“Toujours Provence: Music for Stage and Screen” by William Perry
CD review by Lorraine Dmitrovic
Tracks 1- 4, written in 2018
Track 1 – “Part One: A Brief History” is a silky, idyllic introduction to this 4-piece Provençal suite. Beginning glimmering notes awaken your mind’s eye to a gentle musical sunrise, and being Provence, one is misted by the heady scent of lavender fields in high summer bloom. It eases you into the mood for the grand eloquence and then the jazzy, brashy brass coin flip of the remaining tracks. Piano solo merriment. You begin to look over your shoulder and back through history. Conductor Paul Phillips sweeps all the orchestral elements together in a crisp flourish of music that highlights France’s centuries past of glory days .
In the CD liner notes, Douglas Bruce states that the opening piece is a “‘Welcome to Provence’ theme. It calls forth the spirit and beauty of Provence from the earliest days of settlement…‘The Arrival of the Romans’….” then onto “moves to the High Middle Ages” and a ”period of ‘courtly love’” ….”The last bit of history comes with piccolo trumpet presenting ‘La Carmagnole,’ widely sung and danced during the French Revolution.
Track 2 – Part Two: Lavender Fields and Vineyards
A tranquil pace and dusty paths usher you to discover village and fields; instrumentals mid-point are like wind and rain waving the fields at first playfully and lightly, and oboe d’amores intertwine like the necks of courting geese, and then – a mid-day temptest begins chaotically whipping and swirling snippets of lavender blossoms into the darkening vortex suggested by the piano arpeggios. Soon those darker musical clouds part, revealing a sunny peaceful day once again.
Bruce in the liner notes relates about the musical suggestion of stormy weather that indeed, “the countryside is interrupted by the arrival of the Mistral, the strong, sometimes violent, wind that roars down the Rhône River Valley and, as [author of books about the region] Peter Mayle put it, ‘can blow the ears off a donkey.’”
William Perry himself has said about the origins of his Toujours Provence CD that “I had long considered writing a suite about Provence, and it all came together with the encouragement of the late Peter Mayle (1939–2018), author of ‘A Year in Provence’ … His spirit inhabits every note … Musically, I describe the piece as being for Orchestra and Piano. It’s not quite a concerto, but the piano does have a prominent role representing modern-day Provence. The four movements are linked by a solo clarinet who serves as our guide. I’ve incorporated some less usual symphonic instruments including an alto saxophone, a pair of oboe d’amores (also playable on regular oboes) and a long Provençal drum sometimes called a tambourin.”
As to how and why specifically the Provence region in France inspired Perry to compose the first four tracks, he explains, “Like the author Peter Mayle (‘A Year in Provence’) I was an advertising executive for some fifteen years (actually one of the original Mad Men), and I treasured the times I could stretch my creative legs and travel abroad. I fell in love with Provence, its people, its traditions, its sheer natural beauty and, admittedly, its wines. I vowed one day to write a piece that would express my affection and admiration, and this opportunity came along when planning the present CD. And Peter Mayle was kind enough to loan me the title of his subsequent best-seller, ‘Toujours Provence.’”
Too, numerous memorable occasions and amazing co-incidences with colleagues and musicians arose while working on Toujours Provence. Recalls Perry, “Composing and then recording new music is always a challenge but, if the gods are smiling, the process can be very rewarding. In this particular instance we were combining recorded material from the 1980’s with music being performed and recorded for the first time. The orchestra, the wonderful Slovak Philharmonic, had a new set of musicians but a tradition of sound, especially in the strings, that had been maintained for decades. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that one of the cellists was a young man sitting in the same chair his father had occupied 30 years previous. He was quite pleased that he and his dad were appearing together on the same CD! Our producer, Marek Piaĉek, discovered that the microphones we had employed in the 1980’s were still in their storeroom and using them in the same concert hall and with an identical seating arrangement, he was able to blend the earlier and present sessions seamlessly. Credit, too, goes to conductor Paul Phillips who maintained orchestral balances that duplicated perfectly. All in all, an unusual undertaking, but I think a major achievement.
Track 3- Part Three: Café Terrace at Night
Inhibitions fall like silk stockings around ankles in the carefree-a little-tipsy waltz that is embellished with the burnished golden highlights of piano treble glissandos. Do the last dancers in the cafe pause and turn on the rests and stops in the soulful melody and the bluish Van Gogh night emotion so expertly imbued by pianist Michael Chertock? Perhaps the dance music lingers yet in that timeless cafe.
As Bruce records in the liner notes: “In September of 1888, Vincent van Gogh, then living in Arles, painted his Café Terrace at Night, an atmospheric depiction of nightlife in Provence and the first instance where Van Gogh presented his iconic starry sky.”
