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Ronald Binge and “Elizabethan Serenade”

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Ronald Binge (July 15, 1910–September 6, 1979) was a British composer and arranger of light music. Binge was born in a working-class neighborhood in Derby in the English Midlands. In his childhood he was a chorister at Saint Andrews Church (Church of England), London Road, Derby – ‘the railwaymen’s church’ which was demolished in 1970. Early in his career he was a cinema organist and later started working in summer orchestras in British seaside resorts, including Blackpool and Great Yarmouth, for which he learned to play the piano accordion. Binge’s skill as a cinema organist was put to good use, and beginning in 1935 he played the organ and did all the arrangements in Annunzio Paolo Mantovani’s first band, the Tipica Orchestra. During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Air Force, during which time he was much in demand organizing camp entertainment. During war service in the RAF he spent some time in Blackpool, teaming up with Sidney Torch and his RAF Orchestra to present concerts for recruits.

Much of Binge’s post-war work involved orchestrating numerous popular songs of the day for broadcasting, as well as theatrical assignments. He scored Noël Coward’s musical Pacific 1860, which opened at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane in December 1946, with Mary Martin in the starring role. After the end of the war, Mantovani offered Binge the job of arranging and composing for his new orchestra. In 1951, his arrangement of Charmaine gave him and Mantovani worldwide success and recognition. Binge was interested in the technicalities of composition and was most famous as the inventor of the “cascading strings” effect that is the signature sound of the Mantovani orchestra, much used in their arrangements of popular music. It was originally created to capture the essence of the echo properties of a building such as a cathedral, although it later became particularly associated with easy-listening music.

This was achieved purely by clever scoring, dividing the violins into several parts, each allotted a different melody-note in turn, which they sustain and then fade out, until called upon to move elsewhere. Binge’s inspiration came from his love of church music, particularly Monteverdi. Composers of sacred music had to allow for the long reverberation inevitable in cathedrals, and this is reflected in their writing. Binge’s best known composition is probably Elizabethan Serenade (1951), which was used by the British Broadcasting Corporation as the theme for the popular 1950s series, “Music Tapestry,” and as the play-out for the British Forces Network radio station, and for which he won an Ivor Novello Award. It was later turned into a vocal version called Where the Gentle Avon Flows, with lyrics by the poet Christopher Hassall. In 1954 Binge adapted his ‘cascade’ effect with solo cornets for his ‘Concert Carillon’.

However, he later tired of writing arrangements and stopped doing arrangements for Mantovani to create his own music, composing original works and film scores. Binge is also known for Sailing By (1963), which introduces the late-night Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. It was such a popular song that there were protests for two years when it was stopped in 1993. Other well-known pieces include Miss Melanie, Like Old Times, and The Watermill (1958) for oboe and strings . His largest, longest, and most ambitious work is the four-movement Symphony in C (“Saturday Symphony”) which was written during his retirement c. 1970 and performed in Britain and Germany. Less well known is a piano piece known as “Vice Versa”, a musical palindrome which was not only a front-to-back palindrome, but also exploited the two staves used for writing for piano. The music reads the same whichever way it is turned. He later extended this theme, composing a piece known as “Upside/Downside” for his son, who was learning to play the recorder at Downside School. This musical palindrome was for piano, recorder and cello and again was universally reversible – two players could play from the same sheet of music reading from opposite ends.

Other compositions of note include ‘Madrugado’, ‘The Red Sombrero’, ‘Faire Frou Frou’, ‘Caribbean Calypso’, ‘Dance Of The Snowflakes’, ‘The Fire God’, ‘Song Of Canterbury’, ‘Tales Of The Three Blind Mice’, ‘Thames Rhapsody’, ‘Trade Winds’, ‘Venetian Carnival’, ‘Man In A Hurry’, ‘High Stepper’ and The BBC International Festival Of Light Music in 1956 commissioned Binge to compose his ‘Concerto For Alto Saxophone in E-flat major,’ which received its first performance with Michael Krein as soloist. His scores for the cinema include Desperate Moment (1953), Our Girl Friday (1953), The Runaway Bus (1954), and Dance Little Lady (1954). He died in Ringwood, Hampshire, of liver cancer in 1979, aged 69.

My collection includes the following works by Ronald Binge:

The Carnival of Venice variations (arr., 1957).
Concerto for Eb Alto Saxophone (1956).
The Dance of the Snowflakes.
Elizabethan Serenade (Andante Cantabile, 1951).
Faire Frou Frou.
High Stepper or The “Aggie” Theme from The Adventures of Aggie.
Las Castanuelas.
Madrugado (Daybreak).
Miss Melanie.
Prelude (for solo piano and string orchestra): The Whispering Valley.
The Red Sombrero.
Sailing By.
Scherzo: Allegro Molto (1951).
Scottish Rhapsody.
String Song (signature tune, 1955).
Trade Winds.
Venetian Carnival.
The Watermill.

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