Simanaitis Says

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RECENT MINI-ESSAYS here on trains (, and on music ( got me thinking of trains and music. (And now you know how my mind works.)

It turns out my collection of music has a good number of railway references, which in turn lead to other musings which I share here.


Pacific 231, by Arthur Honegger, Neeme Järvi, conductor, The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Chandos, 1994. This and other recordings here are listed at

Arthur Honegger (1882-1955) was one of Les Six, French composers active during the first half of the last century (which makes Honegger, Milhaud ( and the other four sound more ancient than they seem to me).

Originally sketched out as Mouvements Symphoniques No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, Honegger renamed the first movement, a complexly rhythmic one, Pacific 231. (“I have always loved locomotives,” he said). The second movement, rough-house and chaotic, acquired the name Rugby. The third retained its original title, Honegger lamenting that his “poor Symphonic Movement No. 3 paid dearly for its barren title.”


What we’d call a Pacific 4-6-2.

A Pacific steam locomotive has a 4-6-2 layout in Whyte Notation, the American scheme for characterizing locomotives by counting their leading wheels, then their driving wheels and, last, their trailing wheels.

The French prefer to count axles, not wheels; hence Pacific 231. A 1949 French movie by Jean Mitry claims “not to be a documentary,” but rather a celebration—both visual and musical—of steam locomotion. The video ( is magical.

There’s magic of a completely different sort in O trenzinho do caipira by Brazillian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.


Little Train of the Caipira (from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2), by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sir Eugene Goossens, conductor, London Symphony Orchestra, Everest, 2013.

In the early 1930s, Villa-Lobos paid homage to Johann Sebastian Bach in a collection of suites titled Bachianas Brasileiras. The toccata of Suite No. 2, acquiring the name Little Train of the Caipira, has been arranged for cello and piano as well as for full orchestra. To hear this whimsical blend of Brazilian folk themes and Bach counterpoint, check out, a video every bit as artful as Mitry’s. By the way, the jaunty little locomotive on the album cover is a 4-4-0.

My last musical train today is also a promo for a future mini-essay on one of my favorite radio series of yesteryear, Paul Temple dramas first broadcast by the BBC in 1938. From 1947, these programs opened and closed with the Coronation Scot theme written by English composer Vivian Ellis (1904-1996).


British Light Music Classics, Ronald Corp, conductor, The New London Orchestra, Hyperion, 1996. Coronation Scot is one of its 17 pieces.

The Coronation Scot was a streamlined express train of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway; its locomotive, a 4-6-2. The train’s inaugural trip came in 1937, coinciding with the coronation of King George VI. Service continued until the start of World War II.

The train took the westerly route as it headed north between London’s Euston Station and Glasgow’s Central Station. Its scheduled time for the 412-mile trip, with a single stop in Carlisle, was 6 hours 30 minutes.


The Coronation Scot. See for its 1937 record run near Crewe (accompanied by Vivian Ellis’s score).

Curiously, this average of 63 mph just about matches Google Map’s estimate of driving between the two cities on today’s M1 and M6 Motorways. On a press run in June 1937, the Coronation Scot achieved a speed of 114 mph near Crewe (home of both the locomotive works and also Bentley cars).

Wife Dottie tells me that she and Innes Ireland ( probably matched this more elevated rate of the Coronation Scot on a trip to Scotland back in the late 1980s.

However, this—and Paul Temple—are stories for another day. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

One comment on “TRAINS AND MUSIC

  1. Peter Ginkel
    November 15, 2013


    Regarding trains and music. My favorite is attached. Be sure your speakers are on.

    Pete Ginkel

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