29 Oct

Notes and Suggestions on a Performance of Leroy Anderson's SleighRide

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An article by William Zucker

At this time of the year, the air waves are bombarded with broadcasts of Christmas carols almost non-stop, which of course we have come to expect as part of the holiday season. With some of this material or at least manner of presentation in some cases, the material is of such a quality that one could mildly regret that we do not get to hear some of it at other times of the year. The symbolic connotations, of course, is the raison d' etre for what we are hearing, not so much the actual material.

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An article by William Zucker

At this time of the year, the air waves are bombarded with broadcasts of Christmas carols almost non-stop, which of course we have come to expect as part of the holiday season. With some of this material or at least manner of presentation in some cases, the material is of such a quality that one could mildly regret that we do not get to hear some of it at other times of the year. The symbolic connotations, of course, is the raison d' etre for what we are hearing, not so much the actual material.

Certainly in the case of certain classical works, such as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker or Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve, one could ask that question. Regarding the Nutcracker, it is entirely possible that we might hear the familiar suite from time to time at concerts; however, it is almost certain that dance companies will not pick it up during the year at large when the seasonal presentations have become almost obligatory.

One item which has fallen into such a category, although such was apparently not always the case, has been Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. One of its composer's finest pieces, I would venture to say that it was composed as an individual picture or vignette in exactly the same manner as many of his other such pieces, without any thought whatever being given to the holiday season and that holiday season only. But because we are nowadays bombarded with it in presentations that are thoroughly bowdlerized, even when the original version appears, it is desirable to take stock of what is happening with this piece compared to what it was when it first came out, and probably not written, let alone conceived, during the holiday season.

We hear many of Leroy Anderson's pieces at open air concerts of light music, and they have been amply and frequently recorded, albeit with variable results. Hearing what I am now hearing every day from PA and sound systems in restaurants, etc. makes me extremely desirous to discard this and return to the original conception from the early 1950s.

I will add, however, that the adding of words such as supplied by Mitchell Parish, appears harmless to me in that sense. What I'm concerned about is the composer's original conception being turned into something not originally indigenous to the piece.

I would appear to be contradicting myself when I repeatedly say that I'm no authenticist, that I insist on taking serious works in the manner that has been accepted over the years, regardless of what original audiences might have heard. But I take each piece of music on its own merits, as I find it, and approach it accordingly to attempt to make it sound better as I see it. In the present case we are dealing with a period of 60 or so years, well within a lifetime, where one can actually be witness to some of the as I see it unwelcome changes that have occurred, actually not only with this piece, but with many others of Mr. Anderson's. It is a special issue here because it has been detached from its original settings and made to serve a totally different function during the holiday season. We are not dealing with "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night," or "Adeste Fidelis" here, even though Mr. Anderson has turned out some really wonderful arrangements of carols, along with a medley I refer to as the Christmas Festival Overture. This latter is a totally separate issue, although one can still judge those from the point of view of Leroy Anderson rather than Christmas.

With Sleigh Ride, the subject of this essay, I would like to return once and for all to the original presentation when the work was first recorded by the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler. I should hasten to add that in most cases regarding Leroy Anderson presentations, I would recommend the composer's original - not subsequent - recordings, but in a few instances including this one I would instead recommend the recordings as made by Mr. Fiedler as better presenting the composer's own wishes and ideas.

The matter of music for the holiday season is a matter in itself outside the scope of this essay. My concern is with the particular piece under consideration, and to return it to the setting within which it was originally conceived, as a separate vignette in itself possibly having no connection with the holiday season originally, but rather as part of a group of light orchestral novelty numbers.

To begin with, the whole needs to be taken in a far more relaxed, leisurely tempo than is commonly done today, and the tempo once established in this manner must be held throughout. Following the introduction, the main idea gets its full due as usual, but the inner tenor voice should be clearly heard, not in a melodic sense but rather as a means of filling in the very cogent harmonic movement. This is a characteristic feature of this composer, and one would do well to give it attention in that aspect. There is a slight swelling at the end of the phrase coincident with the harmonic progression prior to the repetition of the idea.

On the second strain, it must be seen to that the clippety clop of the wood blocks must never be permitted to overtake or drown out the melodic elements taking place. Looking once again at the inner tenor voice, it is to be noted that on the repetition the line skips upward by a seventh into the higher octave. This is a very witty effect and may be brought out by a very subtle dynamic inflection.

