An article by William Zucker.

Again I turn my attention to some outstanding items in the field of light music, an area that unfortunately has been either neglected or else subject to a degree of condescension.

One might understand better my own stand in this matter when I state that in all genres of music, there is that which may be described as good or on the other hand inferior.  In this case, I make the distinction between these two by stating that in the first case the quality, in a considered opinion, would be that where a lover of serious music would still take a certain delight in.  On the other hand, that belonging to the second group could be described as akin to wallpaper or background music, and necessitating no further attention, except to say that admittedly opinions will differ as to just where this line of distinction should be drawn, as we all hear various musical works in our own manner, listen in regard to our own preoccupations, and most important, form our own images absolutely regardless of what the composer's original inspiration might have been or of any coincidental biographical occurrences.

I should point out that first of all, I am a pragmatist, in the sense that I take music as I find it. That is to say, I lay it out and examine it further to determine its real essence as I see it and how it may be made to best sound.  This perhaps is not as fashionable a view today as it might have been say around the turn of the 19th/20th century, and perhaps in that sense I might be considered an anachronism, perhaps to a degree controversial as well.  But I set my thoughts down to cause people who hopefully read my notes to think, even if they might not accept my premises.  I should hasten to add, perhaps as a consequence of what I have just stated, that I am no friend of any authentic movement, nor do I believe in slavishly following a printed score, including the watermark on the page if it comes to that, without any further thought or asking any questions.  A score at best can be only a rough guide to what is intended; one must be prepared to read between the lines or rather the notes - otherwise a performance will totally lack spontaneity and be rendered as altogether dry and lifeless and without any real interest.

In my descriptions I resort to a lot of technical terms.  There are several reasons for this:

First of all, as I am unable to reproduce in musical notation any examples of what I am referring to, I have to strain to describe exactly what it is that I am endeavoring to point out in any given score.  At the same time, I frequently refer to tonal relationships which I feel is an important factor in any composition.  I mention these because they are a very powerful governing factor in the structure of a piece - in a sense they are our compass points - and in actuality, I feel that it would be desirable in any event for my readers to have at least a very basic knowledge of some of the musical elements when dealing with a piece of music.  There are many books on the subject that will set these definitions down in a manner that the average listener will be able to absorb and understand.

I have gone into this rather extensive dissertation as I have included some new members of my reading audience in these descriptions, so I felt it desirable to give a summary of what my essays on the performances of various works (as well as my impressions of live concerts) are really about.  I will quickly add that I do not do these professionally, but simply share my views with those who are colleagues or interested listeners of my personal acquaintance.

Robert Farnon in his time was a consummate creator of light music of the most engaging and creatively original sort, and his own arrangements of popular standards had a distinction to them not to be found in that of many others engaged in this sort of work.  He performed and recorded with some of the top popular vocalists of the day, but we are here dealing with him as a composer.  I have picked out two of what I consider as among his best single sided selections, although as with any composer, to be perfectly candid, I would never claim to admire absolutely every note he has written any more than I would that of any serious composer - even from the great classical period, and I have written essays on the performance of works ranging from J.S. Bach to Mahler and R. Strauss, and hope to extend this to eventually include such names as Elgar, Sibelius, and Vaughan Williams.   But I should sum this up by stating that I only write such essays on works that have in some way very strongly and favorably left their impression on me to induce me to write such an essay.  I must also confess herein to a certain lack of zeal for many of the fashionable trends in music of today and at least one generation previous.

Anyway, enough of this introductory dissertation and to get on to the pieces I am dealing with here.  I consider Poodle Parade by Robert Farnon as worthy enough to spend time on, and I value it quite highly compared to other similar pieces written in this genre.

We begin with an introduction which immediately gives us a representation of what will become the main material of this piece. It goes through an enharmonic circle flatwards by downward major thirds, which takes three measures to return us to the original key, with the fourth measure engaged in providing a perfect cadence, followed by four measures of accompaniment to set the feeling and rhythmic pace of the whole.  Following this, the piece proper with its main material gets underway.

I must caution the conductor that the tempo - hopefully a suitable one for the general character and mood of the material - once established is never to be varied; there is no place in this entire piece that would call for such bending of tempo despite the contrast of ideas, especially within the middle section, to be dealt with in due course.

