About this Recording
8.110849 - FARNON: Journey into Melody (Farnon) (1946-1950)

Robert Farnon (b. 1917)

Journey into Melody • A Star is Born • Portrait of a Flirt • Manhattan Playboy

Robert Farnon is widely recognised as one of the foremost composers, arrangers and conductors of light music during the second half of the twentieth century. His influence has spread far beyond the shores of the British Isles, and the fact that this kind of music continues to flourish is due in no small measure to the way in which his own success has encouraged many other musicians to work in this important sphere of our musical culture.

Robert Farnon was born in Toronto, Canada, on 24th July 1917, but has lived and worked in Britain since 1944, when he was sent overseas as conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. This involved playing alongside Glenn Miller and George Melachrino, providing radio entertainment for the allies during the closing years of World War II. In Britain he discovered the existence of a world of music previously unfamiliar to him. The works of Eric Coates, Charles Williams, Albert W. Ketèlbey and the other light music composers fascinated him, and he was surprised to realise that he had already been developing such ideas in isolation, during his early years in Canada.

Finding the music scene in Britain far more suited to his talents and aspirations, he decided to remain after the war. He wanted to work in films, but mainly he wished to develop his skills in composing light music. Farnon brought a fresh, vibrant approach, possibly due to his exposure to the jazzy elements in popular music he had grown up with during his formative years. Whereas traditional British light music had, until then, been somewhat genteel in nature, the first ten years of Farnon’s influence on the British scene were to change dramatically the ideas of his contemporaries. It can be argued that light music might well have faded away during the 1950s, if it had merely tried to continue in its pre-war style. Instead it received a fresh impetus, which survives to this day.

As a house conductor with Decca during the late 1940s, Robert Farnon wrote and conducted countless arrangements for their leading singers, and eventually he was allowed to record some of his own instrumental compositions. His first 78rpm record of his own compositions was Jumping Bean and Portrait of a Flirt, both included in this collection, and among Farnon’s most popular light cameos. Before reaching the general public as a Decca release, these two pieces had first been recorded specially for the mood music library operated by the London publishers Chappell & Co. Ltd., for use exclusively by radio, television and film companies world-wide. The catchy Jumping Bean was quickly taken up around the world, and it is believed to be the most-used signature tune of all time; in the United States for many years it introduced the weather forecasts on television.

Robert Farnon’s ability to compose music to suit almost any kind of situation made him a valuable asset to Chappell’s. Since his first work for them, Willie the Whistler, they have published and recorded hundreds of his inspired creations. All of the titles in this collection were first recorded as mood music, with later commercial recordings following when pieces became familiar, which in the 1940s and 1950s meant mainly through their use on radio.

Programmes such as In Town Tonight used a lot of music from the mood music libraries to link their features, and the main star interview at the end of each show was heralded by A Star is Born (contrary to a common misconception, this has no connection with the famous film, which came some years later). Following the star interview in I.T.T., listeners always heard Portrait of a Flirt, which certainly caught the imagination of the public. It was even recorded by David Rose in the United States, and Farnon was prevailed upon to write a sequel. The result was Manhattan Playboy, the male equivalent of that exuberant ‘flirt’.

The British film industry soon beckoned. After a brief period working alongside established writers, such as Allan Gray on I Know Where I’m Going, Farnon’s name appeared on the credits of bright, frothy features like Spring in Park Lane and Maytime in Mayfair. One film which seems to have vanished was Paper Orchid, but the main theme, retitled Melody Fair, is one of Farnon’s most glamorous and enduring compositions. Some forty film scores followed, notably Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N., Shalako and the last of the famous ‘Road’ pictures starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, The Road to Hong Kong.

Although he excels at bright, exciting and romantic works, Farnon is also capable of composing more serious music. In How Beautiful is Night and In a Calm there are distinct clues hinting at the major works he would write in his later career, such as his Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra, Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra and Cascades to the Sea.

Farnon’s work for Chappell’s, and his many superb albums for Decca during the 1950s, meant that his name and music were familiar in many countries, especially the United States. In 1962 Frank Sinatra chose him to arrange and conduct the only studio LP he ever made outside America, and other leading musicians who have recorded with Farnon include Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, George Shearing, and The Singers Unlimited. An album accompanying the legendary trombone player J.J. Johnson resulted in Robert Farnon receiving the Grammy for the best instrumental arrangement of 1995 for the track Lament. In Britain he has been honoured with several Ivor Novello Awards for various compositions, and in 1991 he was presented with the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors’ major citation for Outstanding Services to British Music.

One of the glories of Farnon’s orchestrations is his use of the strings. André Previn has called him "the world’s greatest writer for strings" and colleagues such as Henry Mancini and film composer John Williams have publicly acknowledged the debt they owe to Farnon’s influence. Before discovering ‘Light Music’ in Britain, the young Robert Farnon secretly hoped that his future might lie in the classical sphere. Before the war intervened, he had composed two symphonies, which received several performances in Canada and the United States, but working musicians, and especially composers and arrangers, have to supply what is demanded by the market place, which in Farnon’s case has meant hundreds of radio and television broadcasts, interspersed with countless recordings, concert appearances in many countries, and film scores. His output has been extremely varied, proving beyond doubt that he must be taken seriously as a major composer of the last century.

The tracks in this compilation concentrate on Farnon’s recordings during a relatively short period of around five years up to 1950. His creative energy seemed to know no bounds at that time, but the astonishing fact remains that he has continued to produce a steady stream of high quality music of many kinds ever since. Today he is still composing and arranging from the serenity of his home on the island of Guernsey, where he has lived with his family for over forty years.

David Ades

The Robert Farnon Society embraces the entire world of Light Music. For a free sample copy of their magazine "Journal Into Melody", just send your name and address to: The Secretary, RFS, Stone Gables, Upton Lane, Ilminster, Somerset, TA19 0PZ, England. Website: www.rfsoc.freeserve.co.uk

David Lennick

As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennick’s work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specialising in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalisers, compressors and the inherent limitations of AM radio. Equally at home in the classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia fields, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, Syracuse University and others.

Producer’s Note

Robert Farnon’s music has been a favourite among light music collectors for years, and while the commercial recordings issued on Decca/London have been widely known and enjoyed, the discs made for the Chappell library have been the real collector’s items, since they were not for sale to the public. As noted, the more popular pieces were re-recorded for commercial issue (Manhattan Playboy was an exception, the original Chappell recording being issued on Decca and from the same stampers). In two cases we have chosen the Chappell originals as the preferable performances (In a Calm and Peanut Polka). And it will be noted that two of the pieces on this CD are conducted not by Bob Farnon but by Charles Williams. While a "Farnon Conducts Farnon" programme would have been an excellent concept, it would have meant losing two favourites, Willie The Whistler and Canadian Caravan.

The Naxos historical label aims to make available the greatest recordings in the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

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