By Robert Walton
I don’t know when the expression “The Great American Songbook” was coined and by whom, but a more suitable name for that magical era from about 1920 to 1960 was long overdue. Will Friedwald and Michael Feinstein both use the phrase freely. Before it entered the language, those evergreens, mainly from Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals, were usually described as “standards”. This is the term for tried and tested songs of outstanding quality and originality that have earned their place over the years for their sheer staying power and have become established in the repertoire. But the word “standard” isn’t exactly the most descriptive of names.
On the other hand, “The Great American Songbook” somehow perfectly sums up the entire period. Certainly there’s no denying the best and the bulk of the songs were written by Americans, especially the Big 5 (Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Porter, and Rodgers), so the term is spot on. Although these songs were first associated with singers, a large part of their continued fame is due to non-vocal versions. So without the bonus of instrumentals “The Great American Songbook” wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience. The word “songbook” suggests a massive imaginary tome of vocal compositions each one containing two main ingredients (words and music). But tunes by themselves can be just as potent. Even in an instrumental, the lyrics can be “sung” subconsciously, especially by older listeners without being aware they’re doing it. Younger people will hopefully enjoy the melodies for their own sake.
Andre Kostelanetz may have been one of the first conductor/arrangers to elevate these songs to a new level of symphonic treatment, but it was Paul Weston who invented the mood album concept in 1944 with “Music for Dreaming”, consisting of four 78s. Using the framework of a big band and a string section (a forerunner of the Farnon format), Weston’s arrangements appealed more to those who had enjoyed the swing era. In the process he, and others, gave “The Great American Songbook” more publicity than it could have dreamed of. In fact this constant exposure of standards also acted like a permanent reference point for anyone on the lookout for material.
On the other side of the Atlantic in the early part of WW2, another kind of mood music was stirring, that of the Chappell Recorded Music Library. But this was “pure” mood music designed specifically as background music for films, newsreels, documentaries, television and radio that also generated many memorable signature tunes. Because of public demand, a number of these were released commercially. This particular Golden Era of works by the finest composers, conductors and arrangers has never been equaled. A world away from the light music of the 1930s, these compositions were totally fresh and modern unlike anything heard before.
And the main men responsible for this event were two of Russian descent and a Canadian. The latter, the prodigious Robert Farnon, created a whole new genre of music with his unique melodic and harmonic style. The two other light orchestral composers were Sidney Torch who wrote many original cameos of extraordinary quality, and Charles Williams, another prolific writer who conducted the first recordings in 1942. And proving to be the perfect interpreters of these gems was the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Other talented writers from the same stable included Jack Beaver, Robert Busby, Bruce Campbell, Eric Coates, Frederic Curzon, Trevor Duncan, Vivian Ellis, Philip Green, Geoffrey Henman, Byron Lloyd, Angela Morley, Clive Richardson, Colin Smith, Len Stevens, Jack Strachey, Edward White, Haydn Wood and Peter Yorke.
Many other publishers, composers and orchestras contributed to this vast library of subjects, situations and emotions that lasted well into the 1960s. This twenty-five year phenomenon is unlikely ever to be repeated. Inspired by the title “The Great American Songbook”, this most exclusive and original back catalogue of highly specialized music has more than earned its place as “The Great British Mood Music Album!”
It is wonderful to note that much music of worth formerly inaccessible to us save through radio broadcast or as background or signature use on television programs or documentaries may now be fully accessed by interested listeners thanks to the internet with postings on YouTube; much of this material though not all of it originating in those recently released series of Guild recordings of light music.
One selection I have discovered as a result of my explorations in this area is Peter Yorke's "In the Country," and having found it sufficiently engaging of my attention and interest, I have decided to share a few personal responses to it, as many light music enthusiasts, though familiar with the name of Peter Yorke, might not be familiar with this piece.
I find this to be an absolutely exquisite piece, offering the best to be had in light music, by virtue of its very straightforward manner, in both harmonic language and structure. It is in fact so straightforward that I have found no need to write any sort of analysis of its workings nor include any suggestions to any would-be conductor who delves in this sort of light music as to how to interpret it as it speaks to us so simply and directly that I would hardly imagine that any problems would arise in its presentation. I would hope at this point that there really are some light music conductors who would turn their attention to this piece and others of this nature.
Peter Yorke has been cited for showing many traits of classical music in his original work, in that a number of his selections bring to mind various works from the serious repertoire, although he does not appear to have consciously borrowed some of these traits that would cause myself at least to note such resemblances.
