliss Archer’ (1954), ‘Science Fiction Theatre’ (1955-57), ‘Dr. Christian’ (1956), ‘Sea Hunt’ (1958-61) and ‘King of Diamonds’ (1961).
More TV series followed with the themes for ‘Mr Adams & Eve’ (1957-58), ‘Bold Venture’ (1959), ‘The Jim Backus Show’- ‘Hot off the Wire’ (1960-1), and ‘Men into Space’ (1959-60). In between these he was musical director on two TV specials with Fred Astaire. He also wrote the themes for the series ‘The Case of the Dangerous Robin’ (1960-61) and the ‘The Monroes’ (1966-7). Rose also worked as musical director on ‘The Bob Hope Show’ and ‘Jack Benny Show’ - both of which began in the 50s.
By this time David was becoming more and more sought after by TV producers and in 1967 David Dortort asked him to score the music for the pilot for his then-new western series ’The High Chaparral’. This was to become one of the most popular westerns of all time – repeated by the BBC year after year until their rights lapsed in 1994. Aside from the ‘standout’ title theme (which had previously been used in an episode of ‘Bonanza’) he wrote various themes for characters in the pilot episode, including the main heroine ‘Victoria’, and John’s first wife ‘Annalee’. In 1968 David recorded the up-tempo 4th season version of his theme for a Capitol single in the States (backed with a track called ‘Merci Cherie’). In Germany the single appeared with the ‘Victoria’ theme as the B side – which was also featured on the 1968 Capitol LP (USA) called ‘Something Fresh’. Rose’s single of ‘High Chaparral’ appeared on the Bear Family collection ‘From Alamo to El Dorado’ released in June 1997.
Sadly, no original music was issued from this series but in March 1971 a lavishly-illustrated double LP set of ‘Music from Bonanza & High Chaparral’ was released, produced by lyricist Joe Lubin and David Cavanaugh of Capitol Records. This contained Rose’s theme for ‘The Big Bonanza’ (see later), ‘Jamie’ based on a regular character in the series, ‘The Big Man’ and the original series theme. From ‘The High Chaparral’ series were David’s theme ‘Victoria’ and a vocal based on the title theme entitled ‘All for You’ - with lyrics by creator David Dortort and Jay Lubin. Although the LP was credited to The Xanadu Pleasure Dome (where Xanadu was the production company behind the series), all the tracks were arranged and conducted by Sydney Dale and recorded at CTS Studios London under the auspices of John Richards. Sadly, in the UK the album was released as a single LP and ‘Jamie’, ‘Big Man’, and ‘All For You’ did not appear. No CD of any of these recordings has appeared, thus far.
Also in 1967 Rose composed another western theme for ‘Dundee and The Culhane’ which ran for only a mere thirteen episodes and ‘Bracken’s World’ (1969-70). The latter theme (all 57 seconds of it!) was included on his latest LP ‘Happy Heart’ released on Capitol.
Rose had scored some of the early ‘Bonanza’ episodes after it had begun in 1959 and creator David Dortort asked him to score further episodes of the ‘all-new’ ‘Bonanza’ for the 12th season in 1970. Rose called the new theme ‘The Big Bonanza’ which was a re-orchestration of the ‘Ponderosa’ theme he had composed in 1959. In 1972, after the death of Dan Blocker, one of its main characters, the opening titles were re-shot and the Livingston-Evans’ title theme was replaced with a tune which later became the theme to ‘Little House on the Prairie’.
His original music for the some of the early episodes was re-recorded – with his concert orchestra - and released on an MGM LP in the States. On the original LP sleeve notes David commented: "Making the right choice of basic material turned out to be a time-consuming job. I finally selected eleven themes I had composed for various ‘Bonanza’ television shows, plus the title song which was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. I spent the better part of two months developing my own compositions, and then I got to work orchestrating all twelve completed tunes". For the actual soundtrack scores Rose used a 34-piece orchestra at the Scoring Stage at Paramount Studios for the first eleven series (1959-70) and Warner Brothers Studios for the last three (1970-72). A special cue (‘The Peacock’) was composed for the logo (NBC Living Colour Peacock) which was used to open the show when it was first shown in colour in 1961 (‘Bonanza’ was the first regular TV series to be filmed in colour). Other special and regular cues were the ‘sting’ for the ‘episode title’ (appearing directly after the main credits) which again was based on the theme (he wrote) called ‘The Ponderosa’ and the commercial break bumpers.
The ‘Bonanza’ album was recorded in December 1960 (with his Concert Orchestra) and released August the following year. The title theme and two others from the original album (‘Ponderosa’ and ‘Hoss’) appeared on the ‘Very Best of David Rose’ CD issued by Taragon in the USA in February 1996. The complete album was issued on CD by Harkit Records in March 2008 – though it was dubbed from LP. The 1960 MGM recording on the ‘Bonanza’ title theme was released by Bear Family on ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ in December 1999. The guitarist on the original TV version was Tommy Tedesco, who also played on ‘Batman’, ‘Green Acres’ and ‘M.A.S.H.’ and on hundreds of pop records in the 60s and 70s. The music for this theme was created entirely by Rose (and arranged for the show by Billy May) since Livingston & Evans merely gave producer Dortort a set of lyrics which neither he nor Rose liked. They were sung (by three of the cast) in the pilot episode but thankfully it was edited out before broadcast.