When the first idea returns on this occasion, responding to the use of enhanced forces, it is to be given with plenty of dynamic energy, even though the compositional substance of the original remains the same. The tempo of course remains constant.

After a short transition with an accompanying diminuendo, we arrive at the middle section. In order for the main idea, admittedly not an ambitious one as it mainly consists of a repeated note before arriving at its culmination, to which there should be a slight dynamic increase. The percussion effects, including the clop-clop of the wood block and the whip effect, must never be permitted to obtrude the melodic effect; however, the held tenor note in tenuto may be swelled somewhat in approaching the culmination of the phrase, exactly as with the top part.

At the end of this section, the declamation on a D dominant (from G Major) changes to an F dominant as preparation for the return. I would configure the harmony at this latter point so that the F is more prominent, in view of the return to the principal key of B Flat Major.

The original idea, when it returns, is given a rather jazzy, swing type rhythm, an effect that Mr. Anderson frequently throws into his conceptions, with varied results; however, in this case it works splendidly. The most should be made of this novel version, with the rhythms fully accentuated. On the repetition, we have a more muscular version of the same idea, with a B Flat-D-E Flat-E Natural-F ostinato (the last two in half time eighth notes), the effect of which is even more successful than the first version. And the conclusion of this phrase ends on an off beat with emphasis, another typical effect employed by Mr. Anderson to good purpose.

The second strain now follows, in a condition precisely as on the first occasion; however, when the main idea returns, it is this time presented very delicately, and in a continual diminuendo. On the last phrase, we reach to a key remotely distant - a tritone away - and then proceed from that point forward by fifths (always in diminuendo) until at the end of the phrase we arrive punctually at the original tonic.

Following the expansion of same (reminiscent of the opening accompaniment at the outset before the original idea began), the harmony changes momentarily to a Neapolitan chord C Flat-E Flat-F over which we hear what is evidently meant to imitate the whinnying of a horse; however, whatever the intent, it should never sound too strident, as the overall effect should be that the piece is winding down.

On the resolution back to B Flat, the final emphasis should be directed at the two last B Flat unisons which conclude the piece.

This piece really does deserve greater respect on its own terms than it has received in more recent years. I have read that Mr. Anderson, in his work, has brought in some novel instruments to add color and spice to his work. All power to those who can enjoy this sort of thing, but I must say, my view of his work is totally different. I do not wish to see or hear him spoken of as though he were Spike Jones, and though he apparently was diffident about it, his music really is strong enough to stand on its own, to speak on its own terms for itself, without the need for any extra-musical elements that at times really do spoil what he has set out to accomplish. The inherent quality of the music is far above what even he himself may have thought of it, whether he wished it or not - perhaps "overqualified" would be a good word to describe what I am attempting to describe. There is far too much refinement in the music for an excess of these sound effects to be absorbed in the basic conception to any great extent, and I consider this as a compliment of his work in the most sincere sense, regardless of whether he might have agreed had I ever been able to convey my thoughts directly to him.

As usual, I welcome all comments; as much with commentary in this music as well as with those on more involved pieces that I have written on.

William Zucker

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27 Oct

Nooks and Crannies in the Field of Light Music

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An article by William Zucker

In the course over the years of collecting recordings of light music, reading books on the subject, or looking at YouTube postings, I became aware of the fact that exactly as with serious music, there are segments of this repertoire that remain unknown even to interested specialists, for which there are historically many reasons.  Before going into these, I have to first point out that all forms of music, whether light or serious, are received by their recipients in widely divergent manners.

Some listen to these selections of whatever genre very attentively, carefully noting the various features and details along the way while others simply submerge themselves in a wash of sound without attending any further to the source, and be it noted, this latter method of reception, for want of a better word, may occur in more serious forms of music as well, particularly with the more impressionistic variety, exemplified by such composers as Debussy and Delius but not  necessarily limited to those.

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An article by William Zucker

In the course over the years of collecting recordings of light music, reading books on the subject, or looking at YouTube postings, I became aware of the fact that exactly as with serious music, there are segments of this repertoire that remain unknown even to interested specialists, for which there are historically many reasons.  Before going into these, I have to first point out that all forms of music, whether light or serious, are received by their recipients in widely divergent manners.

