Category: THE JOHN WILLIAMS FILES.


WILFRED JOSEPHS, FORGOTTEN GENIUS?

Wilfred Joseph's

Wilfred Joseph’s

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

JOHN WILLIAMS

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To say that Howard Blake has been taking things easy in the last few years, would be a total travesty. He seems busy as ever, with Concertos, Piano Music and various projects which seem to take him all over the Globe, but specifically I would suggest Europe and Far East. His latest CD has him teamed up with cellist Benedict Kloeckner called DIVERSIONS. Up and coming is a ballet he is currently working on, but certainly his work in the media has been noticeably absent in the last few years. That is till now

THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE is a song cycle based on Poems by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894). For me who grew up in the Fifties minus can you believe Television, his adventures were the stuff of young boy’s fantasies, KIDNAPPED, TREASURE ISLAND and a personal favourite THE BLACK ARROW. But for some reason his collection of poems A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES missed me completely by. The Counterpane in case you were wondering is a patchwork quilt into which each square contained a different story, and the young Robert breathed life into these patchwork squares by in later years writing a collection of poems

All this is fertile ground for a composer of Howard Blake’s imagination, for what he has done over a very long period of time is to write music to selected verses and whilst the classic THE SNOWMAN had only one song – and what a song- this has songs spread through the entire 26 minute film – This I feel very canny for if sold to a commercial network, time to fit in the dreaded adverts.

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Having since the film only the once, I feel this is very much a review in progress, for as I write this I would really like to see it again, for like a lot of films, sometime you cannot appreciate all that is going on it a single viewing and I personally feel that with repeated showings ,it could come a very worthy successor to THE SNOWMAN , which sadly THE BEAR did not become, though I must admit, to be quite fond of that as well.

The animation is very cleverly accomplished for as we see the young Robert in his sick bed it is very much black and white, whereas once we are enveloped into his fantasies, the screen becomes a blaze of colour. Anyone who warmed to THE SNOWMAN will certainly like this,

The Choir is from the Pupils of Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, recorded now and in 2007 at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. Not a professional choir at all, they still bring a freshness and youthful vigour to the singing which is most commendable and enjoyable. I defy anyone not to enjoy the choral work on offer here

To be reading this you must have an interest in film music and those that appreciated Howard’s earlier scores like RIDDLE OF THE SANDS and THE DUELLISTS will find the same degree of understanding of what music in film and animation can inspire to. The narrator as Robert Louis Stevenson is David Rintoul and the music is played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Howard Blake. The Epilogue spoken by Rintoul is a very emotional moment ,looking back into his life to find the boy that he was , no longer there. and for me, and I suspect for many, a highlight of the film.

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I sincerely hope that this in time will prove a worthwhile successor to THE SNOWMAN but in it’s own right. I should also mention that the illustrations by Mark Reeve and Animation by Emmett Elvin are first rate, and one can see, that this has been a labour of love for all concerned.

Whilst there seems to be no film assignment on the horizon , we can be grateful for the outstanding scores he has produced for film ‘s of such varying quality. Some classics as the aforementioned THE DUELLISTS and RIDDLE OF THE SANDS, and some like S.O.S. TITANIC which I would have loved to hear in the full longer film, certainly the one currently available is lamentably short. Then of course there are THE AVENGERS , scores for the some of the latter Linda Thorson epsodioes which show show imagination and even those early days, class

I often think that whilst there is no comparison as such background wise, he has a marked affinity with Andre Previn, both stated out working on films and pianist , arranger before going on to provide scores , highly regarded by their peers, and aficionados alike. Both felt, I suspect that the they both felt that need to write music that didn’t have someone talking over.

Both have accomplished that to a very high level for both composers can appeal emotionally to listener, for what else is music if you cannot get emotionally involved I still hope one day Howard will find a feature film that will utilise his undeniable talents for he has a keen dramatic instinct .Till then THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE will do quite nicely. Yes indeed.

