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Annunzio Paulo Mantovani,

‘Nuff said!!??

By Wes Stillwagon,

Copyright Ó 2002, Wesley W. Stillwagon, Sr. All rights reserved.

Introduction


I have been building and maintaining a website for fans of Maestro Mantovani for a few years. I wondered after receiving the invitation for a Mantovani paper from Len Mullenger of MusicWeb, if the Mantovani Fan website included everything that could be said. After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that the site did not contain everything that could be said for a man who sold tens of millions, perhaps over 100 million recordings and introduced more people to a concert hall than anyone.

Considerably more information than presented here or on the website will be included in the forthcoming Mantovani biography being produced under the direction of his family. More information comes to the website and to our talented writers every day from musicians who played under Monty’s direction and others. Surely there is more to be said in the near future by my friend and acknowledged world expert on Mantovani, Mr. Colin MacKenzie of the United Kingdom. Colin never ceases to amaze with what he finds out about the man from his acquaintances, former musicians, their relatives, and friends. More will be said about Mantovani by another friend, Mr. Donald Southwell, who is an expert on musicology. While we fans are thrilled with Mantovani’s musical presentations, Don is the most capable person I know who can analyze and describe precisely how he achieved his magic. Understanding the technique doesn’t make one capable of achieving the same results. I know that I find it impossible to simultaneously experience Mantovani’s music AND analyze it for technique or arrangement. Don describes how Mantovani’s technique was achieved in such a manner so that those with no musical talent can understand. His instructive explanations can be found on the website, on the Dynamic page.

Mr. Alan Dixon (also of the UK) has been able to track down many Mantovani ex-musicians. Working with Colin MacKenzie, he captures their memories of the times when they worked with the Maestro. We even had help from the Musician’s Union of London (UK) with this quest. We are still mining for information. So I guess there is more to say on the subject of Mantovani and I appreciate the opportunity very much. To date, we have successfully named every member of the touring orchestra featured on the front page of the website. We are building a fascinating short biography of Monty’s musicians on the "Virtuoso" page. Mantovani couldn’t have achieved what he did without the competent help of an able group of virtuoso musicians, many of them with Monty for decades. He wouldn’t have been successful if the musicians didn’t have the loyalty and caring necessary to endure the many practice sessions and Monty’s Latin temper.

 

Mantovani Music Experiences as Reported by Fans World Wide

One of the more pleasant experiences for me as webmaster for the site is reading a fan’s email or a new entry in the site guestbook. I learn of the correspondent’s recollection of their first Mantovani experience. I am often amazed how their reaction closely matched my own except with a different recording. My first hearing of his unique and astounding arrangement of "The Blue Danube" was and remains, grander and more exciting than anything you ever could or will hear in Vienna. Colin MacKenzie recalls his first was hearing "Under Paris Skies," which includes the unbelievable piano accordion solo of Emile Charlier. (When Mantovani was engaged for the first time to play a concert in Paris, the producers requested that he "bring his accordions" when only one was ever used at a time.)

We receive many heart tugging requests to help fans find particular recordings that were important to relatives who wished to have the tune played at a wake and those who needed to find a particular recording to commemorate an important event in their lives. How Mantovani ‘touched’ his fans is to me as interesting as the man himself.

Building a Perception of the Maestro

Since we fans can only surmise about Mantovani through products of his creativity and through the memories of people who knew him, the image formed in our mind is built with fairly subjective components. Similarities do appear in personal opinions and recollections especially those from his family, musician’s, producers, and fans with which he had direct contact. With those similarities catalogued, we can build a perception of the man based on an informal consensus of opinion. We are saddened that it seems likely that there will not be someone else to produce the quality or style arrangements equal to Monty. I personally believe there are musical people out there in the world that may have the heart and will to do so. Perhaps the person capable of bringing a Mantovani style to a music arrangement will have similar qualities. Some of those qualities in my perception are:

