Closing Thought on “The Trolley Song” from A Celebration of Classic MGM Film Musicals with Conductor John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms 2009

Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, I don’t care whether some guy at Warners made you up because he had to optimize the assets in his department, you’re real enough to me. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit how you got the gig. What matters is you did the work.

The Trolley Song
from Meet Me In St Louis (MGM, 1944)
orchestrated by Conrad Salinger
reconstructed by John Wilson
played by The John Wilson Orchestra
conducted by John Wilson
from the album That’s Entertainment!
A Celebration of MGM Musicals
Kim Criswell, vocalist
Warner Classics, 2012

John Wilson Orchestra, Criswell, RLPO 2012 .jpg
Kim Criswell and John Wilson rehearsing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. [Photo by Eric the Fish King, 2012]

Stephen Sondheim, Earl Wrightson, and Irwin Kostal On American Musical Theatre, WCBS, 15 October 1961

In an episode of this television series, originally broadcast exclusively in New York City, Sondheim speaks before a workshop of NYC high school students, discussing the genesis of such songs as “Small World”, “I Feel Pretty”, and “One Hand, One Heart,” which are performed by Martha Wright and Ralph Curtis.

This show also includes question and answer period with Irwin Kostal, arranger and conductor for West Side Story. Hosted by Earl Wrightson. Produced by Ned Cramer. Directed by Neal Finn.

  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses – The CBS Orchestra
  • Small World – Martha Wright
  • Maria – Ralph Curtis
  • I Feel Pretty – Martha Wright
  • Tonight (Balcony Scene) – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • One Hand, One Heart – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • Mambo – The CBS Orchestra
  • Cool (Fugue) – The CBS Orchestra
  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses (reprise) – The CBS Orchestra

Sondheim, Wrightson, KostalLyricist-Composer Stephen Sondheim, Baritone/Host Earl Wrightson, Orchestrator-Conductor Irwin Kostal.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mr Kostal, what is the difference between an orchestrator and an arranger?

It refers specifically to what you find on the music. When a composer composes a piece of music, we hope that it’s a complete piece of music, and when a man like Mr Bernstein composes the music (short laugh) it is. So all you do, you just discuss with him what he’d like to hear, flutes, violins…and you follow exactly what is written on the paper. This is what I call orchestration. Now, I get to do very little of that kind of work…because nowadays composers don’t bother with too much detail…

Steve [Sondheim] here is the kind of man we need because he’s studying music, and believe me that is a rarity on Broadway, because most composers don’t… At one time in history, composers actually did their own orchestration. They had the time in those days…but also, they could do it. For instance, Victor Herbert was a tremendous orchestrator. On one television show I did recently I actually used Mr Herbert’s scores as he wrote them in 1916—I couldn’t do ‘em any better. He knew what he was doing. Kurt Weill was the last one to do this. George Gershwin never did it on Broadway, but he—after he became a successful songwriter—studied music and learned how to orchestrate so that by the time he did Porgy and Bess he was able to do a very good job on the orchestrations.

Now, in arranging—if the composer does not do his job properly, the orchestrator has to come in and finish the job for him. Now, you’d be surprised how many times I do Broadway shows where I get roughly a one-line melody, a lead sheet, and I have to add the bass line, the harmony, the chords, and if it goes on for four minutes or a routine I have to think of things for the flutes to play and the violins to play etcetera, and it becomes a hefty job and I really feel like I am a composer’s partner when I do this*… You know, the more you do of this sort of work, the less the composer likes it. Because he’s kind of mad at you because he didn’t do it himself, I think anyway. And it serves him right. He should do it himself. I think he should go to school himself and learn. We have too many lead sheets—sure, the melody is the most important thing in music, but too many of our composers have decided to write only the melody. They have separated melody from music. Now, the art of melody writing is not a separate art from music, it’s a part of music. And when they have written this top line and leave the rest to me, they’ve got to be dissatisfied because they didn’t do it themselves. Let them get down to their business and go to school and learn to write!

[*I wonder who’s he’s talking about. Shinbone Alley’s George Kleinsinger? Fiorello’s Jerry Bock? Surely not The Music Man’s Meredith Willson—Willson went to Juilliard.]

Sid Ramin and Red Ginzler’s Overture to Gypsy: John Wilson Conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2012

The indication “burlesque strip stylewas actually written on the music right around 4:00. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this orchestration. Once again, the BBC Proms program The Broadway Sound, 2012.

John Wilson Gypsy OvertureAlso at 4:00 my darling John Wilson shimmying like a brazen hussy. This is the moment one year ago today when I fell in love with you, my bonny, that lovely luscious moment when I stumbled onto that clip above of you at the Royal Albert and got your number

Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell, Played by Valentina Lisitsa with the BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Keith Lockhart, BBC Proms 2013

Warsaw Concerto Lisitsa Lockhart 2013
I love watching how Lockhart, official Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, scrupulously keeps in sync with not just his orchestra but with his soloist. It’s also a delight to watch at the beginning of the clip Lisitsa curtsying almost shyly to leader Cynthia Fleming.