"In the Country" for me brings to mind one of Frederick Delius' best pieces from his earliest period, entitled "Summer Evening," especially in regard to its main idea. Of course the two pieces are very different in scale and different in purpose, but there nevertheless appears to be some resemblance in the sense that I at least seem to receive the same images from them.
The title of the piece does not reflect my reception of the piece, which as I stated, is closer to the "Summer Evening" aspect of the Delius piece. Moreover, I do not at all sense a rusticized country-like atmosphere, but on the contrary an urban environment well peopled, perhaps in an outlying residential area of a large city, on a summer evening to be sure, with people sitting on their porches or standing in the streets and chatting. It was an environment I remember vividly from my childhood back in the wartime and post-war years where urban neighborhoods were like small towns where everyone knew everyone else, and in a sense looked after everyone else, without this anonymity of contact that is more typical in today's society. This music as I listen to it, with both pieces in fact, directly conveys to me the picture I am attempting to describe.
The lesson to be learned from this is that despite a composer having an image in mind upon writing a piece, and advising us what may have inspired him/her to write such, we will always receive it in our own manner, with our own faculties, and form our own mental images, however subconsciously or subliminally. These images are our own; in a sense they are what introduced us to a piece to begin with, and any additional aspects and insights that are later given to us, even if having originated with the composer, may be taken by some to be intrusive and quite frankly, unwelcome. What I am essentially saying is that in regarding a piece of music, we should not become a slave to the composer's description of it, either by listening or by interpretation. Such description may or may not work for us, but in any event, we can only determine such by direct acquaintance with the piece in question.
This piece may be heard as part of an album entitled "Moonfleet," consisting of other selections by Peter Yorke, in all probability performed by Mr. Yorke himself with his own orchestra.
Analysed by Robert Walton
One of the most underrated light orchestral composers, arrangers and conductors of the 20th century was unquestionably Peter Yorke. He successfully introduced the element of surprise into his work and in some ways was even more symphonic than George Melachrino. Yorke was a master of the dramatic gesture. A typical example of what I mean is in “Till The Clouds Roll By” selection. Listen to the connecting passage between Who and Ol’ Man River. Talk about putting an instant stamp on your music. No one slept during a Yorke performance, especially live!
His formula probably had its roots in his 1930’s soundtrack work for British films and especially as chief arranger for Louis Levy’s Gaumont British Film Orchestra. The opening of “Blue Skies” (1946) has a suggestion of “James Bond”, showing that Yorke was clearly ahead of his time. Everything he wrote contained constant references to serious music, and how effective it was. Yorke was also an enthusiast and expert of the big finish. Above all he was a ‘mood’ writer in its purest form.
And for those of you familiar with his film selections, you’ll know, unlike Eric Coates for example, he had a natural feel for jazz, having appeared as pianist/arranger with many British dance bands. His brilliant string writing was full of imagination and humour, but the sound most associated with Yorke, (a total antidote to all the drama) were his shimmering, simmering saxophones. Unlike Wilbur Schwartz’s clarinet lead for Glenn Miller’s reed section, Yorke opted for a pure saxes-only subdivision. Lead by golden-toned soprano saxist Freddy Gardner, there’s never been a blend to equal it in all music. Reverberating around the world, it was one of the most unique sounds in the light orchestral firmament.
From a personal point of view, I owe a lot to Peter Yorke’s film selections, because that’s exactly where I first heard some of the great standards which have remained with me ever since. He had a knack of somehow getting under the skin of a tune and treating it with genuine respect. Also his medley format probably acted as a model for both Wally Stott’s selections for Sidney Torch and his symphonic suites for Stanley Black’s Kingsway Promenade Orchestra.
There’s quite a bit of drama too in the real life story of Yorke. I call it a “Tragedy in Triplicate”. Firstly the maestro himself died at the relatively young age of 63. His soloist, alto sax supremo Freddy Gardner passed away at 39, whilst Yorke’s stylish singer Steve Conway with a similar timbre to Al Bowlly, was taken from us far too early at the age of 31. Thank goodness so much wonderful material had already been committed to wax by the talented trio. Gardner’s alto sax solo classic was I Only Have Eyes For You while Conway’s Souvenir de Paris somehow captured the atmosphere of the French capital as never before.
Away from his film selection commitments, Yorke also arranged for other popular singers of the time. One of his best string backings was For You for Donald Peers. I once spoke to Peers in New Zealand about that arrangement and he totally agreed.
