PE0044. ROBERT FARNON: Journey into Melody. (Canada) Naxos 8.110849. Transfers by David Lennick. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 636943184929
“The Canadian-born composer, arranger and conductor Robert Farnon, was nicknamed ‘the guv'nor’ by Frank Sinatra in 1962, when the two men first came together in London to work on an album. It summed up the fact that Farnon's name was synonymous with the highest standards of craftsmanship.
Farnon was born into an unusually musical family in Toronto. His father, a clothier by trade, also played the violin; his mother and sister were pianists; his elder brother, Brian, played in a jazz band, and his younger brother, Dennis, also a fine musician, later wrote scores for the Mr Magoo cartoon character.
Farnon himself learned the violin and the piano, but it was percussion that really took his fancy, and he made such progress that he was able to perform with the Toronto Juvenile Symphony Orchestra when only 12. Thereafter, he spent three years as a drummer in his brother's band, and learned to play the cornet. In 1936, he joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as first trumpet for the Percy Faith Orchestra, writing arrangements and producing scores for Paul Whiteman and André Kostelanetz.
When Faith went to the US, Farnon took charge of musical matters at CBC, and conducting began to take up more of his time. So did composing, practically all of which consisted, not of light, popular pieces - as might have been expected from a man looking after Canada's most famous variety radio show, Happy Gang, in which he not only conducted and played trumpet but also took part in comedy sketches - but of serious concert works.
In 1941, his first symphony, Symphonic Suite (1938), was first performed, by Sir Ernest MacMillan and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, the score and parts of this work were subsequently lost at sea. Symphony #2 in B, known as the ‘Ottawa Symphony’, followed in 1942, and was premiered, also under the direction of MacMillan, the following year.
By 1943, having enlisted in the Canadian army when war broke out, Farnon was conductor of the Allied Expeditionary Forces Canadian band. In 1944, he brought the band to England, and from then on, light music was to play the dominant role in his creative life.
He was regularly heard on the BBC's AEF programme, especially in the Canada Show, for which he wrote the signature tune, March Along, Joe Soldier. Other shows - and more signature tunes, as well as hundreds of arrangements - followed. He was soon working as an arranger with Geraldo and Ted Heath, and had formed his own orchestra.
Each new radio show brought its own signature tune - Journey Into Melody, for the series Melody Hour, which began in 1946, and Melody Fair, which was used for a 1950s programme, as well as Contrasts for his television show.
The cinema elicited many fine scores from Farnon, a number of them, such as I Live In Grosvenor Square, Spring In Park Lane, Maytime In Mayfair, Lilacs In The Spring, Elizabeth Of Ladymead and King's Rhapsody, written for Herbert Wilcox productions.
As the resident conductor/ arranger for Decca (the London label in the US), Farnon made many outstanding albums and influenced other writers. Andre Previn, for example, regarded him as ‘the greatest string writer in the world’. He also provided the backing for a remarkable collection of vocalists, including Bing Crosby, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Vera Lynn (for whom he arranged and conducted her first number one US hit, You Can't Be True Dear, in 1948), Ray Ellington, Lena Horne and José Carreras.
He won Ivor Novello awards for Westminster Waltz in 1956, On The Seashore in 1960 and the Colditz March in 1973, and also began to produce larger-scale pieces again, the Rhapsody For Violin and Orchestra appearing in the 1958 Light Music festival in response to a request from the BBC, which went on to commission The Frontiersmen and Scherzando For Trumpet.
Fellow Canadians Tommy Reilly and Bob Burns both benefited from fine works, the former with the Prelude And Dance For Harmonica And Orchestra, dating from the mid-1960s, the latter from the three movement, 25-minute long Saxophone Tripartita of 1971.
Down the years, Farnon also produced a series of atmospheric tone poems, mainly inspired by Canada. There were more film scores, including Circle Of Danger, Captain Horatio Hornblower RN and Expresso Bongo among about 40 pictures.
He continued to make regular appearances on the BBC Light Programme. In 1987, the BBC's Friday Night Is Music Night was devoted entirely to the man and his music - even the title was amended to Friday Night Is Farnon Night.
For television, he wrote the stirring theme for the BBC series Colditz, and the main title for Secret Army. Many of his mood music pieces have attained the status of light-music classics. His Jumping Bean became the most used signature tune in the world. He also contributed to brass band literature; Une Vie De Matelot was chosen as the test piece for the British National Brass Band Championships in 1975.
In 1991, Farnon received his fourth Ivor Novello award, to acknowledge his outstanding services to British music. In 1995, he won a Grammy for best instrumental arrangement, for his version of Dimitri Tiomkin's Wild Is The Wind. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998.”
- Tim McDonald, THE GUARDIAN, 25 April, 2005