Star of ‘Bonanza’, Michael Landon, produced the memorable ‘Little House on the Prairie’ in 1974 which ran 205 episodes between 1974 and 1983 and David wrote some tremendous scores – it was so popular that he was nominated for four Emmy awards – winning two (see below). His theme was recorded, quite faithfully, under the title ‘When You’re With Me’ for his second Polydor album in 1974 ‘The Very Thought of You’, again produced by Wayne Bickerton and recorded at Abbey Road with Tony Clarke as engineer. Sadly, no other music from the show has materialised apart from the main title theme which appears in its original format on the CD ‘Television’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3 - 70s & 80s’. ‘Little House…’ was produced by Kent McCray who had worked on ‘Bonanza’ and ‘High Chaparral’.
Landon was also involved with the final two series Rose scored – ‘Father Murphy’ (running for 34 episodes between 1981 and 1983) and 110 episodes of ‘Highway to Heaven’ between 1984 and 1989. Collectors should note that ‘Television’s Greatest Hits Vol. 4’ contains the original theme (with opening narration) to ‘Highway Patrol’ but the themes from ‘The Red Skelton Show’ and ‘Highway to Heaven’ on Vols. 4 & 6 respectively are re-creations.
As detailed previously in JIM (Issue 190 – December 2011) Rose appeared at the 1971 Filmharmonic concert organised by Sidney Samuelson and the CTBF. Amongst others he conducted a rousing version of the theme to ‘Bonanza’ (which was credited to himself!) and three tunes from his early MGM films. His encore for the evening was the self-composed ‘The Stripper’. Whilst David had been commissioned to re-appear at the 1981 event – it was sadly cancelled due to financial constraints.
In the world of films David started as early as 1938 and scored ‘Winged Victory’ in 1944 for 20th Century Fox. In the late 40s he joined MGM Studios where he wrote the music for over thirty six films. He had been nominated for Academy Awards in 1945 and 1946 – for ‘The Princess & The Pirate’ and ‘Wonder Man’ respectively. Three of his films – ‘Holiday for Sinners’ (1952), ‘Great Diamond Robbery’ and ‘Rogue Cop’, both from 1954, used stock music which he had already composed for MGM. Another MGM film ‘Jupiter’s Darling’ followed in 1955. The theme for ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956) was inspired by the movie. His original theme was written for the film but dropped from the score – it was recorded and released as a single in April 1956 and later appeared on his MGM LP ‘David Rose Plays the Theme from ’The Americanization of Emily’’.
Whilst he was working on many TV shows he wrote the score for ‘Quick Before It Melts’ in 1964. MGM released four themes from the film on an album with some of David’s other themes at the time of the film’s release. One of the four – which was also used in the film – was ‘The Stripper’! Co-producer, Douglas Laurence, suggested to Rose during a screening session that a particular sequence required music similar to Rose’s smash hit record (‘The Stripper’). Rose agreed and replied ‘Why not use ‘The Stripper’?! Another cue on the album was a reissue of ‘Hoss’, one of his themes from the ‘Bonanza’ show.
He then scored a TV movie called ‘Clown Alley’ (1966), appearing with his orchestra, and an excellent Western score for a film called ‘Hombre’ (1967). Just over 21 minutes of this score was released in September 2000 in the States by specialist film music label Film Score Monthly and limited to 3000 copies. With all the music he was turning out for TV scores, he had little time to accept any film invitations but did score a TV movie called ‘Make Mine Red, White & Blue’ in 1972.
His first Emmy award was for ‘An Evening with Fred Astaire’ in 1959 (one of three TV specials he did with him) and in 1966 he as nominated for his music for the TV series ‘Bonanza’. Five years later in 1971, he won the Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition Emmy for an episode of this series called ‘Love Child’. Another five years later he was nominated for a 1974 episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ (‘Remember Me –Parts 1 & 2’) and won the award in 1979 for ‘The Craftsman’ episode of the same series. The music for this series was so popular that a further nomination followed in 1981 (for ‘The Lost Ones – Part 1’) and he won the award again a year later for the episode ‘He Was Only Twelve – Part 2’. Although this was to be his last Emmy award, he picked up two further nominations: 1983 for the ‘Father Murphy’ episode ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and in 1985 for an episode of ‘Highway to Heaven’ called ‘Thoroughbreds’. This series was to be David’s last before his death in 1990. In addition he was awarded 22 Grammies; won six gold discs for his exquisite long-playing albums; and in 1997 was posthumously awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award.
This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of ‘Journal Into Melody’.
THE IMMORTAL SONGS OF THE LAST CENTURY
A Survey by ENRIQUE RENARD
By the mid 1940s, Charles Trenet, the great French composer/chanteuse, received a call from a producer of a musical show. "Charles, we have this show now ready for the theatre, but we have a problem: we are lacking one song… The show is supposed to have eight songs, and we only have seven. Can you provide one? We need it as soon as possible… The show is being staged this week."
"My dear friend, making a song is not like making a shirt… It would take a little longer than the time you have in mind…"
"Charles, we have a real problem here… sometimes you composers have things not used yet… look, anything will do…coming from you it should be fine…"
The producer’s begging was so desperate that Trenet told him he would try to find something. He wasn’t very hopeful, but suddenly he remembered something he had written some time back, a song he disliked. Then he thought: "No, not that one…it’s just a bad one."
But then he also remembered that his friend had told him that it did not have to be something special. That "anything" would do. So he went into a drawer where he kept things to be eventually discarded and took out the score of the song. It was so bad, in his opinion, that he didn’t even give it a name. But he did have to name it before sending it, so he called it "La Mer" (The Sea). Why did he called it La Mer, he didn’t know. The title just popped up from his mind, and besides there wasn’t much time to ponder on a better title.