After all that background information, let’s take a close look now at that very English sounding tune, Melody Of The Stars, but be prepared for a slight shock at the start, especially if your volume control happens to be a little too high. Yes, Yorke’s at it again! Just as we’re beginning to settle down to this lovely gentle tune, two musical “clunks” remind us that Peter is lurking. The first chorus gathering up a bit of steam comes to a typically positive end that only Yorke could dream up.
Then an even lovelier lighter section takes over, but don’t be fooled by its apparent Yorke-ish charm. Be prepared for a series of menacing warning shots creating tension before returning to the main tune. As Melody Of The Stars gradually builds for the last time, listen out for Yorke’s unique melodic style at the closing moments of this stirring piece. Briefly leaving the light orchestral world behind, we enter what could almost be the triumphant finale of a Mahler symphony.
Compared with an earlier elegant and dainty age of 1930s light music, Peter Yorke introduced more daring features into his “Roaring 40’s” orchestrations, while at the same time composing some of the most beautiful melodies of our time.
Revisiting the work of Peter Yorke after all these years has been a total revelation and joy, finally recognizing his amazing talent and true worth in the world of popular music and particularly light orchestral music. In this genre, Yorke had no rivals!
Melody Of The Stars is available on
“The Show Goes On” Guild Light Music
During the course of my travels over the light music segment of the music repertoire, through various selections, some familiar, others less so, I came upon a rather unique situation upon revisiting a piece that I've known for the longest time.
That piece is David Rose's "Gay Spirits," which was one of the earliest light music selections that I acquainted myself with, and incidentally, even before encountering the composer's "Holiday for Strings" which would inevitably remind me of "Gay Spirits," as these two pieces are remarkably similar in their bearings. But I didn't know the name of the selection due to its manner of usage as accompanying music in what they refer to in the UK as a test card and in the USA as a test pattern. As hours of daily broadcasting have considerably expanded over the years, one is much less likely to encounter these intervals between live broadcasts, at least here in the USA. But due to the circumstances of my initial exposure to this piece, I was not to obtain the much desired particulars about it - the title and composer - until a few more years had passed. And this latter took place on a radio show entitled, "The Charlie Stark Music Shop" which I had occasion to refer to when commenting on Bob Walton's analysis of "Frenesi."
In one of my earliest articles on this site, "Differing Versions of the Same Set Light Music Selections," I compared differing versions of the same pieces as presented by different conductors. In some cases, the versions were identical though by diverse conductors who adopted different tempos or emphasized different facets of the piece. In others, the orchestration was noticeably different or perhaps the piece was in some manner abridged or extended, either by revision or by the necessity of fitting the selection on a single 78/45 RPM side. But in all these cases, the piece still remained essentially recognizable and thus easily identifiable as such.
In the case of "Gay Spirits" I have noted a situation that is totally different from anything I referred to above, as here we have a transmogrification of a piece that is utterly different from the original presentation of it, though still bearing the same title. It uses only one small feature of the original and then proceeds along quite its own lines. Those who are expecting to hear an updated version of the original will likely emerge from it quite disappointed, at least if they have a special affection for the original version, as I have.
To be sure, the so-called original version I refer to that came out on disc in the early 1950s was preceded by an earlier version, evidenced by comparing this with the piano sheet music publication of the piece. In this latter, the introduction to the main idea is slightly longer by a few bars and the reprise section is given in its entirety. More than likely, Mr. Rose felt compelled to make these very slight abridgements out of concern whether the complete version could be handily fit on the side of a single disc.
In 1964, in the process of scoring for a film entitled "Quick before it Melts," he used a small portion of this material in this film, and subsequently, in a desire to preserve some of this on disc, created a boiled down version of it, not necessarily in the same order as appearing in the film, and not necessarily in the identical arrangement. This result was released on disc under the same title, "Gay Spirits," as the one that appeared years before, although to all intents and purposes this was an entirely different piece and should clearly not have borne the same title as the earlier one.
Upon listening to it, I heard a rather hard introductory gesture which eventually leads into the lyrical middle section of the earlier piece, in the version that it first appears (with strings) but not identically - I have noted some very slight changes in the melody. This leads to its own middle section - somewhat engaging as to specific material but still difficult for me to relate to the other main idea that was formerly the middle section.
Eventually, this is reprised, and at the end of the statement there is a move that almost suggests that we will next hear the flute version of this melody as in the original, but this does not occur; very soon after, the piece abruptly ends.
