BATTLE OF BRITAIN.

 

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved the music for war movies, many containing rousing marches and tremendously high octane action cues, the composer having to compete with explosions, crashes, gunfire and all sorts, but this genre of movies has always yielded some excellent music which is not only serviceable within the context of supporting the movie itself but also the genre has given us the film music collector so many memorable themes which have endured over the years and still today entertain and delight many.

 

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Royal Airforce, so I thought how I could mark this milestone birthday on MMI, well what better way than to maybe mention a few titles of movies that involved the courageous personal of the RAF. The best way I thought was to review THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN soundtrack or to be more precise, soundtracks, because there were two, the first by Sir William Walton being rejected by the producers and replaced with Ron Goodwin’s now classic score. The only part of the Walton score that remained on the movie being BATTLE IN THE AIR, which itself has attained the status of being an iconic piece of movie music, because of its high quality and because of the notoriety that surrounded the controversial decision to reject the rest of the score.

 

 

 

BATTLE OF BRITAIN was filmed in three countries, England, Spain and France, the movie cost over thirteen million dollars to make and was produced by Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fitz, released in 1969, the movie recounts the tense and uncertain days during the summer of 1940, when Hitler unleashed his formidable Luftwaffe on England, and the brave and courageous pilots, ground personal that against all the odds flew and fought off the overwhelming German forces and saved the island from invasion. The film was directed by Guy Hamilton, the film was a faithful re-creation of the events with superb aerial photography by Johnny Jordan and Skeets Kelly whos talent and attention to detail was second to none, along with the collaboration of assistant director, Derek Cracknell and the excellent cinematography of Freddie Young.

 

 

 

The film boasted an all-star cast, which at the time of the films release read like a who’s who of British cinema, Sir Laurence Olivier, Trevor Howard, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Kenneth More, Susannah York, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane and Edward Fox. Lord Olivier who portrayed the Air Chief Marshall, Hugh Dowding was well respected as an actor and film maker and at his request the producers engaged Sir William Walton to compose the score for the movie. Walton was certainly no stranger to writing music for films, he had written the scores to several motion pictures including THE FIRST OF THE FEW which told of the creation and development of the Spitfire aeroplane which played such a vital role in the Battle of Britain. Walton had also written the scores for HENRY V, HAMLET and RICHARD lll for Olivier which were popular amongst film music devotees and critics alike.

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However, Walton took so long to write the music that the producers were becoming concerned, and when they realised how short the composers score was (they were thinking of soundtrack album sales) they decided to engage a second composer in the guise of Ron Goodwin who had made his mark on the world of film music via his infectious theme for MISS MARPLE and the now iconic 633 SQUADRON. He was deemed to be perfect as composer for the film because he had also been successful with his soundtracks for WHERE EAGLES DARE and THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, and he was able to write quickly.

 

 

Walton had not scored a movie for some thirteen years when he was offered BATTLE OF BRITAIN and because he was slow and methodical he asked his friend Malcolm Arnold to assist him with at first the conducting and later Arnold not only acted as director but also as orchestrator and at times composer on the score, if one listens carefully one can hear Arnold’s distinct musical fingerprint within certain cues on the score. Walton was said to be terribly upset and offended by the rejection of his score and it was thought that all tapes of the recording sessions were lost or destroyed but recording engineer Eric Tomlinson had rescued copies of these and stored them away and although they were damaged in places they were eventually restored for release on a Ryko enhanced CD.

 

RYKO

 

Goodwin in my humble opinion made an excellent job of the score in a short period of time, and in my opinion must have heard some of Walton’s score whilst spotting the movie as there is a definite homage within some of the cues to style of Walton, as in the use of woods and strings and brass. Whether this was accidental or done out of respect for the great composer I do not know but remembering how amiable Goodwin was I would like to think it was the latter. Walton’s score ran for just nine cues, whereas Goodwin’s score boasted some nineteen cues on the compact disc, both scores were released by Ryko on one disc, and listening to the Walton score now I fail to see what was wrong with the actual music apart from there not being enough of it. I remember going to see the movie at the REGENT cinema in Brighton and in the intermission was able to buy the Goodwin soundtrack LP on the U.A. label in the foyer of the cinema. It has remained one of my favourite scores, and the RYKO CD showcases the differing styles of both composers when scoring the same movie. The film was also issued onto DVD and on the disc, there is an option for one to watch the film with either the Goodwin score or with Walton’s music. I have to say Walton’s score is surprisingly supportive of the film and oozes with a regal sounding richness and just a hint of that stiff upper lip that is expected of us Brits in situations that seem to be most dire or hopeless. Goodwin’s score too has some wonderfully crafted and stand out moments, THE LUFTWAFFE MARCH for example and the central theme for the movie which is a highly charged full piece for driving strings, trumpets and horns.