Track 4 – Part Four: Market Day
The journey musically in Toujours Provence culminates in the final movement. Every tourist in countryside France is compelled to visit an authentic village market, to feast on regional fare, who will inevitably be absorbed and caught up by the sights and sounds. In the early quiet of morning, vendors in huge white aprons are setting up their tables and wares. A goose girl is penning her prize flock. A farmer taps his piglets to their spot. Slowly, buyers fill the market. Wine sellers call out their vintages. Ponies clop with ribbons streaming from manes. Young men and ladies dally and jig. The music is a tactile to and fro experience and serves to records such memories of the market surroundings and happenings.
As with other Perry compositions featuring crowd “scenes”, the market song is rife with trumpets and horns, and it’s easy to imagine the locals in ethnic garb spontaneously twirling to dance routines handed down by centuries of ancestors. Perry has mentioned that he was inspired by the music “Kalenda Maya,” written by the troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras very early in the 1200s.
Composer Perry is currently preparing projections that can specifically accompany the Toujours Provence Suite, tracks 1 to 4, in performance if an orchestra should so wish.
To read more about William Perry during the planning stages of his Toujours Provence CD, see “The Empress Interview: In discussion with William Perry about his Music for Silent Film, Film and Television, and the Stage”: http://www.empressbooks.com/newsletter/Wm_Perry_2016/interview.html
Track 5, written in 2016
Track 5 – Fiona
Perry’s composition “Fiona” is a touching tribute to pianist Fiona Albek. She and twin sister Ambra, who played violin and viola, comprised the Albek Duo, who Perry had collaborated with numerous times, and also engaged them for his “Gemini Concerto,” appearing on his 2011 Naxos CD release, “Music for Great Films of The Silent Era.” For me, “Fiona” has the gentle warmth of a sunlit park bench under a wise oak tree where friends have sat and chatted, throwing bits of bread to brave squirrels, sharing old postcards or perhaps phonograph records with smiles and laughter, streams of sunshine dappling good times and memories.
As Bruce relates in the liner notes: “A subsequent Suite for Viola and Piano was nearly complete when Fiona fell critically ill and passed away at far too early an age. Perry arranged one of the movements of the Suite for full orchestra and dedicated it as a tribute to Fiona. Solo piano, Fiona’s instrument, is featured throughout, and the viola theme that would have been a solo for Ambra is here played by ten orchestral violas. The principal melody of this piece is one that Perry had originally written as title music for the silent film Irene (1926). It will now be forever associated with Fiona.”
Tracks 6 – 16, written in 2018
Wind in the Willows: Ballet Suite Commentary by Douglas Bruce in the Toujours Provence liner notes:
“Just before Christmas in 1985, following an earlier sold-out run in Washington, D.C., a new musical version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, opened on Broadway. The author of the musical version was Jane Iredale, William Perry composed the music, Roger McGough and William Perry provided the lyrics and Nathan Lane had his first Broadway starring role as Toad …. In 2018 Perry completed a long-held wish of turning the stage score into a ballet, arranged and orchestrated for full symphony.
Here is the cast and the scenario:
The ballet principals include Mole (a ballerina) and Rat, Toad and the Chief Weasel. Subsidiary soloists include Mother and Father Rabbit and the Jailer’s Daughter. Members of the corps de ballet portray the Chief Weasel’s gang, Bystanders, Can-Can Dancers, Policemen and most especially Rabbits (and Bunny Rabbits) of all shapes and sizes.”
“Wind in the Willows” poster design © 2018: Marina Perry
My brief impressions of the ballet suite tracks 6-16:
6 The Overture has upbeat tiptoe whimsy and hinted homages to historic Broadway productions, with various dance steps and instruments encouraging the action.
7 Mole’s Waltz
Having existed previously only in dim underground, the Mole now irresistibly waltzes with sweet joy of newly discovering her world is filled with sunshine. Accordingly the orchestra supplies Mole with the perfect lightness and glee for her “happy dance.”
8 Gasoline Can-Can
This number begins with a sense of trepidation then exits stage left and returns “on stage” with comedy and clowning characters. The energy is chipper, the feel of the music is as if Wagner has met Looney Tunes – perfectly cartoonish for the goings-on in this dream scene of sorts. Toad in a pedal-car thinks he has won a Grand Prix and of course is danced around by Can-Can girls as part of the celebration, and then suddenly a man with two policemen in tow accuses Toad of stealing his car. Toad’s arrested and escorted off stage, with the Can-Can dancers waving him off. The song perfectly suggests the humorous chaos.
9 Along the River (Pas de Deux)
True love knows no boundaries. Regarding Ms. Mole and Rat, their shyness of meeting and growing attraction is reflected musically in crescendos and increasingly a rising intensity – including a clashing cymbal – in the romantic piano solo played on this track by Donald Sosin.
