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January 19, 2009
Angela Morley Dies at 84
Respected British composer-arranger wrote for film, TV, records, concerts by Jon Burlingame
Angela Morley, who died on Wednesday at the age of 84, is being remembered by colleagues as a superb composer and one of the finest arrangers to come out of Britain in the past half-century.
Morley won three Emmy Awards and two Oscar nominations for her work in films and television. And while the American public may not have known her name, she was well-known in the United Kingdom. And millions were bound to be familiar with her music, which included dozens of TV shows and behind-the-scenes work on movies from Star Wars to The Right Stuff and many Boston Pops arrangements for John Williams.
"Angela Morley was a respected colleague and valued friend for over forty years," says Williams. "She was certainly one of the finest musicians I've ever known or worked with. As an orchestrator, her skill was unsurpassed, with a technical perfection that was drawn on and nourished by a lifelong devotion to music. She will be irreplaceable and greatly missed."
"She had wonderful taste," adds veteran music director Ian Fraser, who frequently called on Morley for many projects, including TV shows, records and live performances. "She had complete knowledge of everything from big bands to symphonies. She was skilled in every aspect of arranging and orchestration."
It was as part of Fraser's music team that she won her three Emmys: Christmas in Washington (1985), Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas (1988) and Great Performances: Julie Andrews in Concert (1990). Her eight other Emmy nominations included arranging for The Big Show (1980) and Liberty Weekend: Opening Ceremonies (1987).
"She did some wonderful orchestrations for me on Julie's two Broadway albums in the 1990s," Fraser said, noting that she also penned some of the arrangements for Andrews' London Palladium appearances in the 1970s. "She was part of that generation of arrangers who could do it all – Herbie Spencer, Earle Hagen, Billy Byers and Ralph Burns. She covered the gamut, from A to Z."
"Her forte, without a doubt, was her adaptation ability, from jazz to classical," says Ken Thorne, another Oscar-nominated arranger-composer who knew Morley dating back to their days as fellow arrangers for bands and records in the 1950s. "Her taste was impeccable. That's the reason for her continued success while she was with us."
"She was a poet," adds songwriter Richard M. Sherman, who with his brother Robert penned the songs for the Cinderella story The Slipper and the Rose (1977). They shared an Oscar nomination with Morley, who arranged all the songs and adapted them into the film's underscore. She also received a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
"She made every song come to life," says Sherman. "You didn't have to tell her too much. She pretty much read your mind as to what you wanted. She adapted our music beautifully; the underscore for the singers was elegant and perfect. She was a wonderful, understanding musician who did towering work."
Her other Oscar nomination was for adapting the songs of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe for the film musical The Little Prince (1974).
Morley composed several dramatic scores, notably the acclaimed music for the animated rabbit tale Watership Down (1978), which earned her an Ivor Novello Award nomination. Her last work may have been the new 10-minute concert suite from that score that received its premiere in London Dec. 21.
"Watership Down couldn't have been written by anyone else," says John Wilson, who conducted the suite and has conducted two other albums of Morley music. "It has that slightly wistful melancholy to it, a pastoral sweetness – and always, beautiful woodwind writing. If Angela had one signature, it was her woodwind writing – those flowing, wonderful flute fantasias.
"She's part of a very distinguished line of light-music composers, like Eric Coates and Robert Farnon," Wilson adds, "and belonged to that clique of really top-notch British arrangers." Wilson conducted two Morley CDs for the Vocalion label a few years ago: Soft Lights and Sweet Music, consisting of her 1950s and '60s arrangements for orchestra; and The Film and Television Music of Angela Morley, a best-of collection of Morley's own scores for the media.
Morley first came to prominence in English music as Wally Stott, music director for the BBC's famous 1950s radio comedy The Goon Show. "Every single person in England with a radio knew the name Wally Stott," says Wilson, who likens Stott's fame to that of well-known American arranger Nelson Riddle.
Thorne called Stott's Goon Show work "consistently brilliant. Great humor when necessary," while Wilson termed it "high-class vaudeville. Band numbers, and all sorts of incidental cues, fast-moving comedy things. It played an absolutely integral part in the [show]." Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Stott also arranged and conducted dozens of sessions for such artists as Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark.
Stott composed more than a dozen film scores, including Peeping Tom (1960), The Looking Glass War (1969), Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969) and When Eight Bells Toll (1971). He became Angela Morley in 1972 and served as resident conductor of the BBC Radio Orchestra from 1974 to 1978.
Morley assisted with orchestrations on several key John Williams scores, first in London (Star Wars, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back) and then in America (E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Home Alone, Schindler's List). She also arranged many orchestral numbers for Williams during his 13-year tenure as conductor of the Boston Pops, many of which have been preserved on Pops CDs. Most recently, Williams engaged Morley to pen several arrangements for his best-selling Cinema Serenade albums for Sony Classics.
Morley was almost entirely self-taught as an arranger. As she pointed out in her own website biography (www.angelamorley.com), in 1944 she joined the Geraldo Orchestra, which did several live BBC shows a week: "The great bonus for a developing arranger was that the band might be a swing band on Monday and then augmented to symphonic size on Tuesday, while on other days perhaps various combinations in-between, on occasion even adding a choir. Since I got to arrange for all these combinations, was there ever a better arranging academy?"
Walter Stott was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1924. He had only a few months worth of piano lessons as a child, eventually picking up the alto saxophone and playing professionally at the age of 15. By 1950 he was in such demand as an arranger that his performing days were over. The delightful light-music pieces he wrote in that era, such as "Snow Ride" and "Rotten Row," are considered modern classics.
Morley moved to America in 1980, and wrote dozens of scores for television series. She received Emmy nominations for her original music for Dynasty (1985, 1986), Dallas (1987, 1988), Blue Skies (1989) and Emerald Point N.A.S. (1984), while also scoring episodes of Falcon Crest, Hotel, The Colbys, Wonder Woman, Cagney & Lacey, McClain's Law, Two Marriages and Island Son. She scored four TV-movies including Friendships, Secrets and Lies, the 1981 remake of Madame X with Tuesday Weld, Summer Girl and Threesome.
In later years, she lectured at the University of Southern California; was a founding governor of the Society of Composers & Lyricists; and served for 10 years on the music branch executive committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. She moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1994.
She is survived by her partner, Christine Parker, a son, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A public memorial is tentatively planned for March.
©2009 Jon Burlingame