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25 Aug

The Bad and the Beautiful

By  Robert Walton
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(Raksin)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Robert Farnon was one of the first light orchestral composers to come up with a most original idea. He found that a complicated beginning of a piece (almost atonal) not only provided a sense of risk-taking like a high wire act, but kept the listener guessing as to where it would finally alight in a normal tonal context. His Manhattan Playboy has all the elements of such a format in which the opening bars of the actual tune are a sort of boppish free fall before landing in the safety net of the home chord. The effect of all this was mind-blowing.

The same thing effectively happens in the haunting theme The Bad and the Beautiful from the 1952 film of the same name, although this is a much slower tempo. It’s a more meandering tune than David Raksin’s masterpiece Laura. For the first few bars of The Bad and the Beautiful we’re on a restless (some might even say “reckless”) Raksin flight of fancy with the blues overtones of Harold Arlen. This is a ravishing piece of writing and I was totally captivated. After all this tension, the “sun” suddenly comes out courtesy of a French horn and we’re at last happily ensconced in a key of contentment. Still in the same key a solo violin keeps us on the straight and narrow giving an edge to the music, enticing us back to the exotic. We’re immediately whipped away from our comfort zone by a dance band-sounding muted trumpet into a repeat of that elaborate opening.

Now strong strings in close harmony play an absolutely gorgeous middle section of crying and sighing. Perhaps it should be called a “bridge of sighs”. No need to consult your physician as it’s only a case of cutis anserina (goose pimples). A perfect moment to compare the much improved recording quality of the Rose Orchestra of 1953 with that of its first attempts just ten years earlier. I’ve never quite understood why the quality of Rose’s early work, both in performance and recording quality, was sometimes not quite up to scratch on those old 78rpm discs. Other orchestras of the same period seemed to produce better results.

The sensitive violin is back for 5 bars of the start, after which the rest of the strings bring us neatly to a conclusion, and on the way, echo the opening of Artie Shaw’s Frenesi. However we’re still not quite finished as the horn quotes the opening.

This has been an extraordinarily sublime experience and one that I am unlikely to forget. Hollywood and Raksin are at their best. We owe an enormous debt to film soundtracks.

The Bad and the Beautiful (Raksin)
David Rose Orchestra
“Great American Light Orchestras”
The Golden Age of Light Music
Guild (GLCD 5105)

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