Concerto Grosso for Dance Band and Orchestra
Robert Russell Bennett
By the early 1930s, Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) had provided orchestrations for more than a hundred Broadway musicals. Innovative productions with music by Gershwin, Kern, Porter, and the like were, however, outnumbered by formulaic, now-forgotten shows. Bennett lamented the latter's "over-sweet tunes…sure-fire situations and inescapable rhythms," and satirizes them in his Concerto Grosso. Howard Hanson premiered the work with the Rochester Philharmonic in 1932 and included it on his 1933 "All-American" concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Unlike his "serious" works of the period, the piece is designed purely as entertainment, with a pre-swing-era dance band (only three reeds and three brass) serving as a foil to the orchestra.
Its Opening Chorus is intentionally disjointed - in his 1934 program note, the composer describes it as the "one-steps of Paris, the fox-trots of California, and the waltzes of Vienna all poured into a New York mold." The Dialogue describes a flirtation between one-dimensional young lovers: "He becomes ardent, she smirks and giggles, he goes on his knees, she capitulates amid sighs." Though Bennett intended the Theme Song to be "too sweet for words," it's appealing and long-lined, the mood interrupted only briefly by the solo group. The Comedy Scene is the most extended feature for the soloists, "a slapstick movement with a fugato for the 'hot' instruments. The orchestra plays 'straight,' giving the feed-lines; the band gives the answers." Bennett's Concerto Grosso closes with a swaggering, flag-waving Finale. Though brief, it has "everything but 'Dixie,' and even a little bit of that."
- George Ferencz edited Bennett's autobiography, The Broadway Sound and authored Robert Russell Bennett: A Bio-Bibliography.