As it happened, the show ran its course and was quickly forgotten, but the song got to be one of the most heard and recorded hits around the world up to this very day! And Trenet, who recorded it quite nicely, made a bundle on the version with lyrics, written by him too. And it is difficult to find any of the Light Orchestral Music orchestras that did not arrange and record an instrumental version of La Mer.
Far away, in Brazil, a kid from a poor family was walking towards a neighbouring town. It was the late 1940s, summer, and a hot day at that, so Waldir Acevedo sat by the shade of a tree flanking the dirt country road in order to get some rest. Then, as he observed the blue sky, a melody started to resonate inside him. And apparently it kept resonating over and over, hence when he got back home he started to whistle it. Upon hearing, someone in his family asked him where he got that music from. He said "nowhere, I just invented it".
There are no precise indications on how Waldir managed to get his song to some musical producer in his country, but Delicado (Delicate) became a huge world hit, with the Percy Faith Orchestra selling in excess of a million records of it. Everybody recorded the nice little song. Azevedo went to write many other successful songs, of course, after he became properly trained in his art, and became a master of the Cavaquinho, a four string Brazilian guitar.
Both La Mer and Delicado represent songs rooted in popular music, and from a musicological standpoint they don’t have much to offer, neither in melody nor in lyrics.
The point is raised then by artists and producers as to something they find quite baffling: What is it that makes a song a hit? There are literally hundreds of lovely songs that get nowhere. And there are veritable horrors that become hits. And it isn’t a cultural matter either. It happens all over the world! Composers rate their own songs good or bad. To their endless surprise, they find that after a while, the songs they rated BAD become hits. And those they were proud of get nowhere. The amount of money they make on the "bad" ones keeps them quite happy though… and quite flabbergasted as well.
Then you have composers like George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers. They had several worldwide hits, magnificent songs that everyone sang and continue to sing, but that were not written to be hits, nor recorded. They were written because they were commissioned by musical show producers for their shows. Rodgers said that the fact that his songs became hits by themselves with the public, separate from the shows that featured them, never ceased to amaze him, but he considered that "a most welcome thing indeed, albeit an unexpected one".
George Gershwin said he wrote several bad songs that he put away, some of which, once discovered after his death were considered quite good. But the factors representing commercial success in a song would remain for everyone a mystery.
Still, those with a modicum of good taste will be able to discern a quality song, both in music and lyrics, from one that is not. Generally, and especially in the days we live today, the worst songs represent the biggest hits. David Rose, in my view an extraordinary musician who wrote magnificent pieces for light orchestral music, is remembered by most of the general public only for a hoochi-coochi song he recorded in the early 1960s: The Stripper. The title suffices to describe the thing, which he composed and recorded as a lark and at the insistence of one of his producers, who chided him into doing something unusual for him and his style.
Rose, whom I personally met in Epcot Center, at Florida’s Disney World in 1985, had a keen sense of humour. He got intrigued, wrote an arrangement and recorded The Stripper more for fun than for anything else, since he had no intentions of publishing the song on one of his LPs. The orchestra was there at that moment, and they had the time for another recording. So, he went ahead, with the musicians looking at each other and laughing at what they were requested to record: striptease music!
Those were serious classically trained musicians, some of them from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But it is reported that the orchestra got a kick out of it, because it was so removed from the usual Rose material, and everyone laughed at the end of the taping. But the producer, without telling Rose, slapped the recording on the B side of the single of another piece by Rose, and a disc jockey heard it and liked it. He liked it so much, he kept playing it, and the piece quickly soared to the top of the ratings and remained there for such a long time that later on Rose had to record two LPs with standards treated as striptease music that sold pretty well!
With stereo equipment and record players now at the financial reach of practically everyone, good taste became seriously threatened. The sad fact it that the great majority of ordinary people, who declare to like music, in fact lack musical sensitivity enough to distinguish garbage from good songs, or nice light orchestral pieces from vapid ones. If it sounds like a novelty and if it has a catchy beat, it’s enough for them, especially these days. Because, let’s face it, why would anyone with a minimal sense of musical taste like something like The Stripper! Simple: it has a sustained beat. That’s what does it.
The same people who are attracted to that beat would remain utterly indifferent to Rose’s string sound in one of his best arrangements: That of a song called And This Is My Beloved, a lyrical piece of work if there ever was one. It doesn’t touch them in the least. They may listen to it but they don’t hear it at all. I have every LP Rose ever made (a life time collecting his stuff), and of all the wondrous compositions and arrangements he did, that one tops everything. But it doesn’t have a beat, hence it won’t reach the ears of the majority, nor their sensibilities.
As everyone knows, popular tastes in music experienced a drastic change by the mid 50’s with the advent of rock-and-roll. But it wasn’t only rock-and-roll. It was also loudness. Fierce, brutal loudness, with an equally fierce beat. Young people are particularly vulnerable to music that encompasses a loud beat. Once producers and recording companies got a hold of it and saw its profit potential there was no stopping towards the complete degeneration of popular music. A survey done in the USA about 20 years back indicated than American teenagers in general had lost 30 to 40% of their hearing capabilities. The statistic becomes perfectly believable if one attends a rock concert. The potential of loud rock for awakening the worst animal tendencies in young people is enormous. It also ruins their hearing.
