Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Frank Chacksfield: Alpine Sleigh Ride

I first came across Frank Chacksfield in 1970. I bought my mother a copy of his lovely evocative album ‘Mediterranean Moonlight’ (ECS 2041) as one of her Silver Wedding Anniversary presents. I was more interested in The Beatles and their break-up at that time, but somehow I did admire that attractively romantic string sound of Chacksfield’s orchestra performing numbers such as ‘Isle of Capri’, ‘Lady of Spain’ and ‘April in Portugal’. Not something I would have admitted to my fellow fourth formers at grammar school though.

I concede to having omitted to note Frank Chacksfield’s centenary last year (2014). However, better late than never. He was born in Battle, Sussex on 9 May 1914. In the early part of his career he played both piano and organ, with youthful concert performances at Hastings and holding the post of church organist at Salehurst. However it is as a conductor that he is now best remembered, especially of light and easy listening music.  In 1936, after leaving a career in a solicitor’s office, he formed his band. After war service which included a posting to the Royal Army Service Corp’s Entertainment division (ENSA), where he met Sergeant Charlie Chester and became arranger for the ‘Stars in Battledress.’
After the war he maintained a busy performance and recording schedule at home and in the United States. He is estimated to have sold some 20 million albums word-wide. Chacksfield’s musical style is relaxed mood-music similar to that of Mantovani.

He was also a composer of many pieces including ‘Firecracker’, ‘Cuban Boy’, ‘Candid Snap’, ‘Summer Serenade’, ‘Innishannon Serenade’, ‘Bossa For Bess’, ‘Autumn Island’, ‘Rosella’, ‘Medway Magic’ and perhaps most famously an arrangement of ‘Ebb Tide’. He wrote under the pseudonym Roger Senicourt and Martino Paticano.
His orchestras included Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra, the Singing Strings as well as The Tunesmiths.  Frank Chacksfield died in Kent on 9 June, 1995.

‘Alpine Sleigh Ride’ may not be one of Chacksfield’s (as Roger Senicourt) characteristic sweeping strings arrangements, however it is a lovely example of a little piece of programme music, ideal for the Yuletide Season. Who has not wanted to go on a sleigh ride in the Alps – whether German, French, Austrian or Italian (and not forgetting Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco and Slovenia)? I feel that the composer has chosen the German part of the snow covered mountains. The listener is gently taken past villages clearly preparing for the Christmas Festivities. There are some sweeping strings, but also a little bit of the oompah band. Naturally, he makes good use of the percussion section’s sleigh bells. It is a well-constructed little piece that suggests fun rather than a cosy trip with one’s lover. 

Frank Chacksfield’s ‘Alpine Sleigh Ride’ is available on The Golden Age of Light Music:  ‘Christmas Lights’ GLCD 5222: this is coupled with a huge variety of Seasonal favourites. The present tune is played by Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra. The piece was also included on an old Decca Eclipse album ECS 2134 which was released in 1969. It features on YouTube.

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