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Hyperion Records

CDA67067 - American Light Music Classics

Recording details: February 1998
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Oliver Rivers
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: June 1998
Total duration: 73 minutes 22 seconds


'These lovely old tunes have a freshness and charm akin to the best light-hearted literature or illustration from the same period. A splendid successor to the previous volumes' (Gramophone)

'These guys can take on the Boston Pops any day!' (Classic FM)

'A lovely, irresistible record' (Birmingham Post)

'Une collection indispensable aux amateurs du genre! (Diapason, France)

American Light Music Classics
Spiritual?  [3'30]
Scherzofrenia  [3'13]
Conclusion!  [3'46]

They don't write 'em like this anymore. Some of the composers' names may not be familiar (Arndt, Pryor, Bratton, etc.) but it's a fair bet that most of their music will be—at least if you're over 'a certain age'. Here are some much-loved American light-music favorites to follow our best-selling CDs of British and European 'light music classics'. Some of these pieces have not been recorded in many a long year (we had great difficulty finding some of the music), and never as well as they are here (there are many intriguing sound effects, from a barking dog to the growling of teddy bears).

With its high 'nostalgia' factor we confidently predict that this CD is going to give a great deal of pleasure and put a smile of recognition on lots of faces. (By the way, in case you don't know, Rudolf Friml's Chanson is the original orchestral version of the tune which later became famous as The Donkey Serenade when sung by Allan Jones in the 1938 film The Firefly.)

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In ‘popular music’ terms we tend to think of America as the home of jazz and vernacular song. Yet it has an enviable reputation for what the British call ‘light music’, albeit with an ample display of the greater rhythmic flexibility which typifies American popular music. Eloquent testimony is provided by this collection of nineteen pieces originating from a period covering the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

The marches of John Philip Sousa (1854–1932) are as much a staple part of any American light music collection as Strauss waltzes are of any European. The son of a Spanish-born father of Portuguese parentage and a Bavarian mother, Sousa was born in Washington DC. The Washington Post (1889) was one of his earliest worldwide hits and has remained one of the favourites. It was commissioned from him, as leader of the US Marine Band, by the newspaper of the same name for a ceremony attended by President Harrison on 15 June 1889 when awards were presented to winners of a schoolchildren’s essay competition run by the newspaper. The composition’s suitability for the fashionable two-step ensured its rapid worldwide fame. This recording uses an orchestral version by the British arranger Aubrey Winter (1870–1955).

Frederick Allen Mills (1869–1948), who composed under the name of ‘Kerry Mills’, was born in Philadelphia and, as a young man, taught violin at the University of Michigan. He formed his own publishing company, F A Mills, and composed minstrel songs and other numbers such as the enduring Meet me in St Louis, Louis (1904). However, his most distinctive contribution to popular music came with his jaunty, lightly syncopated ‘characteristic marches’, composed during the 1890s to satisfy the craze for the cakewalk, a forerunner of ragtime. His first such success was with Rastus on Parade (1895) which was followed most notably by At a Georgia Camp Meeting (1897) and Whistling Rufus (1899). This last is heard here in an orchestral version by Sidney Crooke.

A native of New York State of mixed Austrian and Russian parentage, Morton Gould (1913–1996) was another who successfully balanced popular and serious traditions. This he did particularly through compositions in popular idiom but modern symphonic garb. These are evidenced above all by his series of American Symphonettes, composed during the late 1930s. It was the third (1938) that contained the popular Pavanne, a modern evocation of the sixteenth-century dance whose title Gould apparently deliberately mis-spelled (with a double ‘n’) because he believed the result sounded more musical.

While both Ethelbert Nevin and George Gershwin died before they were forty, Felix Arndt (1889–1918) failed even to reach the age of thirty. Like Holzmann he was a native New Yorker and a student of the Conservatory. He became staff pianist for various publishers and is reckoned to have made some three thousand piano rolls. Chief among his own compositions is the rhythmically invigorating novelty piece Nola (1915), which is named after his wife—a fellow composer who survived him by almost sixty years. Nola is played here in its original American orchestration by John S Zamecnik (1872–1953).

