This month is obviously the month for Remembrance, so I frequently think of a number of Films and Music scores that have special significance at the this time of year. THE WORLD AT WAR of course, a milestone in Television Documentaries, with a fine score by Carl Davis, but going back to the First World War, there is only one series of note , and that is the BBC ‘S THE GREAT WAR, made way back in 1964 when a great many of the combatants where still with us.
Although not blessed with a great deal of original music, the Mid Sixties documentaries didn’t use a great deal of especially written music, much came from Library music or the Classical Repertoire. so whatever Music Wilfred Josephs wrote was supplemented with Vaughan Williams etc. It was after all a 26 part series .That said his Main theme, dark and like the visuals descending to the dark void of hell that was the Western Front, was a fine piece of music in it’s own right . Indeed it catapulted him to a lifetime of writing music for Films and Television.
Much later in the 70s, he formed it into a GREAT WAR SUITE, built up around three main themes. First is “The Start of the War” a almost jaunty piece showing the British Tommies marching off to War, full optimism, that the War would be over by Christmas. Lovely piece this, very characteristic of Joseph’s work, with almost North Country feel, Here as in most of his works, he was master of making a smaller orchestra sounding a lot bigger than it really was. We then descend into the Middle section. “The Great War” basically the music for the Main Credits , but here stretched out , but almost heart wrenching in it’s showing War’s total lack of humanity . Slowly, , very slowly we move into “The End of the War”, a joyous celebration ,a release for the Four Years of Hell. Here Joseph’s music incorporates Arne’s “O God our help in Ages Past” which I suspect was sung in every Church in the Land on the first Sunday when the War was over. Here using his own theme as Counterpoint with the Hymn is master stroke and never fails to make me realise how much of a genius he was.
This was the high spot of album released by Polydor in 1974 (Circle of Sound 2383 294) which also contained themes from CIDER WITH ROSIE, SUSPICION , BEN – GURION, WEAVERS GREEN and 24 HOURS TO KILL, all conducted by Marcus Dods. This, has never been available in a CD format.
Last year was the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, and I thought , probably too late , that this suite would be perfect to played at the Proms. I wrote early on to the two leading Classical Music Magazines saying it would be ideal , and it would really kick up a storm to played at the this time. Of course, my letters weren’t published. Perhaps I was naive to think they stood a chance anyway.
There seems to be a blind spot with certain composers either on the airwaves or in magazines or Compact Discs. Certainly Josephs comes into the this category. To a lesser degree Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Considering his output, there is a real lack of recordings available. Chandos bravely started a series some years ago A CD came out which contains some premieres and was received well. It was even promoted a s Volume One . We are still waiting for Volume Two
The neglect that has befallen Wilfred Josephs is even more scandalous. None of his Symphonies or larger works are commercially available. yet everything that Sir James MacMillan writes is out there, ditto Sir Harrison Birtwistle. These are the composers that the Prom’s laud as the great British Composers and no doubt well liked by the Promenaders, but to be honest, how music of their music is really listened too outside the Royal Albert Hall.
Is it that old problem, of working in the media that comes back to haunt? Josephs did stirling work, especially on Television. I recently caught PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, the 1980;s version and his score was delightful. Not as in your face as Carl Davis’ score for the most famous and recent adaption, but quite delightfully small scale. Again, working with smaller forces, no doubt for budgetary reasons his music is delight from beginning to end.
Some of the top shows from the Seventies had Joseph’s music : I CLAUDUIS, ENEMY AT THE DOOR, THE BRONTES OF HAWORTH, POLLYANNA , THE GHOSTS OF MOTLEY HALL and not forgetting the most famous , and controversial THE PRISONER. He even worked on HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR, an episode with the delightful title of CARPATHIAN EAGLE starring Suzanne Danielle..
A true original, and it should be said a very nice man, and whilst it doesn’t always go with the territory, I always enjoyed the brief chats we had when I was working on a TV Composer Book. He was down – to – earth and approachable, like his music and I like to think appreciated the interest in his music.
So next time you come across his music , in a film, a TV series, or maybe though I doubt it, on the Radio, stop and listen to a true original , a British Composer of distinction.
P.S. Pass it on!!