by Robert Walton
When David Rose wrote Holiday for Strings he probably had no idea how much it would influence a whole generation of light orchestral composers. His original formula of a bustling opening and sweeping middle section soon became a universal model. Every light music writer in the 1940s and 1950s fell completely under its spell, especially with the use of pizzicato. Rose’s employment of plucked strings clearly had its classical roots in the popular Pizzicato Polka (Johann Strauss 2nd/Josef Strauss) and in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony.
Even the great Victor Young was inspired by Rose’s format. The unconventional angular opening of his Bright Lights gives the impression of a modern piano concerto. Certainly you couldn’t hum the repetitive segment of Bright Lights like you could Holiday for Strings, but the idea is obviously borrowed from the English-born composer. It’s a sort of 20th century Bach playing with polyphony.
Then suddenly the rhythm section with a rhumba beat sounding like an introduction to The Trolley Song, announces the imminent arrival of the eagerly anticipated middle section. We are immediately enveloped by Young’s dazzling arco string extravaganza, while the ‘piano concerto’ style of the first part continues in an accompanying role, skillfully incorporated into the mix. Listen out for a suggestion of Ellington’s I Got It Bad and a touch of Trevor Duncan’s High Heels?
So what’s Victor Young going to do now? Why, get the orchestra to play 16 bars from the top! That’s what. You might well say, “it goes on a bit”. But clearly Young knows what he’s doing because it all makes musical sense. Then the piano is given a solo spot playing the first half of the middle section. There’s every likelihood that Ray (“Sparky’s Magic Piano”) Turner was the pianist often heard with Young. The strings dying to rejoin the orchestra become subtle opportunists weaving their way back in and eventually succeeding. Guess what happens in the coda? You’re absolutely right; those 16 bars are brought back and neatly finish the job. I expect by now you’ll be able to whistle that difficult phrase!
Victor Young might have been indebted to Rose, but at the same time he in turn created a classic unlike any other in the light orchestral canon.
Bright Lights (Young) from The Golden Age of Light Music “The Composer Conducts”
Available on Guild Records (GLCD 5214)
I do not like to advise others how to listen to or receive a piece of music, nor do I feel that I properly should. However, there are a few things in this article I pick up that I feel should be clarified so that there are no misunderstandings.
In the last article of Bob's that I commented on; Gordon Jenkins' "Green," the piece was in the cracks of my memory. Although I had the particular Frank Sinatra album from which it came, the piece did not leave a sufficient impression on me to offer a fully detailed comment, and under those circumstances I felt that it would be unfair to do so, but simply bring up general factors, in that there were wide differences of approach between us.
With this piece now being discussed, the matter is different, as I have over the years become familiar with it, having cultivated it actively through repeated listening, as it represents a side of Victor Young that is quite atypical, especially in the opening and closing sections and where this material reappears during the course of the piece.
Moreover, my familiarity with the selection came not from one of the Guild recordings, where it was buried in a miscellany through random selection, but rather from an actual Victor Young album entitled "After Dinner Music"
(American Decca - catalogue number DL 8350).
To begin with, Bob brings up an alleged influence of David Rose through his "Holiday for Strings," by virtue of the pizzicato writing in the sections I alluded to above. As I had stated in a previous comment, we simply cannot make any assumption of where the influence came from simply by virtue of an incidental feature which incidentally plays a far different role in the two respective pieces, and the musical style of the two arranger/composers is widely different so that the creative impulse could in all probability be very different. One can only say that it might or might not have been influenced by the earlier piece - one cannot say for certain - but whenever we hear pizzicato strings in one of these settings, we simply cannot automatically point to the David Rose piece and leave it at that.
I could name a number of other pieces in the light music genre that make heavy use of pizzicato string - Leroy Anderson's "Jazz Pizzicato," Camarata's "Pizzicato Rhumba," Percy Faith's arrangement of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm"
(original version), and could probably name several others with further thought. How can we possibly say that any of these were directly influenced by the David Rose piece without further information from the composer/arrangers themselves? The most we can say is that David Rose might have used his piece as a blueprint for subsequent pieces, and might one add, not in every single instance - there are plenty of arrangements and original pieces by Rose that are recognizable as his without the use of what are commonly regarded as his "trademarks."
Nor can we use the Tchaikovsky and Strauss examples as influences from the classics, as there are plenty of others one could cite: the closing section of the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, or a portion of the reprise in the Bergamasca from Respighi's Suite No. 2 of Ancient Airs and Dances.
Moreover, it should be assumed that all these individual who create or arrange are intelligent musicians who reasonably should know all the orchestral instruments at their disposal and what they are capable of, so that the matter of chronology or "who came first" would not even be a factor.
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I tend to look at this piece as with any other from the point of view of the material and structure rather than from the instrumentation. I see two contrasting elements; one that uses pizzicato in an aggressive, rather percussive manner, with the tritone harmonies continually clashing, and as it were, quite atypical of Victor Young and what most would expect of him. The other section is very sweet and lyrical, quite mellifluous, in fact, and this gives us a bit of a repose from the nervous energy of the other aspect of the piece.
Bob describes that restless, pizzicato section as a "piano concerto," which had me scratching my head and wondering if we were in fact listening to the same piece, and if so, what he might have meant by that description. And as for the more lyrical section, I would respectfully suggest that the Latin rhythm background could better be described as a "beguine" rather than a "rhumba" as in Addinsell's "Festival" and numerous other pieces, and I'm sure others would agree.
On the second appearance of the lyrical section, a piano does take over the honors; something that Mr. Young often features in his arrangements; for example, in the "Love Theme from the Glenn Miller Story" by Mancini, "Beyond the Sea" by Trenet, and his own "Theme for Love." The pianist might have been Ray Turner who often appears in Mr. Young's arrangements, especially his older ones, but it might just as easily have been Harry Sukman who also worked very closely with Mr. Young. In the absence of further information, it is not possible to determine directly who that pianist might have been.
I hope that I have cleared up any misunderstandings that potentially could arise in this article, and if in turn I have presented any information that is demonstrably incorrect, I will be more than pleased to acknowledge such and correct the information I presently have.
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