On BBC Radio4 Front Row, 21 August 2019: Conductor John Wilson and Biographer Brendan Carroll on Korngold

An excerpt from John’s comments:

Front Row: What’s so enthralling to you about the music of Erich Korngold?

John: It’s very much his own style… You hear two seconds of music and immediately you know it’s by Korngold because by the way he was 13 or 14 he had a fully developed late-Romantic Austro-German style and, you know, had it not been for the Nazis and the Second World War he would have continued to develop his operatic skills, his symphonic skills, and he would now be as established as Richard Strauss…

John and the Sinfonia of London Do KorngoldAbove John, Andrew Haveron, John Mills, and other members of the Sinfonia of London: Front Row Interviews John Wilson at the top half.


Front Row: What made you choose the particular pieces [for the Chandos recording] that you did?

John: I think the Symphony, Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, is the last great Austro-German romantic symphony and…it was written 1947 to 52, it took 5 years, and…I think it was the piece that Korngold spent, lavished the most time on. I think it was the piece that he felt was he felt he really had to write because it was a labor of love… And you know, he couldn’t get a satisfactory performance out of it during his lifetime because he was considered old hat…and in 1972 I think it was, it was discovered in the Munich orchestra’s library and the first recording performance given… And I just felt that the time had come for a revised sort of conception of this symphony of Korngold’s.

I Moderato
II Scherzo Allegro
III Adagio Lento
IV Allegro Finale

NOTES for Korngold: Symphony in F (Chandos, 2019) can be found here.



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The Tippett Quartet Play Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho at Kings Place, London, 2011

Most people* seem to discount the idea that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho is actually a near-perfect work for strings (given that it was written exclusively for strings anyway) and that, given the right setting, is a very listenable chamber piece that doesn’t need to reference the film. Here’s the Tippett Quartet performing this arrangement by Richard Birchall at Kings Place, 2011.

Tippett Quartet PsychoJohn Mills, Jeremy Isaac, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, and Bozidar Vukotic: the London-based Tippett Quartet.

* Like Mister Grumble. This is the second-most heated debate** between us: whether or not movie music (for narrative films not musicals) can be considered truly concert-worthy.

** (The most heated debate between us is whether Oswald did it or not. This one gets us both really het up, as one of us has a slight connection with the actual case.)

The leader of the Tippitt Quartet (circa 2011), John Mills, is also the leader of The John Wilson Orchestra to date.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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The Hollywood String Quartet and the Hollywood Sound

John’s striving for “The Hollywood Sound” may be a new thing for his popular audience in England, but over here it’s been part of our musical history since before the Second World War. In 1939 violinist Felix Slatkin and his wife, cellist Eleanor Aller Slatkin, founded the Hollywood String Quartet. Their uniquely American style of playing strings quickly won the HSQ recognition and praise from critics around the world when they essayed works from the Classic Repertoire.

Said the Gramophone Classical Music Guide of their 1951 recording of Arnold Schoenberg‘s piece: “This was the first ever recording of ‘Verklärte Nacht‘ in its original sextet form and it remains unsurpassed.”

Hollywood String Quartet

In the liner notes of one of their other recordings, Paul Shure remembered: “Dynamics were a very big part of our work. Our discussions were always about dynamics and a little bit about tempi, and nothing else. We played with vibrato except where there was a particular effect to be had—no dead left hands were allowed.” This sounds so similar to what JWO concertmaster John Mills said in the web series Sarah’s Music: “John asks us, the strings, to play with so much vibrato that people’s family photos should fall off the TV sets. We’re effectively trying to recreate the sound of the studio orchestra.”

Free pdf of my memoir re the Gyllenhaals A POET FROM HOLLYWOOD here.
Free epub of my 2014 Hollywood-based comedy mystery COLD OPEN here.
Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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My First Music: Original Soundtrack for Picnic (Columbia, 1955) Composed by George Duning, Orchestrated by Arthur Morton, and Conducted by Morris Stoloff

According to composer Duning, Picnic director Joshua Logan insisted on using the old standard “Moonglow” (Hudson-Mills-DeLange, 1933) in a critical scene, as had been done in the Broadway play, but demanded that Duning’s love theme be added at a specific point. Columbia’s music director Stoloff and Duning complied, creating a unique arrangement of the song and the movie theme, and it became an iconic moment in 1950s cinema, a pairing of tunes that would thereafter seem inextricably intertwined. [Read more on George Duning from the Film Music Society here.]

William Holden Kim Novak Picnic.jpgWilliam Holden and Kim Novak in the famous dance scene. Cinematography by James Wong Howe.

The entire soundtrack for Picnic was uploaded online by a thoughtful fan of George Duning’s.

Here’s that “Moonglow-Picnic” number.

And for good measure, here’s popular 50s singer Dorothy Collins’s rendition from her album Dorothy Collins Sings Steve Allen (Allen wrote the lyrics).


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