Tag Archives: WILFRED JOSEPHS

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

WATERLOO.

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I was prompted to write a review of this score because the movie was screened on the BBC this week, the sprawling epic about the monumental battle that took place between the British forces under the command of Wellington and the French under the leadership of their Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte did come in for some criticism at the time of its release but has since become an epic film in every sense of the word. Filmmaker Dino de Laurentiis assembled an all star cast which was headlined by Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as a rather pompous but at the same time caring Wellington both actors produced believable performances and for me personally it was Plummer who stole the movie in his portrayal of the iconic British commander. The cast which was a truly international one also included a number of well know actors Orson Welles for example played Louis Xvlll, whilst Virginia McKenna, Ian Ogilvy, Jack Hawkins, Rupert Davies, Michael Wilding, Gianni Garko, Ivo Garrani, Andrea Checchi, Dan O Herlihy and Oleg Vidov all put in credible performances. The battle scenes were spectacular with Director Sergei Bondarchuk utilising a number of Russian army divisions as extras. The musical score was the work of Italian Maestro Nino Rota, who was no stranger to scoring a Napoleonic war drama as he worked on WAR AND PEACE some years earlier in fact the composer utilised and reworked some thematic material from his WAR AND PEACE score and wove it into the fabric of the score for WATERLOO, this being transformed into THE WATERLOO WALTZ, which is heard before the mayhem begins. Rota’s music was a crucial and also an important component of the movie, the opening in particular is highly dramatic with brass and strings giving it an urgent and imposing feel setting the scene for much of what is to follow. Rota’s music is highly effective within the battle scenes his score underlining, heightening and supporting the aggressive action that is taking place on screen.

The score accompanying the somewhat jolly and ram shackle British, Scottish and Irish and giving even more pomp and majesty to the opposing French forces, his score also purveys a sense of futility and creates an atmosphere that seems to shout why do wars and battles such as this have to be fought? The music that Rota composed to accompany the SCOTS GREYS as they charge headlong towards the French lines is masterful, it conjures up the adrenaline rush that the troopers must be feeling as they hurtle towards an unknown fate, but then as the film goes into a slow motion sequence Rota too slows the music and underlines the impressive sequence with an almost celestial and romantic piece performed on organ and strings that momentarily create a mood that is calm and serene.
The remainder of the charge is not scored the SCOTS GREYS being countered by the infamous French lancers who despatch most of the British as they become bogged down in heavy muddy ground.

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The battle scene where we see an Ariel view of a number of British squares being attacked by French cavalry is impressive enough but the drama and sheer senselessness of the action by the French is heightened by Rota’s aggressive, sharp and jagged sounding soundtrack, where the composer utilises brass and percussion aided by strings to create a highly agitated and chaotic atmosphere as we see the British unleashing hails of bullets against a cavalry that has no infantry or cannon to support it, the French sustain heavy losses and as the scene comes to its conclusion Rota returns to an arrangement of the central theme that is performed on solo violin depicting again the waste and the senseless act of war and the madness and carnage of battle. The final battle scene is scored in three sections, it begins with the proud and bombastic march that accompanies THE OLD GUARD (LA VIELLE GARDE) as they go in to finish off the British, the strident drums the piccolos and the brass convince us that yes the French have beaten Wellington, in fact the British too are resigned to the fact that all is lost, until a rider informs Napoleon that the Prussians are in the woods,(I PRUSSIANI) the mood suddenly alters as we hear the strains of the Prussian theme the commander telling his children “To fly the black flags high and show no mercy”.

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The music also conveys Napoleons despair and disbelief that victory has been taken from him, then the music slips into the theme for the British forces (WELLINGTON-NOW ITS YOUR TIME!) as they take advantage of the support from the Prussians and advance towards the oncoming French. Napoleon is man handled away from his troops as the battle reaches its climax and the French are beaten, surrounded by the British and the Prussians the French are given the option of surrender but refuse this and are finished off by cannon. IL CAMPO DI MORTI is a sombre and low key piece that is played as Wellington peruses the field of the dead, it gradually builds from its low and sombre beginnings and the composer transforms into an ominous sounding version of the scores central theme. This is truly an epic score, my only reservation about this particular release is the sound quality, released on LEGEND records(Italy) it consists of the same track listing as the original CAM and Paramount long playing records, and I cannot be sure but am pretty certain that no restoration or re-mastering took place for this edition, I just hope that one day soon a re-mastered version will make it to compact disc, so that we may sample the delights of this magnificent score without the distortion and sound fluctuation and also some of the additional music that was provided by Wilfred Josephs, the score is conducted by Italian maestro Bruno Nicolai.