10 Evil Weasel
To the sound of a bluesy saxophone and red hot horns, the villainous Chief Weasel exerts his padrone dominance over his gang. All rivals are dispersed from his territory, and in true boss fashion the Chief is adored by his molls, who to the gutsy, smokey music must surely be swooning and teetering in their weasel-size high heels.
11 Toad’s Dance
Toad soon tangos right out of jail in this track, after the Jailer’s daughter appears with food. To the sensual heartbeat of a habanera, Toad disguises himself. Like the scene in Puccini’s opera “Tosca” in which the character Angelotti escapes from a chapel in his sister’s garments, Toad escapes from jail in some of the daughter’s clothes.
12 March of the Rabbits
The march is perfectly suited to the image of a regiment of rabbits armed with giant carrots on their way to rescue Toad Hall from usurping weasels who had taken over Toad’s ancestral haunts. A fitting touch of humour for a triumphant finale with a sprightly hop and a skip, especially if uniformed rabbits are playing in an accompanying marching band.
13 Wind in the Willows (Pas de Deux)
With Mole and Rat in the woods searching for Toad, the magical “Wind in the Willows” is heard, given voice by a wordless choir, sprinkling a touch of wonder to their pas de deux. Pan, the god who watches over all animals, appears upstage in a mysterious orb of light, and Toad returns and is reunited with his friends. The nostalgic orchestra and vocals are filled to the brim with happiness. Disney couldn’t have presented the reunion premise and score with any more sentimentality.
14 Weasel Gavotte
The track starts out with elegant chamber music on the harpsichord, with the Chief Weasel dangling tempting tidbits to keep their ways changed. The true Capone colours of the gangland weasels, however, prevail. The gang again grows raucous, as does the music, and the Chief if-you-can’t-beat-’em joins them.
From Douglas Bruce’s liner notes:
“A quote from a Haydn sonata sets the stage for the Weasels’ occupancy of Toad Hall. They are now attired in elegant costumes, or as elegant as a Weasel can get. The Chief asks them to show some couthe and promises that there’ll be:
“Croquet on the lawn, a gentle breeze, as many strawberries as we please.
Silken hankies when we sneeze, silver peaspoons for our peas.
An aristocratic life of ease
Where money grows on family trees.”
15 The Fight
To the strains of a full-orchestra, huge, jazzy dance number, The Weasels are congratulating each other when, Bruce relates, “suddenly Toad, Mole and Rat burst in along with the rabbits swinging their huge carrots like cudgels. Toad and the Chief face off, and Toad is quickly flattened. On his knees, Toad pretends to beg for mercy, and while the Chief is striking a victor’s pose, Toad springs up and delivers a decisive punch. He has won the day.”
There is a little buffa in the music, and a busyness in the phrasing, which peak together to echo victory in the story. The imaginative voice of the “wind in the willows” had been given strong underlying bones as well.
The early calm music of the finale and the boisterous finale fini grand moments, brings together all the characters, all their scenes, to a positive conclusion in an altered nature world. Another beauty to all these songs composed by Perry is their adaptability from Broadway tunes into modern Ballet numbers. Who says that toads and weasels can’t dance? All it takes is a bit of music fantasia, a composer with a sense of magic delight, and the listener to seize that enchantment for a brief moment.
Track 17, written in 2017
Swordplay! (concert overture fashioned by Perry from his two scores written for the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. silent films, “The Three Musketeers” (1921) and the part-talkie though usually screened as a silent, “The Iron Mask” (1929). Perry’s overture is upbeat and adventurous, romantic, a “swordplay” of orchestral instruments that takes a victory lap to the fini. What inspired Perry to fashion a concert overture from the two separate scores he wrote for Fairbanks Sr’s The Three Musketeers and The Iron Mask?
Perry responds, “I grew up in Elmira, New York, a small city but one that treasured the few cultural activities it could afford. One of these was the visit each year of a full symphony orchestra, most likely from Minneapolis, Cleveland or Rochester. At that time, the invariable program format consisted of an overture and concerto in the first half, a popular symphony in the second. It was exciting to hear the Grieg Piano Concerto or the Franck D Minor Symphony, but I equally enjoyed the tuneful overtures that opened the evening: Zampa, Poet and Peasant, Merry Wives of Windsor, etc. This is a format that no longer exists, the overture part of the program having given way to a de rigueur contemporary piece, often quite angular and dissonant, but a good deed in our modern musical world. Contrarily and with more than a bit of nostalgia, I decided to write an overture that might have had some popularity under the old format. The hustle and swashbuckle of my Three Musketeers film scores, with always an outrageously romantic love theme, seemed just right for my objective. At least it made me smile.”
