Angela Morley


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Music from Heaven

Record review by Ron Simmonds

The recent issue of the CD Cinema Serenade 2 — The Golden Age features the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by John Williams, with Itzhak Perlman, solo violin. The scoring is by John Williams and Angela Morley, with one arrangement by Richard Rodney Bennett.

The example is taken from the introduction and first stanza of David Raksin’s Laura (Robbins Music) scored by Angela Morley. The best way to study this would be to copy it out with your music writing software (took me 15 minutes). By doing this alone you will see just how complex these few bars turn out to be, and with what loving care Angela has composed them.

It would not serve my purpose to simply lay down a string of chord symbols under the example. Such beautiful music deserves more than that. I’ll try and explain what is going on, bar by bar. (The bowing marks have been omitted for clarity.)

The solo flute run is on the whole–tone scale. The following plaintive melody is on the tritone F to B, with the oboe repeating it a minor third lower. The strings in bar 2 play a cluster on a B7; in bar 3 on a Cmaj7. This would sound massive if played by brass: with strings it produces a shimmering carpet under the solo woodwinds. The second violin tremolo enhances the effect.

The lead–in of the solo violin is composed of alternate semitone and whole tone steps. In bar 6 the famous tune begins over the strings playing a Cmaj7 inversion. The first violins shift slowly here between flattened fifth and fifth (lydian and major). In the next bar they move slowly down to the D7(b9). The stunning effect that follows in bar 8 could be spelled as one of several chords. With the G bass it could be a Gm+5. It could also be an Eb7(+11). Whatever it is holds one in suspense until the G chord of the next bar. But even this is altering all the time. There is constant movement in this score. Bar 10 is a Gm7. Here the double basses enter for the first time, enormously enriching all of the subsequent harmonies. Note, then, how the score has built downwards, from high solo flute, through the oboe, solo violin, the delicate downward progressing harmonies to the full richness of the string ensemble.

Bar 11 has a C7(b9)sus4 for half a bar. There follows a delightful violin and cello movement through the F chord spread over two measures. In bar 14 the second desk of Violin II plays the 11th of the Fm11. Bar 15 has another sustained 4th, this time in a Bb7(b9). This resolves to a plain G triad over an Eb bass, resolving on the final beat of the bar to an Eb chord. Bars 17 to 19 shift through Eb, A and D chords to the bass B of bar 20. Here the solo violin, first violins and viola hold a unison D while the second violins and cello progress gently upwards from fifth to tonic. The utter simplicity of this bar paves the way for the massive sound in the following measure: an enormous E7 with raised and lowered 9th and raised 5th.

Over this superb string writing Itzhak Perlman soars like an angel. If his playing, and Angela’s beautiful background don’t stir your emotions, then I don’t know what will.