Some listen to these selections of whatever genre very attentively, carefully noting the various features and details along the way while others simply submerge themselves in a wash of sound without attending any further to the source, and be it noted, this latter method of reception, for want of a better word, may occur in more serious forms of music as well, particularly with the more impressionistic variety, exemplified by such composers as Debussy and Delius but not  necessarily limited to those.

Without going further afield, I would like to examine the reasons why much of the music of the light music variety has remained a virtual closed book to many exploring this field.  I should hasten to add a disclaimer that if any of my assumptions given herein are incorrect  for any reason, I will welcome any explanatory comments to clarify any issues that I have raised.  Also, I should point out that there may be a degree of overlap between the various categories that I have outlined below.

1 - Released on other than First Rank Labels. - If an artist recorded for other than one of the big name record labels, the chances are that he did not receive the same degree of promotion and publicity as might otherwise have been the case, so that many artists recording under such auspices might in time fall by the wayside, forgotten even to the specialist, regardless of any intrinsic merit in what the artist has produced.

One such artist who immediately comes to mind is Domeinco Savino, who was a venerated composer and arranger of light music selections well known and appreciated during the late 1930's through the early 1950's, composing music for films in addition.  His recordings under his own name appeared on the Kapp label, which was in existence for a number of years but hardly to be described as front rank.  Later on, some further selections of his appeared on the Camden label which was RCA Victor's budget label given to recordings that previously appeared under the artist's name but apparently for contractual reasons were given a "nom de disc" although alert record collectors could shrewdly guess the real names of the performers and orchestras.

In the case of Mr. Savino, he recorded for this Camden label using the name "David Whitehall," although anyone already familiar with his work on the Kapp label would immediately recognize his style and manner.  In this opinion, the arrangements and many original compositions to be heard from these sources are of exemplary quality and are thoroughly recommendable.  His masterpiece is undoubtedly a suite of selections entitled "Portraits of Italy," contained in a complete album, which by all odds should be listened to from beginning to end and not excerpted.  Unfortunately, much of his accomplishments lie almost totally forgotten today.  On YouTube one can catch a single solitary selection from one of his Kapp albums, indicating how interest in his work has unjustly waned over the years.

The Camden label also offered an album of rather ancient vintage, judging by the sound quality, of some wonderful selections presented by Dolf van der Linden which today have virtually disappeared from sight. I have had occasion to refer to some of the selections from this album in a recent article on this site; "Differing Versions of the Same Set Light Music Selections."

2 - Format Never Updated. - Many selections during the 1940's and early 1950's released as 45 or 78 RPM singles or albums of such singles under one bound album never made it to a 33 1/3 LP format or later type of presentation, but rather remained in their original format and thus unperpetuated for the benefit of later listeners and even interested specialists in light music.  It covers a vast area, and regrettably, Reuben Musiker, in his otherwise excellent book on the subject of light music, declined to cover it, although in his defense, I would own that it is excessively large in extent; however, this omission would appear to accentuate the problem.

I will run quickly over some of the items that at this point would be overlooked by listeners and interested specialists of today.

Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler - three singles came out during the early 1950's featuring selections that never made it to LP despite their considerable merit, consisting of "Delicado" (Azevedo) with "Francesca" (Feller), "No Strings Attached" (Hayman) with "Wing Ding" (Singer), and "Song from Moulin Rouge" (Auric) with "Doo-Wacka-Doodle" (Singer).  Three of these selections competed directly with versions by others which may have some bearing; nevertheless, all these settings were sufficiently outstanding in themselves to warrant greater familiarity, despite popularity charts extolling their competition.

Camarata - I refer here to the entire group of recordings he made on the London/Decca label, which existed in a singles album of 45/78 RPM discs, but were never transferred to LP. Although many of those in this group touched a more serious genre, the selections of interest here are Leroy Anderson's "Fiddle Faddle" in what may have been the piece's very first recording, along with Mr.Camarata's own "Rumbalero,"  "Rhapsody for Saxophone," and "Fingerbustin'," as well as Landes nee Hamner's "The Breeze," and an exemplary if drastically abbreviated version of Toye's "The Haunted Ballroom."  None of these selections are in common currency today amongst light music specialists. On the American Decca label, there is one single disc I would mention: Mr. Camarata's own "The Fluter's Samba" with "Cuban Nightingale."  Both of these selections use a chorus which adds to their attractiveness but neither has ever made it into an LP album to be perpetuated from the time they appeared.