The main idea itself is a rather jaunty affair that skips around the range of the instrument executing it, with a liberal sprinkling of chromatic decoration to spice it up.  It is characterized by a certain "joie de vivre" which is very infectious and should be reflected in the performance.

The second strain moves up by sequences for each phrase, and the attendant crescendo should be very carefully graded; at the end of which, following the accent at the mini-climax, it must be seen to that the re-entrance of the main idea following this second strain will not be swamped on its first note.  A certain pulling back is clearly desirable to ensure a clearer re-entrance just referred to, and perhaps the up beat notes might be taken just a bit heavier in dynamics for just that moment, to allow for this.

We now come to the middle section following two transitory bars, in which I must unfortunately state that there are some issues that have come up - not in the piece as I know it, but rather in commentary that I have been reading, which I will get to after first dealing with what is presented first hand.

We have a lyrical theme which contrasts nicely with the sprightliness of the ideas that we have had hitherto.  Quite obviously, this melody should get full priority over everything else that might be taking place at this point.  In the background, we have a rather energetic byplay in the accompanying instruments - this may incidentally serve a function of filling in harmony along with those parts already so engaged. but the chief interest of it is rhythmic.  As such, it must be seen to that it serves purely in that function and is never permitted to interfere with the melody taking place,  The melody itself must be heard in a completely integral manner, so that the last note of a phrase may be heard to progress to the first note of the next phrase despite the break in this melody.  And the background byplay must never be heard independently so that the attention is misdirected toward it.  (I hope that I am making the point I'm struggling to put across.)

As the melody actually has triplet quarters in its course in various places, the four sixteenths per normal quarter in the background may be seen to provide a very engaging rhythmic contrast which should be latently felt, as it will give the melody a character of its own without obtruding itself.  The repetition of what I just outlined is given with further dynamic energy and consequently fuller scoring, but the whole general approach should be exactly the same.

The second strain of this middle section is again in contrast, with a degree of syncopation, and with all instruments participating engaged in the same manner unilaterally so that there is no rhythmic counterpoint involved here.  The modulations by sequence are another welcome change, as to this point we have never left the main tonic F Major.  We return to the lyrical idea with an eventual softening in dynamics and with the last bar before the cadence repeated in a further diminuendo, leading to the reprise which I see as one of the best handled I have come across in this genre; very smoothly done and thus a pleasure to listen to.

The reprise is virtually identical to what we had earlier with the main section, and thus all nuances, etc. should be applied exactly as before.  There is a slight expansion at the end as the main part gets a rather charming cross imitation treatment taking two additional bars (not to be considered as one line as I so often suggest in other situations).  After this cadences, the opening or introductory gesture reappears to round off the piece, and the whole closes with an energetic perfect cadence.

The issue that I referred to regarding the middle section concerns a review of a recorded performance where it is claimed that a counter melody may be heard here that could not be heard in the original recording (the only one I am truthfully familiar with).  I am not in any way doubting the veracity of the statement I read, but I am objectively questioning, and very seriously, the purpose of having a counter melody in addition to what is taking place, especially with the rhythmic complications that I referred to.  As the section as I know it seems absolutely perfect in its presentation, I personally would feel that any additional detail, which I would see as intrusive, would only spoil the effect.  It is possible that the composer had originally conceived the piece with that addition which did not come out in the recording, but based on what my senses tell me, especially after a lifetime in music, I feel constrained to stick to my guns on this issue.  A similar matter has arisen with another work by the same composer, entitled a la Clair Fontaine, where I actually have heard the additional and to me intrusive material, but I will not go into that on this occasion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Let me at this point proceed to the other piece of Mr. Farnon's that I have selected, Pictures in the Fire, within which let me assure that there are no such issues such as I have mentioned regarding this latter piece, at least none that I know of.

Overall, it has a searching, almost improvisatory character that really endears itself, quite different from the usual A-A-B-A configuration that is the usual scheme in most pieces in this genre (akin to a popular ballad).  This piece has a form all of its own, and let me add, I thoroughly enjoy playing this over on the piano (as I hear it - what I hear I find particularly easy to translate, without the aid of a score, as would be necessary in many other instances). The character that I am attempting to describe is akin to many of those ruminative works by Frederick Delius, many though not all of which I can similarly absorb myself in.

