Analysed by Robert Walton
It was my good friend composer and arranger Cyril Watters who first extolled the virtues of composer Frederic Curzon to me. Certainly there’s absolutely no doubt he was a superb craftsman. As a child I was already aware of his work especially in connection with the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Quite clearly though Curzon also had a flare for unusual titles like the eye-catching and indeed ear-catching Dance Of An Ostracised Imp written in 1940. It must have been bad enough being an imp without being ostracised as well, but somehow the composer managed to cleverly encapsulate this unwelcome mischievous child, elf or demon. So with a little help from Curzon, let’s try and get under the skin of an imp and find out what makes it so sociably unacceptable.
It’s unusual for a tambourine to appear in a light orchestral piece, but the jingle rattle off beats from this small single-headed drum of Arabic origin adds something to the mix. After quickly setting the scene with a four bar vamp (not unlike the clip clop rhythm of a horse), the strings enter with the tune in the key of G, but after only two bars are hijacked by the flute for another two bars in E flat. Back in G, the strings cut in for a further two while the waiting flute pounces yet again grabbing another two in E flat. Now in the key of B, the strings remind me of the opening phrase of Buttons and Bows.
And so this constant game of bouncing the melody between the two sections continues for 24 bars. More charitably it could I suppose be described as sharing and caring! Perhaps it’s the classical way of “trading phrases” like musicians in small-group jazz take it in turns to play solos. Dance Of An OstracisedImp is in many ways a modulatory nightmare keeping the listener on his/her toes trying to guess the next unexpected harmony. On first hearing some of the changes may seem a bit unconnected, but in the final analysis it all makes musical sense.
And then the cheeky imp emerging from its grotto makes its first appearance for the following 16 bars in the guise of an oboe. There’s a suggestion of Sidney Torch’s Comic Cuts about the orchestration. It cunningly darts about all over the place dreaming up trouble for whoever or wherever it fancies. The opening section is then fully repeated.
A 16 bar bridge begins with a very rich sustained note played by the lower G of the violins. Decorative woodwind dance above in various keys continuing the harmonic freedom of the first chorus. And then the imp re-emerges for another16 bars. The final 24 lead to a sudden coda with a giggling bassoon offering it up to pizzicato strings who end the piece, but not before the tambourine puts in a brief last appearance.
In some ways Dance Of An Ostracised Imp anticipates Robert Farnon because of its unconventional juxtapositions of harmony. However Curzon’s orchestral texture isn’t as light or as inventive as Farnon’s. Right near the end, I almost expected to hear the closing cascading strings of Farnon’s arrangement of Would YouLike To Take A Walk. They would have fitted Dance Of An Ostracised Imp like a glove.
It is altogether amazing that with the same identical piece of music, two different recorded performances can leave widely differing impressions.
I have listened to a recording by the composer conducting an aggregate known as the "New Concert Orchestra," and in this rendition I was able to take in many incidental details along the way, enabling me to fully immerse myself in the piece.
I have also listened to another recorded version of the same music by Sidney Torch conducting the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra. This version is noticeably faster, with many of the details by comparison skimmed over, but by virtue of its faster tempo, I was enabled to better receive an overall perspective of the piece.
There are many instances of two or more versions of the same piece in the light music genre, and I have already pointed out some of these in a previous article. However, the differing impressions received, when the two are brought side by side, seem quite extreme in this case, with "Dance of an Ostracized Imp," as I have just indicated.
Which one prefers is a purely individual matter, and I would not wish to influence the readers of this comment one way or the other, as we all have fully valid reasons for our choice.
I would wonder, however, which version Robert was referring to or had listened to at the time he wrote his analysis, which essentially introduced me to the piece.
As one who specializes in light music, I was already familiar with the name of Frederick Curzon, having heard a number of his short novelty numbers, but I fear that his name is virtually unknown to most on this side of the Atlantic, although radio stations were broadcasting recordings of his work despite their general commercial unavailability here.
But the differences between the two versions of "Dance of an Ostracized Imp" are indeed striking for anyone seeking to make a comparison.
Fredric Curzon’s ‘Dance Of An Ostracised Imp’ was, along with Bob Farnon’s ‘Jumping Bean’, one of my very favourite pieces of Light Music as a small child. I must have first heard it from about the age of four or five, and it made very regular appearances on the old BBC Light Programme. Of all the many excellent and talented composers who were active around that time (late 1940s), Frederic Curzon has to be placed very near the top of my own personal ‘Top Ten’, and his output includes some real gems. I hope that Robert Walton might be prevailed upon to include some more of these in his future analyses, which, (and I’m sure that I speak for many), are most informative and enjoyable.Report Comment Link