One may regard it as a reminiscence of a moment from the film, as obviously Mr. Rose desired to preserve it for some reason, but as an independent movement, for me it simply does not work, although I have already encountered opinions to the contrary, favoring this piece over the original "Gay Spirits." In any event, I would invite debate on this issue.
I should point out that the sister piece, the far better known "Holiday for Strings," has similarly been knocked around for all sorts of usage - I recently watched a choreographic sequence with Cyd Charisse using a version that had a few deviations - with such frequent re-usage, this is bound to occur. But I have encountered nothing with this piece such as I have with "Gay Spirits" and I would hope that the newer piece bearing that title but sharing little in common will never come to supplant the earlier one which I continue to regard as one of David Rose's most quintessential creations.
And I will add that in 1955, Mr. Rose made some changes in regard to "Holiday for Strings," regarding the reprise which was somewhat expanded, and a completely different ending, featuring a slight allusion to the middle section idea. It is still recognizably the same piece, with none of the total overhaul that occurred with "Gay Spirits." But in general, I prefer the more straightforward reprise of the earlier version.
Analysed by Robert Walton
[Written before the composer underwent a change of identity to Angela Morley]
Just mention the name Wally Stott/Angela Morley and that’s your guarantee of the highest quality music. And that’s not just in the orchestration department that was this composer’s first forte. Once ‘up and running’ with compositions for the Chappell Library, all Stott’s tunes just oozed with class from the word go. There was no stopping him after the first effort A Canadian in Mayfair inspired by his great hero Robert Farnon’s Portrait of a Flirt. Although unquestionably influenced by Farnon, Stott went on to develop a very personal style that became quickly established in the world of light music.
Take Lap of Luxury, for example, written in 1957. It might not have been immediately obvious but the model for this composition was Farnon’s Westminster Waltz even though Lap of Luxury was in 4/4 time. I must admit I never noticed this until I took a closer listen. The harmonies might have been more complex but there was no denying the spell of Farnon isn’t far away.
After a brief mysterious introduction and not wasting any time getting down to business, we go straight into the ravishing Lap of Luxury, effectively Westminster Waltz as a foxtrot. But not for long. The melody soon goes off on its own tangent aided by some rich chords giving the feeling of absolute opulence. One might say from ‘lush’ to plush! If this tune doesn’t give you goose pimples I don’t know what will. After two gorgeous jazzy chords we’re back to Westminster Waltz territory again with an oboe solo and much less tension. Completing the first chorus the strings in close harmony produce another dazzling display of pure diamond-studded glitz.
Taking a leaf out of Stott’s Tinkerbell, two bars of playful warm-up woodwind continue to play when the tune restarts enriching the proceedings. Climbing to a new key the final 16 bars only confirm his arranging prowess with his love of strings shining through.
The lack of a bridge doesn’t seem to matter, as some compositions just don’t need one. And the fact that there are virtually no filler passages is a tribute to such a strong tune that just playing it through does it full justice.
The Chappell recording of Lap of Luxury is available on the Guild CD “The Show Goes On” (GLCD 5149)
Artie Shaw version analysed by Robert Walton
Whenever I play Frenesi in public, I normally get absolutely no reaction whatsoever from anyone in the audience. I don’t know what that says about my playing or indeed about one of the catchiest Latin American melodies ever. Surely you would think Artie Shaw’s fifth million seller of 1940 would have left some sort of impression. The problem could be that the actual tune is not exposed enough in the William Grant Still arrangement but gets drowned in too much improvisation. So if you weren’t a big band fan, it wouldn’t mean a thing. Mind you, Latin tunes have always tended to appeal to the jazz fraternity. You hardly ever hear Frenesi these days on radio but when you do it’s often mispronounced as “Fren-acey”. Just to set the record straight the correct pronunciation rhymes with “Tennessee”.
Here in Galway in the Republic of Ireland there are two recent exceptions to the lack of response I was experiencing, proving that multiculturalism is alive and well. The first at this year’s Claregalway Garden Festival occurred while I was playing a piano purposefully left out to encourage people of all ages and standards to tickle and tackle the ivories. As I went into Frenesi out from the crowd popped a Spanish lady who immediately began singing this classic in her own language. I couldn’t believe my ears! After so many years of silence I was completely bowled over and thrilled by this unexpected turn of events and welcome intrusion. And luckily the key of C seemed to suit her perfectly. I demanded a rerun and without hesitation she instantly obliged. I was in heaven. Now I understood why Frenesi meant “frenzy” in Spanish!