David Rose - It may be surprising that this figure would even fall into this category, as virtually everything that he recorded, even his early attempts on RCA Victor, made it into an LP album or else some subsequent compilation, but nevertheless, there in fact are some recordings he made from his early MGM days that have faded into total oblivion, for no conceivable reason I can imagine. These were Friml's "Song of the Vagabonds" which  wound up missing from just about every listing of his recordings;  "Misirlou," made at about the same time, fared little better.  Both of these are noteworthy arrangements that have deserved a better fate than virtual disappearance from catalogue listings and consequently, accessibility.

Victor Young - Some time during the 1930's or 1940's - hopefully I can obtain at some point an accurate date - Mr. Young collaborated with a lyricist, Edward Heyman, to produce a musical entitled "A La Carte." The musical excerpts from this production appeared in an album of single 78 RPM discs.  One of the selections from this production, entitled "There's No Man Like A Snowman," has endeared itself to me to the point that I've thoroughly familiarized myself with it and can perform it handily.  Unfortunately, here too it is a case of what I consider thoroughly meritorious material having never made it into an LP recording so that its perpetuation would be enabled.

Percy Faith - One disc here comes to mind - "Amorada" (original recording) with "Funny Fellow," a curious omission from any album of his exemplary work from his earlier years, especially when virtually everything else he recorded has been preserved in LP and subsequent albums.

Henri Rene - His wonderful setting of Pryor's "The Whistler and His Dog" I have had occasion to mention a few times already, tragically having fallen totally out of sight in the world of light music.

Mantovani - Here I refer to the numerous single discs he came out with in the earliest part of his career, which I will cover under the next category.

3 - Overshadowed by More Spectacular Accomplishments  -  In many cases, an artist commands attention for some factor in his work that tends to divert attention away from other and often equally if not more meritorious accomplishments, a situation in all parts of the musical field, with serious as well as light  music that is far from uncommon.

Many years ago, I was conversing with a colleague in the serious field who happened to express an interest in light music of the sort under discussion (and who was enthusiastic about Robert Farnon in particular).  I happened to bring up Mantovani in conversation, and his expression immediately changed, thinking almost reflexively of the cascading strings effect which has eternally been associated with Mantovani's name. It was a feature that he was less than enthusiastic about, and I must say that I am hardly a fan of it myself, finding it rather campy and even mawkish.  My colleague was very surprised to find out about this artist's earlier recordings, made before he adopted that effect, and I encouraged him to listen to as many of those as he could lay his hands on, as I still do today to other light music specialists.

These early recordings to which I refer were all available here in the USA at the time they were released, although many listeners, apparently distracted by the novel string effect featured in the recordings that came out later, virtually ignored the earlier ones unjustly despite their considerable merit.  A few of them did make it into LP albums  but many did not, ultimately rendering them a closed book to those who would explore this field. Some dozen singles (including a few that were on 12" discs) were released during the late 40's and early 50's falling into this category - the list of selections is too large for a detailed listing to be provided here, but upon request I will be happy to furnish specifics.

It was almost a parallel situation with George Melachrino, with whom listeners automatically think of the Melachrino Strings, completely overlooking that many recordings he made used a full orchestra; moreover, he was a respectable composer of light music selections in his own right, as was Mantovani.  However, in Melachrino's case, a good many of his singles remained on the HMV label and were not taken over into the American Victor catalogue, as a result of which they were never released in this country, quite unlike the situation with Mantovani.  I was able to obtain for myself a very small number of these HMV singles from a specialty record store, but that aside, these recordings remained largely inaccessible here, many remaining unmissed, as most sought out the purely string selections.  But one record dealer I visited happened to have an HMV catalogue on hand, and he permitted me to hand copy the listing of Melachrino HMV recordings, there being no copy machines in those days. The list I had thus assembled remained for me as a source of reference for many years.

Most of us when we hear the name of Victor Young automatically bring to mind the numerous film scores that he composed, but not many are aware today that he was a consummate composer and arranger of light music selections.  And amongst this latter, not all of these were necessarily for strings alone as may be supposed; in quite a few of them a full orchestra including woodwinds and brass were featured.  Here too my list is too extensive to include, but once again I would be more than happy to furnish specific details if requested.

