Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Sir Arthur BLISS
The Film Music of Sir Arthur Bliss
1. Welcome the Queen.
2. Things to Come Concert Suite arranged and reconstructed by Philip Lane.
3. The Royal Palaces Suite.
4. Caesar and Cleopatra Suite from the incidental film music edited and arranged by Giles Easterbrook and Malcolm Binney.
5. War in the Air Theme.
Rumon Gamba conducting the BBC Philharmonic
Chandos CHAN 9896 [73:11]
Crotchet  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

This exciting new Chandos CD provides a convenient cue for a survey of Bliss's film music, with particular reference to the two feature films represented on this recording: Things to Come and Caesar and Cleopatra. The following is a shortened, adapted version of an article on Bliss's film music written for a forthcoming Ashgate volume devoted to Sir Arthur Bliss.

* * *

In 1922, in an article entitled 'Those Damned Films!', Arthur Bliss wrote: 'I must have sat through hundreds and hundreds of films, and of late I have left their "gorgeous palaces" more and more convinced that the art directors responsible for the accompanying music know not their job.' He concluded the article with both a suggestion and a prophetic statement: 'There are only two alternatives before the future music director of the films. Either, if you are of a conservative disposition, choose music that is not expressly written for the picture, but which is neither too good to overweight the film, nor too bad to hurt your dignity as a musician . . . or . . . get some composer to collaborate with the producer and write those special cinema noises . . . What a proud day it will be for some of us to be featured as the sound-producing experts on a real live million-dollar movie!'

He was, of course, writing about the music chosen at that time to accompany silent movies, music that was used not merely 'to drown the twittering of the operator's lantern' but to underline the action or emotion of the moment. He was not then to know that in five years' time sound would completely revolutionise films, or that just over seven years further on his wish would be granted and he himself would be making one of the most important contributions to the cinema as a film composer. (How significant, too, that even before the advent of sound, Bliss should recognise the importance of the composer in the world of cinema.) Furthermore, his first film would be in collaboration with one of the great literary figures of that period, H G Wells, whose prophetic novel, The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution, first appeared in 1933.

Wells, writing against the background of an increasingly dark world situation, had offered his own vision of the future. Instead of following the pattern of his earlier futuristic novels, such as The War of the Worlds and The Sleeper Awakes, The Shape of Things to Come took the form of a commentary on a manuscript for a 'Short History of the Future' supposedly left by a Dr Philip Raven, an important (fictional) figure in the League of Nations who, we are told, died in 1930. In Wells's Introduction we learn that this History or 'dream book' had come to Raven in those moments between unconscious sleep and waking (in a fashion suggested by J. W. Dunne whose highly influential book, Experiment with Time of 1927, had dealt with the relationship between time and space and had argued the co-existence of past, present and future). As 'edited' by Wells, Raven's History offers the reader a résumé of events up to 1933 and, with the spread of Fascism and dictatorships, looks ahead to the outbreak of war in Europe in 1940 (a war, incidentally, in which England is not involved). Gas is a prominent form of warfare, but still more devastating, in 1955-6 a plague or pestilence sweeps the world, killing half the population. After the financial collapse of America, civilisation steadily disintegrates, with areas ruled by crackpot warlords and militia. Two world conferences are called. Out of the first, a gathering of scientific and technical workers in 1965, emerges the World State, with its main channels of communication controlled by Air and Sea Police, quelling resistance with Pacifin, a gas of peace. The second conference, in 1978, gives birth to the World Council. The novel finishes where the fictional manuscript on which it is based supposedly comes to an abrupt end.

In March 1934, at weekly intervals, Arthur Bliss gave three illustrated lectures on contemporary music at the Royal Institution, at least one of which H G Wells attended. Both men were 'modernists' in their own fields. As Bliss wrote in his autobiography, 'Something that I said on this occasion must have caught Wells's attention, for he invited me to lunch, and there and then spoke of his projected film based on his recent book, The Shape of Things to Come, and asked me whether I would like to collaborate with him by writing the musical score.'

At first sight Wells's earth-bound book would seem a rather unlikely basis for a film, especially when it lacked the Space Gun and any suggestion of space travel that provided both a dramatic climax and a key moral element to the film. While the novel was a starting point from which the film script for Things to Come was written, the two are in many respects quite different. For one thing, there is no characterisation at all in the novel. As Wells wrote in his Introductory remarks to the published version of his film treatment: 'The book upon which this story rests . . is essentially an imaginative discussion of social and political possibilities, and a film is no place for argument. The conclusions of that book therefore are taken for granted in the film, and a new story had been invented to display them.' Characters were necessarily also invented to add a human dimension.

Before Bliss came on the scene, the Hungarian film producer Alexander Korda, who had read The Shape of Things to Come soon after its publication in 1933, had met Wells and the two men got on well when they discussed a possible script over cakes, sardine sandwiches and pots of coffee in Bournemouth.

