23 Jun

Dancer at the Fair

Written by

(John Fortis)
Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

As well as developing and refining light orchestral music, Robert Farnon brought the genre to a whole new level. However we mustn’t forget it was actually David Rose who pioneered a totally original form of light music that even now in the 21st century remains unchanged and relevant. (It’s a similar situation to the standardization of the big band style in the 1950s that is still part of our culture)...

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(John Fortis)
Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

As well as developing and refining light orchestral music, Robert Farnon brought the genre to a whole new level. However we mustn’t forget it was actually David Rose who pioneered a totally original form of light music that even now in the 21st century remains unchanged and relevant. (It’s a similar situation to the standardization of the big band style in the 1950s that is still part of our culture).

The fast pizzicato opening and the slow sweeping arco middle section of Holiday for Strings stimulated a whole generation of post-WW2 composers and arrangers. And lovers of light music weren’t disappointed either. To prove it, a million of us purchased a copy of the 1944 hit record. But more than that, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that even writers with an old-fashioned style couldn’t help but being influenced by the unique Rose format. In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that all light music written after that time was affected in some way. Here’s a good example.

Starting with the sound of rustling in the woodwind and pizzicato strings, immediately after two soft cymbal strokes (quite common in the early days of 78s), a solo flute emerges to play a bright exotic tune with a persistent rhythm over the tonic chord, like a muted Sabre Dance. But as well as that, there is a definite touch of the chords of the Latin-American tune The Breeze and I. Woodwind and strings are brought together to repeat the melody. A flute provides some decoration before the next section.

And taking a leaf out of Rose, we slip into the bridge for a little string lushness supported by the ever-faithful woodwind. As the brass enters, the Latin beat becomes evermore marked. In a way the influence of Bolero is heard. It’s strange but until I studied it more closely, Dancer at the Fair of 1947 had always sounded quite dated.

A distinct break then occurs after which we head ominously to the underworld, courtesy the cellos. The next sound could almost be the start of the 5th theme of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but we’re soon back in the land of Rose. We’re in the final stretch now as the brass booms in, heralding a repeat of the first chorus ending with one soft cymbal stroke.

Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra made several 78s for HMV including Dancer at the Fair that was a very popular novelty number in the early years of the BBC Light Programme and has truly earned its place in the annals of light music. “Memories of the Light Programme” EMI 8 27260 2

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18 Jun

Some Further Notes on Robert Farnon's "Seventh Heaven"

Written by

by William Zucker

I have read Bob Walton's article on this piece, and am induced to provide further notes and impressions on it, as I have long considered it one of Robert Farnon's best selections, judging from my own vantage point of serious music, as I feel that it exhibits a strong feeling of direction and purpose, most particularly in the latter portion of the piece...

Read Mr. Zucker's article here...

Mr Walton's article "Sevent Heaven" can be found here...

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The article "Seventh Heaven", an analysis by Robert Walton can be found here (Ed.).

by William Zucker

I have read Bob Walton's article on this piece, and am induced to provide further notes and impressions on it, as I have long considered it one of Robert Farnon's best selections, judging from my own vantage point of serious music, as I feel that it exhibits a strong feeling of direction and purpose, most particularly in the latter portion of the piece.

These notes are intended to be strictly complementary to Bob's notes, and I have found nothing in them to cause disagreement, but rather for me to approach it from a different perspective, as my mode of analysis is of necessity quite different from Bob's, as I have pointed out on numerous past occasions.

First of all, I have to refer to the provenance of the recording. In a recent article I referred to the fact that many recordings released here in the USA were ambiguous as to their actual origin. I am aware of the musicians' strike that occurred in the late 40's to early 50's, during which period all recording for the purpose that "Seventh Heaven" and other selections were created had to be recorded abroad under assumed names such as in this case the Danish Radio Orchestra under Robert Farnon being presented as the "Melodi Light Orchestra" under "Ole Jensen." This is all very slowly being sorted out today, but I should mention that according to my friend Graham Miles' notes, the recording of this piece was issued in 1952, and here in the USA, an album containing this selection (the second of two albums under these auspices) appeared on the market in approximately late 1954 to early 1955. Very interestingly, regarding both of these albums, which incidentally appeared here with the name "Queen's Hall Light Orchestra" given as the performing group, with no further information about the conductor or any other specifics, also appeared in piano sheet music form, almost exactly as appearing in the albums, with the same selections and composers in the same respective order - totally unexpected, and quite a boon for anyone with a particular affinity for this genre of music.

