Happy new year from Arcana!

celloFirst of all, a very happy new year to you all. Hope 2017 has been good to you so far!

Here at Arcana we are dipping our toes back in the water after an extended break, gradually getting back into the swing of the day job – and planning some exciting things for the site in 2017. The idea is to use the enjoyment and power of music to bring some much-needed sunshine to the current climate. Not just us though – if there is anything you want to see after reading this, please get in touch (editor@arcana.fm), so we can be as inclusive as possible!

So far, with the site almost two years old, it is fair to say the focus has been too heavily on classical music. That might seem an odd thing to say, but it’s time Arcana went back to first principles and delivered on its promise of looking at the intersection between pop and classical, and how we can make the latter much more approachable.

With that in mind, we will be looking a lot more at music from composers who work well on both sides. Philip Glass is 80 this year, John Adams 70 – and a lot of artists and composers inspired by them are expected to be busy.

We will once again be taking friends to classical concerts for the first time, an idea trialed with great success at the 2016 BBC Proms, so if you’re interested in that then please let us know! The Wigmore Hall Monday lunchtime concerts will still be covered too – the only website to offer reviews of these hour-long treats.

We plan to honour the music of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, paying tribute to last year’s sadly departed Keith Emerson and Greg Lake as we look at their treatment of classical music.

We will also celebrate the unrivalled career of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who would have been 90 this year, by taking an extended look at the pieces he commissioned from some of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, and celebrate his instrument, the cello.

Rostropovich singlehandedly changed the reputation of the instrument, and we’ll be looking at how he did that while also enjoying concerts such as the Kings Place cello festival.

As you’ll see then, plenty to get our teeth into as the New Year gets in to gear. Hope you enjoy the ride!

Ben Hogwood, editor, Arcana.fm

The Borrowers – Robbie Williams: Party Like A Russian

What tune does it use?

The Dance of the Knights from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet.

Arguably Prokofiev’s most famous piece of music, Romeo and Juliet has some fantastic music and tunes – and the Dance of the Knights is one of its most impressive calling cards. It has recently gained extra exposure as the opening titles for the BBC programme The Apprentice.

How does it work?

Williams uses the two heavy bass notes from the start to power the chorus:

A bigger sample gets used for the first chorus:

Then some snippets from later in the dance are incorporated:

The Prokofiev material appears to be replayed throughout, and Robbie adds a big male chorus for some bits, but unfortunately the bluster of verse and chorus, plus some really clunky rhyming (Russian – concussion!), mean the song itself is relatively unmemorable. The posturing in the video takes away from the music – of which Prokofiev’s contribution is arguably the most memorable.

What else is new?

Williams made far more effective use of a sample in his UK no.1 hit from 1998 Millennium, where a loop of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice tied together with a beat and a much more memorable chorus:

Prokofiev is no stranger to pop music, and has been used by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on a number of occasions. Here is their slightly foursquare take on the Dance of the Knights:

A much more effective Prokofiev transcription can be found with their transcription of the Scythian Suite – its second movement, The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits:

Where can I hear more Prokofiev?

The playlist below gives an introduction to Prokofiev’s symphonies and includes his Classical Symphony and Symphony no.5 – with brilliant tunes at every turn:

The second album is music for the stage, a brilliant collection under Claudio Abbado that includes Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kije (with the brilliant Sleigh Ride as used by Greg Lake!) and the Scythian Suite:

Let’s also not forget Peter and the Wolf…here voiced by none other than Alice Cooper in a new version!

The Borrowers Christmas Special – Greg Lake: I Believe in Father Christmas


What tune does it use?

The Sleigh Ride (or Troika from Prokofiev‘s score for the 1934 film Lieutenant Kijé.

How does it work?

Lake lifts the entire melody and uses it at the end of the first verse, from 0’50”:

Then after the second verse the tune appears once more :

Finally after the third verse we hear it again, by which time the song has built through a crescendo with a sizable orchestra and chorus:


Here is the original:


and here it is when the tune really gets going:


What else is new?

Prokofiev is a popular composer for lovers of pop music, and it is quite possible you hear his music more often than you realise. His Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet, for instance, has been used as the theme for the BBC show The Apprentice since it started in 2005:


Greg Lake, of course, is no stranger to arranging or manipulating classical music. Here is arguably his most famous piece of work in that area, the rocking out of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man as part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer: