Tag Archives: Howard Blake



  Music inspired by the Motion Picture
                                Composed, and Conducted by Howard Blake            
                                         DDR687 Dragon’s Domain Records.
Many, many years ago, sometimes it seems in a different existence, a colleague from work and myself travelled up from the coast of Devon to Harrogate in Yorkshire, where the Menswear Trade was holding it’s half yearly Exhibition , when it previously it was held in Earls Court in London . I can’t recall where we were staying, but most of the hotels were close together. I recall going to The Old Swan Hotel, where some Exhibitors were showing, and then to the Royal Baths. It was worlds away from the bustle of London, and a superb relaxed atmosphere and I always recall it with enjoyment. I am pretty sure there was a plaque on the wall of the Old Swan re Agatha Christie , but I can’t really remember. I know now I walked the way of Agatha Christie all those years ago, and later Vanessa Redrgave did some ten years on from my visit.

Agatha Christie disappeared from home for well on 11 days in 1926. A nationwide hunt was launched for her, her marriage was going through a tricky period, and no one really knew where she was. When Ms Christie published her auto-biography many years later, the episode was basically glossed over, so no-one will ever really know what happened. Kathleen Tynan wrote a book on the story and collaborated with Arthur Hopcraft on a screenplay.. It was also well known at the time, that the Christie Family tried to get the Movie stopped and put up a fair bit of opposition against it, though, ultimately to no avail Vanessa Redgrave was cast as Ms Christie, not exactly type casting , certainly nor in stature, as Ms Christie was not exceptionally tall, and we as know , Dustin Hoffman who was cast as Wally Stanton, a fictional Newspaper man who eventually found her, is not , shall was say, that tall. So their scenes together , were somewhat incongruous , which didn’t help with the acceptance of the story . That said it was stunningly photographed and the whole venture had a fell of loss, hidden feeling and untold pain.

Which of course, would have been something a good ,well written score would have provided. When we originally saw the film, it probably wasn’t known that Howard Blake wrote an original score which subsequently dumped when it seems that Vanessa Redgrave wasn’t too keen on it. I should say that a lot of the coverage on this side of the story is highlighted in the CD Booklet so I won’t go into here. suffice to say, it was felt that a more modern score with a song was needed. Cue the arrival of Johnny Mandel, a consummate musician who’s great achievement must be rated as his score of the Richard Burton / Elizabeth Taylor movie THE SANDPIPER with its superb song “The Shadow of your Smile”. Which all worked sublimely there but in AGATHA, whether it was time restraints or lack of direction, Mr Mandel came up with basically a one tune score which at the end was worked into a song with lyrics courtesy of Paul Williams. He made the movie more sentimental and it did not propel the story or delve into the minds of the characters as it should have done, indeed I often felt it seemed to be written for a different film all together.



Which brings me, at long last to the main subject of this review. The score of Howard Blake which thankfully has been preserved and showcased in this amazing CD.

As an admirer of the works of Howard Blake for a very long time, I thought that his masterworks were THE DUELLISTS and THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS (a particular favourite), but how wrong I was. Add AGATHA to these masterly scores.

Right from the opening cue (Prelude) we have a score that has been carefully thought out, lovingly created, and recorded with a clarity that takes your breath away. Whereas A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY tapped into the more Pastoral nuances of early 20th Century Orchestral music, here whilst sounding definitely English , has more cosmopolitan feel, more provincial, and full of a sense of not really knowing where the film will take us. Does it end up a possible murder mystery, a love story , a bit of both, or the novelist, just escaping from a marriage that has totally broken down. Coupled with the fact that as has mentioned before, the two main characters are not really written well enough for you to care what happens to them. Here Howard Blake’s score would have accomplished that. What you could not see on the screen or hear in the script, the score is telling you and propelling one to a end that anyone knowing the story before hand would have known

The Prelude sets the Scene and introduces the main theme, finely tuned and exquisitely orchestrated, which will surface again in “Agatha and Wally”. “Schnee” is almost atonal, but Howard very rarely goes down this route and there is a underlying sense of melody. “Following Baths” is a faster cue , where, is Wally following Agatha??. Maybe not. “Therapy Room Door” is very dramatic, drums and full orchestra. whilst I reserve full praise for a 6 minute cue entitles “They Don’t Believe / Closing”. To me it sounds like “They Didn’t Believe Me, originally written by Jerome Kern and Herbert Reynolds. It is not played in full or sung but running around one minute, just quoted segues beautifully into “Closing” – harp, strings and woodwinds utilising the principal theme to bring the score to a satisfying conclusion

dragons domain

Anyone remotely interested in British Film Music should avail themselves of this recording. It is required listening. Certainly it a major canon in the works of Howard Blake. Much as we all love THE SNOWMAN, there is much, much more than this score to the continuing genius of Howard Blake., but then we know that anyway!!

Don’t hesitate, just buy it!!


“Now that’s what I call FILM MUSIC!

A brief appreciation of the continuing Genius that is Howard Blake

by John Williams

Film Music has changed drastically over the years, Chameleon like, sometimes good, sometimes inspired, and sadly, more than not, a failure on all counts. If also you have been listening to Music as long as I have, it takes a lot to rekindle that spark you first had many years ago, and got you into this drug that we simply call Film Music which as much as we try, we can’t kick!. Most people I have mentioned my hobby to over the years, think of the current Blockbuster or hit that contains a song or two that gets into the charts. When you say, well actually no, I don’t mean that, I mean the music that is played in the background, they look at you as if you have flipped and said a four letter word.. So, you learn to grin and bear it, and after a while to tend not to even mention it at all, so it is like one of those guilty pleasures that you don’t talk about.