Arthur Pryor (1870–1942) was one of three accomplished musician brothers from St Joseph, Missouri. He became so well known as a trombonist that he was styled the ‘Paganini of the trombone’. He was in turn a leading attraction of the bands of Patrick S Gilmore and John Philip Sousa, whose assistant conductor he became before forming his own band in 1903. Besides marches and trombone solos he composed many dances and novelty pieces, among which The Whistler and his Dog (1905) has proved the most enduring. Besides its extensive solo for the piccolo, it provides the opportunity for a brief but virtuoso demonstration of whistling and barking!

Undoubtedly the greatest exponent of American light orchestral music pure and simple was Leroy Anderson (1908–1975). Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was educated at the New England Conservatory and at Harvard University, and then played the double bass and became freelance conductor and arranger for the Boston Pops and other orchestras. It was in the years immediately after World War II that he produced a remarkably successful sequence of short orchestral pieces full of delightful melody and inventive effects and admirably reflecting his own modest and unassuming nature. The first piece chosen here is the lilting waltz Belle of the Ball (1952).

Easily the oldest melody in the collection is that of The Arkansas Traveller. This old American fiddle tune dates back to 1847, being for ever associated with a dialogue story of a farmer playing the violin on his porch when a traveller stops and asks for directions. During the conversation it transpires that the farmer knows only the first part of his tune. When the traveller shows how the piece should end, he is invited in for musical entertain­ment and alcoholic refreshment. If the piece has the suggestion of Irish fiddle music about it, this may have something to do with it originating from the time of high Irish emigration to America because of the potato famine of 1845–1850. This recording uses a transcription of the tune by David Guion (1892–1981), orchestrated by Adolf Schmid (1868–1958).

John W Bratton (1867–1947) came from Wilmington, Delaware, and had experience as a baritone soloist, actor and theatre manager as well as as a composer of theatre music and novelty pieces. His most successful compositions were In a Cosey Corner (1901) and, above all, the novelty piece The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (1907). This latter enjoys the curiosity of being an American instrumental composition but a British song, having had words added for London dance-bands during the 1930s. Here we hear it in the splendid original orchestration, with its remarkable bear growls and delightful string touches, by Frank Saddler (died 1921) who also orchestrated many of Jerome Kern’s early shows.

New Yorker Edward MacDowell (1860–1908) was one of the first American composers to achieve a worldwide reputation for ‘serious’ music. His compositions include symphonic poems and two piano concertos, but his specialities were songs and, above all, piano pieces. These last include a collection of ten Woodland Sketches, Op 51 (1896), from which the first, the tender To a Wild Rose, became a hugely popular international salon piece. Legend has it that after writing it the composer consigned the manuscript to his waste-paper basket as not worth preserving. It was found by his wife when tidying up his study and she persuaded him to think again. The piece is heard here in an orchestration by the English composer-arranger Charles Woodhouse (1879–1939).

Abe Holzmann (1874–1939) was born in New York City and studied at the New York Conservatory before becoming a staff composer and arranger for various publishers. He wrote many songs and other pieces but was most successful with his two-step marches, of which the rousing Blaze Away! (1901) achieved the greatest success. Its swinging rhythms and ebullient melody make it one of the select number of marches that can be ranked with the best of Sousa, being as familiar on the dance floor as a two-step as on the parade ground as a march.

Rudolf Friml (1879–1972) needs no introduction as composer of Rose Marie, The Vagabond King and other successful theatre shows. Educated at the Conservatory in his native Prague where he was a composition pupil of Dvorák, he became a fine pianist and, as such, accompanist to the violinist Jan Kubelík. After touring the United States with Kubelík in 1906 he remained there, appearing as soloist with major symphony orchestras before launching himself as composer of theatre and instrumental works. The principal melody of his Chanson (1918) enjoyed popularity in two further forms. It reappeared in 1923 in a foxtrot version as Chansonette, in which form it was included (along with MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose) in the celebrated 1924 Paul Whiteman concert of ‘symphonic jazz’ at the Aeolian Hall in New York which introduced George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It finally reached its widest audience when Herbert Stothart arranged its melody into ‘The Donkey Serenade’ for the 1937 Hollywood film of Friml’s The Firefly. Here we hear the original composition. Subtitled ‘In Love’ and described as a ‘mélodie’, it features a passionate central section in contrast to the familiar main theme. This recording uses the original orchestration by Adolf Minot.