Mr. Farnon has frequently departed from or elaborated on the more usual A-A-B-A scheme, and I would like to cite here another conception that I greatly admire - the original elongated version of Journey Into Melody, perhaps less familiar to most, but the overall effect for me is far more interesting and engaging than the more familiar shortened version, as the momentarily ambiguous, searching introduction gives the rest a whole different perspective, and I definitely advocate the retention of this version in the repertoire of those conductors who specialize in the field of light music.

Anyway, getting on with this piece, Pictures in the Fire, I first have to make a general comment regarding tempos.  As the movement overall is quite free, with, as will be presently seen, much in the way of ritards and piu mossos as expressive devices, the most I can suggest would be to adopt a tempo for the respective sections that might seem the most reasonable and rational - neither too slow or too fast - but simply based on common sense when dealing with material of this sort.

The opening idea, which will carry over for a short distance, consists of an arpeggiated motive which reaches out to a note foreign to that arpeggio and repeatedly turns upon itself in basically coming back to that note.

There should be a considerable ritard on the II-V progression as we approach the perfect cadence introducing the tonic D Major for the first time, upon which we may resume the original tempo we started with.  The motive at this point, given by the solo violin (which assumes a primary factor in this piece) is similar to what was offered in the opening and frankly introductory section, but in this instance the arpeggiated motive reaches downward rather than upward as it did at first.

Those who simply read by what is on the printed page and so attempt to analyze what is taking place might be apt to think of this as a sort of counterstatement or response to the opening gesture, but if one actually would use one's ears, one would realize that such an analysis is erroneous.  The tonal movement always plays an enormous role in the proceedings, so that the appearance of the tonic at that point for the first time should be perceived as the point where the piece first really does get underway, regardless of what may take place later on. What the ear will pick up is of paramount importance despite how the composer may have thought of it originally.

The violin solo statement, after that one reference to the opening material, proceeds along quite its own lines, and as we approach the end of this manifestation, we may take a ritard, and especially hold the bars situated on the subtonic C Major before further proceeding.

After the C Natural in the bass has resolved downward to B, the transient modulations or rather key digressions range far and wide.  I would suggest at this point pushing things just a little - very carefully - until we arrive at the submediant major B Major, a relationship which is perfectly chosen, as it betokens a key area directly allied with the principal key, with a total absence of any tonal conflict or polarity.  At this point, we may for the moment settle into a stable tempo, perhaps the same as we had in the first portion.  The bluesy suggestions in the harmony add a tone of wistfulness and are most appealing in this context.

The texture for the moment breaks off and we proceed to an element calling for more earnestness of expression, so once again, we may push the proceedings just a bit, although we are still in B Major.  I of course here refer to the portion where the top part proceeds upwards F Sharp G Sharp D Sharp C Sharp F Sharp B etc.

At the end of this portion we must slow down again as we arrive at a frankly improvisatory display, consisting actually of a double enharmonic circle sharpwards for the most part by major thirds (meaning major mediant to major mediant).  Everyone of the phrases here should be considerably elongated in tempo and thus should increase as we move through the final stage of this, with the reappearance of the solo violin and its replacement by the oboe in the very last measure.

Thus, having come this way in this searching, rather tentative manner, with a considerable (though not excessive!) hold at the very last moment, a D Major chord, that of our original tonic, signifies a return to our original opening for this piece, to be given in precisely the same manner as at first, appropriately to be considered a Come Prima at this moment.

When we arrive at the original perfect cadence we had before and the solo violin re-enters as on the first occasion, after the first arpeggiated downward motive, the aim on this occasion is to sum up the piece as a whole.  We remain on a tonic pedal for the remainder of the piece ultimately to fully cadence the whole plagally.  The violin, after the first phrase, proceeds to rise to the stratosphere of its register, and for this entire statement, from its final re-entry to the closing bars, where it sustains the high D, a heartfelt mode of expression is very much desired here and should be indulged in by the soloist to the fullest - which is of course not to say that the solo violin's earlier appearances should have a lesser degree of expression, but simply that this particular factor is more of an issue here.  And the closing D Major chords by the orchestra will bring the piece to a fully satisfactory conclusion.