Track 18, written in 1982
Shopping in Paris
When you’re Mark Twain, a day in Paris is bound to be a vigorous gambol, and Perry has impressed the sense of fast-paced, non-stop activity through busy strings and also stylish orchestral tango and dances moves. Perry also has a great fondness for Mark Twain and his times.
As to whether Perry updated the three Mark Twain-related tracks on Toujours Provence originally composed by him in 1971, 1982 and 1983, he explains more about them, saying “Sometimes when I record, if time permits, I lay down miscellaneous tracks that are not part of that particular project but which I hope will find a home on some future release. That’s the case with the Soliloquy for harmonica and orchestra that had to wait 36 years before coming to the surface. Alas, the brilliant soloist, Richard Hayman, is no longer with us to enjoy the fruits of his performance. Two other pieces, Shopping in Paris and the Graduation March were designed for stage and screen use, the first in the film The Innocents Abroad and the second in the Mark Twain stage musical. They now have an independent existence on this CD.”
Douglas Bruce, Toujours Provence liner notes:
“In his lifetime, Mark Twain’s best-selling book was The Innocents Abroad (1869). Immensely entertaining, it chronicled his adventures and observations in the company of American travellers making a ‘Great Pleasure Excursion’ to Europe and the Holy Land. In 1983, William Perry produced with his score a film version of the book starring Craig Wasson, Brooke Adams, David Ogden Stiers, and, playing the universal guide they named ‘Ferguson’, the Italian star, Gigi Proietti. In a scene in Paris, when Twain and his companions ask Ferguson to take them to the Louvre, he steers them instead to an assemblage of silk stores where he has arranged to get a cut of the sales. The music of Shopping in Paris, with its very Parisian orchestration, accompanies their whirlwind tour of the stores.”
Track 19, written 1983
Soliloquy is based on a song composed by William Perry (also co-writing the lyrics) for Act Two of the Broadway musical, “The Wind in the Willows.” Separate from the Windballet suite preceding on Toujours Provence, this number is relaxed and soulful, with the harmonica solo by the late Richard Hayman fitting perfectly with the ballroom grand nature of the song. Perry once again steers us down a gentle path, with strings soaring harmoniously with the harmonica line.
Track 20, written in 1971
The song, also a “graduate” of “Mark Twain: The Musical,” Douglas Bruce shares in the liner notes that the large production had a successful run for ten summers in Elmira, NY and Hartford, CT, and was employed in the play to accompany Twain and his co-recipients as they walked the aisle to receive their college degrees. Bruce further states that, “Interestingly, it is now becoming used by other colleges for their present-day Commencement ceremonies. When composer Perry received an honorary degree, he reminded his audience of Twain’s advice: ‘Let us endeavour so to live that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry’.”
In conclusion, William Perry who wrote the updated scores for many silent films for PBS and other media companies, has an intrinsic understanding of the relationship between the visual and the faithful to the era audio in silent film. Perry shines in writing scores to match the visual action, feeling and emotion. Cresting glissandos of the piano and gliding horns are bolstered by the faithful swashbuckling melody in the string section. Add a touch of romance to the strings and the silent stage is set for instrumental song to dance like scintillating stars while heroic images of derring-do flicker on the silver screen. Such soundtracks eventually become inseparable from their films, and soon immediately identifiable. “That’s from that Douglas Fairbanks film, or that Chaplin short,” we say. Perry, in the style of the greatest film composers, has accomplished this musically with his silent film accompaniments many times over.
The Toujours Provence CD is a combination pleasure, with its Provençal and Broadway-ballet themes, a cohesive mix of surprise and familiarity. It’s a perfect inducement to bringing back delightful memories of traipsing across Southern France – leisurely strolls, evocative, taking that inviting chair at the little cafe table and sipping a dark roast brew, or something glinting purple-red with a bite of Roquefort Bleu and crusty rustic village bread. It’s a Broadway night out at the ballet, too. An homage to silent film, to the arts, to Mark Twain in Paris. Internationally we are all tourists, who may well stop in Paris one day along the way. Of course our travels any and everywhere are a toujours thing, encompassing all things toujours of yesterday – and right now. The CD encourages visitations and revisiting. Tea and cakes, or a bottle of fine Napoleon brandy, sit invitingly on the French-tatted lace doily on the table between two comfy wingbacks. Take out those family photo and wedding album memories, in solitary or good company. Your own reminiscing may not have all the flavours of Provence, but will have all the elements of Toujours as you listen – always.
To view other articles about William Perry’s composing music for and producing Mark Twain-related stories for television and CD/DVD release:
For more information about/to purchase William Perry’s Toujours Provence CD:
Copyright © November 2019: Lorraine Dmitrovic