Speaking of rock songs, there was one the Rolling Stones played at their concerts which would start riots. One of those riots ended up with scores of seriously injured teens and some dead when a motorcycle gang went berserk during the song, took out knives and started knifing everyone in sight… The reaction of Mick Jagger, leader of the group, to the horror? "I have no idea why… but every time we play this song the same thing happens…" There was not a single word of regret or sympathy for the dead and the injured. And the Stones continued to play their song. Apparently such considerations are not a part of Mr. Jagger’s mental equipment. He is hailed as some kind of musical genius and a hero by the press and by rock-and-roll fans. To me, he is just an irresponsible goon, directly answerable for the animalistic reactions the music of his group can elicit. The name "Stones" appears particularly apt to describe the group. But, there are those making millions on this so-called music, and the show must go on.
During the 40’s and 50’s however, and with enormous jumps in technology by the phonographic industry with the eventual arrival of Hi-Fi and stereo listening equipment, Big Bands and light orchestral music dominated the market. The advent of singers such as Crosby, Sinatra, Bennett, Eddie Fischer, Perry Como, etc., displaced the Big Bands, but Percy Faith and Kostelanetz were selling millions of records worldwide, and so were David Rose, George Melachrino and Mantovani. Their material of course came from the great song writers of he 20th Century: the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, etc… Interested in getting the American public acquainted with the sound of a symphonic orchestra, Kostelanetz used New York Philhamonic personnel with brilliant arrangements of beautiful songs from the aforementioned writers, featuring 80 or more musicians. The excellence in sound did the rest. Radio stations played that music continually, American ears becoming aware of it, and sales soared. But it was, above all, the quality of the songs and the respectful, sympathetic and tasteful way in which they were treated and sung, what made people want to buy the records.
Speaking with younger members of my family, I tried to establish a parallel between those songs of the 40’s and 50’s and contemporary material. My main objection to the latter was their inherent lack of musicality, the absence of melodic variations in them. I made the kids listen to songs lasting 4 minutes wherein only two notes were used by the composer. The rest was just noise. Today, everyone writes songs. The young go crazy about these songs. A few months later you ask them about the song and its author. They cannot remember. The songs written today, with very, very few exceptions, are quickly forgotten. They don’t have a remaining impact in the musical consciousness of those who hear them, and there’s no reason why there should be one. The majority of those songs are not musical at all. They are just loud stuff with a beat, noisily celebrated by a crowd sometimes quite high on drugs. Were there any drugs indulged in by the 40’s and 50’s? Sure there were. But they had nothing to do with music. It was just the music itself that got us high. A high elicited by the beauty and the poetry of the sound and the lyrics. It was a different world, clearly with different people in it.
When one comments the about songs now labeled as "things of yesteryear", it becomes impossible to name them all. There were so many of them, and so good! They were so good that some, composed during the 1920’s, are still being recorded today! Like classical music, they have endured, as expected from all good and classy expressions of the musical arts. And by mentioning a few, I’m afraid I’ll be accused of leaving out some which are too good to be left out. For that possibility, I submit my humble and anticipated apologies.
Few singers, with the exception of Sinatra, could deliver the feeling of a song, especially a sentimental one, as Nat King Cole did. Sinatra had serious limitations about repertoire due to a number of reasons, chief among them his personality. But Cole could sing anything better than anyone. He could sing folk, blues, Latin, jazz, romantic, swing, you name it. His appeal was universal, and so was his range of material. But if I’m made to choose, I’ll stay with his romance stuff. The owner of a voice he didn’t like, his tone touched the hearts of millions, even those who did not speak English (as was the case of my mother, for instance. She would sit and listen to Cole in a rapture, without understanding one word of the lyrics). When he sang, he invariably gave the impression that he had experienced personally that which he was singing about, and we all could identify with that. He wasn’t in the least overly sentimental or mushy. His feeling was straight and true. There was nothing phony about it. And, like Sinatra, he usually gave credit to the songs and their writers for his success. "Without them I’d be nowhere…", he used to say.
One song by him I fondly remember was Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup (Darling, I Love You Very Much) with those lyrics half in French, half in English. He had heard a Canadian singer do it at a nightclub, and fell in love with it. A nice arrangement by Nelson Riddle contributed to the charm of the piece. Cole worked also with Gordon Jenkins, doing several romantic albums with him. In one named "Where Did Everyone Go" (Capitol W1859) he sings a song called Say it Isn’t So, written by Irving Berlin. The song describes the anguish of a man who suspects his loved one has stopped loving him, and is asking her to please say this is not the case, hence the title. It was 1969, and a cousin of my wife was visiting us in New York. She was in another room when I started to play the record in the living room busy with something else, and as Cole went into the song I suddenly saw her coming into the living room with tears in her eyes! "What’s wrong?...", I asked, a bit alarmed. "Nothing…", she said, "it’s that …well, that song…it touched me so deeply… Is that Nat King Cole?..."
"Yes, he is…", I said, marveled at the way Cole could spontaneously awaken a sweet, intense emotion in a listener with his smooth, sincere delivery. Another song in the album is about unrequited love: If Love Ain’t There, from the pen of Johnny Burke,one of my favorites. Cole also did an album with George Shearing, for Capitol, regrettably the only one. The arrangement credits went to Ralph Carmichael, the last arranger Cole had before his untimely death at age 48, and a splendid one. In that album there is a little known song deleted from the original LP. Thankfully, it was restored into the CD version. It’s called Guess I’ll Go Back Home This Summer. The lyrics speak of the nostalgia of someone who hasn’t been back home in a long time, and in planning his return he anticipates what will happen when he gets there. It’s a sentimental song, with which most of us who left home decades ago can easily identify. That was Cole’s magic. Those lyrics, when sung by him, would become a part of our lives.
