I recently had the pleasure of reviewing one of the latest editions to the Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music series – Stereo into the Sixties. The full review will appear on this ‘blog’ and on MusicWeb International in due course. However, whilst listening to the various excellent arrangements of Gershwin, Kern and Porter I came across two excellent ‘original’ compositions. These were Ron Goodwin’s London Serenade and Don Banks’ Coney Island.
Donald (Don) Oscar Banks (1923-1980) was an Australian composer who is probably best known for his ‘serious’ compositions which sometimes made use of serial technique and and experiments with electronic media including the Moog Synthesiser. However, his career included considerable contributions to the worlds of jazz, commercial recordings and film music. His musical mentors included Milton Babbitt, Luigi Dallapiccola and Luigi Nono. When in London, he studied with the exiled Hungarian composer, Mátyás Seiber. It was through Seiber that he was introduced to the world of film music – specialising in cartoons and Hammer Horror films. Many folk will have heard Don Banks’ music without recognising the name or his wider interests.
Don Banks’ vision of Coney Island suggests all the romance of a day at Coney Island -probably in the nineteen-fifties. Certainly the last time I was there, it was a shadow of it former self, yet still exuding a certain excitement and and faded glory. The fundamental ethos of this work is surely of one pair of lovers enjoying the funfair and another pair who watch the proceedings from the boardwalk or from a quiet bar.
The work opens with a brash, brassy passage that defines the razzmatazz of the funfair. However, this is soon balanced by a lovely romantic tune for the strings, which is frequently interrupted by rhythmical brass chords. A short bridge passage highlighting the harp leads to a slightly more relaxed dance tune. After a brass fanfare, some scurrying ‘cartoon’ music featuring woodwind, xylophone and glockenspiel dissolve into a smoky, saxophone dominated nocturne as the lovers watch the neon lights of the funfair from the beach. Sweeping strings and a romantic melody lead to a reprise of the opening music. An energetic coda re-establishes the mood of excitement and faux terror of the big rides.
The present recording was made in 1961, was in stereo and was played by The Sinfonia of London, conducted by Douglas Gamley. Coney Island is available on Guild GLCD 5192. A short extract can be heard on the Guild Website. For the cognoscenti the work was first released on a LP entitled Musical merry-go-round (World Club Records STE-275) which contained works by Jacques Ibert, Igor Stravinsky, Oscar Strauss, Richard Rogers and Henri Sauget. All the works on this LP evoked the circus or ‘all the fun of the fair.’