One of the most evocative little pieces of Christmas music I know is Angela Morley’s arrangement of the well-known song ‘Snowfall.’ The melody was composed by Claude Thornhill (1909-65) who was an American pianist, composer, arranger and band leader.
Snowfall was originally written as a piano piece in 1941. It was later arranged as a ‘signature tune for Thornhill’s band and it was first recorded at Liederkrantz Hall in New York City. It can be heard in its ‘original form’ on YouTube. ‘Snowfall’ was covered by dozens of artists including Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Henry Mancini and Manhattan Transfer.
In 1959 Warner Bros. asked Angela Morley to rework a selection of Christmas tunes she had released previously on a 10” Philips LP. Several extra numbers were added. As part of this project, Angela Morley’s arrangement of ‘Snowfall’ was released on the album Happy Holiday: Christmas in High Fidelity (Warner Bros.WS 1341) in 1958.
It is a little confusing when considering any piece by Angela Morley as she changed name and sex in the early ‘seventies’ – until that time she was known as Wally Stott. However, although ‘Snowfall’ was arranged in 1958 it is now assigned to the composer’s latter name. Morley is best known for her scores to the films Watership Down and The Slipper and the Rose. She also wrote music for the Goons and for Hancock’s Half Hour as well as many short pieces of light music. She died in January 2009.
The added magic that Angela Morley has brought to her arrangement of ‘Snowfall’ is all to do with the orchestration. She has created her ‘winter wonderland’ by using a thesaurus of instrumental devices. Icicle-like percussion, slippery woodwind effects, shimmering strings and misty horns and saxophones all lend their colour to this wintery tone poem. It is really a chilly piece, with only a few suggestions of warmth. It is the sort of music that evokes memories of a walk in a snowbound wood with one’s lover, with only the thought of a warm inn and a cheery fire some distance down the road.
Angela Morley’s arrangement of Snowfall is currently included in The Golden Age of Light Music: Christmas Celebration (GLCD 5185) which also features ‘Christmas Sleigh Bells’ (‘Romance’ and ‘Troika’ from Lieutenant Kije) by Sergei Prokofiev and arranged by Morley.
Angela Morley’s arrangement of Snowfall can be heard in YouTube.