The second occasion was in Ballinrobe at a local care home when I got the shock of my life on hearing someone whistling Frenesi as I was playing it. He turned out to be a Cuban and a new member of staff - not a million miles from Mexico where it was originally composed for the marimba. Must be something to do with the genes or DNA. Again I was totally taken aback. Reveling in the opportunity of having a soloist I continued forth in my new found role as accompanist. Incredibly not one person seemed to notice this unusual musical partnership!
If it hadn’t been for Shaw’s health problems caused by pressure of work, Frenesi might never have surfaced. For it was while recovering in Mexico that Shaw, looking for new material, heard the song played by a mariachi band. It proved to be one of his biggest hits.
So let’s take a closer look at this million selling record that most of the world has apparently never heard of. Basically it’s a series of improvisations by various members of the orchestra with very little Shaw. In 1940, Artie returned with a brand new 33-piece band including 13 strings that were still something of a novelty in the world of swing. The touch of a light orchestra with a dance band was irresistible. Farnon in embryo. If an introduction makes me smile like this one does, I know I’m in for something really special.
Lovely soothing strings lead straight into Shaw’s gorgeous clarinet tone and unique vibrato. The first 8 bars are played straight enough but thereafter Artie goes his own way. So if you were interested in the tune for its own sake, now’s the time to digest it before it gets lost in the rainforest of the arrangement. At least the middle 8 is played straight by Jack Cave on flugelhorn. Clearly swing is now the name of the game, as Shaw proceeds to jazz-up the melody, although to be fair you can still make out the tune. At the end of the first chorus there’s a delightful string quote from the 91-year-old Manhattan sounding as fresh as the day it was born.
The brass swing along nicely for 8 bars, changing key and leading to a 16 bar section featuring strings and flugelhorn. A bar of woodwind decoration harks back to the musical style of Laurel & Hardy, while in the next break we get two bars of Latin American rhythm sounding like Spike Jones invading the middle of a foxtrot. Then a whole chorus is delivered by a tenor sax, followed by a piano playing the middle 8 with flute support. Manny Klein gives us a classy 8 bars of muted trumpet as only he can. Then the band takes us back to Shaw for his final fling for one of the most sudden endings in Big Bandom. The quiet tune descends six notes down the scale to a tango-like finish featuring the single note of the flugelhorn dying away.
Could it be possible that the arranger had a mental block and ran out of ideas? Maybe there was a deadline for getting Frenesi finished? Perhaps the copyist had been screaming for the score? Or even more bizarre, could the time limit on the actual making of the recording in the studio have run out? Whatever the reason, I have to say against all odds it somehow comes off. And after all this analysing, I have to admit it’s beginning to grow on me.
Starting with the sensational Begin The Beguine in 1938, Shaw’s discs sold like hot cakes clocking up eight million by 1941. Surely this must have constituted some sort of record!
My father had the opportunity of actually seeing Artie Shaw’s US Navy Band live in New Zealand during WW2. Before that the band had seen plenty of action in the Pacific Theatre playing jungles, aeroplane hangers, ship decks and even in remote areas camouflaged for protection from enemy attack. My father’s verdict on the music - absolute bilge! Obviously Dad didn’t dig these newer fellas!
LSO version conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras
Analysed by Robert Walton
In the first half of the 20th century, the ‘Uncrowned King of Light Music’ was Eric Coates, tunesmith extraordinaire, whose music provided the soundtrack to millions of people’s lives, but many wouldn’t have had a clue who wrote it. Like most instrumental music, much of it remained anonymous, unlike his songs that spoke for themselves. Coates though, was much more than just a master of melody. His brilliant orchestrations were tailor-made for his tunes and conducting them himself meant he had complete control over their interpretation. His marches proved to be the most popular, like Calling All Workers, Knightsbridge March, Television March, and TheDam Busters March.
But some of the most important Coates’ compositions were his lovely laid-back pieces with a romantic or rural flavour. As early as 1915, he had written a suite From TheCountryside. Later on he cornered the ‘millpond’ market, with his calm, unhurried, and peaceful creations. One of the first I heard as a boy was the beautiful intermezzo By The Tamarisk of 1925, used as the signature tune for a 1940s Australian radio programme called “The Junior Naturalist’s Club”. It was inspired by a patch of shrub in front of the composer’s Selsey cottage on the south coast of England. I once spotted a grove of the small trees myself on the sea front at San Sebastian in Spain.
