Bright Lights

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(Victor Young)
by Robert Walton

When David Rose wrote Holiday for Strings he probably had no idea how much it would influence a whole generation of light orchestral composers. His original formula of a bustling opening and sweeping middle section soon became a universal model. Every light music writer in the 1940s and 1950s fell completely under its spell, especially with the use of pizzicato. Rose’s employment of plucked strings clearly had its classical roots in the popular Pizzicato Polka (Johann Strauss 2nd/Josef Strauss) and in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony.

Even the great Victor Young was inspired by Rose’s format. The unconventional angular opening of his Bright Lights gives the impression of a modern piano concerto. Certainly you couldn’t hum the repetitive segment of Bright Lights like you could Holiday for Strings, but the idea is obviously borrowed from the English-born composer. It’s a sort of 20th century Bach playing with polyphony.

Then suddenly the rhythm section with a rhumba beat sounding like an introduction to The Trolley Song, announces the imminent arrival of the eagerly anticipated middle section. We are immediately enveloped by Young’s dazzling arco string extravaganza, while the ‘piano concerto’ style of the first part continues in an accompanying role, skillfully incorporated into the mix. Listen out for a suggestion of Ellington’s I Got It Bad and a touch of Trevor Duncan’s High Heels?

So what’s Victor Young going to do now? Why, get the orchestra to play 16 bars from the top! That’s what. You might well say, “it goes on a bit”. But clearly Young knows what he’s doing because it all makes musical sense. Then the piano is given a solo spot playing the first half of the middle section. There’s every likelihood that Ray (“Sparky’s Magic Piano”) Turner was the pianist often heard with Young. The strings dying to rejoin the orchestra become subtle opportunists weaving their way back in and eventually succeeding. Guess what happens in the coda? You’re absolutely right; those 16 bars are brought back and neatly finish the job. I expect by now you’ll be able to whistle that difficult phrase!

Victor Young might have been indebted to Rose, but at the same time he in turn created a classic unlike any other in the light orchestral canon.

Bright Lights (Young) from The Golden Age of Light Music “The Composer Conducts”
Available on Guild Records (GLCD 5214)

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