Friday, August 22, 2008

Shy Men Dance: Mantovani E Sua Orchestra: "Swedish Rhapsody"

If Ikea had been a multi-nation-occupying huge corporation in 1953, and you called them and were put on hold, this song is exactly what you would hear when waiting to discuss your problem. Jaunty, vivid, lively and everchanging, "Swedish Rhapsody" conjures up people dancing and eating salmon and potatoes and celebrating the wonders of good cheap home furnishings. It is almost oppressively happy, very hummable and makes for a perhaps misleading introduction to Swedish pop - but then, as far as I can gather, this is music to get drunk and dance to on midsummer's night, when the sun is out and stays out until late.

That said, let me turn to Mantovani for a moment. When I first saw that I had to write about him, I immediately thought of…someone non-musical, though also an Italian. A man who lived over a thousand years before the extremely successful and yet shy Venetian, who moved when he was a boy with his family to England. This non-musician was also shy, also a hard taskmaster (on himself) and was probably just as popular in his time…

…I am speaking, of course, of Virgil. He was born in Mantua, and therefore is also a ‘mantovanian’ (please correct me if I am wrong!) In Virgil’s writing there is elegance, feeling, and a certain bread-and-wine gusto that makes for a positively cinematic impact (if you get a good translation of The Aeneid). Mantovani strikes me as the same way – give him a good tune and he will make the most of it, giving it his full concentration (just as Virgil wrote only two or three lines per day, making sure they were just right). Virgil’s epic gave Rome a sense of history and purpose; Mantovani’s music helped people with their morale, gave them a picture of somewhere else (the exotic Sweden). There is nothing cold or forbidding here, with the woodwinds, strings and accordion – it is as hearty as feasts were in Virgil’s own time, feasts of ordinary people on special days, when they drank wine and danced around their own good and affordably-priced tables and chairs.


mike said...

This is the first Number Two that I recognise, although goodness knows from where. "Family Favourites" on the Light Programme when I was little, maybe? Maybe I'm just in a particularly good mood this afternoon, but this is delightful!

wichita lineman said...

I remember Ray Moore playing this on his early morning Radio 2 show as late as the mid eighties! I'd perform any number of desperate acts to write a tune this catchy, simple, and uplifting. Do you think Mantovani was getting Sweden and Switzerland confused?