George Melachrino conducted one of
the finest British Light Orchestras in the years immediately
following World War 2. Thanks to the Long Playing record,
his fame spread throughout the world, especially in North
America where his albums sold millions of copies.
He was born George Miltiades Melachrino
in Albany Street, London in 1909. His father was a Greek cigarette
manufacturer, and his mother came from Broadway in Worcestershire.
At the age of four he was being taught by his stepfather on
a miniature violin, and was only thirteen when he made his
first public appearance as a solo violinist. Three years later
he enrolled at the Trinity College of Music, winning particular
praise for his work with strings. He proceeded to master all
the instruments of the orchestra, with the exception of the
piano and harp. In addition he had a pleasant singing voice,
and broadcast from the BBC Studios at Savoy Hill when only
Like so many of his contemporaries,
Melachrino discovered that his talents were well suited to
the demands of the British dance bands which flourished during
his youth. In numerous broadcasts and recordings he performed
on clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone, violin, viola and as
a most competent vocalist. While still in his teens, as early
as 1926 he was recording with Geoffrey Gelder and his Kettners
Five, and in the following years he was employed by Ambrose,
Harry Hudson, Jack Jackson, Van Phillips, Rudy Starita, Jay
Wilbur, Marius B. Winter and Carroll Gibbons and his Savoy
Hotel Orpheans. Gibbons made him one of his star
vocalists, and his duets with Anne Lenner were especially
popular. Examples of his work with this fine ensemble can
be heard on Vocalion CDEA6047.
By 1938 he was getting star billing
for his BBC broadcasts, and in 1939 he was leader of the dance
orchestra at Londons Café de Paris.
World War 2 interrupted Melachrinos
career, although it helped to steer him in a different direction,
musically speaking. Following a brief spell in the military
police, a back injury resulted in him being drafted back into
broadcasting, in special shows for the troops overseas. He
became Musical Director of the Army Radio Unit, and toured
with the Stars In Battledress. Melachrino formed
a 50-piece Orchestra In Khaki, employing the finest
professional musicians serving in the forces. He relished
in the artistic freedom he enjoyed, which permitted him to
perform a wide variety of music. In 1944 Regimental Sergeant
Major George Melachrino (note that the British Army didnt
consider that their top musician should be a commissioned
officer!) became conductor of the British Band of the Allied
Expeditionary Forces, working alongside Major Glenn Miller
and Captain Robert Farnon, who fronted the US and Canadian
There is an intriguing story about
how the wartime Melachrino style evolved. His senior at the
War Office, Eric Maschwitz (of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley
Square fame), said he wanted to hear Pennsylvania Polka played
by an orchestra of 80. So Melachrinos AEF band numbered
80 musicians, making its conductor the first to introduce
sweet, sentimental mood music by the use of masses of strings.
Each of the three AEF bands developed
its own special style, building up a large following with
the civilian population at home, as well as with the troops
who were the main target audience. The British band gained
a tremendous reputation, and Melachrino himself sang with
all three service bands. His own composition First Rhapsody
opened and closed each programme, when the British band started
broadcasting to Europe. Originally a serious work for orchestra
lasting seven and a half minutes, First Rhapsody was written
in 1936. For the purpose of his signature tune, Melachrino
adapted the principal theme, and reconstructed the work making
it shorter and more popular in character. It was arranged
in various forms, notably for solo piano and piano and orchestra.
The British film "House of Darkness" was the story of how
First Rhapsody came to be written. (Melachrinos 12"
78 version of First Rhapsody was included in the EMI collection
Memories of the Light Programme).
When the war was over, Melachrinos AEF band formed the
backbone of the magnificent orchestra that was to achieve
world-wide fame for almost 20 years. The accent was now on
strings, and it was in string orchestration that George excelled.
Such was his popularity that he appeared in the 1948 Royal
The Melachrino Organisation grew into
one of Britains most important musical empires, which
included several orchestras and ensembles.
Today it is his recordings which serve
to remind us of his exceptional talent. His post-war orchestra
made around 100 78rpm records, and he was responsible for
more than 50 LPs. For his repertoire he drew upon many of
the popular standards and light classics of the day, often
made instantly recognisable through his regular BBC radio
broadcasts. Many of his records featured his own arrangements
and compositions, and he was also in demand from the stage
and the cinema, scoring over a dozen feature films. He was
a gifted composer, and contributed a number of works for EMIs
short-lived Recorded Music Library, which provided themes
and background music for films, radio and television world-wide.
Melachrino was married three times. His first wife and two
sons aged 12 and 15 were killed by a flying bomb during the
war. Afterwards he devoted much of his time to helping sick
children. His second marriage was dissolved. In 1961 he had
a son by his third wife, former ballet dancer Noreen Lee.
Sadly George Melachrino fell asleep
in his bath and drowned at his London home in Gordon Place,
Kensington on 18 June 1965, at the tragically early age of
56. On hearing the news, prophetically his publisher John
Wallington said: "Georges death is a great loss to me
personally, and to the world of Light Music. I am sure that
his music will go on being played as long as Light Music is
played." Sydney Grace, head of variety in the Grade Organisation
said: "I admired him immensely, both for his talent and his
bright way of life. George was a wonderful host. He was, I
think, the instigator of the big orchestra with the tumbling
strings, which he did during the war."
Perhaps such a sweeping statement requires
some qualification. In the 1930s the likes of Louis Levy in
Britain, and Andre Kostelanetz in the USA, were fronting orchestras
where the strings were an important feature within the entire
orchestra. But Melachrino was fortunate (during his Army years)
in being able to call upon vast numbers of strings, with no
worries about the cost, which became the dominant feature.
