Folks, it’s time for a dose of good medicine, music that might not normally be your first choice but will make you feel better afterwards, I promise. For quite a while now, I’ve led you along an easy, comfortable path by writing about jazz, country music, oldies and the like — but it’s time to talk about Easy Listening music.
Easy Listening music has its place, and I don’t mean in elevators. (Which is what you were thinking – admit it.) It’s a favorite for a lot of listeners and encompasses varied sounds from many different musicians, but one name personifies the genre for me. He was a talented composer and a skilled pianist, and knew how to make a violin sing too, but is best remembered as a conductor. His name became synonymous with light classics and just about every other kind of Easy Listening music — Mantovani.
I can’t remember a time while I was growing up that his music wasn’t around, either coming from the radio or playing on some of my Dad’s favorite records. And that is the essence of Mantovani – his sound and the way it permeated the musical world through his recordings – because his career was mostly about making records, and a lot of them. He and his various orchestras seldom performed in public, but his music sold millions of records for many, many years, making him one of the most prolific recording artists of all time.
Although most of his best-selling records were of a light variety, his beginnings were pure classical. Born Annunzio Paolo Mantovani in Venice in 1905, the son of a celebrated violinist who played under legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini, the young Mantovani naturally gravitated to the type of music he heard every day. He began by learning piano, but after the family moved to England he eventually switched to violin, which is the instrument on which he began to gain fame as an adult.
Mantovani was destined for a different type of distinction though. As he grew older, he invested more and more time in composing and conducting, and began building a name that eventually became known world-wide. Over time, his orchestras developed a signature sound that was marked by a huge string section playing his special “cascading strings” style, something he developed along with arranger Ronnie Binge. It became known as the Mantovani Sound.
In addition to that, he realized that widespread success meant giving the public familiar melodies that would be more identifiable to the average listener than classical music. He recorded his versions of many songs that had started life differently, including pop music, jazz, and tunes from movies, Broadway, and eventually even TV. But he never forgot his roots, and he used his popularity to give many people their first exposure to classical music too.
As his popularity grew, he was also one of the first artists to recognize the potential of the new LP format of records, and later was a pioneer in helping to popularize stereo sound. All his efforts paid off and the rest is musical history. Almost right up until his death in 1980, he was a major force in record sales, with a total of over fifty albums to his credit. His list of hit songs is almost endless, but a few of the best-known are “Charmaine”, “Greensleeves”, “Song From Moulin Rouge”, “Around The World In 80 Days” and “Exodus”.
Mantovani’s name is still recognized today, and I’d be willing to guarantee that almost everyone has heard his music at one time or another — and not just in an elevator.
Mantovani – “Summertime In Venice”