I have great pleasure in dealing with material of this nature even though I realize that much of it has fallen out of fashion; fortunately, there are some specialists in this field who are seeking to keep this genre alive.

I must regretfully comment that, while I am from the USA, having gone through examples of light music from various sources, must regretfully comment that the old tradition of both producing light music by skilled practitioners as well as the audiences for such, was always far more advanced in the UK than anything on the musical scene in this country.  This is not to say that we do not have something of our own to show for it - we do, after all, have our own strengths in this area, but I have to note that we have never produced a composer of light music so thoroughly embedded in this tradition than has the UK with Eric Coates, Albert Ketelbey, Edward German, and Haydn Wood, and I could name many others in this category.  The music of Robert Farnon is simply a further development of this same tradition.

Unfortunately, this sort of music appears to have become virtually a lost art, and the audiences for such appear to be not as extensive as in former times.  Personally, I would love to be informed that I am completely wrong in my assumption, with examples to show for it amongst some of our own, although as I will repeat, we do have our own strengths, but of a tradition that has for the most part lesser viability, and regrettably so.

As usual, I welcome all comments.

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05 May

Notes on a Possible Performance of two Leroy Anderson selections, consisting of the Richard Rodgers Waltz Medley (1- Lover, 2- Falling in Love with Love, 3- Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, 4- It's a Grand Night for Singing), and Song of the Bells.

Written by

An article by William Zucker.

I'm sure my readers who regularly consult my notes on the many symphonic works and other staples of the classical repertoire will be absolutely flabbergasted upon discovering what I have now chosen to turn my attention to.

The fact does remain, however, that I will not turn my attention to any piece of music in this manner unless I see some genuine merit that I feel obligated to point out or at least acquaint my readers with. For the fact remains that in all genres of music, form the very serious to the lighter varieties, usually termed "For Easy Listening" (an unfortunately far too all-encompassing term); for all genres of music, there is what can be described as good and bad or rather inferior. I make no apologies for my choices. If a piece of music has communicated itself to me in some way, I like to see if I can share my experience with others.

Read the article here...

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An article by William Zucker.

I'm sure my readers who regularly consult my notes on the many symphonic works and other staples of the classical repertoire will be absolutely flabbergasted upon discovering what I have now chosen to turn my attention to.

The fact does remain, however, that I will not turn my attention to any piece of music in this manner unless I see some genuine merit that I feel obligated to point out or at least acquaint my readers with. For the fact remains that in all genres of music, form the very serious to the lighter varieties, usually termed "For Easy Listening" (an unfortunately far too all-encompassing term); for all genres of music, there is what can be described as good and bad or rather inferior. I make no apologies for my choices. If a piece of music has communicated itself to me in some way, I like to see if I can share my experience with others.

Accordingly, regarding the music I am about to deal with, I propose to proceed along precisely the same lines as I would with a full length symphony. This music that I am presently covering I feel is deserving of the same amount of respect as its more serious counterpart.

Actually, this genre of music has always been with us. It responds to popular taste in a fashion, but the idea is still to produce something that is aesthetically pleasing. We have had in past generations our Johann Strauss, Jacques Offenbach, Franz von Suppe, Franz Lehar, etc., all of whom are given attention by top notch conductors. What we have here is actually no different, if representing a shift in popular taste and focus from former times. Whether such would be possible today under present day artistic trends is a question I am not about to take up at this point.

Leroy Anderson's Richard Rodgers Waltz Medley is an excellent example of the type I feel deserves serious attention. For one thing, unlike so many such show medleys we are subjected to, this one, along with others that Mr. Anderson has produced, are put together with particular care in that the different component sections follow one another in a musically logical manner, rather than simply a hodge podge of tunes following each other cheek by jowl without the slightest concern for the overall structure or compatibility of sections. He has produced several other such musical comedy medleys which show the same artistry and finish, completely the equal of the perhaps more immediately familiar ones (fully as satisfactory if a bit different in approach) by Robert Russell Bennett. I say this despite having known Mr. Bennett over an all too brief period, and having unfortunately never met Mr. Anderson.

