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05 Sep

Moonglow/Theme from “Picnic”

By  Robert Walton
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(George W. Duning)
Analysed by Robert Walton

One of the most romantic scenes in cinematic history has just got to be the moment William Holden sensuously dances with Kim Novak in the 1955 film “Picnic’. From a laid-back piano/guitar quartet playing Will Hudson’s 1934 standard Moonglow, emerges George Duning’s glorious melody of the theme song from “Picnic”. This is one of the most effective musical juxtapositions of all time. The haunting orchestration was by Arthur Morton.

On the flipside of a Brunswick 78rpm disc No 05553 is the full version of the Theme from “Picnic” featuring the composer conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra. Although you’re getting your money’s worth in its completed form, to hear it with Moonglow is an experience not to be missed, particularly the constant jazzy phrase first heard in bars 7 and 8. The atmosphere is electric especially when the strings make their 6-note entry in ascending thirds in the key of C on the chord of A minor 9,11. So let’s take a closer look at this double whammy of keyboard and orchestra with Morris Stoloff conducting the Columbia Pictures Orchestra.

It’s the contrast of small group and orchestra that is the perfect musical balance for underscoring the action. The first time I heard the strings creep in was a total surprise and revelation. If the quartet with its Teddy Wilson-type piano had just continued playing while they were dancing it would have been satisfactory, but the bonus of strings added an extra ingredient to the mix, making it special. George Duning was spot on. This very lyrical strain was perfect for the job but Steve Allen’s words for the McGuire Sisters’ didn’t exactly catch on. The romantic aspect had been sealed with a “smooch of strings” which seemed to go on forever. The George Cates million seller wasn’t a patch on the other George’s version.

It’s difficult to explain why, but this is a typical Hollywood sound. Couldn’t be anything else. The ultimate in schmaltz you may say. Part of the explanation I think is the simplicity and yet the modernity of the melody. Perhaps it’s because it’s based on a song. After all, As Time Goes By literally made “Casablanca”. There are very few English movies that fall into that category. One that comes to mind was Malcolm Arnold’s “Whistle Down the Wind” theme but it didn’t have the American touch. The Los Angeles string sound is nothing like London’s. You just know when you hear it. It’s perhaps more alluring.

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