John Williams

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I don’t know about you, but it seems to me, there is always a catalyst that propels one to the life time interest of film music.
You might be interested in film music before, but one score that can set you on a lifetime love of music . For me it happened it seems almost a lifetime away at the now sadly gone ABC Regal Cinema in Torquay. There I experienced Otto Preminger’s epic for that year, IN HARM’S WAY. When you think of the stellar cast he managed to assemble, names now mostly no longer with us, it was quite an achievement. Preminger also liked to experiment, if that is the right word with his composer. He didn’t repeat his musical choice, but each time found someone new, and relatively untried – witness Hugo Montenegro for HURRY SUNDOWN – Did he ever come up with a better score than that? So for IN HARM’S WAY, he picked Jerry Goldsmith, then an experienced novice if you like with a few great scores under his belt even then.

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Little did I know as the film unrivalled that I would actually see Mr Goldsmith at the piano during the opening scene. I think it was years afterwards before I found that out

So as I mentioned, that was the one. For me Goldsmith contained everything I wanted to hear in a film score, and of course you have to bear in mind the choice available to him in the Sixties. War Dramas, Comedies, Spy Thrillers, Sci- Fi, Intimated stories., let alone the TV series that came from most of the big studios at the time. He could do everything as we now well know, . .

IN HARM’S WAY contained all the elements of a great score . Dramatic action pieces, THE ROCK, which we now know was for a different place entirely. NATIVE QUARTER, strings against a wonderful percussive background, A more mature Love theme for THE ROCK AND HIS LADY, and a different one for Tom Tryon and Paula Prentiss, and a suitably symphonic finale which brought the LP, then and now CD to a fitting close . It is worth mentioning that RCA at the time thought of it as more of a …………. well, let me quote from a advert for the LP that appeared in , I think Playboy but I can’t be sure, and it is worth quoting in full “Starting with the sound and fury of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the music sets the mood for the dramatic events that followed. There’s “Love Theme”, the big soaring main theme… “Liz” a dance band swinger that captures the off – limits, honky tonk atmosphere of parties in Honolulu… and “Night Swim”, that tells musically of a passionate interlude in the moonlight surf. This is the music that was born of the war years – the big band sound reminiscent of Glenn Miller and Harry James – played in a modern style that makes it timely for listening and dancing pleasure today!.” Well full marks for the copywriter, but I wonder if he actually heard the LP in the first place. Still one can see how Neely Plumb – the Producer and Goldsmith came up with the choices of what to put in ,and more importantly leave out.

It came out first in the UK on RCA Records in 1965, and in the CD era, firstly I believe around the late eighties from SLC in Japan, and then on Intrada, more than once. Now we have an expanded LP with tracks that did not make it on to the original album, coupled with a full re mastered LP a la RCA album I don’t know if you have noticed but a number of new releases are doing this. BASIC INSTINCT probably being the latest. I guess if this wasn’t done, then there would be little take up at all, for after all BASIC INSTINCT has been around a few times as well.

Will you get this one for basically three extra cues.? One by the British Composer Eric Coates, that opens the film, a short cue by Goldsmith called SILVER SEA and the undoubtedly highlight OLD SWAYBACK, a full one minute , twenty three seconds of Goldsmith at his scintillating sixties best. .

We don’t have the electronic hums that accompanied the Battleships approaching each other, A marvellous short cue when Brandon De Wilde is heading into battle in his Torpedo Boat, and the almost Jaunty cues when Australian Stanley Holloway leads the commandoes on a reconnaissance mission.

Fifty years we have been waiting but unless somewhere in the depths of Paramount vaults there is a rusty tin , unmarked that contains these cues, I suspect this fan will be heading one day to the great recording booth in the sky still waiting!!

So what do you do. What a question!! You go and buy it of course and go down on bended knees that there is Douglass Fake out there, who is still bringing out these gems . I am not sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the latest blockbuster by Michael Giacchino, Philistine that I might be, and as there ain’t a great deal of lost scores appearing these days, a Sixty year old classic is just music to my ears. There must be a God after all!!

JOHN WILLIAMS