2. In The Shadows
Who remembers Herman Finck these days? Acclaim is so transient in the
musical world that the once-famous quickly drop into oblivion. In the 1920's
and 30's Finck (1872-1939) was highly-revered and a household name in the
world of light music. Though he worked primarily in London theatres as Musical
Director and conducted scores of popular shows, his orchestra broadcast
and recorded frequently and so reached an even wider audience. It was moreover
much in demand at top society functions and was particularly beloved by
the Royal Family. Finck was a close friend of many of the leading musicians
of the time - Sir Thomas Beecham apparently being a special buddy of his.
Conducting was far from being Finck's only activity - he was also a highly
successful composer. If you had a gramophone, you would certainly have possessed
a record of his catchy intermezzo 'In the Shadows', written as far back
as 1910 but remaining for several decades in the best-seller lists. Take
tea at a London Corner-House Restaurant? Dine at the Ritz? Drink pink gins
at Claridges? Almost inevitably the appropriate palm court orchestra would
beguile you with Finck's little piece, perhaps following it with another
of the same musician's inspirations called 'Melodious Memories'.
'Melodious Memories' was a medley of classic snippets and music-hall
songs that became extremely popular - so much so that Finck chose the title
'My Melodious Memories' for his entertaining autobiography (Hutchinson,
1937). One of the stories he tells in it must go to the heart of all who
have spent much of their lives appearing in public.
I certainly know the feeling only too well. You are irrevocably in mid-performance.
Aborting the whole operation has ceased to be a plausible option. Nevertheless,
you sense that a calamity is imminent - yet can do nothing at all to avoid
it. There's that awful feeling of inevitability like driving a car down
a steep gradient and finding that the brakes have failed ...
Finck's Most Embarrassing Musical Moment occurred when he and his orchestra
were playing for a Royal charity event at the Buckingham Palace Riding School.
Everyone in the aristocratic, select audience was awaiting the arrival of
His Majesty King George V. Meanwhile the band embarked on 'Melodious Memories'
with its parade of popular tunes. Let Finck describe what followed in his
own words: 'Heaven help me, but I know what is going to happen,' I thought.
And it did happen...just as we got to 'Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the
Bogey Man,' the King arrived....
Luckily and much to his relief Finck was not cast deep into the shadows
as a result and contrived to preserve his place in both royal and popular
affection. But isn't it comforting to know that things like that can happen
to other people too?
Copyright © Richard Graves, April
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