Analysed by Robert Walton
As I’m sure you know, I get a great kick out of analysing light orchestral pieces, especially ones that are jolly and cheerful. Without doubt Mannequin Melody fits into that category perfectly. In fact it puts one instantly into a good mood. This Clive Richardson composition contains many of the qualities of the 1940’s Golden Era, including the presence of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Robert Farnon. You can’t ask for more than that. So let’s take a closer look at this latter day classic Mannequin Melody from 1958.
The piece opens with two sustained notes from the bassoon whilst the violins illuminate the chords with some appropriate lively decoration. Flying flutes flutter down to join one of light music’s most stylish tunes, Mannequin Melody. And there’s nothing quite so effective as a melody played by unison violins. They might be playing in the middle register region of the keyboard, but they give a definite impression of lower strings. Being on the same note creates a far more dramatic sound than if they were in harmony. (Just listen to the Melachrino Strings). This simple format really does give the tune the ultimate in exposure. Note on bars 7 and 8 of the first outing of the melody a pizzicato reminder of Holiday for Strings. Big Brother David is watching!
So let’s continue this soaring syncopated strain by one of the masters of this most British of genres. It depicts the post-war era when models on the fashion fairways were of normal size, not dangerously thin and certainly not looking miserable! Returning to the melody, the one-note violins magically metamorphose into harmony with the woodwind briefly taking over before repeating what the pizzicato strings were doing.
The sound of vibes and harp herald a full 32 bar middle section, much of it borrowed from Richardson’s own 1946 prototype Melody on the Move with strings, woodwind, muted brass and vibes. A case of recycling. If you listen carefully you will even hear echoes of Holiday Spirit.
Then it’s back for a final single-note saunter along the catwalk with the three main constituents, Clive Richardson, Robert Farnon and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, all adding their expertise to the finished product. This tried and tested formula works every time.
This Chappell recording of Mannequin Melody is available on the Guild CD “A Box of Light Musical Allsorts” (GLCD 5157)
Regarding Robert Walton's excellent analysis of Clive Richardson's "Mannequin Melody" prompts me to ask what the original purpose of the tune was? It might be for a movie scene about mannequins. Please explain further, if possible. Thanks!Report Comment Link
It is amazing to note how these purveyors of light music selections that we love to listen to were at the time they appeared were able to shake them out of their sleeves effortlessly, in a manner of speaking, one after the other, as would not be possible given today's artistic climate - a truly lost art; although, as I like to imagine, one that may have a renaissance in a future generation, exactly as did ragtime a generation or two back.
But there is always a danger, at least to the listener of today, that many of these selections after a time would tend to sound somewhat generic, almost as copies of one another - listen to one selection by composer A and another by composer B, and after a while saying, "I've heard this before, many times." I have to confess that on occasion I get that feeling, against my better judgment.
I very strongly feel that the only way to forestall this would be to listen to a whole selection of these pieces by any given composer, to finally be able to say by any individual listener that such and such composer really has a degree of individuality to his/her writing or is simply following an established formula. In my opinion, the two factors have to be kept in a healthy balance.
But as I have just stated, one needs to listen to a group of selections by a given composer to determine which factor that I referred to is the more viable. And this is not easily facilitated given the format of these recordings currently recordings to get the feel of a composer's creative bents.I remember back in the days a few years ago when I was contributing to the JIM magazine, I got embroiled in the controversy of single artist vs. multiple artist CD's. Although I expressed my preference for the former, outlining my reasons for such, I had to ultimately acquiesce on this issue as general feeling among letter writers favored the latter. In fact, this issue was the only occasion where I found myself in very sharp disagreement with David - it almost came to verbal blows at one point - and I had to back off from it and promise never to refer to it subsequently, although my feelings here continue as before. I would actually invite debate on this issue, as I really hold the opinion that if one finds any sort of affinity with a particular composer or composers, one should be enabled to easily follow up on it without the necessity of having to negotiate a dozen or more different CD's, unless the composer was singularly unprolific, as has been the case in a few instances.
I personally, when listening to these selections, always seek to find some individual traits that will cause me to return and see how these are applied in other situations. It is inevitable (perhaps) that suggestions of other composers might creep in; it happens after all in the serious field as well, and I frequently point out these reminiscences myself.
But we should not assume that when we hear pizzicato strings it shows the influence of David Rose or a strange turn of harmony that of Robert Farnon - those latter two actually accomplished some amazing things without relying on those trademarks - and I actually pointed this out in a previous article I wrote, in "Nooks and Crannies in the Light Music Genre" or some such title.
I fully realize that many of the points I raised in this comment may perhaps be considered controversial, and I do in fact encourage others to comment back to me so that we may have a healthy debate on these issues in the event of sharp disagreement with any of those that I have brought up here.