31 Oct

The Great British Mood Music Album - a comment

By  William Zucker
(6 votes)

I have read Bob Walton's article with interest, and although I have already left a comment, I indicated that I might wish to expand on it once having looked at the article in closer detail.

I gather from his comments that he gives the palm of outstanding song writing and quality songs to American song writers while on the other hand that of quality instrumental mood music composers to those in the UK.

I had indicated something along those lines in an article that was published in the JIM magazine several years ago, implying that relative strong points in the genre of light music received different respective emphasis in the USA and UK, although I was thinking of purely instrumental selections, citing the pre-eminence of outstanding arrangements of popular standards by American arrangers and a more advanced tradition of light music compositions within the UK.  This is the common assumption, although in both cases, I would venture to say that the opposite is definitely true as well - put a little more directly, I would say that here in the USA we have our Leroy Anderson, Morton Gould, Camarata, David Rose, Victor Young and Percy Faith, etc., as regards original work, all figures whose work shows considerable individuality, while in the UK there are arrangements of popular standards by such men as Robert Farnon, Mantovani, George Melachrino, and Stanley Black which are viable as well.  Thus there is really no monopoly on either aspect of light music despite the fact that different emphasis has been applied in different areas in the two countries.

Now, as far as popular standards go; yes, many of these have certainly made their way in the sense that they have caught on with the general public who can unthinkingly sing or hum them, with or without the lyrics.  Different people may have different preferences in this area as is always the case, but as far as what may be considered greater or rather more popular with a larger percent of the general public, exactly as in serious music, I like to think of this phenomenon as a certain greater versatility of contact.  Please note that this does not take into account inherent quality which again comes from how a listener of some experience receives the song or selection in question.

It should be borne in mind that a song writer is a very different sort of musician from a serious composer or arranger.  Very often, his work is totally dependent on a skilled arranger to make its way - something that those who unthinkingly sing or hum it to themselves might not be aware of.  A song writer can be a musician of considerable substance, as was the case with the likes of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml and Sigmund Romberg (in the UK there are Eric Coates and Haydn Wood as examples), or they may be someone who simply hacks out melodies which are catchy in themselves but otherwise lacks basic musical skills - some of these, such as was Irving Berlin, do not even have the ability to read music. Still others, like Richard Rodgers, may fall somewhere between the two extremes but still whose work is best left to top notch arrangers.  The point I am making here is that the two aspects in song writing - constructing a melody that immediately catches on with the public and the musicianship required in providing a suitable setting for these melodies are totally separate and do not necessarily go hand in hand together.  This is something many of us tend to forget, and as a result are guilty of this sort of erroneous thinking.

The best example of this distinction that I can provide is with Richard Rodgers, who as I just stated, falls somewhere in between the extremes of substantial composer song writers and melody hacks.  In the case of Rodgers, we can listen to the magnificent settings by such as Robert Russell Bennett, Andre Kostelanetz and Morton Gould, and later with Leroy Anderson, and contrast these with recordings made by Richard Rodgers himself performing some of his songs at the piano with an orchestra.  This latter may be an interesting historical document, but from a musical standpoint, many who relish the well crafted arrangements by the figures I just named might be turned off by the excessive blandness of Rodgers' presentations, oftentimes bordering on insipidity.

As I stated above, UK composers of light music Eric Coates and Haydn Wood have notably written songs of their own, some of which have even caught on, although I couldn't say whether in the composers' own settings.  In any event, I personally choose to deal with these two figures as full fledged composers of pieces of some substance of which they have shown their full capabilities.

"The Great British Mood Music Album" deals with composers who have contributed to the Chappell Library of Mood Music performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra.  Bob has mentioned a number of these composers whose contributions have considerable value, but I feel that other composers not forming a part of this group should be mentioned as offering works of equal substance and value, at least in my opinion.

Of those that came out of this Chappell group I have already mentioned Felton Rapley, one of my own personal favorites, and in this connection, Joyce Cochrane should also be mentioned, as one who was an actual composer of substance as well as a melodist.

Of those who did not work out of this group, we have Ronald Binge and Richard Addinsell, although I should also point out that both George Melachrino and Mantovani, far better known as conductors, were actually in addition composers whose work show considerable skill and insight. Ronald Hanmer (nee Bernard Landes) is another figure who deserves recognition along those lines, though not part of the Chappell group. Lesser lights might include figures such as Ray Martin and Malcolm Lockyer.

Bob's article I felt was well thought out and I found nothing whatever to criticize within it, but I felt that certain points made called for an expansion and further explanation of some of these points.

William Zucker

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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.