Right from the start Wells saw music as an integral part of the film. As he himself wrote:The music is a part of the constructive scheme of the film, and the composer, Mr. Arthur Bliss, was practically a collaborator in its production. In this as in many other respects, this film, so far at least as its intention goes, is boldly experimental. Sound sequences and picture sequences were made to be closely interwoven. This Bliss music is not intended to be tacked on; it is part of the design. The spirit of the opening is busy and fretful and into it creeps a deepening menace. Then come the crashes and confusions of modern war. The second part is the distressful melody and grim silences of the pestilence period. In the third, military music and patriotic tunes are invaded by the throbbing return of the air men. This throbbing passes in to the mechanical crescendo of the period of reconstruction. This becomes mores swiftly harmonious and softer and softer as greater efficiency abolishes that clatter of strenuous imperfection which was so distinctive of the earlier mechanical civilisation of the nineteenth century. The music of the new world is gay and spacious. Against this plays the motif of the reactionary revolt; ending in the stormy victory of the new ideas as the Space Gun fires and the moon cylinder starts on its momentous journey. The music ends with anticipations of a human triumph in the heroic finale amidst the stars.

It cannot be pretended that in actual production it was possible to blend the picture and music so closely as Bliss and I had hoped at the beginning. The incorporation of original music in film production is still in many respects an unsolved problem. But Bliss's admirable music has also been separately performed and gramophone records of it are obtainable.

Wells's description of the music corresponds only obliquely to the final film score. Both his script and the music had to undergo considerable modifications before the film was completed. As Korda's nephew Michael has related, Alex 'did everything he could to please Wells. He agreed to let Wells write the script. He agreed that the movie should be a collaboration. He hired Frank Wells, H.G.'s son [as assistant designer], and he even let Wells do most of the talking at story conferences.' Wells's close involvement was in some ways the film's undoing. Unfortunately, the novelist's vision and that of the film-maker did not always concur. Even when agreement on the script had been reached, constant alterations were being made right up to the last moment. Furthermore, when it came to writing a film-script, Wells was a mere novice. He confessed himself:

Alexander Korda offered to make a film which was, as far as humanly possible, exactly as I dictated. The task of putting my imaginative story into screen form was, however, far more difficult than I had imagined, and took much longer than I thought.

It is only now that I realise how little I knew about the cinema when I wrote the scenario. Many of the sequences which slipped quite easily from my pen were extremely difficult to screen, and some were quite impossible. But that did not matter.

The film has emerged spiritually correct, despite the fact that it now embodies many alterations suggested by Alexander Korda, William Cameron Menzies, and a score of other people.

Elsewhere, an embittered Wells was even more frank, and liberal too, in apportioning the blame for what he saw as the film's failings:

For me it was a huge disillusionment. It was, I saw plainly, pretentious, clumsy and scamped. I had fumbled with it. My control of the production had been ineffective. Cameron Menzies was an incompetent director; he loved to get away on location and waste money on irrelevancies; and Korda let this happen. Menzies was a sort of Cecil B de Mille without his imagination; his mind ran on loud machinery and crowd effects and he had no grasp of my ideas. He was sub-conscious of his own commonness of mind. He avoided every opportunity of talking to me. The most difficult part of this particular film, and the one most stimulating to the imagination, was the phase representing a hundred and twenty years hence, but the difficulties of the task of realisation frightened Menzies; he would not get going on that, and he spent most of the available money on an immensely costly elaboration of the earlier two-thirds of the story. He either failed to produce, or he produced so badly that ultimately they had to cut out a good half of my dramatic scenes. Korda too disappointed me and above all I disappointed myself. I was taken by surprise by difficulties I should have foreseen. I did not take Korda's measure soon enough or secure an influence over him soon enough. I have called him congenial and he is - insinuatingly and untrustworthily congenial. I grew tired of writing stuff into the treatment that was afterwards mishandled or cut out again. In the end little more of The Shape of Things to Come was got over than a spectacular suggestion of a Cosmopolis ruled by men of science and affairs.

It proved not to have been a wise decision to entrust Wells with the script. For all his success as a novelist, his inexperience in handling the medium of film showed through. His first version was unfilmable, and it required two further attempts before a workable script emerged. Even that was subjected to constant revision. The ending in particular seemed to cause difficulty.

From the start Bliss had been enthusiastic about the project, writing to Wells on 12 April 1934: 'I have started work and am getting more and more impressed with the possibilities that your vision is opening. I believe I shall do a big thing with this, if unhampered . . .' Soon, on the piano at his home in Hampstead, Bliss was playing to Wells the work in progress. In June Wells wrote:

Of all the early part up to and including the establishment of the Air Dictatorship I continue to be confident and delighted. But I am not sure of the Finale. Perhaps I dream of something superhuman but I do not feel that what you have done so far fully renders all that you can do in the way of human exaltation. It's good - nothing you do can fail not to be good - but it is not yet that exultant shout of human resolution that might be there - not the marching song of a new world of conquest among the atoms and stars. I know that you say 'This is only provisional' presently something will come - between sleeping and waking, or when you are walking in the country, or in a railway train - or shaving - which will be the crowning air of Whither Mankind ? [the film's provisional title] Biró [Lajas Biró, who worked on the script] I think is very much of my mind on this. Trumpets ?

Musically, the problem of the Finale was not to be easily resolved. Neither was everything else going smoothly. On 16 October Wells wrote to Bliss:

I am at issue with Korda and one or two others of the group on the question of where you come in. They say - it is the Hollywood tradition - 'We make the film right up to the cutting then, when we have cut, the musician comes in and puts in his music.'

