ROBERT FARNON (1917 - 2005)
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 24 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. Ketlbey 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 Farnons 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 Farnons 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 Farnons ability to compose music to suit almost any kind of situation made him a valuable asset to Chappells. 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 Im Going, Farnons 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 Farnons 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.
Farnons work for Chappells, 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.