My bonny John was 32 when he and his JWO recorded the music for that Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea which I saw, not because I’m a particular fan of Bobby Darin or even of Kevin Spacey (for all that he is the definitive Jamie Tyrone of our generation and frankly I don’t care about anything else), but because I wanted to find out how cheesy the production could get. Well honestly, it was pretty cheesy—but my God, the music…
By 1:12 of this clip I was completely blown away by the arrangement as well as the razor-sharp playing, and vowed to remember the name of this bright new arranger-conductor—which of course I promptly forgot (There are a lot of John Wilsons in the world, as Anthony Burgess would be the first to tell you) and didn’t remember again until last May. A 2005 Grammy nominee. Available on Rhino Records, that notorious niche label, and I’ve gotta find out what that’s all about.
From Who I Am: A Memoir by Pete Townshend (Harper, 2012):
“In 1945 popular music had a serious purpose: to defy postwar depression and revitalize the romantic and hopeful aspirations of an exhausted people. My infancy was steeped in awareness of the mystery and romance of my father’s music, which was so important to him and Mum that it seemed the centre of the universe. There was laughter and optimism: the war was over. The music Dad played was called Swing. It was what people wanted to hear. I was there. …”
The Squadronaires “Rock’n’Roll Boogie” 1956
As the son of a clarinettist and saxophonist in the Squadronaires, the prototypical British Swing band, I had been nourished by my love for that music, a love I would betray for a new passion: rock‘n’roll, the music that came to destroy it.”
A very nifty, lively, jazzy modernist piece written by Constant Lambert (The Who manager Kit Lambert’s dad) in 1927. Australian virtuoso Eileen Joyce, who famously played the heart-wrenching Rachmaninoff in the film Brief Encounter, is at the piano here. County Antrim-born Jean Allister, contralto soloist, joins her with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Chorus. At the podium is Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Composer-novelist Anthony Burgess, in his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God (Burgess was christened John Burgess Wilson and his confirmation name was Anthony) wrote, “Lambert, who admired Duke Ellington and proclaimed his harmonic roots in Frederick Delius (who in his turn had taken them from Debussy), was a fearless reconciler of what the academies and Tin Pan Alley alike presumed to be eternally opposed. I was present at that first performance, and so was my father. And, in 1972, on a plane from New York to Toronto, I found myself sitting next to Duke Ellington, who spoke almost with tears of the stature of Lambert, admitted that he had learned much from both Delius and Debussy, and expressed scorn for the old musical division, which had been almost as vicious as a colour bar. He had lived to see it dissolve and jazz become a legitimate item in the academic curricula.” [More Burgess on Lambert here.]
I knew Pullman only from his trilogy His Dark Materials, but this chamber opera, which was originally a children’s play by Philip Pullman, looks fantastic and the music is just scrumptious.
The Royal Opera House commissioned from London-based composer David Bruce an opera version of Pullman’s story in 2013 and revived it in 2015 for their family Christmas show, which sounds like perfect programming. That’s London-born soprano Mary Bevan in the title role.
As I said above, this is one of Steve’s better movies. (Re the pic below: It’s the only movie still I could find on the ‘net without a watermark and yes, that is Lena Headey in her first screen role.)
From the novel by Graham Swift, who has the semi-amusing story in his own memoir of how Steve got the job in the first place.
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2, played by Australian pianist Eileen Joyce in the famous ending of Brief Encounter.
From Jeremy Paxman’s 1998 The English: A Portrait of a People:
Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in the tearoom of a railway station, where she is waiting for the steam train home after a day’s shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction, the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following eighty minutes of this beautifully written movie depict their deepening love and guilt each feels about it. …
As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background, their affair unfolds, measured out in cups of tea in the waiting room of Milford station. … Being English, Celia Johnson feels no animosity towards her husband, whom she considers “kindly and unemotional”. Trevor Howard, equally trapped in a dry marriage, also expresses no hostility towards his wife and children. But the two of them are in the force of a passion they can hardly control. “We must be sensible,” is the constant refrain. “If we control ourselves, there’s still time.” In the end, despite all the protestations of undying devotion, the romance remains unconsummated…
What does this most popular of English films tell us about the English?
Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.
From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.