Getting back to the musicians' strike for a moment, I should point out that we had one of our own immediately after the war. I didn't know too much about it at the time, being still in my early teens, but from what I subsequently ascertained, many recordings were made during this period that could be presented in broadcasts but were prohibited from commercial release. Undoubtedly many pirate recordings did circulate, but I can say that to this day I am discovering recordings made during that period that I had never heard of, some of which I found quite surprising.

In any event, I would suspect that Bob, who had a background in radio broadcasting as I did not, would have far more insights into these issues than I would have, and in any event I would prefer to concentrate on the music itself.

To begin, we get a preview of the main idea with its first phrase at the very outset, along with those downward arpeggio type flourishes that Bob refers to, completing the introductory portion, following which the piece gets under way.

The main idea is notable by a series of sequences following the initial rise upward, and this is repeated extending a step further up to start from a higher point, thus culminating on a different degree of the scale to pass into the next section.

This latter contrasts with the preceding in that the melodic movement is far more stepwise and conjunct than hitherto, with those repeated notes that Bob mentions, passing us into different remote keys that can be quite difficult to trace without sheet music for assistance. Especially at the end of this section, where for the moment we find ourselves back on an F pedal (F being the key of the outset of the piece), the sensation here is of having momentarily lost our way, somewhat similar to an effect I pointed out some time ago in a comment on Peter Yorke's "Melody of the Stars." But this "lost our way" effect can easily be thought of as something cleverly conjured by the composer, who was a master of this sort of effect (think of the middle section of "Promise of Spring," another of his better selections).

The tension and uncertainty is immediately resolved by the reappearance of the main idea, now stated in the horn to give it a degree of prominence which it clearly must have against the rather heavy accompanying background. What also immeasurably helps to this end is the harmonic step from F to B Flat which is a natural resolution; B Flat now being the key for the remainder of the piece.

After the full statement is disposed of, the aim is now not to once again head into uncertainty but rather to sum up everything, to pull it all together, which in this case I feel is phenomenally successful. One could point out the appearance of the main idea in augmentation, and also the final appearance over the tonic pedal with those Neapolitan and other flatward harmonies leading to the final B Flat chord, but for me, everything from the moment that the horn appears to restate the main idea to the very last note is rock solid and is subject to the highest praise as far as I'm concerned. This is what actually "makes" the piece for me. And in general, I find myself liking it far more than "Melody Fair" which Bob has also compared it to.

As far as the matter of this orchestra not having the same feel and "fit" with this material as the actual Queen's Hall Light Orchestra as Bob claims, for me the musical results sound entirely acceptable for the purpose, and I have always enjoyed listening to these recordings whatever their origin, so I would prefer not to nitpick on this issue but to simply enjoy the result as I receive it.

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11 Jun

Seventh Heaven

Written by

(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.

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(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.

The earlier New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra existed from around 1916 until 1927 for the performance of Chappell Ballad Concerts. But in 1942 a new aggregation on the block was born, comprising many players from London’s symphony orchestras. All it needed now were conductors and composers but there was no shortage of them. Charles Williams took care of the first batch of 78rpm discs and later Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon added their considerable talents. The results of this teamwork became legendary and almost overnight modern state-of-the-art light music in its finest form came like a bolt from the blue into the 20th century. Like big band music of the time it never really dated. The sounds it produced were out of this world. The old-fashioned compositions of the 1930s and before were now just a memory.

But sadly this state of affairs was not to last. A dispute with the Musicians’ Union in the late 40s forced publishers to switch their recording sessions to the continent. This unfortunately had its downside as European orchestras weren’t capable of interpreting light music in quite the same way. Hence the “electricity”, “feel” and indeed expertise established by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was simply not replicated by the new orchestras. And it showed. But before we examine Seventh Heaven, let’s find out the origins of the title.

Being in seventh heaven is a state of ecstasy or perfect bliss. The term occurs in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Heart of Midlothian” Chap.33 (1818) - ‘You may go to the Seventh Heaven’. It may also have been popularized as “Seventh Heaven”, the title of a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell silent movie (US 1927). But the concept of a seventh heaven is an ancient one. In the Jewish and Muslim religions there are seven of them. The Jews also call it ‘the heaven of heavens’ where God and the most exalted angels live. The division probably derives from an ancient Babylonian theory of astronomy in which the seventh ring of stars was the highest, and represented supreme bliss.

