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WILLIAM ALWYN

RECONSTRUCTING FILM SCORES

Philip Lane


When I tell people that I have been reconstructing old film scores, a polite if somewhat blank expression usually passes over their faces. I am sure they are conjuring up images of scissors and sellotape, and although I do indeed use such things occasionally they are not pivotal to my endeavours. Usually, in fact, I require a pencil and rubber and a cassette machine, since what I am actually involved in is a series of extended aural tests.

Since the first question tends to be 'Why?', I'll start there. When music was recorded for film no one, not even the composer, thought it would be required again, so the material was usually collected up and binned. There were obviously exceptions, and composers from the concert tradition (as opposed to those primarily involved in commercial music) sometimes saw their film music as just another composition and saved evidence of their work in sketches, short scores, or even the completed scores. But this is not to say that the 'serious' composers kept their scores while the others did not; there were more factors in the equation. Remember that we are talking about a period before photocopying made it easy to keep a record of one's work. Furthermore, the film companies often saw a film score as their own physical property and kept it.

Pinewood Studios had a treasure trove of film material. I remember the conductor Muir Mathieson telling me, shortly before his death in 1975, of the day he received a call from the Studio's librarian that he should come and take anything he wanted because the building was being bulldozed the next day - with the scores still inside it. He went, and retrieved Walton's complete score for Henry V, amongst others. Ernest Irving, Musical Director of Ealing Studios until his death in 1953, kept bound scores that lie had commissioned in his flat at the studio, but when the BBC bought the studio a few years later they went on a skip - this accounts for the particular scarcity of Ealing material. I found a few scraps at the home of lrving's successor and returned them to their respective composers or estates, including Walton, Arnold and Alwyn.

My first chance to be involved in reconstructing film music came when supervising a recording of Richard Addinsell's music shortly after being appointed his musical executor. There were already published suites from some of his films, and he had managed to keep some scores in either full or sketch form. However, one title we had to have on the CD was the original version of Goodbye Mr Chips, for which all that remained in the archives was a piano copy of the school song with words by Eric Maschwitz. So I listened to the opening credits sequence over and over again at the piano until I had something down on paper. In this particular case there were strange repeats that were obviously done at the last minute, judging by the poor editing, and there was a choir singing, which I knew we could not have in our new recording. I therefore rewrote the piece to make it work as a separate concert item.

This is only one form of working, and usually the rarest. Most of the time, record companies (everything I do is for immediate commercial recording) want a faithful transcription of a single cue or a similarly faithful combination of a series of cues. I used the latter device with Alwyn's The Crimson Pirate. The producer put the cues on tape for me and allowed meto place them in any order I wanted (I basically did it chronologically), adding that it would be nice to include the love theme too, even though he could not see it fitting in. I watched the video of the film that Mary Alwyn had lent me, and thought this theme so touching - and so understated in the film - that I had to include it. I think it works well as the lyrical heart of the piece

The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Homer in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.

Meanwhile I am happy to be dipping my toe in the great sea of film music that I have admired and loved since I was a child. When I am asked to work on my absolute favourite films the job is even more rewarding - I have worked on The Quiet Man (complete), The Thirty-Nine Steps, Kind Hearts And Coronets and Goodbye Mr Chips. Whether or not the films are my favourites, the process is repeatedly satisfying - from scribbling down a piano score and orchestrating it to producing the performance in the studio. The only bigger thrill is when the music is my own.

© Philip Lane 1998


PHILIP LANE is a composer and arranger and most recently a record producer who has specialised in reconstructing classic film scores for CD release. Among his recordings are a Hitchcock compilation, Greek film music, The Quiet Man, two albums of music by Richard Addinsell and one dedicated to the Ealing films of the Forties and Fifties. He has also produced CDs of concert music including English string works, Gilbert and Sullivan overtures, and a suite from Paul Reade's ballet score Far from the Madding Crowd.

This article first appeared in the William Alwyn Society Newsletter, December 1997
 

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