Robert Farnon as I see him, hear him and love him.
An affectionate tribute by MARC FORTIER
Intro : just a few bars
dont be afraid
I have been very fortunate to be raised
listening to radio in my far North city of Jonquière,
Province of Québec, Canada in the forties [Fortier..?)
and fifties for I have listened to a lot of Robert Farnons
compositions as themes of many CBC radio productions. At
the time, I did not know the man behind the music and this
revelation came decades later.
Gene Lees, the one and only Gene Lees,
Jack of All Trades and Master of All, did ask me one day
(years ago) "Do you know that tune?" He whistled
it and I replied: "Of course!" He added a few
others and the answer was always the same: I knew the music
by heart. We were in Los Angeles, the weather was cool and
the beer was cold at the Rodeo Bar in Beverly Hills. It
was there that I met the man behind the music of Jumping
Bean, Peanut Polka, Gateway to the West,
Main Street and so many others.
Then came John Parry who shipped me, one
day, a full box of LPs, documents and cassettes of various
productions by the Guv. I was in awe! I think that he had
understood from a previous conversation in Toronto that
I was a fan and that I seriously needed to "finish
Thanks to both. Without them, maybe I would
never have made the connection between the superb music
and the superb man.
As I see him
It is sufficient to see a photo of Mr Farnon
and myself to get the message: he is a giant and I am ...
who I am. At 56, I have been accustomed
to deal with taller people (Mr Farnon, Gene Lees, Henry
Mancini among others in the music field) and it never bothered
me. The body size is not an issue here.
But the voice is!
Mr Farnons voice always fascinated
me by its roundness, its solidity, its warmth and all the
harmonics embellishing the primary tones. He always sounds
like a 45 year old opera baritone at his best! Mozart would
have chosen him for a role in many of his operas.
His profound and calm voice serves to show
him as a man who has no fear, no regrets and no afterthoughts.
He is a living example of the best philosophy a man can
ever stick to: Live and let live !
And I think he does and always did.
After many years of correspondence by mail,
fax and telephone, I first met Mr Farnon in Toronto on October
24th of 1997 at Manta Studio where many composers
and arrangers gathered to see the man and listen
to his teachings. I emceed the event with composer Victor
Besides him in front of that selected crowd
of one hundred musicians, I felt smaller than ever, both
physically and musically. We were all living a very special
moment and we could feel the aura surrounding the Guv.
But, as soon as his voice filled the studio
with its unique roundness and warmth, everyone felt as if
he or she had known Robert Farnon for
a year or two. This, of course, excluded old
friends who had known him for decades like Pip Wedge and
a few others.
As I hear him
The Robert Farnon sound is a unique component
of the universal symphonic world: it is pure, clean, new,
fresh and always surprising as the man himsef.
Many a music analyst will scientifically
conclude that Mr Farnon sounds a lot like Ravel or Delius
and I dare say that it is all wrong: Robert Farnon sounds
a lot like Robert Farnon.
More seriously, if I had to select a single
composer of symphonic music to whom Robert Farnon compares
in terms of style and perfection of orchestra writing, I
would not hesitate: Antonin Dvorak !
Dvorak had inherited from Beethoven the
strictness of the form and the luminosity of the colours.
No fooling around, no detour, no fuzziness and no fill-ins:
from the first bar to the last with the essentials, all
the essentials and only the essentials. With no grey zone,
no useless verbiage, no show-off and no disputable
choices as far as harmony, counterpoint and instrumentation
are concerned. Always the perfect balance.
At the Manta meeting in 1997, a student
said that his teacher had told him this: Composing is
10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Mr Farnon did
not hesitate and replied : Exactly the opposite,
young man !
And that is exactly how I hear the music
of Robert Farnon: like Beethoven, it flows from source in
a uninterrupted wave of sound and one would think that it
had been written forever. It is natural because it pours
from strict inspiration without any sweat, any hard labour
and any concession to rules, tricks or camouflage.
This is where the separation is made between
the Mozarts and Salieris, between those who have it all
and those who have some of it.
As I love him
Everyone has been told one day or the other
by some fellow who knows things we do not that: Good
guys never win !
Well, I have news for them. I have personally
known a few big winners who happen or happened to
be very good guys. Artists who reached the top with
their sole talent, who made friends everywhere they set
foot and who commanded respect, admiration and affection
without really trying
They are or were simply like
that: good talented fellows! Name dropping
is not my cup of tea but here it can illustrate my point:
Vladimir Golschmann (who gave me conducting lessons), Morton
Gould with whom I travelled over the hemispheres (North
and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia) and Henry
Mancini with whom I had good talks and a very respectful
rapport (among those who left us) have been most successful,
wealthy and beloved by everyone around. GOOD WINNING GUYS
And, among those still here (and for a
long time, I hope), how about Gene Lees, the man who really
knows everything and who is one of the most lovable person
I ever met. He also happens to be a superstar when time
comes to write and talk about music and, knowing him for
decades now, I know that he has won it all: fame, respect,
affection, admiration and wealth!
How about that for Good guys who never
And now, the cherry on the sundae :
Robert Farnon. Can anyone be, at the same time and for a
whole life, a gentle giant simply loved by all those who
have had the privilege to know him? Can there be a better
example of fame and success in our field acquired through
talent and goodness alone?
It must be quite a feeling to have achieved
the greatest goals in ones life and to have always
been nice and easy with everyone
Ask Robert Farnon!
This article appeared in Journal Into
Melody, Issue 159, June 2004.
Marc Fortier is well-known to music-lovers
in Montreal. He has been responsible for keeping Robert
Farnons name and music known in his native Canada
for many years. Marc played a vital role in the 1997 celebrations
in Ottawa, when Robert Farnon was honoured during his 80th
year. As a result of Marcs pressure (which involved
copious amounts of correspondence and personal approaches),
SOCAN and the Film Composers Guild also lent their
support to this event, which Marc had been planning since
1991, hoping that the special concert could be staged at
the time when Robert Farnon was celebrating his 75th
birthday. Unfortunately this did not happen, but Marcs
persistence finally paid off with the memorable series of
concerts which took place in Ottawa in October/November
1997, conducted by Victor Feldbrill.