Going straight in, the main melody acting as an introduction, sets the scene for a glamorous Hollywood premiere, pageant or show. Then the strings effectively play two muted “fanfares” over which descending broken chords prepare for the official tune. This typical Farnon surge in a very danceable tempo like Melody Fair is propelled along by the rhythm section. It’s as if Seventh Heaven has just been unleashed and found a new freedom. There’s also a feeling that “everything in the garden’s lovely”. In other words ‘all is well’ with the world.

The tune literally sparkles under Farnon’s floodlights and then a beautiful key change tells us we’re well and truly on our way in one of his famous “travels into tunes”. Then, unusual for this type of majestic piece, the melody loosens up with three staccato string notes repeated after another key change. A climax takes us into an exclusive universe where we are free to wallow in the world of Robert Farnon. The horns join in for yet another chance to hear this gorgeous tune gradually slowing down and working towards a fabulous finish but not before the strings show who’s really boss!

It may not have been the pre-1950s magical Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, but I have to admit the performance was very good. Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of the composer himself conducting at the recording session, because the Danish State Radio Orchestra played so well!

Seventh Heaven
“Pink Champagne”
Living Era
CD AJA 5470

Following this article, William Zucker was induced to provide further notes and impressions on it in a follow-up article "Some Further Notes on Robert Farnon's "Seventh Heaven"". His article can be read here.

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10 Jun

Stephen Hough's Dream Album

Written by

Hyperion CDA68176 (80:03)

Cheshire-born Stephen Hough is high in the crowded international pantheon of outstanding concert pianists. His latest album is a real winner: - no fewer than 27 tracks of personal favourites, including his own transcriptions and variations on well-known classics...

Read the review here...

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31 May

Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra May Concert 2018

Written by

Another twelve months have sped by, and it was time for the 2018 May Bank Holiday concert performed by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra...

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Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra  May Concert 2018
Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra May Concert 2018

Another twelve months have sped by, and it was time for the 2018 May Bank Holiday concert performed by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, which took place once again in the Gallery of Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, in North London. This house has a long history; it dates from 1582 and was briefly the home of King Charles II's mistress, the famous (infamous?) Nell Gwyn, whose ghost is reputed to haunt the building even unto this day!

Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra  May Concert 2018
Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra May Concert 2018

Uncharacteristically glorious weather encouraged an excellent turnout, including several from the LLMMG (and their guests) and an unexpectedly large number of most welcome 'first-timers', in addition to many loyal 'regulars' – some of whom have supported every single one of these concerts during the last sixteen years.

As one of woefully few contemporary exponents of the Palm Court genre, the orchestra always manages to surprise and delight its audiences with new material, which is continually being added to an already extensive repertoire. This year's programme was no exception, and much of the music was totally new to the players!

Their mission is to feature compositions which have been totally forgotten or ignored, alongside more familiar favourites, and these can range from 'the highlights of the Palm Court era to the delightful but obscure', to quote from their concert programme.

Amongst the roll-call of 'more familiar' composers were to be found the names of Jack Strachey, Vittorio Monti (of Czardas fame), George Gershwin (his opus 1, Rialto Ripples) , Albert Ketelbey, Matyas Seiber, Oscar Straus, Haydn Wood, (who lived for some years in Highgate, quite close to the venue), Gerhard Winkler and Cole Porter.

In addition to the purely instrumental pieces, the proceedings were - as always - enlivened and garnished with some songs from Liz Menezes (who also plays second violin) and Camilla Cutts.

Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts
Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts

As has been remarked upon in the past, the members of the ensemble perform with great competence and enthusiasm, and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra can arguably be regarded as one of the very best of its type.

Congratulations and very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and his players for another splendid and extremely enjoyable afternoon of wonderful music.

© Tony Clayden 2018

Pictures courtesy of Brian Luck

Footnote – The ADRO will be our guests at the next LLMMG event in October, at our usual venue in Central London - click here for full details.

As part of the Camden Fringe Festival, they are also giving two concerts at Burgh House, Hampstead, North West London, on Sunday 19th August, at 2.30 pm and 7.00 pm - click here for full details.

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21 May

Laramie

Written by

(Cyril Mockridge)
Al Caiola’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Of all movie music there’s nothing so instantly recognizable as a western theme. This is because many of the best stories of the Wild West captured the ultimate desire and desperation of the human spirit to journey into the unknown in search of a better life. This was the dream of millions of Americans.

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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.