‘Raymond Scott’ was the nom d’artiste of Harry Warnow (1908–1994), another native of New York. Educated at the Juilliard School of Music, he pursued a career as dance-band pianist and musical director for Hollywood films and for CBS in New York. He achieved fame during the late 1930s with an experimental dance quintet for which he composed light novelty pieces of which the best known is The Toy Trumpet (1937). It is heard here in an orchestral version by Philip Lane (b1950).

Before he died of a brain tumour, George Gershwin (1898–1937) achieved enough to establish a place as one of the most revered American composers in both the classical and popular musical fields. Born in Brooklyn to a Russian immigrant family, he was a brilliant pianist who was soon composing captivating jazz-tinted songs for the popular theatre. He then extended his compositional activities to embrace a piano concerto and the classic American folk-opera Porgy and Bess (1935). His final work was for Hollywood, and the piece known as Promenade was used as the accompaniment to Fred Astaire’s ‘Walking the dog’ sequence in the film Shall We Dance? (1936). The orchestral version used here is by Sol Berkowitz (b1922).

The second work by Leroy Anderson on this disc is the pizzicato piece Plink, Plank, Plunk! (1954). Anderson demonstrates his remarkable use of original effects by complementing the plucked strings with other sounds created by the string players rubbing the palms of their hands across the faces of their instruments.

Victor Herbert (1859–1924) was the first great Broadway composer. Born in Dublin, he trained as a cellist in Germany and Austria, and arrived in New York in 1886 as principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Famed later as bandmaster, conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and composer of two cello concertos and much else, he was above all a master of melody. Perhaps his most widely popular orchestral composition is The March of the Toys from his children’s show Babes in Toyland (1903), performed here in a version by Herbert’s fellow cellist and prolific orchestrator Otto Langey (1851–1922).

David Rose (1910–1990) was born in London but emigrated to the USA with his family at the age of four. He was educated at the Chicago Musical College and went on to compose scores for numerous films and television series. He also conducted for many long-playing albums and appeared as guest conductor with many orchestras. His best-known compositions include The Stripper (1961) and, above all, Holiday for Strings (1943), which has become one of the classics of the light orchestral repertory.

Pennsylvania-born Ethelbert Nevin (1862–1901) was partly educated in Europe and was another who charmed the salons of the world. This was as much with his songs The Rosary (1898) and Mighty Lak’ a Rose (1901) as with piano pieces such as Narcissus, the fourth of his five Water Scenes, Op 13 (1891). If its very familiarity has helped make it the occasional butt of humour, this performance in an orchestration by the British arranger W?H Myddleton (c1858–1917) provides an excellent chance to appreciate its gentle charms afresh.

Don Gillis (1912–1978) hailed from Cameron, Missouri, and studied trombone and conducting at university in Texas. He became staff trombonist for a Fort Worth radio station and went on to conduct bands and orchestras throughout the United States. From 1944 to 1954 he was programme arranger for the National Broadcasting Company, producing Toscanini’s radio broadcasts. His compositions span both the popular and serious fields, embracing symphonies and piano concertos. His light-hearted attitude to classical tradition is demonstrated in the Symphony No 5½ (1948). Styled ‘A Symphony for Fun’, it embraces the classical symphonic four-movement structure in some fifteen minutes without ever becoming weighed down by conventional symphonic seriousness.

Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) was another of the greatest composers of American popular song. New York-born, he enjoyed a remarkably long career that divides into two contrasted but equally successful periods. During the first period he composed delightful song-and-dance musicals with librettist Lorenz Hart. In the second, with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, he significantly extended the range of the American musical with works of unprecedented international success. One of the greatest of these was Carousel (1945), whose ground-breaking nature is demonstrated by its symphonic waltz which sets the scene for the show in place of the traditional medley overture. This recording uses the original orchestration by Don Walker (1907–1989).

Andrew Lamb © 1998

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