 

 


But BATTLE IN THE AIR by Walton for me personally is the stand out piece within the film, as the music takes centre stage as there is no sound of gunfire, plane engines or explosions, it is just images of the RAF against the Luftwaffe over land and sea accompanied by Walton’s music, which is urgent and at times chaotic but essentially this is truly masterful film scoring. Andre Previn once said. “If they can reject the music of Walton, what chance do us mere mortals have”? So, I would recommend the RYKO disc to any one without a second thought, that is of course if one can still get it.

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THE TIGER, AN OLD HUNTERS TALE.

 

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What I love about film music is that it is unlike so many other genres of music, pop music for example at times can be a little throwaway, by this I mean if its not current then its probably not going to be heard for long, so many songs which don’t cut the mustard as it were, and fall by the wayside being swept away by many. Film music however has more of a longevity to it, by this I mean if I should have a day or a half day where I can look through Spotify for example I can normally come across at least one or two scores I did not know of and composers that may have escaped my radar. This weekend I had a few spare minutes and I was actually looking for a track by Pino Donaggio from the HOWLING, this search was fruitless but it did throw up a cue entitled SHOUT HOWLING, so I saw it was from a soundtrack to a movie entitled THE TIGER, AN OLD HUNTERS TALE, I investigated further and found it to be a South Korean movie from 2015, which contained an outstanding score by Yeong-Wook Jo, this is what I suppose can be described as a happy accident, as I would not have looked for the score or the composer, but this accidental search certainly came up trumps for me. The score is a wonderfully themeatic one and contains some interesting and dramatic writing from the composer. The music is for the most part symphonic, but it also contains synthetic support throughout, but I have to say the composer fuses both medias flawlessly, creating action packed cues that sit along side romantic and melancholy pieces, but these never jar or sound out of place as the composer segues from cue to cue altering styles and sounds with ease. I was surprised that the score was credited to THE SOUNDTRACK KINGS on the internet as were a handful of other scores, but after investigating further and checking credits etc I found out who the true composer was. The soundtrack contains some serene sounding choral work along the way and there is a piece that is utilised as the opening theme that I can only describe as an adagio for voices, it is mesmerising and enchanting and radiates an atmosphere that is emotive and haunting. After reading a little about the composer he is noted for emulating the styles of Zimmer and Morricone, to a degree this is true after listening to TIGER, AN OLD HUNTERS TALE the composer building themes by slowly layering the music and adding more colours and depth as the cue develops and evolves. There is also an imaginative use of wood wind and effective deployment of percussion within the work and I have to admit that there are certain nods of acknowledgement to the style of Morricone, but personally I felt that this was an original score where the composer places his own individual musical fingerprint upon the movie. The composers use of horns and other brass is affecting as is his utilisation of strings. Listen to track number sixteen on disc one of the release, A SON this is simply stunning, choir and underlying strings create a special musical moment that invades the listeners mind and envelops their whole being, the composer utilises rich and somewhat sombre sounding cello and strings to fashion a piece that I defy anyone not to be moved by.

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I could compare certain cues to certain composers and liken the sound achieved to others but overall the style and the sound is innovative and also a rewarding and entertaining listening experience. This is a soundtrack that is epic in sound and stature and one that contains a deep romantic sounding emotional core, the composer building his score around this and creating a strong theme laden work. The film too looks an interesting and exciting one and I can’t wait to sit and watch it when the DVD arrives. Seek this out on Spotify first listen, savour and enjoy then buy the compact disc. Recommended.

 

UNSUNG HERO OF THE SILVER SCREEN, ROBERTO GERHARD.

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Roberto Gerhard is probably not a composer one would consider when talking about film music, however he did score two movies during his career, his first, THE SECRET PEOPLE (1954), which was an early role for Audrey Hepburn is best remembered for its poor performance at the box office and the second THIS SPORTING LIFE (1963) for its unusually modern sounding musical soundtrack and also because of the rather spikey relationship that developed between the composer and the film’s director Lindsay Anderson, whilst they collaborated on the project. Anderson was known for being strong willed and difficult, but Gerhard was equally stubborn and the two very often clashed which resulted in sections of the composer’s music being removed from the final cut of the movie. Which was something of a surprise as Anderson who had written a book entitled MAKING A FILM based upon the failings of the movie THE SECRET PEOPLE had gone out of his way to engage Gerhard on THIS SPORTING LIFE.

 

Gerhard wrote extensively for the concert hall and contributed some interesting scores and themes for TV series such as THE COUNT OF MONTE CHRISTO, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and WAR IN THE AIR during the 1950’s and 1960’s. His work for the concert hall included Ballet’s, symphonies, chamber music and early experimental electronic music as in THE LAMENT FOR THE BULLFIGHTER-FOR SPEAKER AND TAPE in 1958, the composer was also associated with the BBC radiophonic workshop during its early days from the late 1950’s through to the mid 1960’s.

