Richard Rodgers

Victory at Sea, Vol. 1

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The first LP of music taken from the epic 13-hour score for the early TV documentary Victory at Sea confirmed what so many viewers and critics felt -- that this was one of the greatest scores ever written by Americans, regardless of genre. Richard Rodgers -- then the toast of Broadway at its historic apogee -- conceived the melodies and Robert Russell Bennett -- composer and indefatigable arranger -- wove them into a symphonic tapestry and extracted the three suites that were recorded for release. Although Rodgers is given top billing, according to the late RCA Victor producer Jack Pfeiffer Bennett did far more to make this music shine than he is given credit for. In other words, Rodgers provided the high-quality raw foodstuffs and master chef Bennett cooked the dinner. The edition of Vol. 1 that has survived to this day is really a 1959 stereo remake of the original 1953-vintage mono LP -- and there are small differences in orchestration and tempo between the two. Almost all of the score's well-known themes are introduced in Vol. 1 -- the soaring signature tune of the entire series, "The Song of the High Seas," the stirring "Guadalcanal March" (a piece good enough to stand beside any of the great marches by the Strausses or Sousa), the idle paradise of Hawaii before Pearl Harbor "The Pacific Boils Over," the stoic determination and fiddle-tune frivolity of "Hard Work and Horseplay." Best known of all is the romantic tango "Beneath the Southern Cross," whose instantly memorable tune was lifted and placed into Rodgers' show Me and Juliet under the title "No Other Love." Yet lurking beside the obvious hits are other treasures like the extraordinary scene painting of the extreme moods of the Mediterranean Sea in "Mare Nostrum," or the outbreak of jazz piano in the middle of "Theme of the Fast Carriers." This nine-movement suite is summed up by the finale, "Victory at Sea," which also introduced yet another classic melody, an expansive hymn to victory. Bennett leads his pickup RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra with sweep and fire (the 1953 edition featured the NBC Symphony) -- and RCA Victor's excellent early-stereo sound has more depth than many of our modern digital wonders.