About this Recording
8.573954 - PERRY, W.: Music for Stage and Screen - Toujours Provence / Wind in the Willows (Chertock, Slovak Philharmonic, P. Phillips, W. Perry)
English 

William Perry (b. 1930)
Toujours Provence: Music for Stage and Screen

 

Toujours Provence: A Musical Guidebook for Orchestra and Piano

William Perry has been a frequent visitor to the Provence region of Southern France and has thoroughly embraced the history and culture of this most picturesque part of the world. Says Perry: ‘I had long considered writing a suite about Provence, and it all came together with the encouragement of the late Peter Mayle (1939–2018), author of A Year in Provence, who kindly loaned me the title of his sequel, Toujours Provence. His spirit inhabits every note.’ Perry continues: ‘Musically, I describe the piece as being for Orchestra and Piano. It’s not quite a concerto, but the piano does have a prominent role representing modern-day Provence. The four movements are linked by a solo clarinet who serves as our guide. I’ve incorporated some less usual symphonic instruments including an alto saxophone, a pair of oboe d’amores (also playable on regular oboes) and a long Provençal drum sometimes called a tambourin.’

 1  Part One: A Brief History

The opening music marked From a Distant Past begins in low strings and gradually works its way up through the woodwinds to a solo piano entrance and a ‘Welcome to Provence’ theme. It calls forth the spirit and beauty of Provence from the earliest days of settlement. A solo trumpet and then full brass announces ‘The Arrival of the Romans’. After some elaboration, the music moves to the High Middle Ages where woodwinds and light percussion suggest the period of ‘courtly love’. The piano picks up the theme for a modern presentation. The last bit of history comes with piccolo trumpet presenting La Carmagnole, widely sung and danced during the French Revolution.

 2  Part Two: Lavender Fields and Vineyards

This movement is a pastorale, descriptive of the beautiful flowers, fruit trees and vines that are so much a part of the Provençal landscape. A pair of oboe d’amores and a solo horn have long melodic statements that are combined at the close of the piece.

Meantime, the tranquillity of the countryside is interrupted by the arrival of the Mistral, the strong, sometimes violent, wind that roars down the Rhône River Valley and, as Peter Mayle put it, can blow the ears off a donkey. Here the wind is characterised by sweeping piano arpeggios.

 3  Part Three: Café Terrace at Night

In September of 1888, Vincent van Gogh, then living in Arles, painted his Café Terrace at Night, an atmospheric depiction of nightlife in Provence and the first instance where Van Gogh presented his iconic starry sky. (See the inside front cover of this booklet.)

September is a sultry month in Provence, and William Perry has fashioned a slow and sultry waltz for piano and light percussion. The first part of the movement describes the café and its customers; the second part uses treble glissandos to portray the starry sky; the third section, combining the previous two, presents some challenges for the pianist.

Incidentally, the Café Terrace is still thriving in Arles and retains the colours and setting that appear in the painting.

 4  Part Four: Market Day

The final movement begins quietly as the farmers and tradesmen set up their stalls in the village square. Suddenly, as if on cue, the market bursts into life with a flourish of trumpets and horns. To add to the colour, street minstrels and costumed dancers appear and fill the square with step routines that go back many centuries. In fact, the music Perry quotes for this occasion is called Kalenda Maya and was written by the troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras around 1205.

A return of piano music from the first movement brings us back to the present with three sets of drums accenting the finish.

 5  Fiona

Over the years, William Perry has written a number of pieces for the Albek Duo of Switzerland: identical twin sisters Ambra (violin, viola) and Fiona (piano). One of the most memorable collaborations was the Gemini Concerto, which they recorded for Naxos (8.572567). A subsequent Suite for Viola and Piano was nearly complete when Fiona fell critically ill and passed away at far too early an age. Perry arranged one of the movements of the Suite for full orchestra and dedicated it as a tribute to Fiona. Solo piano, Fiona’s instrument, is featured throughout, and the viola theme that would have been a solo for Ambra is here played by ten orchestral violas.

The principal melody of this piece is one that Perry had originally written as title music for the silent film Irene (1926). It will now be forever associated with Fiona.

Wind in the Willows: Ballet Suite

Just before Christmas in 1985, following an earlier sold-out run in Washington, D.C., a new musical version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, opened on Broadway. The author of the musical version was Jane Iredale, William Perry composed the music, Roger McGough and William Perry provided the lyrics and Nathan Lane had his first Broadway starring role as Toad. The show was to receive several Tony nominations, but it did not have the run it had hoped for. Since then, there have been numerous successful productions throughout the world.