I say Balls! (I have the enthusiastic support of Grierson, who makes Post Office Films, in that). I say 'A film is a composition and the musical composer is an integral part of the design. I want Bliss to be in touch throughout.'

I don't think Korda has much of an ear, but I want the audience at the end not to sever what it sees from what it hears. I want to end on a complete sensuous and emotional synthesis.

Consequently I am sending you Treatment (Second Version). It is very different from the first and in particular the crescendo up to the firing of the Space Gun, which is newly conceived. I think we ought to have a Prelude going on to the end of Reel 1, but I won't invade your province.

Will you read this new Treatment and then have a talk with me sometime next week. Then when we two have got together a bit, we will bring in Biró the scene artist, and then Menzies and my son who are busy on the scenes. I have already a definite scheme for drawings and models.

So far from regarding the music as trimming to be put in afterwards I am eager to get any suggestions I can from you as to the main design.

Bliss wrote to Wells: 'I have got the new scenario, and the end is fine. It must be very dignified - no Hollywood frills . . .' It was not until 5 September 1935 that Wells could write to Bliss: 'We are really getting the Film in shape at last . . .'

In true Korda fashion this was a lavish production, filmed first at Elstree, then at Worton Hall, Isleworth before moving to Denham, with huge sets that were designed principally by Alexander Korda's brother Vincent, although Wells's son Frank takes a screen credit as assistant designer. It was produced under the aegis of Korda's own company, London Film Productions. Visually, the most spectacular part of the film are the scenes set in Everytown of the future, realised on screen by a combination of models, miniatures, full-size sets and special photography, including the 'split-screen' technique. The strong cast included Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Edward Chapman, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke and Ann Todd. Playing the child in the final scenes was Anne McLaren, the twelve-year-old daughter of Christabel MacLaren, dedicatee of Walton's Viola Concerto.

The film covers three time periods: the present, 1940; the immediate aftermath of a world war, 1966-70; and the future, 2036, with the early attempts at space travel. It culminates in a conflict of ideals, with the human conservative instincts of the aesthete and the artist challenging man's courage and adventurousness as embodied in the advancements of science.

There are 14 sequences in the film where music is used. (These are indicated in square brackets, together with their approximate duration.) Altogether they represent 31 minutes of music in a film lasting (in its final cut) 90 minutes. After a brief but heavy peal of bells the film opens with the Prelude [1: 2' 20"]. It is Christmas 1940 in Everytown, but the busy festivities are constantly interrupted visually with newspaper placards warning of the threat of war: 'Europe Arming', 'War Scare', 'World at the Brink of War'. The Prelude is intercut with familiar carols, The First Noel, While Shepherds watched and God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, but even these are punctuated by heavy brass outbursts. A quieter contrast follows with an interior scene, at the home of John Cabal (a pilot in the coming conflict, played by Raymond Massey) where the conversation highlights opposing views. Passworthy dismisses the war rumours; Cabal takes a more serious viewpoint, voicing disquiet about the way life has progressed. The Ballet for Children [2: 2' 45"] accompanies the children playing with toys around the Christmas tree, toys that too closely resemble war. Soon, noises that sound like distant guns are confirmed to be the outbreak of war, and the Ballet takes on a markedly military tone at the mention of mobilisation, and the music cuts to the news on a radio. The exciting March [3: 1'04"] - the motto, as it were, for the whole film score - is heard (without the trio) as everyone mobilises for war. Its opening bars alone suggest the tramping of soldiers' feet, ominously presaging the jackboot. The crowds are forced off the streets by the military authorities. With the next hearing of the March [4: 0' 50"], gas masks are being distributed, and the March soon changes to part of Attack [0' 38"] amid scenes of bombing and devastation. Instead of music the drone of aircraft and the sound of bombing underline the destruction of Everytown. The March and Attack resume [5: 0" 54"], war is waged on a wider scale, with a film montage of tanks and ships, together with the shadows and silhouettes of marching soldiers. The futility of war is shown in a pathetic episode between two opposing pilots. Cabal, having shot down an enemy pilot dropping gas, lands his aircraft and goes in vain to rescue the trapped pilot who sacrifices his own gas mask to a passing young girl and then shoots himself with the pistol that Cabal leaves him.

The next scene depicts the World In Ruins [6: 2' 02"] and a sequence of dates indicates the progression of time from 1945 up to 1966 when there is now Pestilence (both times running into Attack) [7: 1' 33" and 8: 1' 50"]. Medical supplies in the hospitals are running out and anybody seen roaming the streets with the wandering sickness is shot [at which point the Pestilence music changes to Attack]. Over half the world's population dies from the plague; none who caught it has survived. The years pass until May Day 1970 when the pestilence is over and Everytown is under the control of a self-appointed warlord or patriot chief, in dress more mediaeval than futuristic and played with splendid swagger by Ralph Richardson. His appearance is announced by the March [9: 1' 05"], this time with the Trio. In due course an aeroplane of ultra-modern design lands and from it emerges in space-like garb an older grey-haired John Cabal, a member of 'Wings over the World', a fellowship of survivors who, through science and reason, are restoring order worldwide. Cabal unsuccessfully tries to reason with the Chief and is imprisoned instead. A flurry of war-like fanfares and the March [10: 2' 35", its most substantial hearing, although much of it almost inaudible in the background] proclaim the Chief's successful attack on the 'Hill Men', gaining control of the coal pits and so obtaining a supply of oil for his grounded and antiquated biplanes. A engineer sympathetic to Cabal's cause manages to restore one machine and escapes to inform Cabal's forces of his imprisonment. An air attack is successfully launched to gain control of Everytown with the use of the gas of peace. The invasion by paratroops, prefaced by trumpet fanfares, is underscored by an untitled section of music [11: 2' 19"] that was not included in the Suite. This film sequence closes with fanfares that Bliss was also to use in his Fanfare Jubilant first heard in a broadcast in May 1935 to mark King George V's Silver Jubilee.