By The Sleepy Lagoon was written in 1930. Selsey has a lot to answer for, because Coates’ most famous composition was inspired by the view on a warm summer’s evening looking across the “lagoon” from the east beach at Selsey towards Bognor Regis. The sea at that time of day is an incredibly deep Pacific blue, but it appeared pink like an enchanted city with the blue of the Downs behind it. Who needs to go halfway around the world for inspiration, when you’ve got everything in your own backyard?
Sleepy Lagoon (as it was later called) was not a purpose-built popular seller like David Rose’s Holiday For Strings. It became one by a series of circumstances. Songwriter Jack Lawrence discovered the piano version and wrote a set of lyrics that Coates thoroughly approved of. The song eventually found its way to bandleader Harry James but in fact the words were never used for his version. In his wildest dreams Eric Coates never expected his By The Sleepy Lagoon (originally described as a Valse Serenade), would turn into a foxtrot let alone achieve international hit status. The day Paul McCartney was born, the number one song on the Hit Parade was Sleepy Lagoon by Harry James, an unprecedented occurrence for an English light orchestral composition.
But let’s return to By The Sleepy Lagoon in its original form for a stereo recording of 1956. This gentlest of melodies must surely be the ultimate in the relaxation department and would easily qualify as one of the best examples of a tranquil tune from a vanished era. No wonder it was chosen as the signature tune for the BBC’s “Desert Island Discs”. For many years the dark brown voice of its creator Roy Plomley intoned over the music “How do you do Ladies and Gentlemen. Our castaway this week is”........
The 4 bar introductory vamp accentuating the second beat, immediately sets the scene, as this most famous string strain surreptitiously seeps in. It’s one of those iconic moments in light music history. Right on cue the goose pimples swing into action with the first of four 10 note leaps from the starting note of middle C in the key of C. You would be forgiven for thinking it might sound strained. Not at all. It floats effortlessly upwards, soft landing on a high E before coming to rest an octave below, cheered on by muted brass. Did you notice extremely subtle trills in bars 2 and 6, showing Coates’ attention to detail? He certainly knew how to create a mood. The next telling moment is in bar 7 when we bask in a gorgeous D9 chord while the brass stay in situ. After the opening jump, things calm down considerably as we meander in a relatively low range in a melody we’re all too familiar with.
The least known part of By The Sleepy Lagoon is the middle section but this natural extension is very much part and parcel of the whole concept and perfectly slots in. However the lagoon constantly beckons and we quickly return to our comfort zone. The last leap brings us back once more into this lovely tune ending in the coda with a mixture of the melody and the opening vamp.
Perhaps it might be a good idea at this point to show you the Lawrence lyrics that Coates loved. But the words weren’t quite all Lawrence’s. The first 5 notes of the song and the words of the title must have been the work of the composer.
“A Sleepy Lagoon, a tropical moon and two on an island”
“A Sleepy Lagoon and two hearts in tune in some lullaby-land”
“The fireflies gleam, reflects in the stream, they sparkle and shimmer”
“A star from on high, falls out of the sky and slowly grows dimmer”
“The leaves from the trees all dance in the breeze and float on the ripples”
“We’re deep in a spell, as nightingales tell of roses and dew”
“The memory of this moment of love will haunt me forever”
“A tropical moon, A Sleepy Lagoon and you!”
Despite those attractive lyrics, Sleepy Lagoon is far better known without them. If you want to hear it sung, feel free go to Google for versions by Doris Day and Dinah Shore. The latter’s honeyed-toned contralto was perfect for the job.
No, I haven’t forgotten the presence of seagulls on the “Desert Island Discs” theme. Thank goodness they were not the new breed of ‘attack’ gulls!
“By The Sleepy Lagoon” LSO available on Guild CD “More Strings In Stereo” (GLCD 5159)
Analysed by Robert Walton
Soundtrack music compilation from the first “Just William” film.
For many years discerning light music lovers often wondered what influenced those light orchestral classics of Robert Farnon. My own theory is that from a very early age he was a virtual living, breathing sponge, possessing an innate ability to absorb all kinds of music from classical, through jazz to popular. Everything was fair game. Of course there were obvious borrowings from bebop, Bartok, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Eric Coates and David Rose. But we mustn’t forget those incidental ingredients that went into his creative cauldron to be called upon when needed. (Australian composer Ron Grainer was a stickler for keeping any good ideas that came to him on file for possible future use). But it was Farnon’s early serious works like his symphonies that contained clear evidence of an original style developing. He may not have realized it then, but little by little he was edging towards a new kind of music that in the mid-40s would suddenly blossom into a full-blown genre influencing a whole generation of arrangers and composers.