In 2018 Perry completed a long-held wish of turning the stage score into a ballet, arranged and orchestrated for full symphony. Here is the cast and the scenario:

The ballet principals include Mole (a ballerina) and Rat, Toad and the Chief Weasel. Subsidiary soloists include Mother and Father Rabbit and the Jailer’s Daughter. Members of the corps de ballet portray the Chief Weasel’s gang, Bystanders, Can-Can Dancers, Policemen and most especially Rabbits (and Bunny Rabbits) of all shapes and sizes.

The setting is a forest glade with some upstage hanging branches that suggest willow trees.

 6  Overture

The Overture is danced and introduces the entire cast. First a tiny bunny peeks out and then many more appear accompanied by Mother and Father Rabbit. The music becomes a sort of elegant foxtrot (but no fox) and the lead dancers, Mole and Rat are introduced. A bouncy 6/8 rhythm brings out a bouncy Toad whose solo is interrupted by the arrival of the Chief Weasel and his gang. In a classic show of bravado, Toad threatens to beat up the Chief with three mighty punches (bass drum, cymbal, bell). The company laughs, then cheers and dances to conclusion.

 7  Mole’s Waltz

The story begins. Mole has lived her entire life underground and is now seeing a new world for the first time. Rabbits bring out pots of flowers and provide backing for her solo as she expresses her joy with a flurry of jumps and turns.

 8  Gasoline Can-Can

Several bystanders look excitedly offstage. Something is coming. It’s Toad in a pedal-driven go-car. He circles the stage and imagines that he has just won a Grand Prix. Basking in the glory of it all, he is surrounded by Can-Can girls who help him celebrate. An irate gentleman rushes in followed by two policemen. He gestures that the car is his and has been stolen by Toad who is promptly arrested and taken away. The Can-Can ladies wave him goodbye.

 9  Along the River (Pas de Deux)

Mole and Rat meet for the first time. First, Rat shyly introduces himself, and then Mole does the same. Obviously attracted, their early bashfulness gives way to partnering that becomes increasingly more involved, ultimately culminating in a series of complex lifts. This track features a piano solo by Donald Sosin.

 10  Evil Weasel

To the sound of a wailing saxophone and a rock beat, the Chief Weasel, all muscle and ego, demonstrates his power over his gang members who clearly worship the ground he stomps on. A few stray rabbits who happen by are quickly chased away, and the female gang members smother the Chief with adulation.

 11  Toad’s Dance

Toad is in jail feeling very sorry for himself when the Jailer’s Daughter appears with a tray of food. When she opens his cell door, a plan takes shape. To the seductive beat of a habanera, Toad persuades her to let him try on her garments. Overcome with the attention and compliments, she relinquishes enough of her clothes to allow him to escape from jail feeling triumphant but looking very much like a washerwoman.

 12  March of the Rabbits

The rabbits have learned that while Toad has been in jail, the Weasels have taken over his ancestral home, Toad Hall. The rabbits decide to organise and march to the Hall. With new-found courage, several of them arm themselves with huge carrots, and they all parade to a grand finish.

 13  Wind in the Willows (Pas de Deux)

Mole and Rat wander into the woods. They know that Toad has escaped from jail and they hope to find him somewhere in the woods. The voices of Nature can be heard behind them (a wordless choir), and their pas de deux is filled with wonder. A strange light envelops the stage. Pan, the god who watches over all animals, appears upstage and gestures off as if summoning someone. Toad, haggard but no longer lost, enters and embraces his friends.

 14  Weasel Gavotte

A quote from a Haydn sonata sets the stage for the Weasels’ occupancy of Toad Hall. They are now attired in elegant costumes, or as elegant as a Weasel can get. The Chief asks them to show some couth and promises that there’ll be:

Croquet on the lawn, a gentle breeze, as many strawberries as we please.
Silken hankies when we sneeze, silver peaspoons for our peas.
An aristocratic life of ease
Where money grows on family trees.

But the Weasels can’t stay elegant for long. They return to their usual wild style, and even the Chief joins them in a fast-paced production-rhythm dance.

 15  The Fight

The Weasels are congratulating each other when suddenly Toad, Mole and Rat burst in along with the rabbits swinging their huge carrots like cudgels. Toad and the Chief face off, and Toad is quickly flattened. On his knees, Toad pretends to beg for mercy, and while the Chief is striking a victor’s pose, Toad springs up and delivers a decisive punch. He has won the day.

 16  Finale

Rat helps the Chief to his feet and indicates that it’s time to replace fighting with friendship. They’ll need to support each other with the wide world coming closer every day. There are handshakes and hugs from everyone, and in the final pages of music, the cast turns to the audience for bows.

