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ClassicsOnline Home » GOODWIN: Drake 400 Suite / New Zealand Suite
Ron Goodwin (b. 1925)
To possess a musical voice that is instantly recognisable despite its solid roots in harmonic tradition is a rare achievement indeed in these days of 'international', anonymous music. Add to this an innate ability to write both memorable tunes and evoke the many moods demanded of a film director, and one begins to see the outlines of a sketch of one of our leading living composers in the field of popular music.
Ron Goodwin was born in Plymouth, Devon on 17th February, 1925, the son of a policeman. Piano lessons that started at the age of five were continued in north west London where the family moved four years later. While at the local Willesden County School he took up the trumpet, and after transferring to Pinner County School developed his interest in the theoretical side of music, taking it as one of his matriculation examinations. While still at school he formed his own band - Ron Goodwin and his Woodchoppers - and gained useful practical experience (and, it is to be hoped, recompense) with a series of semi-professional engagements, but, following his mother's assertion that music was 'not very respectable' and that he should get a 'proper' job, Ron became a junior clerk in an insurance office. Not for long, however, for using the office phone once too often to fix dates for his band, he was 'advised' by his boss to 'get a job in music'.
This 'job in music' was as a copyist with the music publishers Campbell, Connelly & Co Ltd, which led to the chance of studying arranging with Harry Stafford, and in the course, an appointment as arranger with the Parrmor Gold Orchestral Service, where Ron Goodwin's work included arrangements for a weekly BBC Overseas series, Composer Cavalcade, covering composers from Noel Coward to Albert Ketelbey. He also played the trumpet with Harry Gold and His Pieces of Eight, and in his spare time studied conducting privately with Siegtried de Chabot of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Following this, Ron Goodwin became staff arranger for Edward Kassner, and started up an association with Alan Freeman who had inaugurated the Polygon label for Pye, thus having the opportunity to provide vocal backings for leading singers like Jimmy Young and Petula Clark, and arrangements for musical directors like Ted Heath, Geraldo and Stanley Black.
It was George Martin, however, who, as the assistant A & R manager at Parlophone, was to give Ron his most important break to date. By putting him under contract to record same of his arrangements, Ron became musical director for countless artists, including Peter Sellers. The recording orchestra, 'Ron Goodwin and his Concert Orchestra' was also heard on radio programmes from Morning Music to Variety Playhouse, which Ron took over for the summer months from comedian / musician Vic Oliver. The first of his many LPs, Film Favourites, was followed by Skiffling Strings which, as Swinging Sweethearts went into the American hit parade and led to Ron's departure for the States for a series of television shows and radio dates. Another early success was Jet Journey, which became the signature-tune for the long running BBC TV series, What's My Line?. It is not surprising that by 1975 he received a gold disc to mark sales of one million albums with the concert orchestra.
A jazz score for a documentary was Ron's introduction to the art of film composing in 1957. This led to several more documentaries before the chance to score his first feature film, Whirlpool, starring Juliette Greco. Among his most memorable scores are the four Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford, the war epics 633 Squadron, Where Eagles Dare (his own favourite among the film scores) and Battle of Britain, comedies like Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (the title-song of which he wrote in the time it took him to walk from the producer's office to his own) and Monte Caroo or Bust, arid mythical fantasies like Lancelot and Guinevere, and Beauty and the Beast. Ever keen to produce something just that little different, Ron penned perhaps the first and only brass-band film score to date, Disney's Escape from the Dark, and a twelve-tone one for the thriller The Executioner.
In more recent times he has travelled the world conducting concerts of film music with leading orchestras. He has won three Ivor Novello Awards and four certificates of honour, in particular one in 1972 in a category created especially, The Entertainment Music Award, for his outstanding contribution to British music. The same year he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his score of Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy. In more recent times other honours have come his way. In 1993 he was made a Fellow of the City of Leeds College of Music, and a year later received the coveted Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement in music.
 Theme from 633 Squadron
Although he is often labelled as a composer for war films, 633 Squadron was Ron's first attempt at the genre, in his 24th film. Despite his experience in the field, it took a good while before he hit on the idea of using the actual numbers in the title as an integral part of the theme. Once this was 'locked in', the theme itself came relatively easily, and must rank, alongside Magnificent Men, as his most popular item. The film tells the story of an air raid on a German munitions factory in Norway resulting in much loss of planes and men, but not of the star, Cliff Robertson.
Drake 400 Suite
Early in 1979 the City Fathers of Plymouth commissioned Ron to write a work for the Drake 400 Commemorative Festival to be held in the city from 10th to 28th May 1980, and designed to celebrate Sir Francis Drake's return to Plymouth after his round-the - world voyage. The first public performance took place in the Guildhall on 24th September with the composer conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
 The Eddystone Seascape - Andante maestoso
Ron had childhood memories of watching the intermittent flash of the Eddystone lighthouse, conjuring up images of passing warships and liners battling their way through huge and heavy seas.