  • he was genuine. According to the Ruggieros, the New Jersey, USA couple who won a contest in the 1960’s by suggesting 12 tracks for a Mantovani album; Latin Rendezvous (they also suggested the album title), the kindness, courtesy, and humour he displayed while hosting them in London was genuine. They found the man very likeable and pleasant in spite of being on top of the music world and already having tens of millions of fans worldwide. He was a man that you would be pleased to have as a next-door neighbor.
  • he was demanding. Many of his musicians recall that when Mantovani was on the podium, he demanded full attention to detail. He seemed to have a very clear vision of what he wanted the music to sound like and no one stood between him and that goal. While the cost of keeping a large orchestra in a recording studio for a number of ‘takes’ was quite large, his products were so profitable that Decca never pressured Mantovani to speed up the recording process. In addition to hundreds of recordings, he also did arrangements and conducted pit orchestras for musical plays, etc. (more notably for Noel Coward). In spite of Monty’s Latin Temper reputation on the podium, there was a time when a show producer decided to replace him as the Musical Director. As demanding as he was, the entire orchestra told the show’s management that if Mantovani was fired they would all quit. He remained at the podium.
  • he was loyal and kind to his wife and children. His son once remarked that while his dad had a reputation for sternness in the recording studio, he was very gentle at home even with the grandkids doing things that grandkids do. His son reports that he was a man completely without guile. He was also loyal to his musicians and featured them in solos, both in recordings and on tour.
  • he was as accomplished musically as his virtuoso musicians. Many thought of Mantovani as a violinist, but he trained mainly on the piano. When he played the piano in a recording (i.e. in Cara Mia, his own composition, the instrumental version), his interpretation and technique were superb. Most, if not all, of his arrangements were initially developed by him using a piano. And contrary to some of his detractors, Monty actually did most of his own arrangements. 737 of the titles are identifiable to an arranger either by the identification of the composer, or by direct callout of the arranger. Here is the breakout: Mantovani-339; Milner-222; Shaw-134; Binge-42. That leaves 225 not identified (Source, Donald Southwell). According to Mr. Southwell, the Mantovani number is quite low as it was not cross-referenced against the number of pseudonyms Mantovani used in his recording history such as Trapani, Manilla, etc.
  • contrary to one poorly informed biographer, Mantovani did not hate the accordion. According to his master piano accordionist, Emile Charlier, Monty likened Emile’s technique to that of an oboist with the subtle colour. His enjoyment of an accordion as soloist in numerous arrangements is a measure of his appreciation of the instrument. There is absolutely no substantiation to that claim.

Music Perception Contrasts

Music taste is almost completely subjective, which doesn’t mean it is necessarily irrational. There is a large world population with a taste for light orchestra music who love the work of Mantovani. There are also those who do not like the work of Mantovani. There are often heated arguments (as silly as it seems) between the two camps, and I am no less guilty of this silliness. I have tried my best to understand my own preference on the subject as well at those with differing views. Don Southwell has helped by explaining the Mantovani techniques that produce musical passages that play on my spine so pleasantly. Why don’t those arrangement qualities similarly impact those who do not like the Mantovani music? I worried in the personal examination of my preference that perhaps "understanding" Mantovani music technique would, like Mark Twain’s learning the river, cause me to lose my appreciation for the feeling. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened.

Mantovani passages that amazed and thrilled me in the early 1950s still do it today. They haven’t lost their beauty with time, age, or with the change of musical styles. Are The Blue Danube, Charmaine, Wyoming, My Old Dutch, or Come Prima any less beautiful today to your ears? Of course there are at times some recordings that seem to suit my mood better than others. I feel very blessed that I have Monty in my life and I know I am speaking for fans around the world. His recordings, even the vinyl recordings are prized collectors items.

For those interested in hearing the arrangements I have mentioned, segments are available on the website. They are in RealAudio® format with smaller files (quicker download times) than WAV. If you haven’t experienced Mantovani because you believe it is "elevator music" or the other nonsense descriptive, "easy listening," try out a few of them on the website. If you have the heart, they will touch you. Nuff said!

Wes Stillwagon

North Plainfield, New Jersey, USA

Mantovani Fan Website

http://www.hallowquest.com/mantiindex.htm.


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