To get to the Waltz Medley, it consists of four sections, as indicated in the title of this essay, but the subtitles will not be carried into this essay, as I vastly prefer to deal with it abstractly and simply as a piece of music.

With the first section, the rather jaunty manner of presentation is entirely appropriate, somewhat in the manner of the waltz from Gounod's Faust. As I always exhort, the dynamic markings are all-important and must be observed to the fullest. In turn, those occasional downbeat accents will actually maintain the forward movement in this case.

After the give and take D/A Flat/D Major extension to the forgoing, on the change to G Major for the second section, a carefully graded ritardando should be provided to lead gently into this section.

As throughout this piece, the byplay in the other parts, while contributory in their effect, must still never be permitted to obscure the main melody. The second portion of this melody is presented in a much more energetic setting, made evident by the all-important dynamics, but the tempo should always remain constant throughout this section.

After disposal of this material, there is an anticipation of the melody of the third section, still maintaining the tempo hitherto. Only in the last four measures, on the approach to E Major and the third section, there is a big ritardando on what is melodically at this point as several repeated Bs which of course will recur at the end of the second strain of this melody.

The ensuing section, at least at the outset, is to be presented at a tempo very much slower than the rest of the piece, almost suggesting a 12/8 meter or an adagio. The staccato subdivisions against the second strain of the melody are once again, contributory in effect, never under any circumstances to be distracting from the main melodic line.

After the end of the second strain to this melody, with once again the repeated Bs and the considerable ritardando to the end of the phrase, we move right back to G Major for the last portion, and back to the tempo of the second section, but following this, as we conclude this section, we have to pull the tempo back drastically, to a point even slower than before.

The final cadence, under a series of trills (how Straussian this really is, one must observe), is to be drawn out as much as practicable, and upon the resolution we are back in motion once again. The G in the treble at the outset and the F Sharp two measures later should be only briefly held; the main interest here being the undulating top voices of the harmonies, moving from G Major to B Flat Major to D Flat Major, and with a harmonic curlicue we turn right around, coming to a momentary halt on an F dominant chord, preparing for the B Flat Major of the fourth and final section, where there may be just a brief pause.

At the commencement of the section, the two chords at the outset, representing the first two notes of the melody should be held, perhaps for two measures apiece. The underlying motion for the ensuing section should be a good deal heavier than what we had in either of the first two sections. This is the summing-up portion, so to speak, and the most should be made of it. Once again, the dynamics are all-important and must be observed to the letter.

At the end of the second strain, there is a slight ritard and pause once again, perhaps not as drastic as at the outset of the section. Resuming the first strain, we must give the same emphasis to the first two chords as before. This time, the repeat of the first strain leads to a reminiscence of the melody from the third section, which is the climax of the forgoing.

After we get three-fourths of this reminiscence, there is a subito piano, and from this point we may very gently begin an accelerando along with the crescendo. After the hold on the dominant seventh chord, the section that resolves to the tonic gives us a much faster tempo, to conclude the piece, in a manner hardly at all different from the conclusion of a Strauss waltz.

The piece by Mr. Anderson, "Song of the Bells," may be very profitably considered in direct conjunction with the preceding, to show the strong family resemblance. I myself, in playing this set, transpose this piece to D Flat Major, down a half step from the original, to emphasize this strong family resemblance, as this gives us a much more closely related key following the B Flat Major conclusion of the preceding.

I am also adding this to the essay, as I consider this as one of Mr. Anderson's best pieces, of all the single sided record selections that he has produced. In general, the less explicitly descriptive the music is, the more congenial I find it. In some of his earlier such works, where one might imagine that due to a perceived lack of confidence in the ability of his own music to speak for itself (assuredly groundless), he resorted to various gimmicks, adding some sound effects which in this humble opinion, only succeeded in spoiling and defiling his work. There is no such problem here; one must only see to it that the bells and tam-tam are never permitted to overwhelm the overall musical substance.