It was just Robert’s luck to hitch a ride to England courtesy of the Army during the latter days of WW2, who as Captain Bob Farnon conducted and arranged for the Canadian Band of the AEF. To suddenly find himself in London, one of the world’s important centres for music must have been something of a culture shock. However the British capital, apart from picking itself up after hostilities, was also the hub of a burgeoning light orchestral industry. Knowing he had a talent for this very specialized music, Robert had clearly come to the right town, so he stayed. The problem was he badly needed an element of luck, despite being well known through his broadcasts.
And then quite out of the blue an offer to write some film music came up. What he didn’t know was that this would lead to something completely unexpected - his dream of composing orchestral miniatures. Two “Just William” movies provided exactly that. The first, “Just William’s Luck” in 1947, gave him the perfect opportunity to release all that material which had been cooped up and lying dormant. It was quite enough to be in a position to compose and arrange a soundtrack, but to have some of the world’s finest orchestral players was the icing on the cake. All he had to do now was come up with the goods. Although it was a light-hearted film, the scope it provided for different moods was vast. It was his big chance to dig deep into his musical baggage and show the powers that be what he was really capable of.
For starters the impressive opening credits of “Just William’s Luck” proved he could easily create a big orchestral sound. Listen to those string flourishes anticipating a certain Flirt. Then we go straight into William’s cheeky theme that probably inspired Willie The Whistler. Farnon was a born orchestrator and like a kid in a toyshop was having fun and doing exactly as he fancied. Then back to that majestic start with the strings already pre-empting “Spring in Park Lane” and “Maytime in Mayfair”.
His ideas were never corny, just right for the action and jam packed with atmosphere. Had he been in Hollywood he would, I believe, have been immediately grabbed for “Lassie!” Did you notice a certain bean, ripe for development, jumping up and down trying to get noticed? And Farnon’s flare for tiptoeing tension sounded like an English “Tom and Jerry”. He was a master of the ‘wrong’ note which was absolutely right in a Farnon context and discords which might have jarred the untrained ear were pure joy to the converted. Playful woodwind didn’t know it, but were ‘rehearsing’ for what would soon become the norm in Farnon’s world. He might have even influenced the mystery and intrigue of the music for Lustgarten’s “Scotland Yard”. In fact there was music for every conceivable type of mood and occasion.
In effect this tightly edited soundtrack is a sneak preview of all the minutiae that would become the building blocks for those magnificent miniatures - little journeys of self-discovery. Remember they were still in the gestation period. Multiple births were expected very soon ..........Jumping Bean, Portrait Of A Flirt, Journey IntoMelody and most appropriately A Star Is Born!
“Just William’s Luck” and “William Comes Town”
are both from “MELODY FAIR” on Jasmine Records
Pete King’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
For many years now my Guild collection of the “Golden Age Of Light Music” has been providing me with a perfect soundtrack for afternoon tea. But more than that, it has become something of an everyday quiz for country folk, in my case living on a farm at the edge of Europe in the far west of Ireland. I try to identify the tunes, composers, arrangers and orchestras from a vast treasure trove of titles. This virtual ‘university’ of music helps to maintain the brain as well as entertain.
One afternoon during a catnap, my ears were suddenly alerted to what I thought was Nelson Riddle. Imagine my surprise when I looked down the mystery menu and saw it was Pete King’s Orchestra playing Mind If I MakeLove To You. Without words I’d completely forgotten it came from “High Society” sung as a rumba by Frank Sinatra to Grace Kelly, probably arranged by Riddle. It’s a very good song but somewhat overshadowed in the film by Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, True Love and Well, Did You Evah, and not typical Porter. But the irresistible slow-paced, relaxed King arrangement had me completely hooked. Incidentally Peter Dudley King (1914-1982) arranged the original mood music albums for Jackie Gleason as well as charts for Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin, Julie London and Kay Starr.
This spellbinding tune featuring the strings could easily have come out of a Dmitri Tiomkin film score like Return To Paradise. On the second phrase at bar 9 it goes unexpectedly up a semitone giving it an even more exotic flavour, placing it firmly in Polynesia or Asia. The melody then moves quite conventionally to a natural cadence. On the repeat it sounds even more magical with the woodwind in control.