With the last vestiges of barbarism overthrown, the way is now clear for Cabal and 'Wings over the World' to restore civilisation. During the transition of time to 2036 as a new world is built, the music for this long sequence [12: 5' 44"] is in three connected sections: the first, which underscores Excavation, is driven by a pounding rhythm (which persists throughout the whole sequence) and the metallic beating of machinery (echoes of Mossolov's Iron Foundry that employed realistic effects with metal sheets?); it then leads first into The Building of the New World which is a shortened version of what later became the Entry of the Red Castles in Checkmate (1937), and then, after some dramatic, climactic chords, into Machines, closing with a repeat of the fanfares. For this, the longest music sequence in the film, the on-screen images show underground blasting, the construction of the new city with huge sheets of steel for the walls of its buildings, chemical factories, vast machinery dwarfing men, and mass production everywhere. This was the one section of the film for which normal procedure was reversed and the film was cut to match the music. (When Bliss first played the music for this scene to Wells on the piano, Wells's reply was: 'I am sure that all that is very fine music, but I'm afraid you have missed the whole point. You see, the machines of the future will be noiseless!')

By 2036 Everytown is not a skyscraper city but instead, with a prescient concern for conservation, a subterranean Utopia dug into the hills. Scientific progress does not stop here. There are plans to send two humans round the Moon by means of a space gun, but there is an undercurrent of unrest at the way scientific progress is shaping life. The spokesman for the artist class incites the people to destroy the gun. Raymond Passworthy questions Oswald Cabal about the value of continued progress and of this venture into space (both are grandsons of the earlier characters and are portrayed by the same actors). Cabal, the scientist, sees no other way. Cabal's daughter and Passworthy's son offer themselves as the astronauts for the moon mission and as the space gun is in danger of being destroyed by the crowd, the programme is rushed forward. (Here we have one of the many incongruities of the plot: two volunteers with no training are sent into space at a moment's notice.) The Attack on the Gun [13: 1' 40"] comes too late to stop the launch, and as the rocket hurtles into space, the film closes with the Epilogue [14: 2' 37"] as Cabal, against a background of the starry heavens, throws out the rhetorical challenge: 'All the universe - or nothingness . . .  Which shall it be, Passworthy ?'

As Bliss has written - and against Korda's better judgement - 'a great deal of the music was written and pre-recorded before the film really got under way' and 'many later modifications had, of course, to be made'. This slightly ambiguous statement refers not to the soundtrack but to substantial sections of the score that were recorded on 78s in the Decca Studios in Thames Street, London, on 3 March 1935, six months before Wells could write of 'getting the film in shape'. Bliss conducted the London Symphony Orchestra. Almost a year later four of the movements recorded were issued commercially, in February 1936, coinciding with the film's release: Ballet for Children, Pestilence, Attack and The World in Ruins. According to the record sheets for those 1935 Decca sessions, Bliss also recorded other movements that were not issued. The sections themselves were not named but listed merely by number up to 12, with the curious omission of 8 and 10. There were two takes of each section. When the test pressings of three unpublished sections, Prelude (Prologue), March and Reconstruction were discovered in 1991 among Sir Henry Wood's effects at the Royal Academy of Music they threw much light on the way that the film - and alongside it the music score - developed.

It would seem that at the beginning Bliss went ahead, blocking out whole sections in music, perhaps in the hope - or assumption - that the film would be cut to fit the music. Because at that stage the final shape of the film was far from settled, he could not have worked from a shooting script that would have told him precisely how many minutes and seconds of music were required for each section. Even when he went into the Decca recording studios, Korda and Wells between them had not finalised a script and he had no clear idea of how the music would be adapted to the film. When the Decca recordings are compared with the music conducted on the film's soundtrack by Muir Mathieson (also with the London Symphony Orchestra), it becomes clear that many modifications had to be made after those sessions. As Lionel Salter wrote when reviewing their partial issue on CD: 'Bliss wrote much of his Things to Come score - which many regard as the finest British film music yet - in advance of the shooting (let alone of the film editing). I was charged with "tidyings-up and surgery", a job I felt privileged (and somewhat overawed) to do, as he had been one of my musical heroes. Well in advance of the Suite later drawn from the score, Bliss himself conducted some extracts for Decca. . . They include the World in Ruins sequence not in the Suite - which, however, does contain three extra movements, one of them, the Reconstruction, cobbled together (not by me, I hasten to add) from the film's epilogue with chorus.'

