CASCADES TO THE SEA
(Robert Farnon)
Analysed by Robert Walton

I first found the title Cascades to the Sea quite by chance while searching for information about Robert Farnon in K B Sandved’s superb 1954 encyclopedia “The World of Music”. It was then described as a tone poem. Also mentioned were Farnon’s first two symphonies, some études and several comedy symphonettes that at the time were all a complete mystery. However the aforementioned Cascades to the Sea (1944) from which came In a Calm, bears little resemblance to a later composition of the same name. In fact the two Cascades were composed more than half a century apart. The second completed in 1997 emerged as a piano concerto or to be exact, a tone poem concerto for piano and orchestra.

Before we take an in-depth look at Cascades to the Sea, allow me to provide you with Farnon’s description and inspiration for the work:

“The music begins at the spring above a mountain stream which makes its way downhill, gradually gathering in quantity and speed to the edge of a waterfall. From there it plunges down, giving the river its own rhythm and currents as it follows a route created millions of years ago. Carving its way through mountains, meadows, rapids and deltas, it finally arrives at the open sea joining forces with an outgoing tide, flowing to the tranquility of a distant horizon”.

So let’s make a closer examination of Cascades to the Sea. The opening spellbinding (“waiting for something to happen”) chord has Farnon’s DNA written all over it. Pianist Peter Breiner tickles the ivories with the harp and together they trace a tapestry of trickles in the treble from a subterranean source. Some solid brass chords reminiscent of Stan Kenton, quote the start of Debussy’s Nuages. Throughout the work, the piano’s constant presence never lets you forget who’s in charge. An oboe keeps things moving towards what sounds like the first chord of Laura.

Then after some exciting piano, from the depths of the earth the Farnon strings rise up majestically making their presence felt in no uncertain terms with all the controlled intensity they can muster. It’s a unique sound in music. For the first time in the work, Farnon has laid down his format. After more sparkling piano, the strings and brass again powerfully push upwards, supported by the horns. The piano plays a thrilling scale passage with a touch of classically trained Carmen Cavallaro. In fact right through Cascades to the Sea you’ll hear more showy embellishments in the Cavallaro manner.

Then suddenly the orchestra sounds an alarm warning the listener of possible trouble. Don’t worry, not a problem. I suspect we’ve just reached the edge of the waterfall. All part of the grand plan. Now it’s become calm again and displaying another facet in the Farnon firmament is the seductive flute. This is followed by the oboe accompanying the piano. The strings, horn and piano play a lovely joyous melody that we’re going to hear a lot more of.

After a distinct break, (mind the gap) the piano has a short solo passage. It’s all so beautifully pianistic but not surprising as Farnon’s ability for writing for any instrument is legendary, though this is the first time I’ve encountered such an extensive work of his for the keyboard. After two more pauses, the piano plays some Bach-ish runs. Just after the catchy tune receives its most prominent exposure from the orchestra, listen for a simply gorgeous symphonic moment. The soloist echoes some of Farnon’s early decorative devices before the composer with tongue in cheek deliberately cuts short some phrases. After all this activity we eventually arrive at a typically peaceful Farnon passage with the piano, strings and woodwind. It’s back to more Farnon tremors with a further quote from the now familiar melodic fragment followed by an exciting mix of brass and strings. The solo piano plays the merest suggestion of All the Way. Some Debussyian bell-like chords soon attract the attention of the strings.

Then the penultimate Farnon surge with brass, strings and an ominous oboe while the piano continues to exercise its authority. The orchestra very gradually builds up to an absolutely thrilling ending with a difference - more an afterthought really. With single notes, the piano gently leads you to a totally unexpected experience. It’s the last thing you’d expect at the end of a piano concerto - a violin solo! The most moving moment in the entire work. In Farnon’s world that means one thing - a sublime weepy affair. It succeeds admirably and depicts a consummate convergence with the sea, where fresh meets salt. Also it’s probably one of the longest codas ever heard in a Farnon composition.

