Cascading Strings

Ronnie and Annunzio Mantovani had been working together for many years. Monty (as we was known) was a very accomplished violinist, and Ronnie started as accordionist and pianist in the 12-piece band, gradually spending more and more of his time creating orchestral arrangements. In 1951, Decca was keen to have something from Mantovani that would rival the big American concert orchestras, and the first innovation that they came up with was to dramatically increase the string section of the orchestra – what Mantovani called “a mass of strings”.

Monty1Decca risked putting money into this expensive idea, and Ronnie set about creating some new arrangements for a proposed 1952 recording. This was to be the first introduction of the effect known as ‘Cascading Strings’ which was to become the Mantovani sound, and propel him to worldwide fame.

Colin Mackenzie, Mantovani’s biograher, asks:

“How did Binge arrived at these innovatory orchestrations? Being fond of classical music, he knew of the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi whose work was sung in cathedrals and large churches. Ronnie was intrigued by the noises and sounds reverberating naturally around the interiors and became aware that Monteverdi took these into consideration when writing for the Church. He wanted to create something similar for popular music so began to experiment. The “delay” effect can be heard fleetingly in Mantovani’s orchestral recording of Campane A Sera (Bells of the Evening) and also The Bullfrog in 1949, but it was much more modest in comparison with the sweeter, more delicate effect encountered in Charmaine.”

CharmaineWhen Mantovani first saw Charmaine, he had misgivings, wondering what on earth Ronnie was up to. But “When we played it, it really sounded beautiful and the whole of the orchestra was delighted with it. Well, when an orchestra is delighted, I start worrying. It’s too good as a rule – musicians’ music.” Max Jaffa, who had the eight-bar solo in Charmaine wrote that Binge turned up to the session without anyone knowing just what he had concocted. It came as a complete surprise.

Violinist Sidney Sax summed it up in a radio tribute to Ronnie Binge in 1996:

“What it is, is a delayed sound. You have a chord structure and chords move along together and what Binge would do, he would take one note away from the chord and shift it into the next bar and it would create a different sound. It sounded as though you had left something behind – an echo. It was a wonderful, unusual sound. My colleagues and I thought we had heard everything from symphonies to foxtrots, and suddenly there was this new sound. Ronnie had produced something which nobody had ever produced before.”

Back to Musical Anecdotes