Hugo Winterhalter
Goes Gypsy






Goes Gypsy is composer-arranger Hugo Winterhalter‘s (1909–1973) most synergetic work ever, drawing from multitudinous sources and much more genres over the course of its ten compositions than the title and theme might led anyone to believe. Released in 1960 on RCA Victor, it is a sign of the times. Nowadays, I cannot review this scintillating work “as is” without a disclaimer: depending on the reader’s and listener’s particular background, origin, current home or way of life, he or she might be bewildered at best or offended at worst to see the insulting term “gypsy” come to life here at AmbientExotica, for whatever stereotype you may perceive as gypsy-like surely does not have a place in the flamboyant genre called Exotica, not even the slightest little bit. This is indeed true, and yet Winterhalter’s Goes Gypsy is too luring a work to ignore.


The gypsy fallacy is of course mentioned much more frequently in French newspapers and its neighboring countries than – to give an extreme example – in New Guinea or Panama, so even though the stigmatic description is inflammatory and a bad umbrella term for highly heterogenous groups of humans (!), remember that hatred and prejudices of the real world should never spoil the fun of a Space-Age album, for this is yet another collective noun that could be imposed on Winterhalter’s gypsy gem. Sporting a large orchestra with a focus on pristine percussion and strings as well as a lead singer that sounds like Marni Nixon, known for her enchanting vocals on The Markko Polo AdventurersOrienta (1959) and The Out IslandersPolynesian Fantasy (1961), the presentation is based on a cocktail of Space-Age, Crime Jazz, traditional orchestrations, Saturday night show tune glitz and traces of Exotica. Here is a closer look at Winterhalter’s best and most diversified part of his Goes… series of travelogs.


Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms opens the album, and blimey, from the outside it seems as if AmbientExotica has jumped the shark yet again. Am I in trouble? Hopefully not, for the very first moment of this arrangement blows everything away and makes this a tumultuous kick-off. Kettle drums, whirlwinds of fizzling shakers as well as metallic-brazen plinks throw the listener into a cavernous scenery. The reverberation is superb, an antrum arcanum erected. Heavily spiraling piano tones, dun-colored brass bursts and helical strings meet and mesh, the tempo is energetic and electrifying. Not only leaves the percussion side a gargantuan impression, the famous melody is successfully transformed as well, shuttling between deliberately antediluvian string-infested orchestrations and mischievous Crime Jazz horns. Here’s the best part: Hungarian Dance No. 5 is not supposed to be Exotica, but it becomes exotified thanks to the humongous thicket of clinging percussion devices and a melodic stimulus that is more akin to a jet propulsion. Score!


Winterhalter’s journey continues with a unique stop, as it is envisioned by himself: The Back Of Her Head offers yet another surprise, this time one of languor and allure. The dark four-note scheme on the trombone may seem grim and gritty, but the structure in 3/4 time soon lightens up via its mountainous horns, luminescent Space-Age strings, high flutes and a histrionic leading femme whose wordless vocals add another nocturnal-spacy element to the scenery. Shuttling between unvarnished traditions and auroral Hollywood filters, Winterhalter’s own tune pleases, and so does Grigorias Dinicu’s and Jascha Heifetz’s Hora Staccato with its breakneck horn-and-string gyrations and show tune allusions, the recumbent double bass aorta and the fitting fusillade of chopped tones.


Whereas Jay Livingston’s, Rayomond Evans’ and Victor Young’s Golden Earrings is a rubicund ballad of threnody, darkness and forsakenness complete with yearning string washes, an encore of the soprano coquette and momentary mirages of better times, the all too schmaltzy Tango When A Gypsy Makes His Violin Cry by Dick Smith and Emery Deutsch, among others, focuses on the stereotype of the lonesome fiddler whose signature instrument screeches through the night amid an alloy of blurred violins and plinking percussion. On the plus side, there is a remarkable turnaround in the second half full of bumblebee-like movements and confusion. Side A thus ends in desperation, an emotion completely unfamiliar to Exotica fans.


Side B ends the way side A finished, with reddish tone sequences as found in Sherman Feller’s Francesca. Operatic soprano vocals, scything tambourine mounts and legato strings complete with phantasmagoric flutes grafted onto them, it is the second half that offers a fugacity of enchantment, as gaseous Space-Age string patches evoke a transcendental encounter. Vittorio Monti’s Csárdás then seems to serve as another epicenter of convulsion and admonitory uniformity in the world of a threatened yet heterogenous group of pariahs, but soon enough shifts to sunlit forests after a murky prelude. Being the longest composition of over four minutes, Winterhalter takes his time to augment the surprisingly iridescent brass eruptions with segues of tranquility – featuring a moist faux-Hawaiian guitar! – before the saltatory piano whirls in adjacency to the undulating strings yet again.


Noel Coward’s Zigeuner (German for, well, gypsy) is the magical fairy tale counterpoint to the album’s whole concept. Balearic guitar twangs are situated in a mellifluous, eminently warmhearted bokeh backdrop of hazy strings. This intermission feels like a figment, a romantic Space-Age ballad whose towering strings make it closer to a holiday travelog in Rome than any other tune of the album. A great inclusion! The arranger closes the album with a gypsy suite: while Gypsy Don’t You Cry by Sid Schwartz marries the mauve-colored galactic string washes with clarinet melodies, dewy hunting horns and an overall thankfulness in lieu of despair, Gypsy Love Song by Harry Bache Smith and Victor Herbert features high-rise vocals for the last time in a setting that is so festive and celebratory that this could be a snow-covered Christmas song camouflaged as a gypsy ballad. The strings are enormously warped and airy and make this final piece a splendid counterpoise to the darkness and a lachrymose Happy End.


Hugo Winterhalter’s arrangements are proof to the point that even classic compositions can always be ennobled by exoticism – although neither the original composer nor Winterhalter himself had this notion in mind! This is what happens in Goes Gypsy. Or to be more precise: this is what also happens, for there are many straits and traits in this artifact. The gypsy theme is not exotic, it never was and never will be. And that is all the bad news I can dish up in this regard, for Winterhalter’s multiplexed aesthetics are few and far between. Usually very sad, full of despair and contemplation, then all of a sudden awash with light, uplifting and ritualistic, Goes Gypsy and its ten compositions shuttle between shattered dreams, moments of revelation and life in the wilderness; at least the latter ought to be somewhat close to Exotica. In addition, the short Space-Age vestibules and ethereal string washes only amplify the bittersweet notion. They always feel surreal and wrong.


Of course Space-Age strings are never wrong in the given context of the Exotica section, but considering the intrinsic wastelands as arranged by Winterhalter, these transitory dioramas of elation are highly evanescent and make the sudden realization of gravitas and impecuniousness all the more abrupt a cut. If you can accept the time this album was produced in and willed to elbow away the melting pot of stereotypes, prejudices and fear of minorities, Goes Gypsy has it all, albeit in a different corset than usual: classic orchestration, Space-Age, show tune melodies, scattered Crime Jazz attributes as well as exotic blotches make this a wondrous work, one which Space-Age fans in particular should give a real or virtual spin, as the album is luckily available both on vinyl and as a digital download incarnation.


Exotica Review 378: Hugo Winterhalter – Goes Gypsy (1960). Originally published on Sep. 27, 2014 at