None of the movements that Bliss recorded (nor for that matter those in the Suite) corresponds precisely to what is heard on the soundtrack. The nearest is The World in Ruins which, as recorded by Bliss [2'36"], closely follows the soundtrack, although the latter has the telling addition of side-drum taps. Bliss recorded Ballet for Children in full [3'35"]; in the film it runs complete up to the return of the 'Tempo di Valse' section, and then much of the opening section is repeated before jumping ahead to the Alla Marcia reprise, only to be terminated abruptly five bars before the end. Pestilence in Bliss's version [4'54"] follows closely its second exposition in the film [8], although there it is cut short by an abridged version of Attack.

The takes that were not issued are more fascinating and show substantial divergences from their later versions. The longer original Prelude as conducted by Bliss ('I think we ought to have a Prelude going on to the end of Reel 1', Wells had suggested) is almost identical to that in the film up to the entry of the carols. The original version brought in a gong stroke at that point after which the music became broody and more contemplative, ending on a repeated held chord and another gong stroke. At 2'44" it is much longer than the section on the soundtrack [1'06"] up to the carols. Bliss's version of the March [3'38"]is similar to Mathieson's recorded version [3'38"] but as a performance it does not quite have the urgency that Mathieson brings to it either on disc or on screen with the dramatic suggestion of tramping feet in its opening bars that Bliss's 1957 stereo recording of the Suite also lacks.

But the most substantial differences are in Reconstruction. As Bliss recorded it, it was clearly intended to underscore a sequence in the film much longer than the closing section where its big theme makes its only appearance. In an introductory talk to a BBC broadcast of the Suite on 15 November 1950, Bliss explained that 'the first attempts to regain order and sanity are accompanied by the following Theme of Reconstruction' and he went on to describe how next Machines accompanied gigantic machines that were rebuilding the world anew. Lasting 7'15", this version of Reconstruction opens with sixteen dramatic chords that lead directly into two full statements of the familiar Utopian hymn-like Epilogue tune (with prominent gong). It then makes much use in expanded form of the music used to depict John Cabal's rescue and the end of the Chief's rule of Everytown [The untitled music of sequence 11]. Further dramatic chords lead into the return of the Epilogue theme, again heard twice, but with a purely orchestral close without any of the Hollywood choral frills heard in the Epilogue, either in Mathieson's recording [2'23"] or in the soundtrack [2'37"] which has a different choral ending. The confusion in the Suite with the Epilogue music (without chorus) being called Reconstruction would seem to suggest that this theme (almost certainly what Wells referred to as the 'gay and spacious' music of the new world) was intended to be used earlier on and not just for the film's closing section. Reconstruction in the Suite lasts 1'48" in Bliss's 1957 recording.

It is probable that Bliss's recordings were made, not with commercial release in mind, but to give the film production staff some idea of the scale and the placing of the music to which Wells attached so much importance in the overall scheme. It is unlikely that they were considered for actual use in the soundtrack which was, after all, Muir Mathieson's domain. The expense of the recording sessions was not something that would have unduly worried Korda. However, issuing them commercially just before the film was released provided excellent publicity, although it is rather curious that the March, what might be regarded as the theme of the film, was not issued at the same time. Was it for lack of a suitable coupling or because it was not impeccably played? Whatever the reason, three days before the first showing of Things to Come, two movements, the March and Reconstruction, were transferred by Decca onto a commercial disc from what has been referred to as the soundtrack, with Muir Mathieson conducting the LSO and an unnamed chorus. These transfers, made in the Chenil Galleries Studios in Chelsea on 18 February 1936, raise a few puzzles. Firstly, the music on these two sides is quite clearly not from the final soundtrack. As has already been stated, the March is not played complete anywhere in the film, and the Epilogue in this commercial release was given a different choral ending from that on the soundtrack. 'Lo the starry sky, the eternity' sings the choir on disc while in the film it echoes Cabal's challenging question 'Which shall it be?' The choral ending was presumably supplied in accordance with Wells's insistence on an 'exultant shout of human resolution'.

Unanswered questions remain about the soundtrack and the origin of Mathieson's 78 sides. John Huntley, in British Film Music, writes that the recording of the soundtrack required fourteen full orchestral sessions in a London theatre (the Scala Theatre), with Muir Mathieson conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. While certain scenes were recorded and synchronised 'live' to the film, much of it was quite likely dubbed onto the soundtrack. It is possible that, with magnetic tape not yet in general use, Mathieson recorded 'a soundtrack' on optical film that included the March in full (and its variants as heard in the film) together with alternative versions of the Epilogue. This would have made easier the dubbing of the final soundtrack, and Mathieson's two commercial 78 sides could well have originated from such a film track - which might explain their noticeably poorer sound quality when compared with Bliss's sides.

Critics were oddly dismissive of the 78s that were issued. 'Only in the turbulent parts and in Desolation is it good in the way Bliss is usually good; in the other parts it is fair in the way Elgar used to be very good,' thought the Musical Times. W.A. Chislett, in the Gramophone, was of a similar opinion: 'The theme of the March is not a good one, and I do not think the composer has been very happily moved here. Doubtless something with a "popular" appeal was needed, and this is scarcely Bliss's line. There may, of course, be some intention in the dance-theme shaping of the first tune, with its flattened third, that has become so tiresome a cliché; but judged as a musical theme, it is cheap. [In the Epilogue] there is here something of the optimistic warmth of the Elgarian temperament, which I see as a good hope in Bliss's future.' Neither critic saw in the March the ominous relentless tread of the Nazi storm-trooper.