The name Alfred Newman is even more firmly tied with Hollywood film scores, yet he did make a few recordings with an aggregate described as the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra in other genres, most of them of selections more in the serious field.  However, two selections for me stand out - his rendition of Lecuona's "Malaguena" is one of the best performed that I know of, and I have mentioned a few times his presentation of Benjamin's "Jamaican Rhumba" in an arrangement by Herb Spencer and Earle Hagen that for me  surpasses in interest even the composer's own original setting, let alone the complete transformation of the piece by  Percy Faith which is in a category of its own.

Mr. Newman also wrote a piece entitled "Street Scene," which exists in two transmogrifications.  The traditional one is far flung and goes through various vividly emotional episodes, and which may be heard in a recording by Morton Gould in his album "Manhattan Moods," and as I have done many times before, I advise the listener to stick with Mr. Gould's original recording on Columbia.  However, I vastly prefer the simpler and more sedate setting for strings alone, under the title of "Street Scene - A Sentimental Rhapsody," which may be heard in a recording conducted by Mr. Newman himself.   It first appeared in the late 1940s, and was a true classic in its day, but who even among light music enthusiasts is even slightly familiar with it nowadays?

4 - Overshadowed by the Work of Other Artists. - Many of us when dealing with serious classical music, whether we are professionals, amateurs, or simply lay listeners, tend to naturally give first attention to the big names - Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc., and in more recent times perhaps Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and I could name a host of others.   But if we delve further, going past masters of the second rank (remember that relative ranking is in the province of the individual listener of some experience), we come upon names of composers of genuine merit whose work  has unfairly remained a closed book to most, such as Berwald, Svendsen, Halvorsen, Dohnanyi, Weiner, Glazunov, D'Indy, Finzi, Chadwick.

The same is true in the light music field.  We automatically think of names like Leroy Anderson, Robert Farnon,  Morton Gould, Andre Kostelanetz, David Rose and Percy Faith, and here too we could name several more of whom we might consider the big guns, so to speak.  But again, if we dig a bit deeper, we will similarly find music of individuals that have remained largely unfamiliar, though their music might be found to be quite rewarding if one would take the trouble to explore further.  The chief problem in many such cases is that they were not prolific and did not contribute much material that has remained available to us.  It is in specific cases like this that the Guild series "The Golden Age of Light Music, " can become genuinely beneficial in promoting the work of these lesser known names, by the use of the existing format for such presentations.   (I have always opted for single artist recordings for those artists whose contributions have been more voluminous.)

One such name that comes immediately to mind is that of Frank Perkins, whose light music contributions are of a very high quality and which I would readily recommend to enthusiasts of this music, especially to those in the UK who might not have been exposed to it, as this artist was a New Englander and worked entirely within the USA, so that in all likelihood his discs did not travel internationally as much as might be desired.

His song, "Stars Fell on Alabama," became immensely popular would appear to have overshadowed much else that he accomplished.  The instrumental selection "Fandango"  was also quite well known, though possibly not in his own setting (the Hugo Winterhalter version which made the charts, was quite decent even if widely different from the composer's own).  But I would like to mention a 10" LP album "Premiere," which featured eight of his original compositions, perfectly matched so that this album can be enjoyed and listened to from beginning to end (the 12'' expanded LP album broke this continuity somewhat, which is why I refer to and prefer the original smaller format and smaller number of selections offered).

I personally find that this music is not something I have to be in a special mood to listen to, as is the case with the "big guns" I referred to at the beginning of this section.  Here the music, while still containing much substance and  very far from being superficial or anything like an empty background wash of sound, nevertheless offers its wares with a much lighter touch so that one can feel completely comfortable with it regardless of mood or state of mind.  Those I named above would by comparison tend to dig a bit deeper into our sensibilities, almost to the degree of serious, classical music.

One of the many composers whom Dolf van der Linden featured in his numerous recordings was one Emile Deltour, known through Dolf's recordings of his "Fiddles and Bows" and "Polka for Strings" and a few other selections.  Not generally known is the fact that Mr. Deltour made a light music album of his own, entitled "Continental Merry-Go- Round," which displayed the same engaging quality in the selections offered that we have come to expect from Dolf.

Norman Greene is a name virtually unknown to light music enthusiasts, and this artist produced extremely few recordings, easily to be overlooked and lost in the shuffle. There was a 10" LP album on an obscure label - Rexford - entitled "Colors by Greene," which consisted of simply routine arrangements of popular standards whose titles bore the names of colors.  It was not successful in my opinion; nevertheless this artist still rates mention for a lone single produced on the MGM label with "Blue Porcelain" by Alex Alstone - an incredibly beautiful setting -  coupled with Mr. Greene's own "Suspicion," a selection very attractive in its forcefulness and purposefulness.  This is another item that should be included in the Guild series, "The Golden Age of Light Music."