We have had full blown Orchestral scores, Pop music masquerading as Film Music. The Eighties we had so much Synthesized film music it was wearing,, and now, well, I know there must be Film Music out there, but it is, as was said in “Star Trek” – not as we know it!!! If by some miracle Georges Delerue was to return to us, I doubt if he would get a assignment. ” Well, Sorry Georges. I know you write lovely gorgeous themes and scores, but, well, we don’t want that, we want a sort of non- music, that no one notices”



Which brings me to Howard Blake. A Composer of immense talent who can do practically anything, and has often has. I tend to find parallels with the sorely missed Andre Previn. Great Pianist, Arranger, Composer and now writer of Music for the Concert Hall. See what I mean ? Howard toiled in the Media for many years working on the Diana Rigg season of THE AVENGERS, playing piano on the sessions, before the big break came on the final season, now well known as the Tara King episodes of THE AVENGERS , when Laurie Johnson was called away to that comedy gem HOT MILLIONS , with Maggie Smith and Peter Ustinov. Good workmanlike scores – funny phrase that – workmanlike, lets just say they are extremely good and evocative, and sound different enough to Laurie Johnson’s fine efforts. He also played on numerous Film Scores, THE ITALIAN JOB , arrangements for Francis Lai in that quintessentially Sixties Movie, I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT’S NAME . as well as conducting without credit for Quincy Jones on that mammoth and somewhat under-rated western MCKENNA’S GOLD. LP only I hasten to add.


Scores for EMI Movies, ALL THE WAY UP, and SOME WILL SOME WON’T followed, neither rate very highly in my book, but they were of the era. S.O.S TITANIC is notably different. A powerful almost heart wrenching score, punctuated by the three notes that spell out S.O.S. Sadly most versions available ,either on DVD ,Video, or Television showing are of the edited version, and the full longer film seems to be not available anywhere. Howard also scored movies for the BBC, when the Corporation had it’s own Film Making arm, and periodically showed films under the SCREEN ON TWO banner . STRONGER THAN THE SUN and MRS REINHARDT with Helen Mirren.

He is of course best know now for the perennial Christmas favourite THE SNOWMAN. Shown every Christmas since 1982, it has blossomed to a stage show, and is seen all over the World. In the late 70’s The Rank Organisation had a somewhat misguided idea to re-start production of feature films at Pinewood. There was THE LADY VANISHES, a very worthy attempt to up-date the old Hitchcock Movie with colour, slightly spicier dialogue and two principals from the USA. Actually it worked really well, even if Cybill Shepherd went well over the top. Good score by the then newcomer Richard Hartley utilising a main theme by Les Reed.


THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS was adapted from Erskine Childer’s novel , warning Great Britain of the threat from Germany by a water born invasion from the north German Coast and set in 1901. Exceptional cast. Two leads played by Michael York and Simon MacCorkindale with feminine interest supplied by Jenny Agutter, who had also teamed up with Michael York in LOGAN’S RUN Superbly lensed by Christopher Challis, If it had any down side, it was the ending which was somewhat rushed, and indeed anti climatic. A film like this needed a composer who would not just underline the visual aspects, but delve deeper in the story and add aspects that weren’t visible. In fact a score that enhances the film and enriches the Cinematic experience. Luckily, they called on the talents of Howard Blake. Working with the famed National Philharmonic Orchestra, Howard wrote a score that was just inspired. The lengthy Main Titles portrays the Sand Dunes of the Northern Germany, and the music has a suitable nautical, yet mysterious ambience that is just superb;



Simon MacCorkindale portrays Arthur Davis, who at the start of the tale, had arrived in the Frisian Islands on the Baltic Coast of Germany, initially as he later infers, to do some Duck Shooting. There he meets the enigmatic Dollmann played by Alan Badel, who we later find out, has a incredible likeness to a British Sailor in one of Davis’ books. Double agents perhaps? Davis feels there has been an attempt on his life, so he asks Carruthers (Michael York – who was also involved on the production side -) , who works at the Foreign Office in London to come over, for help and to bring some welcome supplies. Davis is drawn to Dollmann’s daughter, Clara, which complicates matters. Early in the film both Davis and Clara walk along the beach, aided by a superb treatment of the Principal theme, in a much more romantic setting.


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At around 23/4 minutes in, Carruthers arrives at the Railway Station, late at night to be met by Davis, somewhat nonplussed by the amount of luggage Carruthers has brought with him, Though as Carruthers somewhat dryly points out. “Most of it is for you”. They both walk along the dock, the music here almost walks with them, slow and non- committal, till Davis shows Carruther’s his prized boat, ” The Dulcibella”, . “There she is ” he says with pride. Now here they could talk all the way to the boat, Davis showing how proud and happy he is with the craft. . But no, here the script is silent. Howard Blake provides, the pride, and fulfilment that Davis has, with a short warm, proud cue, no more than 20 seconds long. That is what GREAT film music can do, It can say unsaid feelings and emotions. It should not and never be just musical wallpaper, and that is what a master craftsman like Howard Blake can do.


So, in the rather unlikely event of someone asking me, “Why do you LIKE film music?” I would refer them to this film and this precise 20 seconds, and say. “That is why I LOVE Film Music!”

Thanks Howard

(This is a sort of precursor of a much lengthy feature on the media scores of Howard Blake).



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.

HB Piano Angle

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