In addition to the extracts commercially released on 78 rpm records by Decca, there was further advance publicity for the film in the form of a suite made for concert purposes. This was first performed, with Bliss conducting, at a Henry Wood Promenade Concert in Queen's Hall on 12 September 1935. The film's title was then still uncertain. Whither Mankind? was one being considered, One Hundred Years Ahead another. So the suite was simply called Suite from Film Music, 1935. It consisted then of seven movements:

1. Prelude

2. Ballet for Children

3. Idyll

4. March

5. Melodrama I - Attack

6. Melodrama II - Desolation

7. Finale

A note by Bliss explained that the suite 'deals almost entirely with the scenes during and following the future World War, and only Nos. 3 and 7 refer to the final sections of the film. After the Prelude, which accompanies "shots" showing the menace of unrest and war, the scene shifts to a children's nursery . . . Nos. 4 and 5 deal with the mobilisation for war, and a night bombing attack. No. 6 accompanies scenes showing the world in ruins. No. 3 is an idyll of pastoral peace in the reconstructed era, and No. 7 states the theme of Reconstruction itself, on which the last scenes are based.'

When Sargent programmed a performance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for 4 January 1936 it was still known as a 'Suite from Film Music 1935'. On 14 May 1936 Bliss, writing to Julian Herbage, one the BBC programme planners, about a forthcoming broadcast on 12 June, stressed that Things to Come was 'always to be played in the following order (slightly different to the last Proms):

1. Prelude

2. Ballet for Children

3. Melodrama - Pestilence

4. Melodrama - Attack!

5. Melodrama - World in Ruins

6. Theme of reconstruction

7. March.'

Unfortunately, the autograph film score has not survived. All that has survived are those sections as published in the rather different 1946 Suite from which the Prelude (or Prologue), The World in Ruins, The Building of the New World, and the Idyll are missing. As will be seen, the last-named section raises further questions.

The film Things to Come had its world première in London at the Leicester Square Theatre on 21 February 1936. Although financially it was not a box-office success, it was generally received with great acclaim. The Daily Telegraph critic, writing of its 'sheer immensity and daring', found only 'minor faults in a masterly production':

Memorable, unforgettable, though it is, 'Things to Come' is inevitably not without its flaws. The dialogue is a trifle literary, relying too much on direct statement instead of the implications of ordinary speech; and the characterisation in places is oddly flat. Ralph Richardson, as the Boss, shouts too much on the same key - after all, Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini, whatever their other qualities, are both marvellous mob orators.

The Times review on 21 February made no mention of Bliss, but a later review in the same paper was more critical, particularly of the sound quality of the music track:

One hoped that at last a director of a big commercial film was going to allow music to contribute its legitimate share to the sum total of our entertainment. In this respect Things to Come is yet another disappointment. It is the greater pity, because this film happens to provide exceptional opportunities for music to deploy itself at reasonable length.

As we know from the concert performance, Mr. Arthur Bliss has not failed to make good use of his opportunity, but another power has intervened to nullify his work. For the sound in this film is so grossly over-amplified that the music becomes mere noise. In the war scenes it is admittedly a terrifying noise, heightening to an almost unbearable degree the emotions aroused by the spectacle of horror and destruction. But there was no point in engaging a distinguished composer to write special music. Anything would have done, thus amplified so that it is impossible to detect what instruments originated this uniform, brazen din. . . We still have hopes, based upon the experience of less ambitious productions, that music may yet take its legitimate place in the cinema; it remains for the musicians to stake out a claim for their art as something more than one among many forms of sound effects.'

The first showing of Things to Come in America was a private screening in Washington in April to an 'audience of diplomatists [sic] (including the British Ambassador and Lady Lindsay), members of the Cabinet, senators, representatives and journalists.' Wells spoke by a Transatlantic telephone 'of the aims of the film. He said it was a serious attempt to answer the question of the world's future. They were not alone in trying to answer that riddle, but they had tried to show what they considered were its possibilities. He thought the wild storm of war was probable throughout the world, but not inevitable; he also thought that America could not keep out of such a storm. The film was an experiment. Its producers did not profess to show the world as it would be but merely as they thought it was likely to be.'

Bliss remembered his experience of working on the film as 'six months of adventure'. In a broadcast talk he spoke of Wells as a man of tireless curiosity.

For him, as for me, it was a plunge into a new world, and he was always interested in the new. He was constantly in the studios, suggesting, criticising, stimulating all and sundry. Although he knew next to nothing about musical technique, he had a genius for putting his finger on a weal spot, for pointing out a slack thought.

