Battle of Britain – Battle in the Air
Anna Karenina – Suite
49th Parallel – Prelude
Genevieve – Suite
Lawrence of Arabia – Theme
The Red Shoes – Suite
Bridge on the River Kwai – March
The Overlanders – March: Scorched Earth
Richard Rodney Bennett
Yanks – Love Theme
What a Carry On! – Medley
Much Ado About Nothing – Overture
Shakespeare in Love – Theme
Wilde – Suite
John Powell & Harry Gregson Williams
Chicken Run – Escape to Paradise
Shadowlands – Theme
A Bridge Too Far – March
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – Harry’s Wondrous World
The Dam Busters – March
Richard E Grant (presenter)
Lord Attenborough (guest presenter)
Philip Achille (harmonica)
Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot)
Maida Vale Singers
BBC Concert Orchestra
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 14 July, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Then it was common for concert-hall composers to write music for films, and illustrious names such as William Alwyn, Tristram Cary, Benjamin Frankel, Gordon Jacob, John Greenwood, Arthur Bliss, Elisabeth Lutyens, Buxton Orr, Clifton Parker, Alan Rawsthorne, Humphrey Searle, Mischa Spoliansky, William Walton and Ralph Vaughan Williams, all of them prolific composers, found they could usefully devote part of their time to writing for film.
In the US, however, the great names of Hollywood music, usually from Europe, such as Franz Waxman and Max Steiner, mainly wrote just for the cinema. Indeed, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s career as a concert composer virtually ceased when he went to Hollywood. Nowadays writing for films and television is an art in itself. There is so much more work available, so that composers such as Patrick Doyle, Stephen Warbeck and Debbie Wiseman specialise in this areas.
These last three were represented in the second half of the BBC Concert Orchestra’s Prom under John Wilson, a great devotee of film scores and light music. He is currently working on the reconstruction of the orchestrations of all MGM’s major musicals including “High Society”, “Singin’ in the Rain”, “The Band Wagon” and “An American in Paris”. He also has a passion for Eric Coates’s music, having recorded his music for Avie. In this concert Coates, surely the most English of English composers, was represented by the last item, his march for “The Dam Busters”, which, along with John Addison’s music for “Reach for the Sky”, has to be the most recognisable piece of British film music. In this respect music for the cinema and television has taken over the tradition of British light music.
The programme opened with ‘Battle in the Air’, the only part of Sir William Walton’s score for “Battle of Britain” that reached the screen. What can the filmmakers have been thinking of? With his iconic scores for Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare films, Walton was certainly one of the great film composers. Sadly, it was left to Malcolm Arnold to orchestrate part of Walton’s music for the film, while Ron Goodwin was brought in to write a new score. (Incidentally, Ron Goodwin also replaced Henry Mancini as composer on Hitchcock’s “Frenzy”, while John Addison replaced Bernard Herrmann on “Torn Curtain”. It’s a tough, cut-throat business, this writing music for films.)
Addison’s march for “A Bridge Too Far”, Richard Attenborough’s film about the wartime Operation Market Garden, was included in this concert and is the epitome of what good film music should be. Introducing it, Lord Attenborough said that in his music Addison encapsulated the spirit of war and what it felt like to be there. Although Addison was not actually involved in that particular operation, he used his own wartime experiences to convey his sympathies for the film. Anyway, it won him a BAFTA award.
Which brings us to Malcolm Arnold’s own music, here represented by the march from “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, in which Arnold interweaves Kenneth Alford’s ‘Colonel Bogey’ (even some of the orchestra whistled it) to make a memorable sound to accompany the emotional scene depicted in the film. As it happened Carol Reed’s film “Trapeze” was on BBC2 the afternoon of this concert. Whereas it is not one of Reed’s best films, it does have a magnificent score by Arnold and it is a pleasure just to listen to what he does with his main theme as well as interpolating all kinds of music from other composers.
Also in the same class as Walton and Arnold is Vaughan Williams. They make a triumvirate of composers whose music is immediately identifiable. Vaughan Williams’s Prelude for Powell & Pressburger’s “49th Parallel” is a stunning piece, almost Biblical in its gravitas.
Two other great English composers who only wrote one film-score each were featured: John Ireland, whose music for “The Overlanders” is his longest score, and Constant Lambert who wrote the music for Korda’s film of “Anna Karenina”, in which he incorporated some Glinka and Tchaikovsky as well his own Russian pastiche compositions. Humphrey Searle, who wrote music for the GPO Film Unit and some British feature films, helped Lambert to finish his score.
The last of the old school of British film composers represented here was Brian Easdale who wrote for many of the Powell & Pressburger films including “The Red Shoes” for which his score won an Academy Award. The orchestration includes an ondes martenot, which gives the score an ethereal wailing quality here rendered to perfection by Cynthia Millar.
Larry Adler’s delightful music for “Genevieve”, one of the most popular British films ever, was also featured. On the American prints of the movie, the music director Muir Mathieson was credited because Adler was involved in the HUAC hearings (the “House Un-American Activities Committee”, chaired by Senator McCarthy, who blacklisted a lot of Hollywood people).
Adler, however, was still nominated for an Oscar. For the Prom Philip Achille was the charming harmonica-player (although Larry would have said ‘mouth organist’). Incidentally, Malcolm Arnold wrote a very good mouth organ concerto for Adler.
Maurice Jarre was the final choice to write the music for David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, after the job was turned down by Malcolm Arnold, William Walton, and even Richard Rodgers. The famous music became as iconic as any great British film theme such as that for “Born Free” or the James Bond franchise. Richard Rodney Bennett carried on the British tradition with such scores as “Secret Ceremony”, “Billy Liar”, “Far from the Madding Crowd”, “Murder on the Orient Express” and, as demonstrated here, in “Yanks”, for which he wrote a classic love theme that in the pantheon of romantic themes could be placed beside the music of “Casablanca” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
The second half of the Prom was mainly devoted to more recent compositions for British films: Patrick Doyle’s rumbustious music for Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, Steven Warbeck’s more muted but Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love”, and Debbie Wiseman’s stately and majestic music for Stephen Fry as “Wilde”, although I personally prefer Ron Goodwin’s score for “The Trials of Oscar Wilde” with Peter Finch.
According to Lord Attenborough, George Fenton’s music for “Shadowlands” enhances the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. The second half also included John Powell and Harry Gregson Williams’s “Chicken Run” score, with its cod “Great Escape” march, John Williams’s flying music for “Harry Potter” (the UK’s most lucrative export) and a tribute to the “Carry On…” series in music by Eric Rogers which often makes variations on famous tunes such as ‘One man went to mow’ for “Camping”, ‘Early one morning’ for “Doctor”, ‘Oh dear what can the matter be’ for “Convenience” and ‘Greensleeves’ for “Carry on Henry”.
All in all a good survey of the range of British film music often illustrated by film stills and excerpts, although there ought to be more and on a bigger screen. Richard E. Grant was a fairly laid-back host and Lord Attenborough not only dedicated the evening to BAFTA’s sixty years, but also to Sir Malcolm Sargent, closely associated with the Proms for twenty years, and who died forty years ago this year. The Prommers’ cancer charity carries his name. Unfortunately the amplification for those speaking wasn’t too clear in the hall itself; it may have sounded better at home; talking of which, this Prom is repeated on BBC Radio 3 on 17 July at 2.30 p.m. and shown on BBC2 on 28 July.