John Suchet –

THE LAST WALTZ – The Strauss Family and Vienna

Hardback  277pp   ISBN:978-1-78396-116-0

Published by Elliott and Thompson,  London,
in association with CLASSIC FM RADIO.

Price  £25.00

Having written six books about Ludwig van Beethoven, upon whom he is an acknowledged expert, John Suchet has now turned his attention to the Strauss family –  ‘dynasty’ as he describes it – and the Vienna of the nineteenth century.

It’s somewhat strange that the history of such a prolific group, (whose music is so well-loved and  has maintained such universal enduring popularity), should be  relatively unknown.

But a really fascinating story it is, and  Suchet  chronicles  it in an eminently appealing way. He has quite  obviously  ’burned a lot of midnight oil’  researching his subject.
 
We learn about  the two ‘Johanns’, father and son, together with Josef and Eduard, who at times were anything but a ‘happy family’, riven by tensions, feuds and jealousy, against the backdrop of a country undergoing an enormous upheaval as it hurtled, seemingly ‘kicking and  screaming’,  towards the twentieth century.

Throughout this personal and political chaos   the Strausses continued to write the waltzes to which the Viennese – anxious to forget their troubles – danced and drank champagne !

The book is beautifully presented, and lavishly illustrated.  Although not inexpensive, it is definitely a worthwhile addition to every serious music enthusiast’s library  and would make a wonderful gift.

Tony Clayden
©  June 2016

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02 Jun

Classic fm - 'David Mellor's Light Music Masters'

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Coming up on Classic fm -
'David Mellor's Light Music Masters'

Saturday 4 June, 9pm

David begins his survey of Light Music with a man who helped put the genre on the map – Arthur Fiedler.

He came out of the violin section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and went on to direct the Boston Pops Orchestra for 50 seasons. The composer and the orchestra even hold the Guinness World Record for the largest single audience for a classical music concert – an incredible 400,000 people.

Tonight David will tell their story and play the music that made them so popular. Instantly recognisable and timeless pieces include I got Rhythm with Earl Wild on the piano, and Jaloussie by Jacob Garder, which went on to be the first 78 to sell a million copies.

Saturday 11 June, 9pm

In the second programme in this new series, David Mellor shines the spotlight on one of the finest Light Music composers of the 20th century: Eric Coates. Coates was recognised throughout the word for his his hummable tunes and brilliant orchestrations, both of which we’ll hear in abundance tonight. But as David promises to prove, there’s more to this English composer than his Dambusters March and London Suite. Join him to discover some surprising stories, which are guaranteed to make you hear Coates’ music in a new light.

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15 May

Tarantelle Styrienne (Debussy)

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Orchestrated by Ravel
Analysed by Robert Walton

If ever there was a musical composition that captures a perfect moment of ecstasy, it just has to be Debussy’s Tarantelle Styrienne, but you’ve got to be quick. Blink and you might miss it! It gives a whole new meaning to the so-called excitable state. And if it hadn’t been for Ravel’s brilliant 1923 arrangement we might have never heard it. It was originally an early Debussy piano piece written in 1890 while at the Paris Conservatory. He was hoping to capitalize on the French love of the exotic, but rarely gets a mention in any books about his piano works. At the time, Debussy was having difficulty putting food on the table so there was some urgency about it. We owe everything to Ravel for drawing it to our attention and indeed bringing it to life. Well, that’s not quite true. We must thank the publisher Jobert for his suggestion to get it orchestrated.

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Orchestrated by Ravel
Analysed by Robert Walton

If ever there was a musical composition that captures a perfect moment of ecstasy, it just has to be Debussy’s Tarantelle Styrienne, but you’ve got to be quick. Blink and you might miss it! It gives a whole new meaning to the so-called excitable state. And if it hadn’t been for Ravel’s brilliant 1923 arrangement we might have never heard it. It was originally an early Debussy piano piece written in 1890 while at the Paris Conservatory. He was hoping to capitalize on the French love of the exotic, but rarely gets a mention in any books about his piano works. At the time, Debussy was having difficulty putting food on the table so there was some urgency about it. We owe everything to Ravel for drawing it to our attention and indeed bringing it to life. Well, that’s not quite true. We must thank the publisher Jobert for his suggestion to get it orchestrated.

There is no evidence that Debussy had either been to the province of Styria, in the south east of Austria or heard any music from there. As far as we know he simply borrowed the rhythm from the Italian tarantella and moved it, musically speaking, lock stock and barrel to Austria. Having said that, it’s not far from the Italian border. Vienna might be the home of the popular waltz but we are treated to a typical Neapolitan dance in 6/8 time, effectively a fast waltz. So if you haven’t already heard it, prepare yourself for one of the most amazing experiences you’re ever likely to encounter, albeit briefly.

Right at the outset I had better warn you not to expect too much in the transports of delight department. Ravel’s economic scoring is one thing but any ecstatic outburst is usually brief as in real life, and beautifully reflected in TarantelleStyrienne. In fact there are only two moments in the whole piece when the orchestra really takes off - shortly after the start and near the end.