On its initial showing Things to Come had a running time of about 110 minutes. The version seen today, as issued on video and shown on television, is about 20 minutes shorter. The opening credits list one or two minor characters not to be seen in the cut version. The most substantial cut is of the scene involving Oswald Cabal's ex-wife Rowena, played as credited, like her descendant Roxena, by Margaretta Scott who can vouch for that scene having been shot. Her costume for that role had been an elaborate one designed by the Marchioness of Queensberry. On seeing it, however, Korda rejected it, plucking instead a simple costume from one of the extras. Perhaps the Idyll accompanied Rowena's scene or another episode set in the future Everytown that was cut either before or after the film's release. Almost right up to the moment of the film's release changes and cuts were being made: Lionel Salter remembered it as being a 'shambles'. The full facts may never be known.

* * *

The history of the recordings of music from Things to Come is in itself quite a story. For a while, with the long-deleted Bliss and Mathieson 78s (Decca K810-811 & K817) becoming collectors' items, Bliss's own 1957 recording of the Suite (RCA SB2026; SDD255; CD re-issue Dutton CDLXT2501) was all that was available. It was not until that indefatigable film enthusiast Christopher Palmer started to recreate some of the other sections of the film score did more of the music appear on record. Bernard Herrmann's rather ponderous readings of five movements in Decca's Phase 4 sound (PFS4363; CD release 421 261-2DA), released in 1976, included the Prelude, The Building of the New World and the Attack on the Moon Gun. The following year Sir Charles Groves' much fuller compilation for EMI (ASD3416) added The World in Ruins and two movements from the published suite that Herrmann had omitted. In his sleeve-note, Palmer explained how he had orchestrated the Prelude/Prologue himself from a printed piano arrangement, using the film soundtrack as a guide. The Building of the New World was extracted from Checkmate, the Attack on the Moon Gun was fortunately discovered in manuscript among Bliss's papers, and he completely reconstructed The World in Ruins from the soundtrack alone. He also rescored the last few bars of the Epilogue to conform more closely with the film version (though without any chorus).

Both Dutton (CDLXT2501) and Symposium (Symposium 1203) have issued on CD those of Bliss's 1935 recordings that had been commercially released on Decca 78s, Symposium adding the March and Epilogue under Mathieson's direction. Following the discovery of more acetates from those 1935 sessions, all the extant movements, seven in number lasting about 25 minutes, were released last year by Pearl in the second volume of their British Film Music series (GEM0101). This added the Prologue (Prelude), March and Reconstruction (this last movement, here named Epilogue, occupying two acetate sides). In 1995 Christopher Lyndon-Gee and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra recorded for Naxos a five-movement suite, mainly of Palmer's reconstructions (8.553698), lasting just over 11 minutes. A far more extensive 16 minutes' suite has been assembled by John Mauceri, conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (Philips 446 403-2 - nla). This attempts very successfully to simulate the soundtrack by starting - as the film does - with the chimes of Big Ben and including the carols sung. Sound effects of explosions, aircraft, machinery and the lift-off of the moon rocket all add atmosphere. Most skilfully edited and abridged by Mauceri, in one continuous suite it goes from the Prelude (called Main Title), to portions of the March and Attack (War Montage), The World in Ruins (mistakenly called Pestilence), part of section 11 of the soundtrack that then, unlike the film, leads into a reprise of the March, section 12 (Excavation, Building of the New World and Machines), the Attack on the Moon Gun, and a choral Epilogue.

This new suite on Chandos (CHAN 9896), effectively a definitive version, has been arranged by Philip Lane in whose debt we are for so many film-score reconstructions. At about 32 minutes it is the most extensive, containing almost all the music that appears on the soundtrack. It recreates the sides that Bliss himself recorded in 1935 but until recently had remained unissued, most importantly the uncut Epilogue (again without chorus). The following table shows the order of the movements and their comparative track numbers and timings against Bliss's own version on Pearl. (Track One on the Chandos CD is Welcome the Queen which precedes Things to Come.)

Pearl Chandos
1. Prologue 1 2' 38" 2 2' 27"
2. Ballet for Children 2 3' 28" 3 3' 33"
3. March 3 3' 32" 4 3' 33"
4. Attack 6 2' 46" 5 1' 49" *
5. World in Ruins 4 2' 34" 6 2' 36"
6. Pestilence 5 2' 03" 7 2' 48"
11. Epilogue 7 7' 03" 12 7' 28"

* Gamba takes this much faster than Bliss and the opening section is not repeated. (For some reason the Pearl playing times are about 6 seconds shorter than indicated on the CD cover).


The remaining Chandos items are as follows, with their equivalent on the soundtrack. (The soundtrack numbers relate to the synopsis above.)

Chandos Soundtrack Bliss *
7. Excavation 8 1' 53" 12 1' 52"


8. The Building of the New World 9 2' 15" 12 2' 17"


9. Machines 10 1' 26" 12 1' 18" 1' 27"
10. Attack on the Moon Gun 11 1' 18" 13 1' 40"


* Bliss's only recording of any of these movements, in SDD255 (1957)

Rumon Gamba offers fine performances in splendid sound. Perhaps familiarity has robbed the magnificent March of some of its menace. Both Mathieson's and Bliss's accounts, with that muted trumpet call at the start not too forward, sound more threatening; Gamba is a shade hasty - as some may feel he is in one or two other places, but still exciting. While this new version cannot replace Bliss's performances (especially the 1935 ones with their war-weary sound that adds an extra feel of authenticity) it is an essential complement. The BBC Philharmonic is in excellent form and one of the truly great film scores is at last available, effectively complete.