Massive sales during the early years of the LP era still permitted
light orchestras to use large numbers of string players (as
well as Melachrino, one immediately thinks of Mantovani) but
gradually modern recording techniques allowed the same effects
to be achieved with fewer players.
George Melachrino left a fine legacy
of recordings which todays music lovers are now starting
to appreciate anew. His music always bore a hallmark of quality,
and he proved that it is not necessary to resort to cheap
gimmicks in order to be able to sell records. It was tragic
that he was taken from us while at the peak of his popularity,
at a time when he must still have had much to offer. We can
only be grateful that, for almost 20 years his orchestral
output was prolific, and there are many examples of his work
patiently waiting to be rediscovered by his appreciative admirers,
old and new.
David Ades (2003)
A selection of some GEORGE MELACHRINO
CDs recently released
BEGIN THE BEGUINE Vocalion
CDEA6014 MASQUERADE, THE SWAN, THE PINK LADY WALTZ, SERENADE
(Schubert), VISION DAMOUR, OUT OF MY DREAMS, DUSK, BEGIN
THE BEGUINE, PORTRAIT OF A LADY, DESTINY, LA GOLONDRINA, THE
DONKEY SERENADE, SERENADE (Drigo), MALAGUENA, POEME, ESTRELLITA,
EL RELICARIO, THEY DIDNT BELIEVE ME, INTERMEZZO from
CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, LADY OF SPAIN, MOONLIGHT SERENADE, INDIAN
SUMMER, WOODLAND REVEL, AUTUMN, ROMANCE IN E (Rubinstein).
CASCADE OF STARS Vocalion
CDEA6060 1. WINTER SUNSHINE (George Melachrino) 2. SEPTEMBER
SONG* (Kurt Weil) 3. MY SONG OF SPRING (Robert Farnon) 4.
ZINGARA (Chaminade, arr. Arthur Wilkinson) 5. MIDNIGHT IN
MAYFAIR* (Newell Chase) 6. CINDERELLA - FILM FANTASY (David,
Hoffman, Livingston) 7. CASCADE OF STARS* (Osna Maderna) 8.
AUTUMN LEAVES* (Joseph Kosma) 9. SILVER LINING FANTASY 10.
IF YOU GO (Michael Emer) 11. DANSE MEXICAINE (Arthur Wilkinson)
12. THEME FROM RUNNYMEDE RHAPSODY (Reginald King)
13. STARLIGHT ROOF WALTZ (George Melachrino) 14. ANTE EL ESCORIAL
(Ernesto Lecuona) 15. VIOLINS IN THE NIGHT* (George Melachrino)
16. THE LEGEND OF FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE (William Hill-Bowen)
17. THEME WALTZ - FROM FILM DARK SECRET* (George
Melachrino) 18. WORDS AND MUSIC - SELECTION (Richard Rodgers)
GREAT FILM AND SHOW TUNES Sanctuary
Living Era CD AJA 5469 The Classic HMV Selections
1 "CALL ME MADAM" (Irving Berlin)
Washington Square Dance; Youre Just In Love; Marrying
For Love; The Best Thing For You; They Like Ike; Once Upon
A Time Today; Its A Lovely Day Today; The Ocarina; Youre
Just In Love. 2 "KISS ME KATE" (Cole Porter) Another Opnin
Another Show; So In Love; Too Darn Hot; Why Cant You
Behave?; Wunderbar; Bianca; Were Thine That Special Face;
Always True To You In My Fashion; So In Love. 3 "SHOW BOAT"
(Jerome Kern) Cotton Blossom; Cant Help Lovin
Dat Man; Why Do I Love You; Make Believe; Cant Help
Lovin Dat Man; Bill; You Are Love; Make Believe; Ol
Man River. 4 "CAROUSEL" (Richard Rodgers) Carousel Waltz;
If I Loved You; Whats The Use Of Wondrin;
A Real Nice Clambake; Mister Snow; Youll Never Walk
Alone; June Is Bustin Out All Over. 5 "THE DANCING YEARS"
(Ivor Novello) Uniform; I Can Give You The Starlight; Wings
Of Sleep; My Life Belongs To You; Waltz Of My Heart; Leap
Year Waltz. 6 "THREE LITTLE WORDS" (Kalmar, Ruby) I Love You
So Much; Nevertheless; Whos Sorry Now (Kalmar, Ruby,
Snyder); Come On Papa; Thinking Of You; So Long! Oo Long;
My Sunny Tennessee; All Alone Monday; Three Little Words.
7 "YOURE MY EVERYTHING" Varsity Drag (De Sylva, Brown,
Henderson); I May Be Wrong (Ruskin, Sullivan); On The Good
Ship Lollipop (Clare, Whiting); Aint She Sweet Yellen,
Ager); Youre My Everything (Dixon, Young, Warren); The
Charleston (Mack, Johnson); Would You Like To Take A Walk
(Dixon, Rose, Warren); California Here I Come (Jolson, De
Sylva, Meyer). 8 COLE PORTER FANTASY (Cole Porter) Just One
Of Those Things; What Is This Thing Called Love; You Do Something
To Me; Easy To Love; Night And Day; Anything Goes. 9 GERSHWIN
FANTASY (George Gershwin) The Man I Love; Fascinating Rhythm;
Embraceable You; Lisa; Summertime; Lets Call The Whole
Thing Off; Love Walked In; Rhapsody In Blue; I Got Rhythm.
(Chappell, NCB, BIEM)