Sunday, 25 July 2010

Vivian Ellis: Alpine Pastures

The nearest I have been to Alpine pastures is whilst flying over the that great mountain range towards Venice or Milan. And, something tells me that Vivian Ellis did not get much closer either. Naturally, the landscape is lodged in everybody’s mind. Whether it is through memories of reading Heidi (I only read that book last year) or watching The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews cresting the hill- every one of us knows what an alpine pasture looks like.

Vivian Ellis was well-known as a writer of musical comedies: perhaps his most famous song is Spread a Little Happiness. However, to classical music listeners it is his 'Coronation Scot' description of a steam locomotive that springs to mind. I am not sure when 'Alpine Pastures' was composed, but it was originally used in an Ovaltine advert and was then taken up by the BBC radio programme 'My Voice'. To my knowledge it has never been used as an accompaniment to an advert or documentary for or about Switzerland or Austria!

The music itself is less than convincing as a picture of rural Switzerland. However, it is a great tune that has one's foot tapping – certainly in the main part of the work.
It begins with  pseudo-Delius atmospheric mood music suggesting a misty morning high in the hills- just before day breaks. Yet soon the tune literally - changes. There is no attempt to word paint – it is a jogging-along little melody that makes full use of the ‘kitchen’ with parts for xylophone and glockenspiel. Good orchestral writing uses  an effective muted brass section. Sometimes the music reminded me of Albert Ketelbey and his Dresden Clocks. Occasionally there is a hint of a cuckoo and maybe even a few cowbells. There is one section that sounds remarkably like Strauss – Johann that is, and his Perpetuum Mobile. Listen out for the 'oompah' German band making an appearance before the work concludes.
If Richard Strauss and his patchwork Alpine Symphony is your preferred composition then this is not the work for you – but if you want a bit of jolly, light music then this is a great piece.
I think I will raise a glass of Strega (distilled from Alpine herbs) although as a child of the ‘fifties a cup of Ovalitine may be the appropriate beverage, and listen just one more time to this lovely, joyful, full of fun piece.

Vivian Ellis’ Alpine Pastures can be heard on British Light Music Classics Volume 3 Hyperion

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