And finally, an extremely obscure item that could easily be swept under the rug - I would have overlooked it myself if not for the fact that radio stations back in the 1950s were playing selections from this album, entitled "Musical Notes from a Tourist's Sketch Book," performed by an aggregate entitled, "The World Symphony Orchestra," conducted by one H. J. Lengsfelder.  This recording had everything going against it in perpetuation despite the engaging qualities of some of the selections  - the conductor and his orchestra being virtually unknown, the relatively small amount of material the group released, the far out of center record label - Request - and the generally meagre sound quality of the recording itself.  However, I mention it because one of the selections in the album, frequently exposed in radio broadcasts, was a rather attractive piece entitled "The Typewriter Concerto,"which I will hasten to mention well predated Leroy Anderson's iconic selection, and may well have been the very first to use a typewriter within an orchestra.  In my opinion, it does not deserve to take a back seat simply because Anderson's piece is so well known, as it has its own notable qualities.

5 - Inaccessibility. - Most of the factors here have already been covered in some way in previous articles, so that in a sense this is a summing up.  I refer to the items from the Chappell Mood Library, many of which could be heard in radio broadcasts of programs of light music or as television signature themes or background music for documentaries. With a very few exceptions, exemplified by three albums of selections performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra released in the USA under the titles "Concert of Popular Music," "Invitation to Romance," and "Very Very Dry," this material was not made commercially available to interested listeners. The three albums I mentioned were for me almost a tease, as from their content I was desperately anxious to obtain more from their source which of course was not forthcoming at the time.  For my part, by continual listening to radio broadcasts of light music and noting the various uses on television such as signature themes and in documentaries, I became acquainted with many of  these selections, and it was by happy chance that on some occasions I happened to stumble over opportunities to obtain further details such as name and composer.

In one case, a signature theme on television attracted me to such an extent ("Ecstasy" by Felton Rapley, as it turned out), that I decided to call the station to obtain such details, and was given the name of the selection and simply told that it was a Chappell recording.  I guessed the  composer by comparing it with his better known "Romantic Rhapsody" which I was already familiar with, but it seems a really sorry state of affairs that this was only available to radio and television broadcasting stations but not to the general public until only very recently. This situation is being slowly rectified today as the Chappell vaults are being dipped into bit by bit.

I had occasion above to mention the HMV recordings by George Melachrino that were never released in this country even though local radio stations here were continually broadcasting them on programs of light music despite their general commercial unavailability.  But one could probably give plenty of other examples of recordings that for some reason did not travel in either direction across the Atlantic (and by the way, this would include the European continent as well), and if I thought about it for a while, I could probably come up with specific examples here as well.  The overall point I am making is that these recordings were completely available to broadcasting companies for their own uses, and could be broadcast to the public, but not commercially released to the public in any manner or form, although some specialty record shops did have their own means of laying their hands on some of them for possible sale to interested purchasers.

This generally covers my survey of items within the light music repertoire that have remained obscure and largely unknown even to interested specialists.  It covers a large area and as a consequence I could not hope to touch on everything or present anything that could be regarded as near complete.   I will offer any apologies if any of my readers know of some items of this nature that I have not mentioned herein.

As always, I will welcome any comments.  I have to very regretfully reflect that if I chanced to have written this article a few years ago, when David was still active at the helm of the RFS, he could have offered me some valuable insights into many of the issues I have raised.  But it is only within the last month that I conceived of this idea and decided to put it in writing.

William Zucker

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26 Oct

Chris Money Saturday afternoon slot on Kingston Hospital Radio

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London Light Music meeting Group member Chris Money has a Saturday afternoon slot on Kingston Hospital Radio during which he plays varied selections of Light Music.

The programme is streamed live online and you can listen in between 3pm and 5pm every Saturday afternoon.

To access the programme use this link:

http://aries.streaming.zfast.co.uk:2199/start/khronline Click on the magazine cover to read the full magazine and click here to access the Kingston Hospital Radio website

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25 Oct

Notes and Suggestions on a Performance of Leroy Anderson's Pennywhistle Song

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An article by William Zucker.