A French horn opens up this exciting dance movement but you have to wait another 40 seconds before the strings come into their own with the first glorious 10 second outburst of pure joy. At that point one feels it could have been developed into a more complete melody. However, if any piece produces the feel-good factor then this is it - more the feel-fantastic factor. I briefly go into a sort of trance, accompanied by a rush of adrenalin with the biggest smile on my face. It’s almost as if I have been given a glimpse of the meaning of life or the secret of the universe. This pentatonic-type tune (black notes of the piano) owes much to the Scottish and Irish song style. Could this be the first of the rousing themes heard in Hollywood westerns in embryo? Perhaps it’s an early form of The Big Country by Jerome Moross or the orchestral impression Canadian Caravan by Robert Farnon. Anyway, food for thought as we eagerly await the final appearance of another fleeting moment of exhilaration.

So while we’re waiting, let’s examine what master musician Maurice has in store for us. Firstly there’s never a dull moment with an exquisite Ravel orchestration. His ability to mix and match the strings, woodwind, brass and percussion are legendary. With Debussy providing the groundwork, Ravel breathes new life into the original piano score. It’s a moving strict tempo kaleidoscope of orchestral colour with ever changing textures of light and shade. So it’s never boring but always building up to the next climax. When the brass plays, the by now famous short radiant tune, it hasn’t got anything like the impact of the string passage, so it’s back to the ‘wild’ waltz for some more gorgeous highs and lows. We are so mesmerized by the oboe that the rhythm seems to have disappeared. That might be the impression given, but the subtle fiery dance continues unabated. Gradually we become aware of this extremely successful exercise in the merging of two great musical minds. And all the while the music is working up to a final frenzied state, generating all that energy in just a few bars. As Count Basie would say: “One more time!”

After a distinct pause, stand by for your very last chance to wallow in what must be one of the shortest and most thrilling string phrases in all music.

One of the best versions ofTarantelle Styrienne is by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Simon on Cala (CACD 1002).

On Google, the orchestral version is conducted by Alessandro Crudele, but if you want to hear the original Debussy piano piece you can follow the music as Zoltan Kocsis plays it.

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13 May

Gershwin in Hollywood

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The John Wilson Orchestra
Warner Classics 0825646493739

75-minutes of great tunes from musicals such as ‘Girl Crazy’, ‘Funny Face’, ‘An American in Paris’, ‘Shall We Dance’, and ‘Star!’ with 17 tracks including They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Aren’t You Kind Of Glad You Did?, ‘S Wonderful,  and  For You, For  Me, For Evermore.

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30 Apr

Three English Dances

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by Roger Quilter.

For many years I have wondered why it is that whilst Roger Quilter possessed considerable talents as an orchestrator, this well-known work is almost always performed in an orchestral arrangement by Percy Eastman Fletcher.

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by Roger Quilter.

For many years I have wondered why it is that whilst Roger Quilter possessed considerable talents as an orchestrator, this well-known work is almost always performed in an orchestral arrangement by Percy Eastman Fletcher.

The mystery was finally solved recently when I happened to be in contact with Dr Valerie Langfield, who is a music teacher and tutor based near Manchester. Dr Langfield has taken a great interest in the life and work of Quilter, and is the author of a very comprehensive and highly-acclaimed biography of the composer.

The definitive answer is that the Dances were originally conceived and written for full orchestra. Percy Fletcher was then commissioned to re-score the work for much-reduced forces, because it was considered likely to maximise its potential for sales and hirings in that form.

(It appears that Fletcher often undertook arranging work of this kind. I have come across another example - viz. his orchestral arrangements of some pieces by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, which I believe were made after their composer’s death).

The original full-orchestral score was never printed, and because it only exists in manuscript form it is seldom, if ever, performed.

Roger Quilter himself made and published further arrangements for solo piano and piano duet; the latter was given by Dr Langfield and fellow-pianist David Owen Norris at a Quilter festival some years ago.

Tony Clayden
© April 2016

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29 Apr

Mind If I Make Love To You

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(Cole Porter)
Pete King’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

For many years now my Guild collection of the “Golden Age Of Light Music” has been providing me with a perfect soundtrack for afternoon tea. But more than that, it has become something of an everyday quiz for country folk, in my case living on a farm at the edge of Europe in the far west of Ireland. I try to identify the tunes, composers, arrangers and orchestras from a vast treasure trove of titles. This virtual ‘university’ of music helps to maintain the brain as well as entertain.

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29 Apr

Robert Farnon’s ‘Prelude to the Lake of the Woods

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On February 25th 2016, a performance of Robert Farnon’s  ‘Prelude to the Lake of the Woods was given in Kenora, Ontario, Canada.

Our concerts are held in Knox United Church in Kenora, Ontario. The orchestra is the Thunder Bay Symphony. Thunder Bay is 550 km east of Kenora; it is part of their mandate to perform in the smaller communities in Ontario.

