Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Clifton Parker: The Glass Slipper - Overture

The Glass Slipper is the only piece of music by Clifton Parker currently in the CD catalogues that is not film music. Although he is best known for his scores to the feature films Treasure Island, Western Approaches and Sink the Bismark! Parker was also a composer of concert hall and recital room pieces. His catalogue includes a symphony, a piano concerto and a number of chamber works. It is a repertoire that surely calls out for exploration.

In 1942 Herbert and Eleanor Farjeon were commissioned by Robert Donat to write a libretto for a children’s pantomime. It was to be based on the Cinderella fairy tale – with a few twists and changes to the traditional story. The Times reviewer suggested that it is effectively the story of Cinderella, “delicately disengaged from its familiar theatrical conventions”. The wonder is introduced by grandfather clocks, the tongs, the taps and the brooms that all have their own voices ‘establishing genial avuncular relations with Cinderella.” It is fair to say that The Glass Slipper was hardly a pantomime, yet neither did it seem to be an operetta. It opened in St James Theatre in December 1944. It was revived for the 1945/46 Christmas season.
The Overture is a short work lasting just over three minutes. However, it is a well-constructed piece that employs felicitous touches of instrumentation giving a subtlety well beyond what is required for a ‘pantomime.’ It opens with three repeated chords that are a feature of the music throughout the piece. The main constructive principle of the overture appears to be a couple of tunes presented in various guises. There is much contrast with a dance-like tune as it is tossed between woodwind and strings. One of the problems, which was identified by the Guardian reviewer, was the lack of a fairy godmother. This is reflected in the music by the complete absence of anything that might be construed as ‘magical’ effect. It is very much a ‘secular’ workmanlike score rather than one that takes the listener into the realm of ‘fairyland.’ This is a criticism of The Times reviewer who notes that ‘No fairy godmother stepped out of the kitchen fire to breathe stage magic into [the play].
All were agreed that the Ballet Rambert and the music of Clifton Parker made a significant contribution to the evening’s pleasure. In fact the Guardian reviewer notes that the composer’s ‘airs are full of graces.’
Robert Donat himself assisted as a stagehand due to labour shortages. In fact this seemed to be a criticism of the operetta: there were too few scene shifters. He was paid the equivalent of about 3/6d!

The Glass Slipper Overture can be heard on The Film Music of Clifton Parker on Chandos 10279

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