Sinatra was another master at that, as well. When still recording for Columbia he got romantically involved with Ava Gardner. Many affirm she was the only real love of his life, but their temperament and big egos made the relationship unsustainable, and eventually he lost her. It was then that he happened to record "I’m a Fool to Want You", written by J. Wolf, J.S. Herron and… Sinatra himself, as credited in the Columbia LP CS9372. Inevitably, the song had personal overtones for him and Gardner. As much as Sinatra detested tohave more than one take when filming, when recording it was the other way around, because he was a perfectionist. But this time he did the song in one take, turned around and left the studio in tears, according to some who witnessed the recording. Whether or not this is true, the fact is that the song has a deep emotional content. It is a veritable cry of despair, though without the hysterics. And it is profoundly touching. The arrangement was done by Axel Stordhal, his arranger at Columbia, and it employs voices added to the usual strings Axel was masterful with, although he rarely employed them. Sinatra re-recorded the song ten years later with Jenkins. A lovely arrangement too, but lacking the emotional, raw intensity of the Columbia recording prompted by his own emotional state at that time.
To my mind, one of Sinatra’s best torch song LPs was Point of No Return, arranged by Axel Stordahl, who at the time had developed a cancerous tumor in his brain and was terminal. Still, according to his wife, Stordhal was anxious to record the album with Sinatra, who barely spoke to him during the sessions. One ugly aspect of the Sinatra character was his rancor, stimulated by his own mother who once stated: "My son is like me. You cross him once, he never forgets…" This regrettable trait spoiled Sinatra’s relationship with many of his closest associates and personal friends. He was angry at Stordahl because the arranger stayed with Capitol arranging for other singers at the time Sinatra wanted out of the label. Stordhal was under contract with Capitol, and he couldn’t just turn around and leave to fit Sinatra’s whim. But Sinatra wouldn’t forgive him even knowing that Stordhal was dying. One tends to agree with some who knew the singer well and state that he was a great artist, but not a great human being, despite all his publicized charitable work. Still, very few could deliver a song with Sinatra’s feeling. His complexity as a man came probably from the fact that he was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, a mental condition.
I never listened much to the radio, but on one occasion I heard in WPAT New York a song sung by the great French actor Charles Boyer. Apparently, he was no singer, so he was in fact merely reciting the lyrics but with the sweet dramatic flair and the charming English with a French accent he was famous for, a gentle string sound in the background carrying the melody. The song was called "Once Upon a Time", a veritable hymn to nostalgic remembrance of one’s lost youth that goes:
Once Upon a time, a girl with moonlight in her eyes,
Put her hand in mine and said she loved me so…
But that was once upon a time, very long ago.
Once upon a hill we sat beneath a willow tree,
Counting all the stars, and waiting for the dawn…
But that was Once Upon a Time, now the tree is gone.
How the breeze ruffled through her hair,
How we always laughed as if tomorrow wasn’t there…
We were young, and didn’t have a care
Where, where did it go…
I guess I was at one of those moments in which the mind is unoccupied and hence intensely receptive. I was over 50 then, and found myself suddenly fighting back a tear or two… That song, written by Strouse and Adams, is a beautiful poem with music, and years later Sinatra recorded it with an exquisite arrangement by Gordon Jenkins in a Reprise LP Album (1014-2) issued in 1965: "September of my Years", with Sinatra singing the lyrics and the melody, of course. But I can still recall the profound emotional impact that spoken version of Charles Boyer had on me. A veritable poem it was. Listening to those words I was for a moment transported back to my 20s, when I too – as many others like me – had a girl with moonlight in her eyes telling me she loved me so… Can the reader imagine a moment like that one happening today?...
Frank Sinatra stated once that Tony Bennett was the best singer in the world. He had probably heard some of the recordings Bennett did with Robert Farnon. Something quite magical happened there with those two, and I’m told that they did several albums together which have not been transposed into CD format for issuance nobody knows why. Bennett has the copyright and refuses to release them. I managed to get from a friend a copy of two CDs, probably culled from those LPs, one of them entitled "The Good Things in Life", with a recording in it of a song with the same title. Farnon’s arrangement for it is one of the best he ever made, at least in my opinion, and that’s a lot to say about someone usually bordering on perfection. Probably because of such accompaniment, Bennett projects his voice fully, his normally throaty sound giving way to a powerfully lyrical expression which does full justice to that marvelous philosofico-nostalgic song: "The Good Things in Life".
I think it would be an impossible task to find a well known singer or orchestra that hasn’t recorded Night and Day, the Cole Porter standard. It is quite probably the most heard and recorded song of the 20th Century. Porter was an extraordinarily talented composer who, on top of everything, wrote his own lyrics. He wrote prolifically and splendidly, But Night and Day remains his anthem. The lyrics represent an insurmountable way of declaring our love to someone, and some of the recordings made of it merit comment. Kostelanetz recorded it twice, in 1942 and ten years later, in 1952, the latter pressing arranged by Carrol Huxley, a brilliant arranger who did Kostelanetz’ The Cole Porter Music album, among others. Some considered this one a model of light orchestral music arrangement that influenced many of Kostelanetz contemporary arrangers. Both versions are in my view excellent, the second one longer and favored by better sound technology. As far as singers are concerned, Sinatra recorded the song four times. Three in slow, mood arrangements, and one arranged by Nelson Riddle in a swing tempo. They are all wonderful, but as of late I came across a version that left me with my mouth opened: one by Johnny Desmond, great torch singer that came to fame under the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Orchestra. The song is included in an LP recorded in the late 50s. by Columbia, in stereo. For that project, Mitch Miller, Columbia’s chief producer, got in touch with Norman Leyden, one of Miller’s brilliant arrangers for AAF outfit, and they brought it together once again in order to re-record some of the Desmond hits with it.