 Song of the Mewstone - Adagio tranquillo
This haunting picture of The Great Mewstone jutting from the sea in Wembury Bay has a timeless atmosphere of loneliness and mystery, perfectly caught in scoring for cor anglais accompanied by strings and harp.
 The Barbican - Hornpipe (Giocoso)
The Barbican is that part of the harbour where fish could be bought from the fishing-boats, as they came in. In this movement the composer's mind wanders beyond the immediate to the unashamedly fanciful, with hints of old sailing-ships, and their crews enjoying themselves ashore in a lively hornpipe... and other characteristic pursuits!
 The Hoe on a Summer Night - Lento tranquillo
This evokes the flickering red, white and green lights of the boats moored in the Sound, with Smeaton Tower and the statue of Sir Francis Drake as more permanent features on the famous Hoe, where the Spanish Armada was so famously spotted those four hundred years ago.
 March: Plymouth Sound - Allegro moderato
One of Ron's earliest and most influential experiences was hearing military bands playing on The Hoe on Sunday evenings. It is not surprising, therefore, that he should wish to include in this most personal of concert works a march to remind him of those childhood days.
 The Eddystone Seascape (Reprise)
This movement sums up the composer's feelings for the city of Plymouth and its overriding image of seafaring adventure and history.
 Puppet Serenade
One of the many albums Ron recorded for George Martin in the 1960s was entitled Serenade, and along with existing pieces of that title by various composers, George Martin suggested several subjects that Ron might like to base new works upon. One of them is this Puppet Serenade.
- New Zealand Suite
Ron Goodwin had been a regular visitor to New Zealand since the 1970s giving concerts on both islands to great acclaim, so it was not surprising that in 1983 the national symphony orchestra decided to commission a new, special work to reflect their own country through the eyes, and ears, of a welcome guest.
The first movement, Aeotearoa, recognises the Maori name for the country as 'the Land of the Lang White Cloud', and seeks to paint an overall picture of the beauty and grandeur of a lovely country. Milford Sound is a magical fjord in the south Island, a sight of outstanding natural beauty on a grand scale. Rotorua is the location for a thermal area of bubbling pools and hot water geysers spouting high into the sky, bringing out good nature and light-heartedness in all who see it - not least Ron himself! The TSS Earnslaw is an old steamship that has carried passengers across Lake Wakatipu in the South Island for most of this century and, thanks to the purity of the water, is still in an excellent state of preservation. A & P stands for 'agriculture and produce' and represents an important part in New Zealand life, along the lines of a British County show, with ponies, dogs and all manner of rural activities, some of which may be heard in the music. The Maori song Po Atarau is known the world over as Now is the hour, but here Ron puts his own inimitable stamp on the original melody.
 Arabian Celebration
An extended piece of descriptive writing Arabian Celebration covers various aspects of the subject from high adventure to gentle relaxation, and was commissioned by the BBC Arabic Service to celebrate their 50th anniversary; it was first performed at Broadcasting House, London, in January 1988, under the composer's direction.
 The Venus Waltz
Another product of Ron's partnership with George Martin, The Venus Waltz was originally written for an album called Out of This World in 1958. It has gained a particularly strong following in Germany.
 Prisoners of War March (The Kriegie)
Commissioned by the Royal Air Forces Ex-Prisoners of War Association in 1980 and first performed at the Royal Albert Hall that year, this march bears the title that the members themselves use to describe one of their own.
 Minuet in Blue
Minuet in Blue,
 Theme from The Trap
The 1966 film The Trap was set in the Rocky Mountains of Canada and told the story of a trapper, Oliver Reed and the mute wife, Rita Tushingham, whom he had bought; the unlikely relationship blooms into a love affair. The main theme, on the other hand, accompanies Reed paddling his canoe down a mighty river. To British listeners, however, it is now firmly allied to the annual London Marathon, for which it acts as a signature-tune. It also attracts more mail than anything else in the composer's oeuvre.
 Girl with a Dream
A suitably dreamy number from another 60s Parlophone LP, which was taken up by Pete Murray to introduce a Saturday night BBC record show.
 Theme from Lancelot and Guinevere
Real-life husband and wife, Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace played the eponymous characters in the Arthurian fantasy Lancelot and Guinevere in 1962. The main theme highlights the dual characteristics of romance and chivalry inherent in the story, and represents one of Ron's earliest large scale productions.
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GOODWIN: Drake 400 Suite / New Zealand Suite