Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vernon Duke: Dual (Composer) Personalities

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I was at the Hollywood Bowl last Saturday night for the big “An Olympic Carnival – Sergio Mendes & 50 Years of Brasil ’66” show, which opened with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra playing Brazilian classics. It was a great program–beautifully conducted by Thomas Wilkins, with fantastic guest dancers and singers, plus a spectacular fireworks finale.

The show started with “Aquarela do Brasil,” Ary Barroso‘s 1939 classic, a Brazilian musical anthem. After that we heard “A Chegada dos Candangos” (The Workers Arrive), which Antonio Carlos Jobim presented for the opening of the new inland Brazilian capital, Brasília, in April of 1960. While Jobim is well-known for hip pop tunes like “The Girl from Ipanema,” “One Note Samba,” and “Desafinado,” what is less known is his flair for creating large orchestral works like “A Chegada” mentioned above.

Jobim is brilliant, fun, and subtlely creative. His pop songs reflect this. And so does his lesser-known orchestral music. He uses all the instrumental textures and tone colors in his large orchestral palette. For example, in “A Chegada” we hear clarinets, oboes, bassoons, blaring trumpets, and lots of French horns. Big, ballsy cellos and contrabass parts, too. I suspect that Gil Evans, who favored French horns, tubas, and flutes, was listening to Jobim. Or maybe that they were fellow music travelers.

51WRporDSjL._SS500_SS280Vernon Duke (b. Vladimir Dukelsky, 1903, Minsk) was a similarly dual-profiled composer. While writing oft-recorded pop classics like “April in Paris,” “I Can’t Get Started”, and “Autumn in New York” under the Vernon Duke name, he also (as Vladimir Dukelsky) composed “serious” classical works that are largely unknown: a piano concerto, cello concerto, violin concerto, and other works. Like Jobim, however, he’s mostly known for his pop songs.

Passport to Paris years ago, and recall a passage describing Serge Prokofiev berating Dukelsky for just writing pop songs and not heavy classical works. He felt that Duke was profaning his talent. If Duke had to rely on his classical works to pay his rent, however, he probably would have wound up in arrears. Both Duke and Jobim earned serious money from their pop repertoire.

61umZ1W0AtL._SX425_I heartily recommend Jobim Sinfônico for Jobim’s large-scale works, but like most people I don’t know Vladimir Dukelsky’s classical works enough to recommend a particular title. I will say parenthetically that I think the chasm between Vernon Duke and his classical doppelgänger is greater than Jobim’s. Duke’s classical works are more completely removed from his popular compositions than Jobim’s. Jobim, for his part, wrote classical versions of his pop songs that are rarely heard. He also used his classical genius to embellish and enhance his popular oeuvre. This is one reason I recommend the Sinfônico CD.

Here is Jobim’s “A Lenda,” an alternative version of “A Chegada,” which he composed in 1954, from the brilliant double CD Jobim Sinfônico, which may be a revelation especially for people who only know his pop music.

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