Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Robert Farnon: Westminster Waltz

Three works stand out in the popular perception of Robert Farnon (1917-2005), Portrait of a FlirtJumping Bean and The Westminster Waltz. This last piece was written in 1956 and won the Ivor Novello Award for Light Music. This piece achieved fame when it was used by the BBC as a linking theme in their long running programme ‘In Town Tonight’ which is best remembered for its theme tune written by Eric Coates, The Knightsbridge March.
A search on ‘Google’ reveals virtually nothing about this charming work that so typifies the composer. However it is in total contrast to Coates’ music describing the pizzazz of the West End. The mental picture created by Farnon’s music is of two lovers strolling over Westminster Bridge and looking along the River Thames to towards the recently built (in 1956) Royal Festival Hall, the lights of the Embankment and back towards the reassuring presence of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral.
The work opens with a misty portrayal of the chime of Big Ben. However it is not long before the strings in close harmony announce the main theme. The composer has made good use of the woodwind section in providing a foil to the main melody given by the sweeping strings. The harp and the percussion certainly add to the shimmering magic of orchestration. There is a little digression in the middle of this work before the reprise of the waltz theme. The work closes with a reflection of the Westminster chimes. This is a gentle waltz that never really demands too much of the dancers or the listeners.

A number of recordings of The Westminster Waltz have been made, including The New London Orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp on Hyperion and the Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Leaper on Marco Polo. However there is a lovely version of this tune on YouTube played by the Dobcross Brass Band. It is well worth listening to in spite of the fact it loses some of the sparkle of the original orchestral version.


Kyoko Gibbons said...

Dear John,
I am sorry but I could not find a way to contact you, apart from leaving a comment. I have been looking for the information about the British Music Society founded in 1918. Do you know anything about the original BMS? I am sorry to ask you about it because I was unsuccessful in finding any good information and found your blog while surfing on the web. I need some help. Thank you.

John France said...

Hi Kyoko,

I suggest the a) you contact the present BMS and ask them to put a circular email to their members and b) ask them to forward you query to Dr Lewis Foreman, who is the leading expert! And c) do a search on the Musical Times - there are many references to the original BMS there...
Hope this helps.