Monday 11 February 2019

Musical arrangers - Ronald Binge

I am fond of British Light Classical Music - and, while melody is (of course) the most important thing; I have noticed that some of the best pieces achieve their greatest effect by some 'novelty' of arrangement.

Perhaps the most inspired arranger was Ronald Binge - who began by working for Mantovani, and apparently invented the sound of massed 'silver strings', with the famous cascading/ overlapping 'waterfall' effect for which this orchestra became so well known:

Binge, as composer, wrote a handful of unsurpassed classics within his genre. As well as lovely tunes - these each have something distinctive about the arrangement.

My favourite must be the sublime Elizabethan Serenade, with its very special repeating flute-dominated phrase from the woodwinds, alternately contrasted with flowing violins, and a repeated choppy rhythm from the lower strings:

Another piece that is famous in Britain is Sailing By (from its use some decades ago by the BBC, when the radio station closed-down each night). This has a gorgeous melody, gorgeously-developed. But what makes it extra-special is the bubbling accompaniment - again, on flutes and woodwind.

Ah, the delicate art of arrangement!


dearieme said...

Do you like Ketèlbey's stuff?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Yes, all that kind of thing - I own about 30 CDs of assorted British Light Music.

Eric Coates is my favourite - overall; because he wrote more good stuff than anybody else. But Elizabethan Serenade has a special place in my heart, as the first 'classical' music that I spontaneously really liked, aged about three or four when I was still living in Devon (I can recall, in a memory snapshot, hearing it on Junior Choice on the Home Service, I think - or maybe the programme that can on immediately afterwards).

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - It is an interesting distincton that most of the light music composers came from lower middle class backgrounds, and had to make a living from their composing - eg. by selling sheet music, or by performing.

By contrast, classical composers of the same era were mostly from wealthier upper class backgrounds, and were supported by their families rather than their work.

I think the discipline of writing music that people could enjoy at a first hearing, and then wanted to hear again, was overall a good discipline for the light composers - whereas the classical composers were mainly writing to impress critics and fellow musicians, and consequently produced very little you'd want to hear even once...

Imterestingly, much of what I regard as the *best* British classical music of the early 20th century (by posh composers!) would fit quite comfortably into a programme of light music. e.g. Butterworth's Banks of Green Willow is 'classical' but also 'light'; and some of Vaughan Williams (Greensleeves, folks song suite, Tallis). Elgar (of lower middle class/ working class origin) was initially a light music composer.

dearieme said...


It would be a dull dog who couldn't enjoy The Planets.

Epimetheus said...

That dichotomy between classical and light music is interesting. It mirrors the divide between pulp/popular fiction and "serious" academic/literary fiction. It seems that trying to be "impressive" and "significant" as an artist is a corruption of motivation. It's funny how an artist has to be essentially pure and sincere to produce anything worth a damn - a humble artist who sets out to write fun schlock, ironically, produces a better product.

Bruce Charlton said...

@E - I would modify what you say a bit - because I don't think good work happens by accident. The reason why pulp/ popular fiction is often better than academic/ literary fiction has to do with some 'hacks' being more honestly and highly motivated than the academic. The hack may be striving to produce the best work of which he is capable (given constraints), whereas the literary author is merely striving to impress. That's why Scott Joplin is a good composer and John Cage isn't.

dearieme said...

Presumably you view George Gershwin as striving to produce the best work? What about some of the other composers of the Tin Pan Alley years?

Or after that: is Bernstein's West Side Story "light music"?

I dislike most pop music, but it would be hard to deny that at their peak the Beatles and the Beach Boys produced compositions that were aimed to be the best that they could do.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I would need to know more about their biographies to answer with confidence; but I would rather have 'sincere' low art, than careerist high art, any day!