Monday, 9 June 2008

Trevor Duncan: High Heels

One of my favourite pieces by Trevor Duncan is High Heels. Now there is no doubt that this piece owes much to David Rose’s ever popular Holiday for Strings – however Duncan has taken this idiom and created a work that is entirely his own. It is very much a case of a composer producing an early masterpiece and latterly feeling no need to disown it or even revise it.
To my mind this is one of those pieces that typifies the genre – there is absolutely no doubt from the first bar to the last that this is ‘light music’ of the very highest quality. Yet that is not to disparage it. What matters is whether it is good music: not if it is light or heavy, complicated or simple. And by every canon of criticism High Heels is good music – tune, scoring and formal balance.
High Heels was actually one of the earliest of Duncan’s contribution to the genre. In fact his first performed piece would appear to have been Vision in Velvet which had been inspected and approved by the conductor Ray Martin. In those days, the BBC had a restriction on its employees having music performed on the air, so Trevor Duncan chose to compose for newsreel and film companies who were not associated with the BBC. Interestingly, at this time, he chose his pseudonym – his given name was Leonard Charles Trebilcock! High Heels followed on from Vision of Velvet, once again receiving Martin’s approval. It became an immediate hit with a number of recordings and broadcasts.
The music is full of hustle and bustle and it is hard to imagine that it was written at a time of post war utility. It describes a vivacious lady in equally attractive surroundings. I guess that it has to be a grand entrance to The Dorchester Hotel rather than on the farm in East Anglia! Anyone with the least of imagination can provide the mental furniture for this piece of music.
Interestingly, it was composed at the time of his marriage to his first wife – who alas died some years later– so it may well be that she was the lady of style in Park Lane.
The ambience of this piece is something between Jazz and Mantovani – with an attractive syncopated rhythm and a melody that is underpinned with an evolving pizzicato bass. It was a soundscape that was to appear many times over the next two decades by a wide variety of composers. It was style that was definitely in the air.
Finally, Rob Barnett at MusicWeb International has summed this piece up well in his review of the Hyperion British Light Music compilation: “Trevor Duncan's High Heels is a flurry of 1950s style pizzicato - sophisticated: all fresh rain, shop windows and neon”…

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