 17  Swordplay!

In the silent film era, the king of swashbuckling was Douglas Fairbanks, who starred in such features as The Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, The Black Pirate, The Three Musketeers and its sequel, The Iron Mask. From his scores for these last two films, William Perry has fashioned a concert overture, what used to be called a ‘curtain-raiser’ in the days when a typical concert programme would consist of an overture, a concerto and a symphony. In Swordplay! Perry establishes several themes which are woven through the piece including:

Title Music:

Love Music:

In the midst of Musketeer revelry, Cardinal Richelieu’s swordsmen arrive and a pitched battle ensues. The Musketeers fight to the death, and later, the music depicts the moment when Fairbanks, as d’Artagnan, dies when stabbed from behind. The final scenes of the film show the companions marching through the clouds to ‘greater adventure beyond’.

 18  Shopping in Paris

In his lifetime, Mark Twain’s best-selling book was The Innocents Abroad (1869). Immensely entertaining, it chronicled his adventures and observations in the company of American travellers making a ‘Great Pleasure Excursion’ to Europe and the Holy Land. In 1983, William Perry produced with his score a film version of the book starring Craig Wasson, Brooke Adams, David Ogden Stiers, and, playing the universal guide they named ‘Ferguson’, the Italian star, Gigi Proietti.

In a scene in Paris, when Twain and his companions ask Ferguson to take them to the Louvre, he steers them instead to an assemblage of silk stores where he has arranged to get a cut of the sales. The music of Shopping in Paris, with its very Parisian orchestration, accompanies their whirlwind tour of the stores.

 19  Soliloquy

Soliloquy is based on a song in Act Two of the Broadway musical, The Wind in the Willows. After Toad has escaped from jail, he is chased by a bevy of policemen into parts unknown where he becomes disoriented and lonely. With only himself to fall back on, what is he to do if that ‘himself’ disappears? Nathan Lane sang this poignant but whimsical lyric by Roger McGough.

Where am I now when I need me?
Suddenly where have I gone?
I’m so alone here without me,
Tell me, please, what have I done?

Once I did most things together,
I went for walks hand in hand,
Trusted myself so completely,
I met my every demand.

Tell me I’ll come back tomorrow,
I’ll keep my arms open wide.
Tell me that I’ll never leave me,
My place is here, right by my side.

Maybe I’ve simply mislaid me,
Like an umbrella or key,
And so till the day when I come my way,
Here is a song just for me.

The song was later arranged for harmonica and orchestra and specifically for Richard Hayman (1920–2014). Hayman was an extraordinary musician. Self-taught, he became a conductor, composer, arranger (50 years with the Boston Pops) and one of the foremost harmonica soloists of his time. He worked for many years with William Perry, and his orchestrations for the films Life on the Mississippi and The Private History of a Campaign That Failed (Peabody Award) set a standard for the art.

 20  Graduation March

In 1907, Mark Twain received an honorary degree from Oxford University, joining other distinguished honourees including Rudyard Kipling, Auguste Rodin and Camille Saint- Saëns. Twain said, ‘I never expected to cross the water again, but I would be willing to journey to Mars for that Oxford degree.’ The New York Times reported that Mark Twain was ‘the lion of the occasion. Everyone rose when he was escorted up the aisle and he was applauded for a quarter of an hour.’

In Mark Twain: The Musical, a large-scale biographical production that ran for ten summers in Elmira, NY and Hartford, CT, this March accompanies the arrival of Twain and his degree co-recipients. Interestingly, it is now becoming used by other colleges for their present-day Commencement ceremonies. When composer Perry received an honorary degree, he reminded his audience of Twain’s advice: ‘Let us endeavour so to live that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry’.

Orchestrations

In the high-pressure business of composing stage musicals or film scores, collaboration plays an important role. Musicals are often rewritten during rehearsals and previews with new songs and dances rushed into performance. The composer depends on arrangers and orchestrators to help pull that new material together. Composers of film scores can also be writing under tight schedules and need collaborators to arrange scores and prepare for music sessions.

William Perry has been blessed with having musical collaborators at the very top of the profession, and he especially salutes Richard Hayman, William David Brohn, Robert Nowak, Peter Breiner, Donald Sosin and Ted Royal.

In recent years, orchestrator Robert Nowak has become a specialist in the music of William Perry, and his particular use of strings, alto saxophone, oboe d’amore and an array of interesting percussion instruments has helped to create a definitive Perry sound. In a remarkable career, Nowak has arranged and orchestrated for concert hall, film and theatre, and his recognised skill as an engraver has illuminated the scores of the Boston Pops, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York City Opera and Ballet as well as countless film scores and Broadway musicals.

The orchestra used in this recording calls for three flutes (second and third doubling piccolo), two oboes (both doubling oboe d’amore), English horn, two clarinets in B flat (first doubles clarinet in A, second doubles clarinet in E flat), bass clarinet, alto saxophone, two bassoons, contra bassoon, four horns, three trumpets (first doubling piccolo trumpet), three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harmonica, accordion, two harps, piano, organ and strings. A wordless choir joins the orchestra in Track 13, Wind in the Willows (Pas de Deux).

Douglas Bruce


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