Saturday, 23 October 2010

Frederic Curzon: The Boulevardier

The Oxford English Dictionary rather prosaically defines a ‘boulevardier as ‘someone who frequents boulevards.’ However the word can be expanded considerably to include the ‘man-about-town’ who enjoys fashionable living. Furthermore it could be added that he will frequent public places such as squares, cafes and fashionable streets. In fact he could well be regarded as a ‘bon vivant.’ Although Frederic Curzon in his delicious musical portrayal of this man quite definitely has Paris as the locale of his sketch, it is not too hard to mentally transfer this piece to London. In fact, when I hear this swaggering piece I tend to imagine someone from the pages of P.G. Wodehouse. This is not necessarily Bertie Wooster himself, but may be anyone from the Drones Club, such as Pongo Twisleton, Cyril ‘Barmy’ Fortheringay-Phipps, Tuppy Glossop or Oofie Prosser. .
Ernest Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) was one of the junior members of the pre-war British Light Music scene being considerably younger than Haydn Wood, Eric Coates or Arthur Wood. His music tends to be more melodically and harmonically conservative than later composers such as Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon. He tended to eschew jazz and the more ‘popular’ idioms. However, he did write a number of ‘humoresques’ for Tommy Handley’s ITMA and he contributed to the stock of mood music that was so much in demand by radio and newsreel producers..
Curzon wrote this ‘Characteristic intermezzo in 1939 and it duly appeared in 1941 at a time when London was subject to bombing raids and Paris was in the hands of the Nazis. It therefore looks back in time to an earlier age.
The work is based upon the ‘steady tread’ of a confident young man strolling through the Parisian streets, probably with cane in hand. Although the music does become a little more agitated and flamboyant in the ‘middle eight’ the coolness of the individual never really disappears. It is difficult to know what is going on in his head. Is he thinking about paying a call to a certain Mademoiselle? Or perhaps he is heading towards his club? Or maybe he is just taking in the evening air. What is never in doubt is the ‘boulevardier’s’ confidence, nor that of the composer's portrayal of him.
Like much of Curzon’s music The Boulevardier is a melodic, attractively scored piece of light music that retains its ability to captivate the listener. It certainly achieves its effect of portraying a certain kind of individual long since disappeared from the streets of Paris or London. Yet who knows? Did I not see a gentleman walking down Piccadilly the other day with his cane and spats – or was it a trick of the light...?
Frederic Curzon's TheBoulevardier can be heard on Marco Polo 8.2234425. A short sound sample is available on this website.


Paul Brownsey said...

The point of this comment is not much more than "Ah, The Boulevardier, a favourite of mine." But why not make it anyway?

Hearing The Boulevardier always takes me back to the 1950s when, frequently home ill from school, living in a slum cottage on the Malvern Hills, I would have the radio on all day (though my family thought that would damage it by overheating it) and The Boulevardier was typical of the light music that was played.

That whole genre of British Light Music always feels so safe and secure and I can't work out whether that's because it's in the music - in the harmonies, etc, - or whether it's because it is bound up with a time when, as a child, I felt fairly safe from the world's ills, even though my family lived in great poverty and other stresses. British Light Music - not just The Boulevardier but so much else, too - always seems to exude an assurance that the world isn't so bad, that nice things happen, that whatever your troubles you can rise above them with a smile, that things are heading for a nice ending, that even big troubles are worth only a wistful sigh. (I don't mean to sneer at it by saying that.)

The little I've heard of Curzon's music strikes me as some of the more inventive British Light Music. I believe the Marco Polo performance doesn't use the saxophones that Curzon wrote in this piece but that the Hyperion one does.

You don't get that many comments on your blog. Don't take that as indicative of lack of interest. It's one of the first I turn to and I love reading about the bits and pieces you turn up.

John France said...

Thanks for that Paul! It was a great comment. I agree that I get relatively few comments, but the Google Analyitcs tell me that I get a goodly number of hits each day! And that makes me happy!
And your response makes it all worth while!

Mathias Richter said...

John and Paul, you may be amused to hear that I am a Curzon fan, too. I am not that fond of light music in general but I have a few soft spots. One is the Boulevardier. Curzon has quite an individual voice I think.
Excerpts from the Marco Polo CD were broadcast by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk in 1993. They had a very fine light music show then but it has been cancelled some time ago. Thanks to this show there may be a few German listeners who know their Coates, Curzon or Tomlinson.

Paul Brownsey said...

I'm moved by John's and Mathias's responses to add to my original comment.

British Light Music, as a genre, always seems to me to be in a curious way supportive of the status quo. Never is it a call to arms against 'the system'; never does it prod the listener into questioning the way things are or even to stand back from the way things are or to take a novel perspective on the way things are. It always feels to be, as it were, music to reconcile you to the system, music to make you feel that whatever your woes, the way things are is pretty good on the whole. When I listen to, say, Haydn Wood's 'The Horse Guards, Whitehall', I think of a father excitedly and uncritically showing his child the brave soldiers on their gee-gees; we are a million miles from a challenge to ther military-industrial system.
It's essentisally *conservative* music - politically conservative, that is. I am very fond of this music but there is usually in me an undertow of uneaseabout this in my response to it. (It's like being knocked flat by La Boheme but at the same time being aware that the heart-strings are being pulled by one-night stands and the extremely brief nature of the 'eternal love' being celebrated.)

John France said...

Ahh. Perhaps why I like light music is because I am a conservative with big and small c's!!
I do not see music & poetry & art as always needing to be a call to arms -although I do understand that much need to change in this world...!

I suppose a lot of it comes down to detaching one's belief sets from music. I like Delius' Mass of Life - but I am not a fan of Nietzsche!!

A friend of mine is an atheist, but she enthuses about Bach's St Matthew's Passion.

I tend to see light music as a celebration of a 'simpler age'. I know that is a 'myth' - but it is a myth that helps me cope with the hurly burly of the world as I find it from day to day!!

However, Paul your comment would make a fine basis for a study or a thesis on the nature and response to Light Music!! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorites as well. English Light Music and English Pastoral Music are evocative not so much of a time but of a relaxed mood.