Unfortunately, those were the days of Elvis Presley, and the LP, magnificently executed and impeccably sang and arranged, was not a commercial success. However, thirty years later, Columbia was persuaded to issue a CD version of the LP that included that astounding version of Night and Day, arranged in the style of the 40s and brilliantly recorded in stereo at a time when Desmond, who had a fine singing career, had reached a peak with his marvelous baritone. One of the best, if not the very best, versions of Night and Day, that I have ever heard.
Johnny Desmond died at the ridiculously young age of 65, in Sept. 1985, after a battle with cancer, but his version of Night and Day shall remain forever with those of us lucky enough to have heard it and own it.
Back in 59’, in my country, I once caught my sister listening attentively to the radio. Neither her nor I were radio addicts, I must admit, so I was a bit surprised at seeing her close to the receptor and listening attentively. Someone was singing a song called The Careless Years, written by Joe Lubin, and the voice had a slightly nasal tone plus a charming vibrato. My sister said she had heard it a couple of times; that she liked the singer but could not find out his name. So we waited to the end of the song in the hope to get it from the announcer. When we did, we looked at each other with surprise. It was Anthony Perkins, the actor. He had a peculiar voice, indeed, but a rather pleasant one, and for a while he had quite a following, recording a few nicely done LPs. Three of them are now in CD format by the RCA label, the aforementioned song in an LP recorded in NYC in 1959, with an exquisite string arrangement by a saxophone player: Al Cohn, obviously a great arranger as well. This is one of those marvelous songs that should remain with us but regrettably don’t, buried under the valueless avalanche of truly forgettable contemporary material.
I remember the Billy May Orchestra by the mid-fifties with a sound I detested. It was a novelty developed by Billy: the "slurping" saxophones, which consisted in a way of phrasing the saxes as if they were howling rather than playing. But Billy May was a musician that rated pretty close to Robert Farnon. He became, to my mind, the best American arranger, ever. To that, he added a fun personality who got along with everyone, among other things because he didn’t take himself very seriously. The slurping saxes were a kind of joke he wanted to pull on the producers and the public, but to his surprise the thing caught on and became quite popular for a while. I mention this, because it conditioned my opinion about Billy as a musician and arranger. I thought he was that sound, you see. I really knew nothing about him. In those days info about arrangers and musicians without physical charm was non existent. But as time went by and I started to hear his stuff, my opinion started to change. And that change became drastic when I heard an album by Sinatra called "Come Fly With Me".
Sinatra was entering then a recording phase with Capitol which was termed "conceptual". The concept albums idea probably came from Voyle Gilmore, one of his main producers at the label, and the arranging department was under Nelson Riddle with a swinging style that revived Sinatra’s sagging career. But for reasons that are not quite clear to me, two of those concept albums were arranged and conducted by Billy May: "Come Dance With Me" and "Come Fly With Me". Later on Billy did other LPs with Sinatra. But it was then that I realized May’s enormous talent! "Come Dance…" was straight swing, except for one lovely mood number at the end played at a slow tempo. But "Come Fly…" was quite another animal. The "concept" in this case was a tour around the world, songs that could be identified with different countries, hence the tempos varied considerably from song to song. In that album I realized that Billy’s versatility included writing for strings, and he did it masterly in three of the songs: Moonlight in Vermont, Autumn in New York and London by Night.
The three of course represent well known, lovely standards, but under Billy’s arranging and conducting they became sheer magic. He wrapped the sound around Sinatra’s classical feeling and grace with a song, a sound that became not only descriptive of the cities involved, but almost ethereal in their beauty. London by Night, especially, has a kind of subtle, dreamy quality in the interplay between the strings and the celesta, almost an ecstatic mood. Listening to Moonlight in Vermont while watching a sunset with a girl who almost became my girl (but not quite), became an experience which neither of the two of us ever forgot. In one of my vacation trips to my country 40 years later, I saw her again, and she said to me. "You probably will not remember, but I had one unforgettable moment with you one evening watching at a sunset from my apartment’s terrace… We were listening to Sinatra’s Moonlight in Vermont as we enjoyed the multicolored shadings of that glorious sun setting, and for that brief moment I was in love with you…"
I smiled at her, and I told her the feeling was mutual, and that that beautifully shared moment remained in my heart too. We were just good friends, and wondered about the impact the song had in both of us, and she said it was because it brought to us Vermont… We had never been in the USA, and didn’t know Vermont. But that evening a magical tune written in 1943 by two guys I never heard of before, John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf, gave us an unforgettable portrait of one of the loveliest s US States, as I was able to ascertain personally years later.
This article could continue forever, and maybe in the future, in another piece, I can comment on some of the myriads of other wonderful songs 20th Century writers graced us with and which I haven’t commented upon in this occasion. Some of those songs have a charming story to them, some are beautiful but commercial failures, and some are valueless but commercially successful. And as long as money and profits are involved, this probably will continue to be the case. But there are songs with such universal value and appeal, their success will override any other consideration, and will stay alive with us forever.
"HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD"
John Wilson and his Orchestra at the BBC Proms
Yet again John Wilson has given us another magnificent Prom Concert with his recreation of the glory days of Hollywood Musicals on Monday 29 August. The Prom was sold out within four hours of the tickets going on sale, and the audience reaction heard via Radio-3 was astounding. It must have been so exhilarating if you were lucky enough to be among those enthusiastic ‘Prommers’.
Last year we were treated to the delights of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but this time John reverted back to the formula that made his MGM Prom such a resounding success in 2009. As well as MGM he featured music from the other major studios, so we also heard some of the best from the likes of Warner Bros, RKO and United Artists.
No doubt everyone will have had their favourite moments from this year’s wallow in musical movie nostalgia. High on my list were This Heart Of Mine from "Ziegfeld Follies" and Put On Your Sunday Clothes from Hello Dolly". Whoever described "Ziegfeld Follies" as Fred Astaire’s swansong must have suffered from a sudden mental block! He was on screen for many years thereafter, in both serious roles and musicals such as "Easter Parade" (1948) and his last outing with Ginger Rogers in "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949) – to name just two.
But such minor ‘fluffs’ in no way detract from this glorious occasion. We have come to expect some extra treats from John, and after the ‘last’ piece in the programme the orchestra and singers suddenly launched into Hooray For Hollywood, quickly followed by There’s No Business Like Show Business (this arrangement was from the 1954 Twentieth Century-Fox film of the same name starring Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe) . Rarely can such brilliant encores have been so ecstatically received!
The British press was similarly enthusiastic. In the Guardian, John L Walters wrote:
Without the tap dances, chorus girls and (often flimsy) plots, the music had to stand up for itself. Wilson, who has brought a passion for authentic performance to movie soundtracks, shone a glittering spotlight on arrangers such as Ray Heindorf, Conrad Salinger and Lloyd "Skip" Martin. They were Hollywood's invisible men, who toiled behind the tinsel to stretch three-minute ditties into extended suites (This Heart of Mine) or craft subtle tone poems that became huge hits (Secret Love, sung beautifully by Clare Teal).
A tag team of vocalists interpreted familiar songs from movies made between 1935 and 1969 – from(of Warner Bros cartoon fame).
A suite of Heindorf arrangements from the Judy Garland vehicleinterpreted two of the more classical tunes: Serenade (The Student Prince) and One Hand One Heart (West Side Story) with soprano Sarah Fox.
The Maida Vale Singers sang lustily on showstoppers such as Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat and Put On Your Sunday Clothes. But the stars of the evening were the (until now) unsung arrangers, whose work was reinvigorated by Wilson's scholarship – and the musicians, who performed the demanding scores with affection and exuberance.
Similar praise was heaped upon John Wilson by Ivan Hewitt in the Daily Telegraph:
John Wilson and his now famous orchestra made their first Proms appearance only two years ago. Yet, when Wilson swept on stage and the orchestra burst into his own specially composed overture – a cunningly constructed medley of great Hollywood musical tunes, giving a foretaste of what was to come – it felt as if we were welcoming back a much-loved Proms institution.
Lots of factors conspired in that comfortable feeling, one of which is the way Wilson embodies an old matinee-idol archetype. He’s just the right slender shape for tails, with a beat that’s as shapely as a chorus girl’s ankle. More than that, the orchestra resurrects something we all remember and love but haven’t heard in a long while, in all its pristine splendour: the sound of the great studio orchestras.
For this survey of the movie musical from the Thirties to the Sixties, the band seemed even more lavish than usual, with two harps and pianos adding their lustrous magic to the singing strings and muted brass.
Best of a very good bunch for me was Caroline O’Connor, who gave a tremendous performance of The Man That Got Away from Judy Garland’s comeback musical, A Star is Born.
If everything flowed in such an easy and irresistible way, it was because Wilson had given such care to even the tiniest detail. One example: in the final show-stopping number, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, from Hello, Dolly! – the movie musical’s swansong – everybody sang the words "All aboard". Just as they did, somebody somewhere in the orchestra blew a whistle that was a fair imitation of a train’s whistle.
It was over in less than a second, and it was almost lost in the brassy din. But, when you’re dealing in fantasy, half-heard things are as important as heard ones, something John Wilson understands very well.
Former BBC producer Anthony Wills has just a few reservations about this year’s offering from the amazing John Wilson.
John Wilson and his wonderful orchestra, together with the Maida Vale Singers, returned to the Royal Albert Hall on 29 August for what is now becoming a traditional (and much appreciated) appearance at the BBC Proms. This year’s concert covered nearly 40 years of movie musicals from 42nd Street to Hello Dolly!, and this time the doors were flung open to include the best of the output from Warner Brothers, RKO, Columbia and 20th Century Fox as well as (of course) MGM. Sadly, in my opinion, Hooray for Hollywood (composed by Richard Whiting with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and performed here as an encore) is not one of the strongest songs around, though it certainly made for an arresting title.
Given that the purpose of these concerts is to recreate note for note the superb arrangements and orchestrations heard on the original soundtracks, it did seem slightly bizarre to begin with an overture made up of songs from a whole host of different pictures scored by different composers. The problem of course was that many of the songs were originally built around Busby Berkeley and Hermes Pan tap routines. An incomplete performance of the title number from 42nd Street was followed by another medley, this time from various Astaire/Rogers RKO pictures, that conflated the music of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Harry Warren into a single suite. Of course Fred and Ginger could have had a whole concert devoted to their music, but if a choice had to be made I would have liked the complete (and magically arranged) song and dance sequences from Top Hat including the title song, Cheek To Cheek and The Piccolino – and if John Barrowman had been hired to perform them we could have had the taps as well! This would also have served as a trailer for the new stage adaptation of the film, which is currently touring the UK.
