05 Sep

Moonglow/Theme from “Picnic”

By  Robert Walton
(0 votes)

(George W. Duning)
Analysed by Robert Walton

One of the most romantic scenes in cinematic history has just got to be the moment William Holden sensuously dances with Kim Novak in the 1955 film “Picnic’. From a laid-back piano/guitar quartet playing Will Hudson’s 1934 standard Moonglow, emerges George Duning’s glorious melody of the theme song from “Picnic”. This is one of the most effective musical juxtapositions of all time. The haunting orchestration was by Arthur Morton.

On the flipside of a Brunswick 78rpm disc No 05553 is the full version of the Theme from “Picnic” featuring the composer conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra. Although you’re getting your money’s worth in its completed form, to hear it with Moonglow is an experience not to be missed, particularly the constant jazzy phrase first heard in bars 7 and 8. The atmosphere is electric especially when the strings make their 6-note entry in ascending thirds in the key of C on the chord of A minor 9,11. So let’s take a closer look at this double whammy of keyboard and orchestra with Morris Stoloff conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra.

It’s the contrast of small group and orchestra that is the perfect musical balance for underscoring the action. The first time I heard the strings creep in was a total surprise and revelation. If the quartet with its Teddy Wilson-type piano had just continued playing while they were dancing it would have been satisfactory, but the bonus of strings added an extra ingredient to the mix, making it special. George Duning was spot on. This very lyrical strain was perfect for the job but Steve Allen’s words for the McGuire Sisters’ didn’t exactly catch on. The romantic aspect had been sealed with a “smooch of strings” which seemed to go on forever. The George Cates million seller wasn’t a patch on the other George’s version.

It’s difficult to explain why, but this is a typical Hollywood sound. Couldn’t be anything else. The ultimate in schmaltz you may say. Part of the explanation I think is the simplicity and yet the modernity of the melody. Perhaps it’s because it’s based on a song. After all, As Time Goes By literally made “Casablanca”. There are very few English movies that fall into that category. One that comes to mind was Malcolm Arnold’s “Whistle Down the Wind” theme but it didn’t have the American touch. The Los Angeles string sound is nothing like London’s. You just know when you hear it. It’s perhaps more alluring.

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1 comment

  • William Zucker posted by William Zucker Tuesday, 05 September 2017 14:06

    For this particular song, may I suggest the (original Columbia) setting by Morton Gould, in his album "Music at Midnight" which is as atmospheric and romantic as one could wish for, and that came out long before this film.

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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.