The bridge, with a haunting violin solo, isn’t really a bridge as we know it, more a filler using material from the main tune in preparation for the final thrust. The strings erupt into one of most exciting climaxes and endings ever. In the coda the familiar Riddle tremors are once again strongly felt. I am almost tempted to declare Mind If I Make Love To You has out-melodied Night andDay! (By the way there are suggestions of two other songs in Mind If I Make Love To You - Mack TheKnife and Morecambe & Wise’s theme tune Bring Me Sunshine).
Miind If I Make Love To You is available on the
Guild CD “Melodies For The Starlight Hours “ (GLCD 5196)
The London Promenade Orchestra version
Analysed by Robert Walton
I first heard Caprice for Strings quite by chance in 1953 on a radio programme in New Zealand from 1YA Auckland. Because there was no back announcement, it remained unknown until I wrote to the station for information. Until then, the only Edward White composition I knew was TheRunawayRocking-Horse, the first ever light orchestral number that hit me for six in 1947. For me it was the most important composition in the genre since the million selling hit Holiday forStrings burst upon the scene in 1943. Caprice for Strings on the other hand, was recorded in 1946 but because it wasn’t commercially released, remained something of a ‘dark’ horse! Compared to TheRunawayRocking-Horse, it seemed almost classical in style but I had no idea it was the work of White. (Strangely enough, 1953 was also the year of another string-only feature Scrub,Brothers, Scrub, a clone of Caprice for Strings. According to the composer Ken Warner, Scrub, Brothers, Scrub refers to articulating repeated notes by means of a back and forth movement of the bow across the string. Hence the word “scrubbing!”)
The caprice or capriccio was a term first applied to some 16th century Italian madrigals but is now usually free in form and of a lively character. A typical capriccio is fast, intense and often virtuosic in nature. That seems to describe Caprice for Strings in a nutshell. It’s one of the classiest busy busy tunes in the light orchestral canon. So join me as I attempt to dissect it, trying to keep up with this frantic melody.
The first thing that occurred to me about such a ‘serious’ composition is the unexpected use of the rhythm guitar throughout the piece - virtually unheard of in the London Promenade Orchestra’s repertoire. To be honest I never noticed it the first time, possibly because of the poor quality of primitive wireless, which no doubt accounts for my original impression of a more classical arrangement. Anyway, the very presence of a guitar immediately reveals White’s dance band credentials in much the same way that Robert Farnon’s jazz roots are evident in his music. It’s a very demanding workout for strings, calling for absolute precision. No resting on one’s laurels and certainly no room for any “dead wood” amongst the players, which would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Just one player not pulling his or her weight can totally ruin a recording.
Of all the hyperactive compositions in light music, Caprice for Strings has to be one of the most difficult to get your head around. With all those fast notes in such a restricted range, the melody takes a bit of figuring out, but as soon as you’ve got the general idea it stays with you. In the key of G, this tight tune sounds to all intents and purposes like the rhythm of an automatic weapon. The note, which gives the phrase its character, is that of the constantly recurring E flat. Come to think of it, with appropriate words it could almost be adapted into an early form of rap! Heaven forbid, I hear you cry!
In the first break, arco violins go into pizzicato mode whilst the lower strings still bowed answer from below with some vital punctuation. Away we go again with all strings restored to arco, but before we know it, yet another break. (And I promised there would be no idleness in this exercise!)
Now for some welcome light relief from all this labour intensive concentration as the violins come up with three lots of beautiful broad downward brushstrokes, each time heading for the heights. This was the undoubted highlight of Caprice for Strings, the moment the piece came to life. Like The Runaway Rocking-Horse, Teddy White could always be relied upon to dress up his compositions freshly and imaginatively. As ever, the eager strings are in the wings waiting to dive in at the exact moment.
Then, serving as a complete contrast, the strings are given a new lease of life with a lovely lyrical tune of their own providing its own decorations as well as bending the melody when it takes their fancy. Finally it’s back to the start for a rerun of the wizardry of White bringing this brisk Bach-ish blend of bustling busyness to an abrupt close.
You may have noticed 2016 happens to be the 70th year of the creation of Caprice for Strings. So let’s celebrate the birth of one of the early masterpieces from the Light Orchestral Hall of Fame by simply giving this pioneering piece of pure poetry in motion an extra listen!
"Caprice For Strings" is available on "The Golden Age of Light Music: Grandstand: Production Music Of The 1940s” -- Guild Records GLCD 5220