From a lowly spring to the mighty ocean, we have completed our fourteen minute journey with our guide, the piano. I hope the various signposts along the way have been helpful in identifying approximately where you are in the music at any given moment.

When I first heard Cascades to the Sea I must admit I found the piano part a bit hard to assimilate, but now after repeated playings, I have completely changed my mind. It has grown on me so much that it is unquestionably one of Robert Farnon’s finest creations and one of the most unusual piano concertos in the repertoire.

Finally, I must congratulate the Slovak pianist Peter Breiner on his brilliant interpretation of a very demanding work. And equal praise must go to the composer’s son David, who did a magnificent job conducting the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra and keeping the whole thing flowing. Cascades to the Sea deserves to be heard and performed much more!

Cascades to the Sea from
“The Wide World of Robert Farnon”
Vocalion (CDLK 4146) Also on Google.

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Jan Stoeckart (November 1927 – January 2017) was a Dutch composer, conductor and radio producer, who often worked under various pseudonyms, including Willy Faust, Peter Milray, Julius Steffaro and Jack Trombey. Graduating from the Amsterdam Conservatory in 1950, he began his career as a trombone and double bass player, and as a music producer for various radio shows. He composed and arranged for Dutch films and brass bands, and worked with the Metropole Orchestra and the Dutch Promenade Orchestra.

In the early 1960s, the conductor Hugo de Groot introduced Stoeckart to the de Wolfe music publishing house in London, and he obtained a contract to compose library music for that company. He wrote in excess of 1200 works; his biggest success was with Eye Level, the theme tune to the British TV series Van der Valk in the early 1970s, penned under the name of Jack Trombey.

The piece became a big hit with viewers and record buyers, and the recording – made by the Simon Park Orchestra – reached no. 1 in the UK singles charts in 1973.

As Julius Steffaro, Stoeckart composed theme and music for the famous Dutch TV series "Floris", 1969, starring Rutger Hauer and directed by Paul Verhoeven.

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A cold, wet, and windy Sunday February 26th saw a second concert of British Light Music performed by the Mark Fitz-Gerald Orchestra. The venue was once again the British Home and Hospital in Streatham, South-West London. The event followed-on from the success of the first concert in 2016, and was held in aid of funds for the Home.

The programme, which was devised – as before – by Ian Finn, included a number of well-known Light Music compositions, together with some lesser-known works.

After the introductory piece, Theatreland by Jack Strachey, (which has now become the orchestra’s signature tune !), we heard Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz, followed by The Three Bears – A Phantasy by ‘The Uncrowned King Of Light Music’, Eric Coates.

This work has an interesting history. Originally composed in 1926, Coates made a new recording for Decca in London’s Kingsway Hall in 1949, featuring a revision of the foxtrot section [sub-titled ‘The Three Bears make the best of it and return home in the best of humour’]. The brass accompaniment is re-scored to become ’jazzier’ than the original, complete with the use of swing rhythms. It appears that Coates approached Robert Farnon, saying ‘I can’t write jazz, would you mind rewriting this for me? ‘ Bob duly obliged, although he was un-credited on the record and Coates never mentioned his assistance; apparently, it was kept a secret between the two men for many years!

Mark Fitz-Gerald was anxious to use this revised version, and although several enquiries were made, no trace was found of the sheet music. Mark therefore resorted to listening to Coates’ recording and transcribing it for performance at this concert; he told me afterwards that he believes he has achieved a pretty accurate replication of Bob Farnon’s arrangement.

We were treated to two solo piano interludes by Stephen Dickinson, featuring compositions by Billy Mayerl. In the first of these, we heard the famous Marigold – and Autumn Crocus. Later on in the programme, Stephen played Shallow Waters and Evening Primrose. A very keen gardener, Mayerl named many of his compositions after plants and flowers!

