Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Overture di Ballo”: John Wilson Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, 2011

And you thought I’d forgotten who this blog is all about, didn’t you?

john-wilson-sullivan-ballo.jpegImpeccable dress linens and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set

Overtura [Sullivan’s made-up word] di Ballo” is a concert work first conducted by Sullivan himself in 1870 in Birmingham, a year before he began his collaboration with WS Gilbert. It opened a program of British Light Music given in London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2011 by the BBC Symphony and conducted by John. The piece itself is passable, but the real delight is in watching my bonny enjoy himself starting at 10:48.

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Eric Coates and John Wilson

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BBC Concert Orchestra
John Wilson, Conductor

Since at least the age of 25 my beloved John Wilson has been associated with the prolific, ubiquitous English composer Eric Coates (1886-1957). In Town Tonight…Desert Island Discs…Music While You Work…The Forsyte Saga…all these BBC programs’ familiar signature tunes were taken from original works by Coates; while his most famous film music score, The Dam Busters, is well-known, and not just to British concertgoers or aficionados of British WWII pictures. There’s a safe, comforting familiarity about his brisk/inspirational but rather repetitive marches, suites etc that must make them as pleasant to play as they are to hear.

I can only wonder how frequent exposure to Coates’s work must affect John’s “ear”, and actually I’d love to talk to him about it sometime (that date at the Metropole?). As it turns out, I actually studied a few of Coates’s songs in voice class when I was 14: “Green Hills o’Somerset”—”The Fairy Tales of Ireland”—”I Heard You Singing”—and my favorite, “Bird Songs at Eventide”, all of which are sung in the 2008 recording above by baritone Sir Thomas Allen.

If it were solely a matter of musical quality it would be his vocal music, more than his orchestral, that would attract me to Coates’s work overall, but you know and I know I’m really here for my bonny…

The Bournemouth Sinfonietta Conducted by Norman Del Mar Plays George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow”

butterworth

Butterworth based “The Banks of Green Willow” on two folk song melodies that he noted in 1907, including “Green Bushes”. “Green Bushes” was a common tune, and there are notable uses of it in works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Folk Song Suite, Movement 2) and Percy Grainger (“Passacaglia: Green Bushes” and “The Lost Lady Found”).

George Butterworth, age 31, was killed on 5 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He was was a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry.

Norman Del Mar was a British horn player/conductor who taught conducting at the Royal College of Music; one of his notable students was violist/conductor Neil Thomson (b. 1966) who in his own turn taught conducting at the College. My bonny John was one of his students.

Joan Sutherland Sings a Song by Composer William Shield, Local Swalwell Lad Made Good

Dame Joan was the one who got me interested in classical singing, if not doing it myself then listening to and appreciating it. This really tasty ditty comes from the pen of William Shield of Swalwell (which is right next door to the neighborhood of Low Fell), Gateshead, who rose to be the king’s Master of the Musicians and was buried in Westminster. From his comic opera Rosina (1782).

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The Earworm That is Knightsbridge, Conducted by John Wilson

You’ve heard this piece a lot if you, like me, have regularly tuned in to the BBC over the years, as it was the signature tune for In Town Tonight. This is a sprightly “march” with a grand ending that doesn’t sound deserved—which is why I can’t get it out of my head—unless you know that this is actually the final movement of an entire 17-minute suite.

Performed by the BBC Symphony for the program British Light Music at the 2900-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011.

I thoroughly enjoy watching John conduct the works of Eric Coates as he seems to have taken a personal delight in this particular composer—check out the very grand “Dam Busters” below (starting at 6:05; endearing look of satisfaction unclouded by thought at 9:10).

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The Death Star and The Dam Busters Played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson

A grand movie score by the prolific Eric Coates, very inspiring and very English. This is the kind of piece that cues you to proudly fly the Union Jack, which predictably some chap did, right in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall. I’m guessing this is some sort of tradition. The 2007 BBC Proms included the famous climactic shots from The Dam Busters—you know, the movie George Lucas ripped off when he did Star Wars. Not the Death Star down there, though, it’s the Eder Dam in the heart of Nazi Germany (6:05).

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Captain Kangaroo’s Theme by Edward White, Conducted by John Wilson, 2008

At around the same time of life baby John was home in Gateshead falling out of his high chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, I was in my crib in the living room of the old one-bedroom apartment in South Minneapolis jumping up and down in excitement to the theme of Captain Kangaroo on TV.

I think I was always aware that this thing called music existed—my mother continually had the “light music” station tuned in on the tabletop radio, and I remember, before I could walk, hearing again and again orchestral standards like Leroy Anderson’s “Serenata”, Morton Gould’s “Pavanne”, Trevor Duncan’s “Lady in Love” etc etc, and my absolute favorite, the ubiquitous (because Minneapolis) “Swedish Rhapsody” by Hugo Alfen, jauntily rendered by Percy Faith.

But the Captain Kangaroo theme is the first piece of music I remember being able to grasp entirely, except for that stop-time somewhere in the middle, but then I was only 1 or 2, and I didn’t learn about stop-time until music school. Never even knew the piece had a name besides “The Captain Kangaroo Theme”. Then just last month I landed on this vid of an entire BBC2 program from 2008 dedicated to light music pieces used for BBC shows. Went there to rip the Dick Barton, Special Agent! theme, a Monty Python favorite, for my library—it’s called “The Devil’s Galop” by Charles Williams, by the way—and came away with “Barwick Green” from The Archers, “March from Little Suite” from Dr Finlay’s Casebook etc etc etc. And then like a bolt from the blue at 47:55 was “Puffin’ Billy” which, with a crazy thrill, I recognized from the first four notes, who wouldn’t? And there—and there!—at 36 looking 12—my darling lad on the podium.

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