In Praise of Richard Rogers’ Carousel Waltz
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I have a varied taste in music. I hesitate to use the word eclectic; after all it has been nearly 10 years since I lived in Hoxton and Shoreditch. I enjoy good music, that is, I like music which agrees with my ear. From pop to jazz, to ska, punk, reggae, dub, drum and bass, even klezmer music, and of course the classics.
The world of classical music is broad ranging from instrumental, orchestral, choral, opera. I tend toward modern classical music if anything. I can listen to bits of baroque music but there are too many harpsichords and it all sounds a bit similar. While there are some great works from Liszt, Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven, I’m much more likely to get excited about the romantics Debussy and Tchaikovsky more recently the works of Shostakovich.
I also adore film scores, especially those of John Williams. This is modern classical music at its best; instead of accompanying a ballet the music accompanies a modern visual spectacle on the silver screen. Having scored so many great movies that have shaped my conscious through the years since the original Stars Wars was released in 1977 through other legendary anthems such as the the Raider’s March, Jaws, ET, Superman, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan; Williams is a genius composer. Spielberg was a clever man to team up with him, as a good soundtrack can make or break a movie, such is the viscerality of its emotional delivery.
When we translate life with our eyes, we are required to do much of the interpretation ourselves, but when a composer pUllapool life’s emotions from the ethers and scores them for an orchestra to play, he can take us deeper into those sensations that we might not be able to discern ourselves. It is as though we are feeling how the composer himself felt when the inspiration for that particular piece came to him. Music is powerful and resonant, second only to the sense of smell at triggering emotional states.
I don’t watch much television, preferring to consume my visual media in the form of box sets such as Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Netflix etc without incessant advertising. In my life, the radio is much more likely to be on than my projector; sounds of the sixties on a Saturday morning is one of the last vestiges of the days of ‘Grandstand BBC’ as I like to call it. It survives because of (Sir) Brian Matthew (who should clearly be knighted for ‘services to radio’), and the millions of Beatles-loving baby boomers who avidly tune in every week. There are of course the usual intellectual profferings on Radio 4 where eloquent bofflins without a clear side intellectually spar with one another, just for the sheer mental entertainment of it. It makes one proud to be British, does Radio 4. What would it do without a stream of Oxbridge graduates to fill its schedule? Radio is noteworthy for covering topics which would never be television-worthy. Also, Dermot O’Leary’s sessions on Saturday afternoon are great fun; live music and covers from bands you’ve heard of and bands you haven’t. It’s a very tender display, hosted by a heavyweight pop presenter and thoroughly nice chap. You see Dermot, all those years of live broadcast (please don’t swear) talent competitions weren’t in vain.
I love rendezvous’ing with significant tunes as I go about my business. This happened most recently on two occasions, the first was Will Young on Dermot’s show, which was playing as I made my way in the car and Radio 2 happened to be on, Will was singing a Ryan Adams cover; Amy, which was just so beautiful. You can listen to it here and buy it on Will’s website: http://www.willyoung.co.uk (It’s also available on vinyl). Live music, as with live presenting, separates the men from the boys, and Will and Dermot go way back. Will deserves all his success; an incredible voice and huge feeling behind it. Shivers down my spine, it was lovely to be part of that moment.
The second delightful tune came to me when we were taking Clover to puppy training, it was radio 3, I think (I hardly ever listen to radio 3, too much Bach). The classical tune on the radio took my breath away, I was bristling with excitement at the sound of it, much as I do listening to John Williams. As we arrived at our destination, I hesitated to pull the key from the ignition before the tune had stopped, and made a note to track this one down on BBC radio app. The tune in question was performed live on the BBC ‘Strictly’ Prom presented by Katie Derham. It was, I later found out, Richard Rogers’ Carousel Waltz.
As a listener with no real idea who I was being presented with, I found the tune vaguely familiar, I first heard that melody in the Dire Straights song Tunnel of Love, a short excerpt at the beginning played on fairground organ, but here was presented the full fat orchestral version, a real humdinger of a tune, a gem among its elementary show-tune brethren.
Carousel Waltz is a musical opener but it demonstrates so much more depth of talent than one might expect, it demonstrates the work of someone with classical training and a deep appreciation of those who went before. There are nods towards other great waltzes; Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite no. 2 4: Waltz 1 (1938), and Tchaikovsky’s Ballets; the Nutcracker (1892), and Swan Lake (1895). Tchaikovsky’s ballets were not an original success; perhaps they were ahead of their time, or too great a leap for the Soviet audiences of the time, but have enjoyed huge popularity since the 1960’s when Carousel was being performed.
All the hallmarks of a great Waltz are there: Triangle, check. Glockenspiel, check. Strings soaring from a springboard of delicate woodwind, check. Raspy brass section complete with French horns, check. Fluttering flutes, check. Intricate arpeggiated phrasings adding dynamism as they rise and fall just behind the melody line.
Taken out of isolation from the rest of his work, Carousel Waltz seems very grown up; remember this is a Broadway musical, not a Royal ballet. And yet this very fact makes the Prologue to Carousel The Musical even more special. Almost as if Ray Charles turned up at your local and started playing ‘I’ve got a woman‘ on the pub’s beaten up piano. You’ve never heard it sound so good. Genius is genius, wherever it shineth. Sometimes the musical ‘joke’, is precisely so because it is presented out of context. Anyway, enough of me trying to put words to a base emotional, have a listen.
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