All Through The Night (TRAD)
Analysed by Robert Walton
If you have diligently followed Robert Farnon’s “journey into melody” career, you will know that one of his favourite composers was Hungarian Béla Bartok. Here’s a very interesting quote from him.
“Folk melodies are a real model of the highest artistic perfection. To my mind, on a small scale, they are masterpieces, just as much as in the world of larger forms, a fugue by Bach or a Mozart sonata”.
That comment could also have been referring to those famous Farnon miniatures of the 1940s and 50s, many of which I covered in the Farnon Society’s magazine JIM. I used to introduce them as “Thoughts, in depth analysis and a reassessment of the music of the gentle giant of the miniature”.
Just a hint of a folksong assignment and Farnon would have his pencil sharpened ready to apply notes to manuscript at the earliest opportunity. Being an arranger, it was perhaps inevitable that this source of music would appeal to him. The traditional Welsh tune All Through The Night (“Ar Hyd Y Nos”) is one I would thoroughly recommend, so stay with me as we look at two things - the tune and the orchestration. Like many of Farnon’s pieces he gave the world the definitive version.
Simplicity is the key word here because there can’t be many melodies in music which deserve that description. The opening violin strains of this haunting piece almost move listeners to a state of inertia. And that’s just the tune. As soon as it’s dressed up in Robert Farnon’s fancy finery, there really is no word that adequately describes the magic it creates. The contrasting orchestral phrase hits you for six, in a subdued, soft hued sort of way. The soloist returns to end the chorus. After a slight crescendo, the full orchestra comes up a gear or two to repeat one of Wales’s most beautiful melodies with some gorgeous undertunes. We have now been transported into Farnon’s symphonic world. Then things slow right down for an important key change. But it’s a return to the violin for a glorious finish.
In 1954 I decided to arrange All Through The Night for our school choir competition. I wrote it in 4 part harmony and my theory was if it was performed basically straight, we had a good chance of winning. In spite of a note perfect and expressive performance, imagine my surprise and disappointment when we were pipped at the post by a choir singing the German hit of the same year The Happy Wanderer (“Val-de-Ri, Val-de-Ra”) originally sung by the Obenkirchen Children’s Choir. We may have lost, but All Through The Night will still remain one of the great traditional tunes of all time.
Our Head of Music had never heard of Robert Farnon, but after listening to his arrangement of Londonderry Air was hooked. One of our pupils, Weston Williamson had certainly heard of him. In fact he played his own piano arrangement by ear of Yes We Have No Bananas note for note with all the right harmonies! No mean feat!
THE SONGS OF BRITAIN Robert Farnon Orchestra CDLK 4174
I am very familiar with the 10" LP "Songs of Britain," with selections arranged and conducted by Robert Farnon. The ones that I particularly treasure in this group are "The British Grenadiers," "Lincolnshire Poacher," and "Early one Morning."
For the beautiful melody "All through the Night," my first exposure to it was during my infant days, barely a melody, when my mother used to sing to me in the cradle. Her range of music was far and wide, and with classical pieces she would often go deeper and even sing some subsidiary themes! That was my first exposure to music and what very early started me on my path in music. However, that is all a distant memory today.
Only a few years ago, in Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall here in New York, I was given a ticket to hear Bryn Terfel - my seat was very front row, ground level, next to the stage, and I heard him sing "All through the Night," which was the highlight of the evening and which I still hold vividly in mind, the more so as I was practically next to him, right in the center!
He was accompanied by a harpist, announced in the program as "The Queen's Choice." I cannot remember the specifics, but my readers will know of whom I am referring to.
I would have to revisit the recording that Bob refers to in order to determine whether Robert Farnon's arrangement would work for me, because that melody was fixed in my mind at a very early stage of my life, so I am not sure whether I would fully appreciate the Farnonian touches.
Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.