It was Daphnis and Chloé that got me going on this—all will become clear.
In 1905, Debussy’s inspiration for La mer was the sea at Eastbourne: “the sea unfurls itself with an utterly British correctness”, as he observed. * By 1930, it was the exotic acquatic vistas of Bognor that inspired Eric Coates to compose the “valse serenade” By the sleepy lagoon.
It’s been the theme tune of Desert island discs ever since the series began in 1942, soon becoming a comfy old sonic armchair. But like Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto and Also sprach Zarathustra, it’s been truncated into a soundbite, so one rarely gets to hear more than the opening. This seems to be the original version, with Eric Coates directing “the Symphony Orchestra” (a name that all the other symphony orchestras will be kicking themselves that they didn’t think up); it’s good to hear it in full at last— complete with modulation, and a whimsical middle section:
In 1940 Jack Lawrence made it into a song, which Coates loved. Here’s Richard Tauber, being Richard Tauber:
Now then, here’s what I came in here for.
The piece soon became a favourite with American big bands. The Harry James arrangement (1942) opens, wonderfully, with a fleeting homage to the magical Lever du jour from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, and goes on to introduce some abrupt, evocative key shifts:
Other band versions, within a far more contained world than that of bebop, are also creative, with fine details—such as Jimmy King:
By way of a Chinese interlude, here’s his arrangement of Shanghai at night:
and for good measure, Zhou Xuan‘s 1946 original (see also A Shanghai Prom):
Meanwhile back at the sleepy lagoon, here’s Tommy Dorsey, with more key shifts:
and Glenn Miller:
Would it be sacrilegious for Desert island discs to ring the changes?
* Cf. the classic graffiti addition to
Harwich for the Continent
Bognor for the incontinent