As this is the height of the summer season we are into at this writing, I prefer to deal with lighter forms of music, assuredly of the same quality as the best in the more serious field.

I have stated on many an occasion that this is a genre that is insufficiently appreciated, and it should be realized that there will be found in this area pieces of fully the same quality as in some of the more profound types.  In addition, it is a field that has largely fallen by the wayside, regrettably so, as the audiences for such have been reduced to a relatively small group of listeners and record collectors who have a considerable interest in this type of music, which frankly deserves the same degree of respect.

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An article by William Zucker.

As this is the height of the summer season we are into at this writing, I prefer to deal with lighter forms of music, assuredly of the same quality as the best in the more serious field.

I have stated on many an occasion that this is a genre that is insufficiently appreciated, and it should be realized that there will be found in this area pieces of fully the same quality as in some of the more profound types.  In addition, it is a field that has largely fallen by the wayside, regrettably so, as the audiences for such have been reduced to a relatively small group of listeners and record collectors who have a considerable interest in this type of music, which frankly deserves the same degree of respect.

I have also often stated that in the field of light music we find pieces of quality put together with genuine skill that a classical musician would take delight in, that fully deserve attentive listening, and contrarily there is that which is a mere wash of background or wallpaper, as it is frequently described, suitable for use in restaurants or lavatories and not requiring any great degree of attention.

It unfortunately appears to be a lost art today, as in more recent decades, its surviving practitioners have been forced to commercialize or cheapen what they had to offer, before dropping out of the picture altogether.

Regarding Leroy Anderson, one of whose pieces is the subject of this essay, I have already expressed a great admiration for many of his arrangements of popular standards, the enhancements of which put them on a musical level far above what the original conceptions must have been.

I tend to give less attention to his shorter novelty numbers, but I must acknowledge that among this latter group, there are actually some very fine examples that really do deserve a degree of detailed attention regarding an ideal performance.

One such piece that has drawn my attention is a selection entitled "The Pennywhistle Song." One reason I am giving it such attention is that I sincerely feel that, given the ideal performance, more is to be had from it than is commonly realized.

For one thing, like so much else that we hear in all genres of music nowadays, it is almost always taken much too fast.  What I conceive of is a much slower presentation, emphasizing the essential lyricism. Many others might tell me that with such a tempo it would tend to plod far too much.  This can easily be avoided, if the rhythms in the ideas are very clearly articulated, and the dynamic inflections in the melody are given full attention.  But even so, any plodding that might be evidenced would still in my personal opinion by far preferable to a certain flippancy that would occur with a faster tempo, and which I feel must be avoided at all costs.  And at such a tempo, the innate charm of the conception would be quite lost.  But to sum this point up, I could simply say that such would be true in all genres of music, as I have repeatedly pointed out in my other essays.  In this case, the slower tempo would also afford the opportunity to fully savor what is being heard, with a better degree of attention.

To get on with the actual piece -- but first I have to mention, for me it lies in A Flat Major.  The reasons I would have it so, results from its placement in an album wherein it originally appeared, in which I happened to observe Mr. Anderson (on television) performing his "Blue Tango," which was a popular hit at the time, in E Flat Major (I was able to watch his fingers on the keys and saw the evidence of it).

As I have already mentioned in a previous essay, the manner in which album selections of this nature have been put together to follow in a logical manner and thus in a sense belong together, is a factor for many of the albums produced during that period.   It is a musical factor that would appear to stretch far beyond the individual items within the album.

Bearing this in mind, this will place the selection next but one to the piece I saw being performed in a key area that would perfectly match what came previously as we listen to it.  As far as the use of the flat keys are concerned, as Mr. Anderson was a bandsman of a sort, this gives him a key area that in essence he might be instinctively drawn toward.

The alternative sections, meaning the second portion of the second strain and the middle section have digressions to the allied key of C Flat Major.  A true musician should never be phased by reading music in an extreme flat or sharp key, and in my firm opinion, it is far more important that the notation used directly indicates what is really taking place in the music, and never resorted to an enharmonic notation for "ease of reading," even for only a few notes, unless the music goes farther afield tonally than takes place in this piece.

As indicated, the tempo adopted should be that of a gently walking pace or a stroll.  The melodic idea should be sprightly in its articulation, with plenty of little hairpin dynamic inflections to add to its expressivity.

