Analysed by Robert Walton
I can’t believe I have only analysed one Campbell composition. That was Cloudland for the 186th edition of JIM. Disgraceful! So it’s high time I rectified the situation and wrote another one. There’s no doubt Robert Farnon’s music had a huge influence on Campbell’s creations but at the same time over the years Campbell developed an instantly recognizable style. Like Farnon, he inherited the elements of good taste, mainstream modernity and above all quality.
Just to remind you of Bruce Campbell’s connection with this highly specialized music. He was a fellow Canadian who came to Britain some years before Farnon and played trombone with well known British dance bands during the 1930s. Later as an arranger, Campbell assisted Farnon on radio, films and recordings and as composer became a regular contributor to mood music libraries. So let’s dissect one of Campbell’s most beautiful waltzes. He obviously had a knack for unusual titles too. Of course the idea for this title was borrowed from the traditional start to ‘fairy’ stories that has existed as a phrase for centuries. One of the first times it was used was in George Peele’s 1595 play “The Old Wives’ Tale”. 360 years later Campbell coined the phrase Once Upon A Dream.
There are two ways of introducing this piece. Either go straight from the top, or supply a few gentle warm-up bars to meet and greet the tune. The latter was Campbell’s wise choice. Judging from the gorgeous 4 bar opening, the harmonies suggest he was a jazzman at heart. Although basically a dance in three-quarter time, Once Upon A Dream is taken strictly in rubato tempo which does full justice to this laid-back hypnotic melody. It almost has overtones of church bells. Sensitivity is the name of the game here. The sheer lack of a steady “Silvester” beat is the very thing which brings it to life. This is purely rural music with not a hint of people, vehicles or cities. I know because I live in the country. So all those requirements are fastidiously taken care of by Bruce Campbell. Perhaps it was his Celtic DNA kicking in. The tune has a similar opening shape to Give A Little Whistle.
The melody gives the distinct impression it wrote itself. Calmly wending its way over the musicscape, the listener can easily trace the tune in what seems like a familiar strain. I vividly recall hearing the strings for the first time and getting the same feeling. There’s an undeniable freshness about the orchestration too, especially its simplicity. In fact it shows there’s no need to score intricate harmonies for such a basic tune. At bar 25 of a standard 32 bar chorus, listen out for a sublime moment before the tune first comes to a halt. This is in fact is the climax of Once Upon A Dream. Producing such an effect is like the magic emanating from the pages of a children’s story. I find it difficult to contain myself at this point.
Meanwhile manning the middle section, a flute forages in the leafy undergrowth of the woodwind section. This is answered by the rest of the orchestra. Eventually a horn and flute bring us neatly back to the beginning for some more glorious sounds. Once again we can wallow in those beautiful undulating string phrases. I just can’t wait to hear a repeat of that burst of brilliance just before the coda.
With a little help from Farnon, Campbell has again not only written some excellent production music, but also captured our hearts in one of his most radiant of miniatures.
Available on New Town:
Production Music of the 1950s
Guild GLCD 5224
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