The orchestra continued with a very interesting, although little-known, work by the London-born Herman Fink – ( he of In The Shadows fame) – entitled The Last Dance Of Summer ; this was followed by the March from Trevor Duncan’s Little Suite, very familiar due to its use as the signature tune for the television series Dr. Finlay’s Casebook.

Next-up was a composition by ‘our own’ Brian Reynolds – Elizabethan Tapestry, in a arrangement made for Brian by the late Cyril Watters. We were then treated to a lesser-known but lively composition by Derby-born Percy Eastman Fletcher, from his suite of Three Light Pieces, entitled Lubbly Lulu, after which the members of the audience were encouraged to join-in with singing the lyrics of John Bratton’s world-famous Teddy Bears’ Picnic – which they did, lustily!

From the set of Nell Gwyn Dances by Edward German we heard the Pastoral Dance, following which a member of the string section, the soprano Tessa Crilly, stepped forward for a lovely rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night from the musical show My Fair Lady, by Lerner and Lowe.

The next item was by a ‘local boy’ – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who spent much of his tragically short life in nearby Croydon. From his well-known Petite Suite de Concert, we heard Sonnet d’Amour.

Stephen Dickinson then joined the ensemble for a performance of Percy Grainger’s ‘clog dance’ Handel In The Strand. Although scored for full orchestra, the piece was notable for not including the double basses!

The final ‘billed’ item was another Eric Coates masterpiece – in fact probably one of his most famous and frequently-played tunes – the march Knightsbridge from his London Suite.

After a rousing response from the audience demanding an encore, Mark Fitz-Gerald and his orchestra brought the proceedings to their final conclusion with the well-known Jamaican Rhumba by the Australian composer Arthur Benjamin.

It was great to be present at this most enjoyable afternoon, presented by an such an enthusiastic musical director – and champion of Light Music – and his excellent orchestra, and it is hoped that they will return once again in 2018.

Very many thanks to Mark Fitz-Gerald, to Ian Finn, and to the British Home and Hospital at Streatham.

© Tony Clayden
February 2017

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(Mourant)
Analysed by Robert Walton

For many years I have been meaning to analyse Walter Mourant’s Ecstasy but somehow I never got around to it. I can’t believe I left it so long, because it’s one of the few openings that made such a lasting impression.

The first time I heard it was in 1958 when I was an announcer in Whangarei, New Zealand, at 1XN Radio Northland. Those were the days before sealed airtight cubicles when there was an open window in the studio overlooking an attractive garden and heavily wooded hills. Very civilized! Incidentally four years before, sitting in that very same announcer’s chair was Corbet Woodall later to work for BBC Television in London as a newsreader. We were both learning the ropes of broadcasting on live radio. I met him only once in 1976 at his Marble Arch delicatessan in London.

The 78rpm Brunswick disc (05153) in question featured clarinetist Reginald Kell with Camarata’s Orchestra. As I placed it on the turntable and cued it ready to go on air, it was just another recording.

After a few seconds of introduction, mysterious high strings carried me off to another world. I was hooked. Harmonically it kept wandering off into Debussyian byways as well as quite a bit of diving down, but always returning to the home chord on a major 9 like Poinciana. And speaking of Poinciana, occasionally you’ll hear the David Rose string sound. Some of the chords reminded me of Tony Lowry’s Seascape. I wasn’t a bit surprised that Tutti Camarata was in charge as every aspect of the recording indicated quality.

Then taking over this meandering tune, Kell makes his first appearance with the orchestra and is soon joined by a violin, with which he produces an atonal moment. After going totally solo for a few bars, the clarinet is once more partnered by the orchestra. Note Kell’s distinctive vibrato for which he was famous. From here right until the end it’s the mournful clarinet of ‘roving’ Reginald playing the melody supported by those now familiar harmonies.