With the brief introduction, we are immediately made aware of a feature almost always present, in that the second bar of a two bar set frequently gets an accent, leaned toward in the phrase. This effect may be explicitly present, as in the very opening gesture where our attention is immediately called to it, or it may be latent; present but not immediately obvious and not requiring any emphasis - simply an underlying feature that one may note. It is not at all the same as we find in Beethoven's work, where we actually have strong measures and weak measures; each measure in effect constituting a beat. In this case, the first measure of the phrase still constitutes the down beat, except that there is a strong emphasis or latent pull on the weak measures.

The tempo itself is much faster and lighter than that typically given in the preceding piece, more as a lighter French waltz than what we've had previously Otherwise there is little in this first section that calls for further comment.

The Trio section, which for me would be in G Flat Major, comes in two settings, the repeat being highly varied from the first. The so called "bell" effect must be presented so that the melody. with one note per measure, is heard integrally without any interference from any other part in that respect. On the repeat, where this melody now appears in the strings, the byplay in the upper parts, should be heard sufficiently only in order that there is the proper lilt to the whole, and the melody still must get its priority.

The reprise, again introduced by the brief introduction we had at the outset, at first proceeds as before, but on its restatement there is a more energetic setting in preparation for the conclusion. On the second phrase of this there will commence a very gradual accelerando and crescendo. After the momentary hold, there is a four bar phrase where the music will momentarily broaden, with the accent on the second bar of each pair; i.e., the dominant seventh chord. At the resolution, the quicker tempo reasserts itself, and may push ever so slightly faster through this final gesture. The B Double Flat of the flat submediant chord should really ring out before the emphatic perfect cadence which closes the piece.

As I may have indicated, we do Leroy Anderson a grave disservice when we think of him merely as a "tunesmith," exampled by those compilations of "your favorite Leroy Anderson melodies" thrown together, one after the other. This is emphatically not what his work was about; there is a very distinctive manner, which can best be appreciate in his arrangements of musical comedy medleys, the Irish Suite, and the like. His best original work will also give us an idea of his capabilities; however, that which had become popular on the hit parade charts back in the early 50's, while recognizably his when his own arrangements are used, do not necessarily represent him at his best, but that is in the nature of things. At the same time, that which he penned in response to the holiday season, also frequently heard in bowdlerized settings, should likewise be heard from his own hands detached from its context. From this point, I leave it to the listener to judge, but I continue to feel that this music should be kept actively alive because it communicates, which is most important. This communication will come about because there is that in the music which responds to a listener's previous experiences and consequent expectations, to a greater or lesser degree. The response to such experiences must always be present, if only to be directly answered or thwarted in some way.

As usual, I am always open to comments.

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29 Apr

The King of Light Music

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Eric CoatesOn BBC iPlayer:- Alasdair Molloy explores the career of Eric Coates.

Although best known for his signature tune to Desert Island Discs and The Dambusters March, Coates's orchestral music is coming back to the concert hall.

Alasdair profiles a man who had to wear shirt, tie and tweed jacket and light up a cigarette before he could sit down and compose, as well as a man keen on photography, fast cars and the Charleston.

Available for the next few days on BBC iPlayer

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19 Apr

Accompanying Gracie

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 View large cover Accompanying GracieThe Life, Times and Music of Harry Parr Davies (1914-1955)

Andrew Everett has written a book about composer and songwriter Harry Parr Davies.

It is available in two formats, either as an e-book at £2.95, or as a paperback at £12.95 plus postage from publishers Authorhouse. However, should anybody like a signed copy, Andrew is happy to supply one for £12 post free.

Furthermore, if of interest, he can also provide a companion to the book, a Powerpoint Presentation with music on CDs.  Andrew can be contacted on 01913730262.

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19 Apr

And The Bridge is Love - English Music for Strings

Written by

English Chamber Orchestra /
Julian Lloyd Webber, Cello and Conductor
Naxos 8.573250

Review by Peter Burt, read it here...

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19 Apr

Cole Porter in Hollywood The John Wilson Orchestra

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Warner Classics 2564627680

Review by Peter Burt, read it here...

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14 Apr

Classic FM Hall of Fame

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Iain Sutherland has announced that six of his recordings which are regularly featured on the Classic FM playlist  were voted by listeners into the list of top 300 titles in the 2015 CLASSIC FM HALL OF FAME.  They are:-


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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 ( 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.