THEO B TOBANI Hearts And Flowers
Bridget arranges and transcribes a tune that’s been used for decades to symbolise sadness and despair - but you’ll be happy to learn it!
For this month I’ve arranged a popular song (and then instrumental work) by the German American 20th century composer Theodore Moses Tobani. Although not a household name, Tobani was a fascinating individual. Born in Germany in 1855, he took to the violin at the age of five and had become a concert violinist by the age of 10. He also had a remarkable compositional knack, writing so many works that his publisher Carl Fischer advised him to use multiple pseudonyms, as no one in their right mind would believe that one person could produce so much music. His most well-known work – and what we are tackling here – is his song Hearts And Flowers (published by Fischer in 1893), which had remarkable success, selling millions of copies during his lifetime.
It reportedly took Tobani just half an hour to compose it, using a theme from a waltz by the Hungarian composer Czibulka (18421894), adapting it from waltz time to a duple meter and adding additional material and
THis is noT one oF THe HARDeR pieces in THe seRies, BuT THeRe’s no LiMiT To How expRessiveLY An AppARenTLY siMpLe piece cAn Be pLAYeD lyrics by Mary Brine. The song was also popular but is now really only known as an instrumental work (usually for solo piano, solo violin or violin and piano). It is in these instrumental forms that the piece really embedded into popular culture, its highly romantic melody being a go-to (and some said overused) cue for romantic moments in silent films, where pianists would play it from ‘photoplay music’, editions of music to cover a range of on screen action.
It was also used in countless ‘talkies’ and plays as underscoring both in earnest romantic scenes, and comedic parodies. The highly prolific silent movie actress Viola Dana (1897-1987) reportedly used it before shooting a scene to bring her to tears (which was later parodied in the 1928 film Show People). It continues to be used in TV, film and cartoons to evoke a nostalgic (usually over-sentimental) romanticism.
Despite these accusations of oversentimentality, the piece works because it is beautifully written, and the engaging melody is supported by lush harmony. Although largely in the key of G Major, its relative, E Minor and a C Major middle section, there are some sumptuous moments including suspensions (such as the F# on top of the C Major in bar 9, beat 2), accented passing tones (the D# on C in bar 11, beat 1), 6th and 13th chords (bar 21 and bar 32, beat 4), and secondary Dominants (B 7th chords in bars 1-4). Bars 37-40 in particular include some unusually sophisticated chords given the accessibility of the work).
Technically, this is not one of the harder pieces in the series, but as I always remind readers, making a melody legato and clear against an accompaniment with a clear tone and flowing rhythm is always a challenge, and there is no limit to how well and expressively an apparently simple piece can be played. NEXT MONTH Bridget arranges and transcribes John Dowland’s glorious Fantasia