ALFRED THE GREAT.

Originally slated for production in 1964, Alfred the Great was delayed by many obstacles, and after a change of directors, producers, and writers the movie finally came to fruition in 1969. It starred David Hemmings in the title role and also included the likes of Ian McKellen, Michael York, Colin Blakely, Julian Glover, Prunella Ransome and Vivien Merchant. Directed by Clive Donner, who’s claim to fame at that time was the successful oddball comedy What’s New Pussy Cat many thinking that he was an unlikely choice to helm an epic. 

MGM did not seem to have much faith in the film doing well at the box office, so remained a backseat driver on the production because they were not sure if it would appeal to the wider audiences. If it looked as if it was going to do moderately well, I think that the studio would have replaced composer Raymond Leppard and had a more high-profile Hollywood or British film music composer write the music.

Raymond Leppard.

Luckily for us film music fans Raymond Leppard stayed on board, and his score is now perceived as a classic piece of movie music history, being regal, and atmospheric, with some wonderful action cues.

The album was originally released on The MGM label and soon became a rarity because of the film’s poor showings at the box office. The LP record was deleted quickly and from time to time would show up for sale with a hefty price tag of more than five hundred pounds and even going for one thousand pounds on occasion. Leppard was not a film music composer and focused mainly upon music for concert hall performance. As well as being a composer he was also an accomplished harpsichord player and a talented and in demand conductor.

British conductor and harpsichordist Raymond Leppard (left) with English composer Richard Rodney Bennett, circa 1970. (Photo by Erich Auerbach/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Leppard did much to attract audiences to Italian baroque opera, he persuaded Glynebourne opera house which is located outside the historical town of Lewes close to Brighton in East Sussex, to present Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, which was presented in his own spirited edition in 1962 and conducted by John Pritchard, it was a runaway success, after which the composer then travelled Italy and to the city of  Venice, where he was hoping to discover a Monteverdi opera that had been lost. Instead,

Leppard unearthed works by composer Francesco Cavalli, who was to Monteverdi, as he referred to it as, “What Schubert was to Beethoven”. Glyndebourne opera also staged Cavalli’s L’Ormindo, in 1967, and then ,La Clisto directed by Peter Hall was produced in 1970. Then in 1972, and at the BBC Proms, Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria was performed to much acclaim.

The four operas were regularly revived, Leppard conducting most of the performances. The collaboration with Peter Hall and the mezzo-soprano Janet Baker in La Calisto, Il Ritorno and, in 1982 Orfeo Ed Euridice brought unforgettable results.  His works for cinema were few and far between and Alfred the Great was his only truly original score, his other contributions to film such as Lord of the Flies, being adaptations of classical music and conducting assignments The score for Lord of the Flies was a sparse affair, the music scored running for less than five minutes.

LORD OF THE FLIES.

The soundtrack to Alfred the Great was re-issued on a bootleg CD in Germany (Wessex 6954) and was sold as a promotional copy not for re-sale, it contained thirteen tracks from the score and included a brief cue from Leppard’s Lord of the Flies with a running time of just over two minutes at the end of the thirty-five-minute compact disc.

The sound quality was dull and distorted, but collectors added it to their collection because the soundtrack had become so rare. The newly re-mastered release on Kritzerland contains sixteen cues, fourteen from the soundtrack and two further bonus tracks which are film versions of certain tracks. The sound quality is excellent, and it is a superb release and one that any film music collector would be happy to add to their collection.

end titles Alfred the Great.

Born in London, on August 11th 1927, Raymond was the son of Albert Leppard, a scientist, and his wife, Bertha. In 1938 the family moved to the City of Bath, where Raymond studied piano, viola and singing with the  encouragement of Eugene Hanson who was the music master at the then City of Bath boys’ school.

In 1944 he both led the violas and played Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto in Sherborne, Dorset. The following year he won scholarships to Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Royal Academy of Music in London, but national service as an RAF radar operator intervened and he did not go to Trinity to study music until 1948. Leppard died in 2019 he was ninety-two years of age. His other works for cinema included, Laughter in the Dark (1969) and The Hotel New Hampshire (1984). 

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