Valentina Lisitsa, who started out as a YouTube sensation 12 years ago and is now counted as one of the foremost keyboard interpreters of the Eastern European Romantics, gives an intensely satisfying performance here of Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto. The Concerto was written for the movies—for, specifically, the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight, in which Polish concert pianist Anton Walbrook becomes a fighter pilot for the RAF, falls in love, gets amnesia, and composes some music. The movie, although a success from a propaganda viewpoint, was considered a potboiler by critics, and even the astute Anthony Burgess, who was an army sergeant and nascent composer himself at the time, looked down on the “Warsaw Concerto” as a cheap imitation of Rachmaninoff. Intellectual snobs have derided the piece, but it’s lingered in the memory for lo these many years, and is only now taking its permanent place in the classical repertoire.

For that we have to thank composer/film music restorer Philip Lane. It was to Lane that the musical estate of Richard Addinsell was entrusted and, like composer/orchestrator William David Brohn (for Prokoviev’s Alexander Nevsky) and my beloved John Wilson, Lane took on the task of reconstructing by ear written scores for film music whose manuscripts had been destroyed through carelessness or war. (Some suggest that the “Warsaw Concerto” was entirely the work of Addinsell’s orchestrator, Roy Douglas, who died in 2015 at the age of 107.) Addinsell’s—or Douglas’s—”Warsaw Concerto” was one of them. As Lane writes:

“The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Horner in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.”

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Martin and Blane, Orchestrated by Conrad Salinger, Reconstructed by My Beloved John Wilson, and Sung by Judy Garland

The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St Louis (MGM, 1944). Divided into a series of seasonal vignettes starting with summer, 1903, the movie relates the story of a year in the life of the Smith family in St Louis, Missouri, leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (more commonly referred to as the World’s Fair) in the spring of 1904. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.jpg

For more Judy, Conrad Salinger and bonny John, go to my post below on “The Trolley Song”.

“June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, Played by The John Wilson Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson, BBC Proms 2010

There was one number in the entire JWO Salute to Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Proms that was worth a damn—only one, but it’s a doozy.

John Wilson June

June Is Bustin’ Out All Over
from Carousel (20th Century Fox, 1956)
Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies
Warner Classics, 2011

An impressive list of orchestrators went into the making of this film musical number, including Nelson Riddle, Earle Hagen (That Girl Theme, The Dick Van Dyke Show Theme, The Andy Griffith Show Theme) and John Williams; you can hear the layers and layers of gorgeous sound in John and his Orchestra’s rendition.

This clip is from the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, 2010, but really, listen instead to the cut above from The JWO’s 2011 recording. It’s really ravishing.

The MGM Jubilee Overture Arranged by Johnny Green, Reconstructed and Conducted by John Wilson, and Played by The John Wilson Orchestra

MGM’s best-known music director arranged this piece in 1954 in commemoration of the studio’s 30th birthday. And since 2004, when my beloved John Wilson and his eponymous orchestra first played this reconstituted medley at the 2,900-seat Royal Festival Hall, it has gone on to become sort of their signature piece, which they’ve played all over the world from Sydney to Berlin. I can’t imagine how John was able to reconstruct the score directly from hearing this lusterless film short, but my darling has the gift of patience and commitment.

John Wilson MGM BerlinOne of those rare moments when John conducted without his baton, which fell out of his grasp but was retrieved seconds later by an alert string player. Berlin, 2016.

Now….right. Because this is turning out to be the second most clicked-on post on my blog (the first most clicked-on being the one about Noli Me Tangere, the Filipino opera based on Jose Rizal’s classic novel) I’ve decided finally to take a few minutes to come back to this posting and add the names of the composers and lyricists as I promised—and bear in mind, I’m doing this pretty much from memory. (I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP, remember?): “Singin’ In the Rain” / Nacio Herb Brown; “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” / Cole Porter; “Broadway Rhythm” / Nacio Herb Brown; “The Last Time I Saw Paris” / Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II; “Temptation” (shades of Tony Martin!) / Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed; “Be My Love” (shades of Mario Lanza!) Nicholas Brodzsky / Sammy Cahn; “The Trolley Song” (with the Judy sound) / Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane; “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (more Judy sound) / Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer; “Donkey Serenade” / Herbert Stothart, based on Rudolph Friml; and “Over the Rainbow” (the Judy sound of all Judy sounds) / Harold Arlen, EY Harburg.

The last two numbers “Donkey” and “Rainbow” were obvious tributes to Green’s late predecessor as music director, Oscar winner (for The Wizard of Oz score, which John reconstructed by ear), Herbert Stothart.

Deleted: 2 bars plus “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” / Frank Loesser and John, I’d really enjoy a little chat with you regarding, among other things, your fellow musical reconstructor Philip Lane’s comments one of these days.