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Gerhard was born, Robert Gerhard I Ottenwalder on September 25, th 1896, in Vallis Spain, which is in the Catalonian area of the country. The composer studied piano with Granados and was also schooled in the art of composition by Felipe Pedrell, after the death of his teacher Pedrell the composer decided to relocate to Vienna where he continued his studies under Arnold Schoneberg, In the latter part of the 1920’s Gerhard returned to Spain and settled in Barcelona, where he became associated with many prominent figures who were under scrutiny by the Franco government for their republican sympathies. As the civil war in Spain grew imminent the composer was forced to flee the country initially to France but soon moved to England where he settled in Cambridge. Soon after settling in England that composer established himself by producing a handful of works for both orchestra and stage. In 1955 he wrote the score for The Royal Shakespeare Companies production of KING LEAR for which he received high critical acclaim. He died on January 5th, 1970 in Cambridge England.

 

 

THE MIRACLE SEASON/THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.

 

Roque Banos is a composer who I liked a lot at the outset of his career, his music was often epic, romantic and above all melodic, his score for EVIL DEAD I think is one of the most original and frightening film scores I have heard in a long while, I WILL RIP YOUR HEART OUT being one of the many stand out cues in that score, the composer utilising strange noises some musical others not, to achieve a guttural and foreboding style and atmosphere, Banos pushed the boundaries of inventive creativity on EVIL DEAD and for that reason I include it in my list of top 100 scores (but I never listen to it in the dark). But, and is there always a but somewhere along the way, he seemed to go through a period where his music was to be honest rather un-inspiring and drab, from late 2016 through to the end of 2017, It did nothing for me as it was a sound and style that I had already experienced, it was like a watered down Banos, a musical wallpaper that was just there for no reason other than to fill a space or underline a moment between dialogues. I wanted something fresh and the composer sadly did not come up with anything.

 

 

Until this year that is, I have experienced two of his score which I have found not only enriching and invigorating but also very entertaining and filled with an abundance of themes that are either catchy and rhythmic or poignant and emotive, either way the composer has penned rich melodic soundtracks for two very different movies, these compelling compositions are attractive, and I suppose somewhat addictive. The first of these works was for the movie, THE MIRACLE SEASON, and although one could hardly call this an original sound, it does contain some lilting and delicate musical passages that reminded me a little of the work of Jerry Goldsmith or something that maybe John Williams might have written, there is just a musical aura about the score, with its proud faraway sounding horns and majestic strings that evoked the Goldsmith sound. If I say that it had the HOOSIERS/BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, effect when I was listening to it would that make it a little clearer? Thought so, well, THE MIRACLE SEASON is not your typical Banos score although there are some nice sections where the composer combines and utilises some interesting timpani and percussive rhythms, but it is the brass lines that do it for me on this score, they are in my opinion typical of the style that Goldsmith would employ in movies that had a sporting theme or maybe Newton Howard at certain points, I think what I am trying to say is that it is not a score that says to you this is Roque Banos, the themes are grand, gratifying and at times anthem like in their rendition and execution, and have a distinct American sound to them. Proud horn flourishes are supported by chimes and percussion with underlying strings giving them substance and more stature.

 

 

I think one of my s is THE VICTORY it is a tumultuous piece filled with inspiring rhythms and soaring themes from the strings and brass, but it also has a more intimate or delicate side to it, with a melancholy theme being performed by hushed horns underlined by strings, until that is the strings begin to pick up the tempo and bring to life the central theme which is filled with hope and energy. There is also a fragile sounding piece performed on solo violin, which is supported by harp and subtle strings in the cue, BACK TO TRAINING. There are also shades of Goldsmith present in HOME COMING GAME. Again horns, woods and strings, are given pace and vibrancy by timpani and percussion that usher in more driving strings and additional brass, this combination of instrumentation erupts into a crescendo which may only be short lived but is effective before it subsides and gives way to poignant piano, again this brief interlude soon returns to a more upbeat and up-tempo composition as we are treated to grand sweeping brass statements and timpani being augmented by strings. WIN THE LINE is another example of Banos turning to the sound of Americana with its noble sounding themeatic properties and stirring strings becoming affecting as well as effective. This is a score that must heard, you will I know love it.

