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22 Apr

Dance of the Blue Marionettes

By  Robert Walton
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(Leslie Clair)
Analysed by Robert Walton

After constantly analysing a great deal of light music in all its diverse forms, it’s always nice to return to the comfort zone of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, rummaging through its archives for more marvels I may have missed. Such is its worldwide reputation, it’s one orchestra always guaranteed to give a perfect performance with state of the art compositions. One such classic is Dance of the Blue Marionettes written by Leslie Clair. His real name was Leslie Judah Solley (1905-1968) who was at one time an MP for the Thurrock constituency of Essex.

Cinema organist Sidney Torch recorded an old-fashioned syncopated version of Dance of the Blue Marionettes in 1933. Fourteen years later in 1947, Torch having reinvented himself as a light orchestral composer, again had a part to play, albeit a smaller one as conductor of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. You would have thought Torch was in the ideal position to score it himself but it was not to be. Instead, one of the best backroom boys in the business, Len Stevens, fulfilled that role creating a brilliant makeover of Dance of the Blue Marionettes. In a slower tempo than the original, he gave it the wash and brush up it badly needed. Composer Clair couldn’t have dreamt of the result. Ironically it sounded very much like a Torch arrangement full of invention, crispness and wit. So with that in mind let’s dissect it and investigate the anatomy of a marionette.

Pizzicato strings, flute and muted brass set the scene in an unusually long introduction (12 bars) including a particularly skilful section just before the start. The composition promises to be a great little workout for all concerned. The opening of Dance of the Blue Marionettes is identical to the first two bars of Music, Music, Music, but there the resemblance ends. We continue with that toe-tapping tune completely comfortable and contented in its new clothes. In bar 9 to avoid monotony that same tune is heard in a new key. Then sensitive strings come into their own with 8 bars of gorgeous sweeping brushstrokes acting as an excellent contrast. So back to the familiar strain low lighted with a bass line of sustained strings.

Warm woodwind repeat the strokes in closer harmony but the strings can’t resist the chance to show how it’s really done. The whole thing is then repeated (except the warm woodwind) until we finally reach an imaginative fun-filled coda and Dance of the Blue Marionettes comes to a carefree close.

I can’t think of a better example of a 1930’s tune being transformed so deftly into the 1940s when light music truly came of age and sounding quite at home in its new surroundings. This was an undoubted triumph for boffin Stevens!

Dance of the Blue Marionettes can be heard on “Childhood Memories” on Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5125).

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