There followed a complete change of style as Charles Castronovo and Sarah Fox took us into the world of operetta as Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald, with Sigmund Romberg’s Will You Remember? A sequence entitled Hollywood Goes To War began with Strike Up The Band from the film of the same name (made in fact two years BEFORE America entered the war), stylishly performed by Caroline O’Connor. Annalene Beechey trilled prettily as Deanna Durbin in Kern & Yarburg’s title song from Can’t Help Singing, then we hopped forwards to 1949 with On The Town before returning to Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s You’ll Never Know (introduced by Alice Faye in Hello Frisco Hello (1943) rather than Four Jills & A Jeep the following year as claimed). The non-chronological running order was presumably devised to allow all of the soloists to get their turn.
Leading up to the interval we heard the extended musical sequence This Heart Of Mine from Ziegfeld Follies. At the risk of being shot down in flames may I say that in my humble opinion this is one of Conrad Salinger’s worst arrangements, amounting to no fewer than 16 choruses of a rather mediocre tune in a plot-less movie. In any case it was most definitely NOT Fred Astaire’s "swansong" as stated by the presenters, since he continued to appear in musicals until Finian’s Rainbow in 1967, and thereafter in straight roles such as The Towering Inferno well into the ‘70s.
After this slightly shaky first half the concert really sprang to life after the interval, when we enjoyed a whole gamut of different composers, and it can fairly be said that the musical selections fitted the vocalists like a glove. Thus we heard Caroline O’Connor magical as Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, Doris Day sound-alike Clare Teal in Secret Love - the No. 1 hit from Calamity Jane - and the wondrous tenor of Charles Castronovo as Mario Lanza in the Serenade from The Student Prince and (with Sarah Fox) One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story. On the lighter side there was Annalene Beechey as Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, Matthew Ford taking the place of Stubby Kaye in Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat and a trio of "babes in arms" in Triplets from The Band Wagon. The magnificent Overture from Gypsy – released in 1962 not 1964 as stated - was the icing on the cake.
A particular pleasure for me was the inclusion of lesser known numbers by Meredith Willson and Leslie Bricusse. I have long been a champion of Mr Bricusse’s music and lyrics, from Out Of Town onwards, and the extracts from his score for Dr Dolittle were a fitting tribute in his 80th year. Something In Your Smile is a real curiosity. It was cut from the movie (though can be heard in the overture) but was later recorded in London - as was the complete score - by Sammy Davis Jr., in a lush arrangement by Marty Paich.
John Wilson brought the show to a glorious climax with the tremendous Barbra Streisand production number Put On Your Sunday Best from Fox’s Hello Dolly! This was really the dying gasp of the great American movie musical, though the genre certainly went out in style, and its stable of stars, directors, designers, choreographers, arrangers and musical directors dispersed, retired or moved on to other things. In came movies such as Saturday Night Fever, Grease and Mamma Mia: huge box-office successes though not, perhaps, the kind of music John will want to spend a lot of time reinventing.
Once again the BBC, having mounted this spectacular concert, shot itself in the foot with regard to presentation. Apart from the errors noted above the Radio Times BBC2 billing was a nonsense, implying that Top Hat and Shall We Dance weren’t Astaire/Rogers movies. Astonishingly, the names of the six soloists weren’t listed in the Proms prospectus and, worst of all, there was no mention on air or in the programme notes of several of the lyric writers. Thus "Yip" Harburg, Howard Dietz and Paul Francis Webster never received a credit, even though they contributed to their songs’ immortality just as much as the composers. Why the Corporation cannot use experts in the field I cannot imagine: there are plenty in the Robert Farnon Society!
The television presentation of the concert on BBC2 was visually acceptable, though a number of my acquaintances have complained about the sound quality, some remarking that it was at times out of sync with the pictures. Be that as it may, viewers once again suffered the cutting of four songs. Would this happen with Beethoven, I ask? Hopefully they will be restored in the DVD.
May I add in conclusion that, despite the reservations mentioned above, the actual performances from players and singers were flawless and left the Proms audience screaming for more. I’m sure that John and his team are already working on next year’s extravaganza and I for one can’t wait! Meanwhile, a condensed version of this year’s Prom will be touring the UK in late November and early December.
The full contents:
Hooray For Hollywood Overture
42nd Street medley
Fred and Ginger at RKO
**Maytime – Jeanette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy
Strike Up The Band
Can’t Help Singing
**Main Street – from ‘On The Town’
You’ll Never Know – ‘Hello, Frisco, Hello’
This Heart Of Mine - ‘Ziegfeld Follies’
Judy’s Comeback – ‘A Star Is Born’
The Man Who Got Away
Secret Love – ‘Calamity Jane’
Serenade – ‘Student Prince’
Clap Yo’ Hands - ‘Funny Face’
One Hand, One Heart – ‘West Side Story’
**Being In Love - ‘The Music Man’
Triplets - ‘The Band Wagon’
**Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat – ‘Guys & Dolls’
Jolly Holiday - ‘Mary Poppins’
When I Look In Your Eyes – ‘Doctor Doolittle’
Put On Your Sunday Clothes - ‘Hello Dolly’
Hooray For Hollywood
There’s No Business Like Show Business
** omitted from the TV broadcast
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ issue 190, December 2011.