 

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The second score I was privileged to hear is from Terry Gilliam’s long awaited and some might say ill-fated THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. Its an interesting movie and one which was shown at the Cannes festival this year after much legal discussion. Toby (Adam driver) is a rather cynical ads director, who becomes involved with an old Spanish cobbler (Johnathan Pryce) who thinks of himself as Don Quixote, the adventure that the pair undertake becomes increasingly surreal and as it develops Toby is forced to come face to face with the repercussions of a movie he directed when in his youth, a film that supposedly had tragic connotations and altered the destiny of a small Spanish town. The score by Roque Banos is excellent, full of drama and romanticism, this has an epic sound to it and combines, choral, symphonic and classical guitar to great effect, it is a bold and brave sounding work that is overflowing with strong musical themes that weave in and out of the work creating a highly melodic and haunting soundtrack. The composer fashions fragile and intricate tone poems that grace the scenarios unfolding on screen and provides the movie with just the correct amount of dramatic content, brass and strings often combine to relay dark and Hispanic sounding motifs.  Listen to his opulent sounding WALTZ AT THE CASTLE it is wonderful and the quirky but original sounding RIDE TO THE MOON. Again, the composer has produced a soundtrack that will be admired by critics and collectors alike. These two scores by Banos are stylistically worlds apart, but are both equally compelling and entertaining, why not treat yourself to a Banos fest.

FERAL.

 

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Elia Cmiral is I think one of the most interesting and original composers of film music, he has been involved on several high-profile movies and first came to the notice of cinema audiences outside of his native Czechoslovakia when he wrote the score for RONIN which was a milestone moment for him as a composer. It was whilst writing the music for RONIN that the composer introduced a new sound and instrument to the world of film music in the form of the Armenian wind instrument the Duduk, which has since been embraced and utilised by many composers and featured on many film soundtracks. FERAL is the composers most recent scoring assignment and Cmiral is no stranger to the genre of the horror film. His score is edgy and highly atmospheric, the composer fuses both symphonic colours and sounds with electronic and synthetic support. It is a score that oozes fearsome and traumatic sounds that underline and enhance the macabre and unpredictable goings on up on the screen. It is a work that is harrowing and filled with tense and nervous stabs, sounds and crashes, Cmiral adding an inventive line up of percussive instrumentation to create an even greater urgency at key points within the score. There is also a visceral or sinewy sound to the work that radiates a malevolent atmosphere. The score also contains some lighter moments which are melodic and a welcomed tranquil respite amongst the driving intense atmospheric content. It is probably true to say that FERAL is not a score that you will take out and play on a Sunday morning whilst reading or doing chores, but it is an accomplished score and one where the less taught cues shine through as rich and beautiful moments that will attract the attention of the listener. The soundtrack is available on Movie Score Media’s Scream works label, as a digital release but will be available on Quartet soon as a Compact Disc. Movie score Media’s Scream works is dedicated to the release of horror scores, and champions film music that ordinarily would probably not see a release as does MSM.

 

THE COMPOSER ON THE SCORE.

 

ELIA

 

You have worked with the director of FERAL a few times, does he have a great degree of involvement in where music is placed and what style of music that is created for his projects, in particular FERAL?

“As a matter of a fact I am just about to start my next project with the director Mark Young, very interesting movie called “LIMBO”. In the course of a few years and a number of films we did together we developed a great creative way of communication and trust in our artistic instincts. Mark is very much involved in the score during the whole process, starting with placement and choice of the temp as well as describing in detail what he needs from the each cues. Having said that, he is also giving me a total freedom to go to a different direction if I want to. At each new project we do together we are finding some new aspects of perfecting our collaboration.”

 

What percentage of synthetic instrumentation did you utilise on the score in comparison with symphonic performances, and where was the score recorded?

 

“I have a few multi-instrumentalist friends including myself and we overdub my computer-generated orchestra mock ups in my studio. Sometimes more sometimes less, it depends on the music character and the directions we like to go. This is fun and creative process in case of a small music budget, and it is a way to keep music alive. Of course, nothing can beat having the whole score recorded live with an orchestra, but the overdub method can be effective, and it brings a good result.”

How long did it take to score the movie from start to finish, how much music did you compose for the film and were you involved in selecting
the cues for the soundtrack release?

 

“To score the movie I usually ask for 5-6 weeks, but sometimes I have much less. I had enough time to score “FERAL”. There is a lot of music in this movie, close to 68 minutes, including orchestral and ambient cues. For the soundtrack I reconstructed and remixed every cue, and some short but interesting cues. I combined into one longer musical satisfying track and again remixed it. Not the whole score made it to the soundtrack.

I always make selections of the cues to represent in the best way music to the film and also at least suggest the movie plot. I love this process and I do it for each soundtrack I am about to release. The soundtrack is only about music, with no restrictions for the cues length and dynamics which I have to respect while scoring the movie.”

 

I see that the score will be getting a CD release as well as the digital release it has already had, what format of release do you prefer or are you happy with
any type of release?

 

“Yes, the score will be released also as a CD as a limited release. I like to release my scores on both platforms, digitally and physically, if it is possible. When I get a new soundtrack myself I love to read in the booklet about the project, notes from the composer and the director and other details.”