We have had the orchestra perform here for over 35 years. This concert featured the composition by Robert Farnon,entitled Prelude to the Lake of the Woods, which is where Kenora is situated. The lake features 14,524 Islands and goes as far south as Minnesota in the USA.

The composition by Robert Farnon was found in the archives of the local museum.  We couldn’t find the individual parts anywhere, so we had the score transcribed for the Symphony. This was a very successful evening as it not only featured the music but outstanding photographs of the lake area.

We are not 100% sure that Robertever visited the area, however, after setting the music to the photographs we have convinced ourselves that he must have. The pictures were shown on a large 75”  TV sitting on top of the organ console that is visible in the right corner of the photo.

Len Mark
April 2016

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28 Apr

Alan Bunting 1939 - 2016

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Alan Bunting was born on 1st August 1939, in Blackminster, Worcestershire. What was destined to become a lifelong interest in music began at a very early age, and after leaving school he worked for a time in a record shop.

His military service was spent in the Royal Air Force, where he trained as a ground crew communications technician, and upon discharge he joined the BBC, initially working in Cardiff, South

Wales. By 1969, he had moved to Scotland, where he eventually became an Audio Manager for the Corporation in Glasgow.

After around thirty years’ service, he was offered an early-retirement package, and this enabled him to set-up ABCD Enterprises, to specialise in digital restoration and re-mastering of audio recordings.

The following years would see him undertake work for many record companies, particularly those which were involved in the re-issue of vintage and back-catalogue product. These include such labels as Living Era, Naxos, Must Close Saturday, Retrospective, HEP, Memory Lane, Jasmine, Cherry Red, Sackville, Spotlite and Mastermix, encompassing a wide range of musical genres.

In 2004, together with the late David Ades, Alan was instrumental in the establishment of the Golden Age of Light Music series of CDs for the Swiss-based company Guild Recordings. Although it was initially envisaged that he would be mainly involved in carrying-out the digital restorations, Alan soon brought his considerable knowledge of Light Music to bear upon the repertoire side of the series as well. As time went by, the project virtually became a ‘joint venture’ between the two men.

It is doubtful if the phenomenal success of this series could have been foreseen at the time of its inception, but to date a total of 135 discs has been published, containing well in excess of three-thousand tracks – a unique and magnificent achievement.

After the sad death of David Ades in 2015, Alan assumed overall management of the series, and it was agreed that I would assist him, writing the booklet notes and contributing to the choice of repertoire. We soon established a good working rapport, and as a result of this new collaboration, a total of seven further CDs was produced. We were in regular – frequently daily – contact, discussing new ideas and planning for future releases.

Alan owned a huge collection of recordings, largely in LP format, and was constantly on the lookout for more material. He was particularly interested in the career and music of the Canadian conductor and arranger Percy Faith, of whom he had an encyclopaedic knowledge, and was responsible for creating the much-acclaimed Percy Faith Discography, containing copious information about Faith’s enormous recorded canon.

Alan also made significant contributions to the discography of fellow-Canadian composer, arranger and conductor Robert Farnon, and was an enthusiastic member (at a distance) of the Robert Farnon Society. When the latter ceased operations in 2013, a number of former members helped me to set-up the London Light Music Meetings Group to continue the twice-yearly events, and Alan was very encouraging about the new venture, taking a great interest in its progress.

Over the years, Alan developed consummate skills in the art (and science) of audio restoration. He used a number of proprietary hardware and software systems, including the well-known CEDAR. He was always striving to improve his techniques and would often spend hours to eliminate noise, clicks, pops and blemishes from an individual track.

He came to be regarded as one of the very few top UK specialists in this field and was held in high esteem by his many friends and colleagues in the industry. When his wife Janet sadly passed away about six years ago, he threw himself back into the work he loved so much, regularly working through the night to meet deadlines.

Alan suddenly became ill just before Christmas 2015, and as his condition worsened, he was admitted to hospital at the beginning of January 2016. Although the cause of his severe infection was never fully established, he was discharged about two weeks later, even though he was still quite

unwell. Although in increasingly severe pain, he immediately resumed work, and was able to finalise the fourth-and-final volume of ‘100 Great American Light Orchestras ’ for Guild; this was one of the last tasks he undertook before he collapsed once again and was re-admitted to hospital. Sadly, his condition continued to deteriorate and he passed away on March 16th.

Because of the great geographical distance between us, Alan and I never actually met, but through emails, and particularly telephone calls, we struck-up a good friendship over several years, and discovered that we had a number of common interests in addition to our shared love of music.

We are very fortunate that Alan has left us a wonderful legacy in the form of all his audio restorations. The world of recorded music is greatly impoverished by his passing, and I’m sure that I speak for very many when I say that he will be greatly missed.

Our sincere condolences are extended to his sons David and Gareth, his daughter Jane and his grandchildren.

Tony Clayden © April 2016

Footnote: Volume 4 of ‘Great American Light Orchestras’ is scheduled to be issued later in 2016, and arrangements are in hand to continue the Guild ‘Golden Age Of Light Music’.

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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.