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Walton (1902-1983) – A Shakespeare Suite from “Richard III”

The British can be a funny lot. Nowadays, film composers – especially Americans – are highly regarded. Not so in the mid-Twentieth Century, when the “growth industry” of British cinema dangled before composers the juicy carrot of a relatively reliable income. Unfortunately, they then found that the Musical Establishment, regarding them as mere jobbing peasants, was reluctant to take their “serious” work seriously. Worse, it was a life sentence. Even now, with the “offence” itself decriminalised, there’s no remission! The sole exception seemed to be composers - such as Bliss, Vaughan Williams and Walton - who were well-established before they started on film work. 

In his dozen or so film scores, Walton demonstrated a talent for creating concisely expressive music, reflecting the celluloid drama’s period, atmosphere and action. He understood the basic requirement - “. . . it needn’t necessarily be good or bad, only it must fit” – but, unlike his friend, Malcolm Arnold, he was no “professional”. Although he’d enjoyed working with Laurence Olivier, on Henry V and Hamlet, he otherwise “hated writing” film music. By the time he came to Richard III (1955), Walton felt he was scraping the bottom of his barrel of “historical chronicles” music. Yet, for many lesser composers, Walton’s barrel-scrapings would constitute rich pickings! 

Dictated by the medium, film scores tend to be bitty. Often, as Bernstein discovered to his dismay in On the Waterfront, music ends up on the cutting-room floor! Hence, film music usually needs arranging for concert performance. Here, Muir Mathieson - a pivotal figure in post-war British film – constructed a satisfyingly symmetrical “arch”. 

1. Fanfare; Music Plays. The fanfares are for pageantry, whilst the music plays for merry dancing. 

2. The Princes in the Tower starts on stately strings, a variation of the foregoing dance tune. However, this doesn’t symptomise paucity of invention, but common practice. Quite simply, it saves time

3. With Drum and Colours. Does “what it says on the tin” – a colourful counterpoint indeed, to have scraped from a barrel-bottom! 

4. I Would I Knew Thy Heart. This lament for strings deftly invokes intimacy by embedding soli in the band. If it sounds clichéd, that’s because it is – clichés are a handy short-cut to creating the right “feel”. 

5. Trumpets Sound. Bright fanfares, a festive march – Walton’s brilliant orchestration of sunshine and waving pennants! 

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