The second strain has an interesting contrast in the articulation, with the first half being in a light staccato, whereas the second half is legato and more cantabile, but upon listening, the attention is or should be rather drawn to the harmonic deflection that takes place, including the return to the home dominant to once again prepare for the repetition of the main idea.

This latter, following its formal repetition, has a particularly beautiful extension toward the final cadence, with a sidestep to the subdominant D Flat Major.  All of these little felicities to be found in this piece should be brought out in performance, and may I add, they are the sort of thing that may be greatly appreciated even by a classical musician as well as one who simply has much enthusiasm for this quality of light music - it is decidedly not wallpaper or background music and should never be used or thought of as such.

The middle section, given with a greater degree of forwardness in the presentation, perhaps at a mezzo-forte, still is completely compatible with what we have had up to this point, and should be regarded altogether as a continuation despite the fact that we have had a full perfect cadence preceding.  The melody apparently consists of two elements; on the up beat leading into the next measure, and that filling the space between the occurrences of the first.  But I will always state that it is never a good thing for a melody to be presented in a very disjunctive manner, and in point of fact, it is rather simple to turn it into one line.  At the very least one instrument or group of instruments can so present it to smoothen out the effect which is always under all circumstances desirable.

There is a slight uprise on a B Flat pedal approaching our home dominant which will be the preparation for the reprise.  Even though there is a slight crescendo here, I would recommend that at the very last moment, perhaps on the last beat prior, the dynamic be pulled back to allow for a proper resolution on the E Flat which in turn will eventually return us to A Flat for the reprise.

And as a matter of fact, the reprise as I refer to it turns out to be almost a textbook term here, for the instrumentation overall is quite different from the way it appeared originally, though still recognizable.  It would still give the effect of a continuation, of passing into another phase of the piece.

The second strain is essentially the same in presentation as on the first occasion; however, on this occasion there is some byplay in the inner parts for elaboration.  It is strictly background material and needs no emphasis; in fact I would personally question the necessity for such (especially given the example that we have already had with Sleigh Ride). Therefore, I would suggest to any performer of the work to take complete discretion as to whether to include it or not.

After the main idea appears for the last time and fully cadences as before, we pass into the coda of the piece, entirely on the tonic pedal, within which a degree of earnestness creeps in, and which might be taken a hair slower in tempo.  It is based on the second strain of the main section, but does not call for the same sprightliness in presentation.  The last phrase is repeated in preparation for an upswing in the melodic line, giving us the final closure of the piece on the A Flat octave.

And though this did not occur to me when I started on this task of this essay, I must now say, looking back on the entire piece as a whole as presented in this manner, we have something actually akin to many of Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte, do we not?

William Zucker.

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23 Oct

OFFENBACH : ORCHESTRAL WORKS

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OFFENBACH : ORCHESTRAL WORKS

Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Neeme Järví

Chandos CHSA 5160

Another excellent release at the lighter end of the classical spectrum from this label.

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18 Oct

London Light Music Meetings Group - October 11th 2015

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Report on the Autumn 2015 meeting of the London Light Music Meetings Group at the Lancaster Hall Hotel London W2

Report on the Autumn 2015 meeting of the London Light Music Meetings Group at the Lancaster Hall Hotel London W2

It was Sunday 11th October and time for another get-together of the LLMMG - our fourth. About sixty people attended, and we were pleased to welcome a number of members of the Light Music Society - no doubt wishing to give support to their Chairman, Gavin Sutherland, who was our special guest for the afternoon.

Tony Clayden welcomed everyone to the meeting, opening with a recording of the McHugh-Dubin composition South American Way,from a series of recordings which Bob Farnon made for ENSA towards the end of WW2. This was taken from one of several CDs which the late David Ades generously made available to the LLMMG for our first meeting in May 2014.

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21 Sep

CD REVIEW GLAZUNOV: VIOLIN CONCERTO IN A MINOR

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SIBELIUS: SIX HUMOREQUES FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA
DVORAK: VIOLIN CONCERTO IN A MINOR
Efi Christodoulou violin
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
John Carewe conductor
SOMM RECORDINGS (UK) SOMMCD 0153

The ‘big four’ concertos – by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Bruch – have tended to dominate the World of the Violin Concerto, but there are very many other fine examples of the genre, ranging from the Baroque period of Bach and Vivaldi, via Mozart and Paganini, to Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Shostakovich. The two compositions presented here are probably less well-known than some of their contemporaries, so this new CD is a welcome addition to the catalogue...

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.