A Widespread World
1 Sep 2001 0 comments. tbs.pm/1681
Gavin Sutherland reconstructs the most famous ITV start-up
Since hearing John Dankworth’s “Widespread World” for the first time in 1997 (although I knew the ident clip long before that) I became fascinated with the whole idea of a march in three-four time.
The strident main theme, based on the Mixolydian mode, uses a “pedal” note – a recurring bass note drone on which to pin the harmonic changes above it. One of the most common is “C”, and I suppose the other famous piece of British music than comes readily to mind based on a “C” pedal is William Walton’s march “Crown Imperial”.
This is contrasted with a calm central section in the unlikely key (from C major, anyway) of A flat major, with huge burgeoning string chords sweeping across the picture, accompanied by the gentlest tap of a tambourine and the restrained strumming of a guitar. A recapitulation of the main theme (to highlight the form-up of the Rediffusion “Adastral” star) and short coda bring to the end four minutes of sheer joy.
One moment that particularly sticks in my mind is in the recap of the main theme, played by horns and trombones, where the whole ident is finally formed on the downbeat of the second bar of the phrase. This musical phrase begins on the chord of G minor 7th (still over that low pedal “C”) resolving to C major in the second bar, so it seems fitting to depict the logo of the television station responsible on the resolving chord!
Well, it is all very nice to describe this piece, whether analytically or not, but any amount of discussion does not get the work onto the page! From the first time I heard it I knew I had to find out whether or not extant score and parts were available.
Contacting John Dankworth’s librarian sadly drew a blank, so I resolved to reconstruct the music myself, with a view to recording it in the future. The opportunity presented itself during the summer on one of my frequent trips to Prague.
With the costs of recording music in Britain spiralling ever upwards composers and producers often take the music to the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra – fundamentally a contract or “pick-up” orchestra utilising the finest musicians from the town.
One might find most of the strings of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra sat around you, with woodwinds and brass from the television and radio orchestras, and often these players can change during sessions.
However, the main factors attracting people to these studios are that there are no further residual payments to make once a recording is complete – you then own that product and are responsible for its editing, marketing and distribution.
The other factor is that there is no extra equipment to hire – the “Smecky” studios are used day in, day out, for many diverse projects (from TV movie scores to commercials and film soundtracks – even some of the music for the “Wallace and Gromit” cartoons was recorded here, and now they are moving into recording large lavish scores for computer games) and thus all the keyboard and percussion instruments are always there, as are click track and dubbing facilities, all presided over by studio manager Juraj Durovic, a smiling, quietly-spoken engineer.
The disc I was actually conducting on this visit was an ASV release called “Entente Cordiale” (produced by my long-term colleague Philip Lane), and I was allotted an hour or recording time to record “Widespread World”.
This gave me about 2 weeks to finish the score and parts, though truth to tell it took a little less than two days to complete the transcription and re-orchestration so that allowed me time to check, double-check and correct all the errors I could find!
To backtrack to actually reconstructing the piece, I usually start on good old-fashioned manuscript paper with a pencil. Through saturation listening techniques I knew I had a fairly good idea of the structure of the piece, its melodies and accompaniment colours. Ruling out the bars on the paper whilst listening to the complete track once more (on cassette) gives me the chance to soak up a few extra details.
From here on in, it could be compared to dictation, given the repeated attention on 8-bar sections, one at a time, to capture the full score on the page. I generally write into short score using part-notation, part-shorthand, since no-one needs to understand it except me(!)
Sometimes I can “write ahead” knowing the chord structures and orchestrational textures used at some point, but one can never check enough to make sure the piece “sits” as the original did. From then on, I go back through the music with the tape again, this time a red pen to hand, marking in any special orchestration points that need to be observed when putting the piece into full score (again in my own shorthand).
Finally, I got the piece into a manageable working copy and took it to my study to set it on the computer. I use “Sibelius” music-publishing software – industry standard the world over, and without a doubt the finest purchase I ever made (it paid for itself twice over just two weeks after I got it – plug over).
It is so simple to lay out an orchestral score on it, and the functions and shortcuts make my job so much easier and efficient. Now – what is it scored for? Orchestra, yes, fine…. I think we can all deduce that… but exactly what forces? I settled for 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and percussion (3 players), harp, guitar and strings.
Two factors led me to choose this scoring; one, it would produce all the relevant colours present on John Dankworth’s original recording, and two, it was the orchestra we were using in the sessions anyway.
There was a tuba in the original, but I felt that it did little more than reinforce what only sounded like one double bass in the original, and we would have three, so I decided I could cover it without. There were probably four horns in the original too, but with deft handling of the orchestration two would be plenty.
The detail in the manuscript I had worked on (for about 6 hours in total) was sufficient that engraving the piece was done in a matter of two hours. Checking it for wrong notes and finally printing the parts and score out was the last task, then grabbing an overnight bag and my passport and hurtling out the door to Stansted!
A split second before the light went on, I felt just that twinge of nerves that is always present on these occasions – I was recording, for the first time in stereo, a work written before I was born for a company that ceased to exist before I was born, yet it was a very special moment. With more reconstruction in the pipeline at the minute (and an offer from ASV to distribute the final product) there are more of these moments to come!
Hot off the plane from Prague I couldn’t wait to get into the session tapes and make a mock-up edit of the piece. My clunky editing at home at least provided me with an idea as to the shape of the edit map for the final result. The final result was edited by Mike Brown using “SADiE”, and a tremendous job he made of it!
When the track had been recorded and finally edited, I played it back to friends and colleagues against the original, and some said “Ah, but you’ve added extra bits in there” to which I replied, simply, “Listen to it again…”
Forced to concede that I heard more in the piece than they did (well, it is my job!) at last it stood as part of my contribution to the preservation of music written for British television. And that’s only the beginning…