At this juncture it might help to give you a brief bio of the comparatively unknown American Walter Mourant (1911-1995) who began his career in jazz. One of his best-known works was Swing Low Sweet Clarinet performed by Woody Herman and Pete Fountain. Clearly Mourant loved writing for the clarinet. Also his chamber music and orchestral compositions are well worth Googling. Various assignments included arranging for the Raymond Scott Orchestra at CBS and composing a March of Time theme for NBC.

Ecstasy is that the somewhat dreary second half of the arrangement does not fulfill the initial promise of the ecstatic opening. In spite of that, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand but still recommend you to give it a listen and enjoy.

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By Robert Walton

During the 1990s while living in Bath, my wife and I regularly attended the winter series of symphony concerts at the Colston Hall in Bristol. We always sat in the same seats in the choir stalls behind the orchestra facing the conductor. To all intents and purposes we were part of the percussion. In fact a certain timpanist was constantly tuning up. We were so close we could follow the music on his stand. We saw many of the world’s famous orchestras and conductors. Some Russian and East European orchestras were clearly struggling financially because their music was obviously well worn, not to mention their threadbare dinner jackets, but it didn’t affect their performances in the slightest.

And talking of Russian music, a member of the audience who sat right up at the back behind us looked the image of Tchaikovsky! And he never missed a concert but I’m sure he had no idea he looked like the great composer.

Which brings me to the noted popular 20th century composer-arranger-conductor from Webster Groves, Missouri, Gordon Jenkins who certainly didn’t look like him. His music though clearly caught the essence of Tchaikovsky. Jenkins’ detractors often unkindly placed his name at the top of the schmaltz lists. He might have been a 20th century clone of Tchaikovsky but cleverly incorporated the Russian’s style into his own compositions and orchestrations in his own individual way. In fact he could be said to have kept romance alive and well.

Jenkins’ Green from “Tone Poems of Colour” conducted by Frank Sinatra was inspired by a poem of Norman Sickel, a one-time radio scriptwriter for Sinatra. This 1956 recording session with a symphonic- sized orchestra celebrated the opening of Capitol’s new pancake-shaped skyscraper in Los Angeles known as Capitol Records Tower.

At the opening and closing of this tone poem, some Jenkins one-finger piano was required, but the man himself wasn’t available. So Sinatra’s pianist Bill Miller brilliantly simulated Jenkins’ so-called hunt-and-peck piano style (like a hen searching for food, the finger creeps along the keyboard ready to ‘pounce’ on the next note). When sad strings enter I dare you not to be moved. This is followed by the heavenly oboe and flute. You may hardly notice the French horn playing a legato counter-melody but without its contribution it would seem incomplete.

When the strings get even more aroused, the emotion generated is conspicuously overwhelming by its presence. So moving in fact, it’s beyond words and tears! This is what music is all about. We have been elevated to a higher plain in much the same way as Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony does.In fact Green could be described as that work in miniature. The horn continues to decorate, adding its own special hue to the mix. The essential Jenkins has now come to life with this sublime songlike strain. I know Pyotr Ilyich would have approved. Listen out for a bit of Borodin (Stranger in Paradise)in slow motion borrowed from ”Prince Igor’s” Polovtsian Dances.

And with a definite pause, the second part of the melody doesn’t disappoint, continuing its dramatic journey downhill played by unison violins at the bottom of their range. We assume the orchestra is preparing itself for a big ending. “But no!” as Danny Kaye might have insisted. After numerous comings and goings with the said woodwind, strings and horn, stand by for two more thrilling string flourishes. The horn and flute finally bring Green to a gloriously peaceful close. But not quite. Bill Miller’s single note piano has the last say but not in its normal middle register. This time it’s uncharacteristically higher than usual.

If you’ve never heard any Tchaikovsky or indeed the 6th Symphony (ThePathétique) I can’t recommend Green highly enough as the perfect Tchaikovsky taster. If you like this, you’ll adore the real thing!

Green, originally from “Tone Poems of Colour”
Capitol (CDP 7 99647 2)
Also on “Scenic Grandeur” from Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5145)

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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.