* * *

Bliss's next film, The Conquest of the Air (1937), was subjected to even more directorial disruption and is in itself a sad story that leaves several unanswered questions. The music, butchered on the soundtrack, would not have survived had not Bliss made a concert suite (available on Silva Screen FILMCD713, with Kenneth Alwyn conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra).

The next film project brought Bliss into contact with another giant of the cinema and another lion of the literary world. On 6 June 1944 he signed a contract to provide music for an elaborate screen treatment of George Bernard Shaw's stage play Caesar and Cleopatra. Its director was Gabriel Pascal, another Hungarian who, like Korda, worked on a large canvas. Pascal had already made films of Shaw's Pygmalion in 1938 for which Honegger provided the score and Major Barbara in 1940 to a score by Walton. The invitation for Bliss to provide the music score came from Shaw himself who, in his other role as a former music critic, offered him serious advice before the contract was signed. First, he strongly advised Bliss to retain the copyright of his film score and make an orchestral suite from it:

Be careful not to let yourself be placed in the position of an employee of Pascal or of the film company, as anything you compose for them in that capacity will belong to them and not to you. If I were a composer writing for a film I should make a skeleton piano score of an orchestral suite consisting of overture, nocturne, barcarole, intermezzo and finale. I should copyright this in my own name in England and America. Then, being in an impregnable position as sole owner of the music, I should license the film people to use the material as an accompaniment to their film for a stated period on stated terms, giving them no rights whatever. . . Remember that an orchestral suite by you will long survive Pascal's film and become a standard concert piece quite independently of my play, like Grieg's Peer Gynt. Let no parasite fasten on it.

Following Shaw's advice, Bliss started work on a score, sketching out music for designated scenes, such as 'Memphis at Night', 'Ftatateeta', 'Soldiers' Chorus' and 'Barcarolle'. And although Shaw had pleaded 'In Heaven's name, no Egyptian music', the instrumentation did call for a buccina, a Roman wind instrument. However, the project progressed no further after Bliss had met Pascal. He later recalled: 'I have had unforgettable experiences with one director who, where music was concerned, was a certified lunatic, and I had to discontinue collaboration.' As he explained in his autobiography, 'One look at him made it self-evident that he would never be a sympathetic collaborator, and I withdrew from the assignment.' Georges Auric eventually provided the music for the film which was released in December 1945.

Fortunately, what Bliss had written before abandoning the project was fairly extensive: 100 numbered pages of score, some blank and some missing, totalling about 80 either fully scored or in shorthand. A suite, edited by Giles Easterbrook and Malcolm Binney and consisting of eight short movements lasting 17 minutes, receives its première recording on this Chandos release. It opens with an Overture, a martial allegro in Bliss's recognisable ceremonial style. This is followed by The Sea, a most effective piece of scene and mood painting, with predominantly woodwind above divided strings and harp arpeggios, perhaps representing calm waters at night. Next come three short Dance Interludes written for the Banquet Scene, the middle one a lively allegro ending fortissimo, and the last a waltz of some charm. A relaxed Barcarolle is followed by further mood painting in Memphis at Night. The final section, a vigorous allegro that could almost have come out of Checkmate, also saw service in a Ministry of Information film, Présence au combat, an Anglo-French production released in 1946. With its quiet ending one feels that a reprise of a snatch of the Overture would perhaps have made a more fitting ending to the Suite. This is not major Bliss, not even to be frank important Bliss, but one is nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to hear it.

* * *

For the sake of completion Bliss's other major films should be briefly mentioned here. He had a much happier involvement with the next film, Men of Two Worlds (1945). In sharp contrast with Pascal, Bliss found its director Thorold Dickinson 'a man of imagination, sensitive to music, and serious in aim.' This was followed in 1949 by Christopher Columbus, and in 1953 his version of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera was brought to the screen with Laurence Olivier in the leading role and Peter Brook directing, a spectacle probably designed to match the mood of Coronation Year.

The most obscure of his feature films has been Seven Waves Away (known in America as Abandon Ship), released in 1957. Rarely (if ever) shown on television here, it has been available on video in the U.S. Fortunately, extracts from this film and also from Christopher Columbus and Men of Two Worlds are available on a Marco Polo CD (8.223315).

* * *

One other notable piece written for the films was his march Welcome the Queen, very much in the Elgarian-Waltonian mould, composed for a 1954 Associated British Pathé film that commemorated the return of Queen Elizabeth II from a Commonwealth tour. The remainder of the music for the 50 minutes travelogue was written by Malcolm Arnold; Muir Mathieson conducted. Bliss twice recorded this march himself, and Rumon Gamba gives an excellent account to open this new Chandos CD, capturing well the swagger and the ceremony of a fine march that ought to be heard more often.

This CD also includes music written for the small screen: a five-movement suite for the joint BBC/ITV 1966 documentary The Royal Palaces of Britain that was narrated by Kenneth Clark. Half Bliss, half pastiche, this is the sort of music that he executed with such efficiency and professionalism: waltz measures for The Ballroom in Buckingham Palace, heraldic trumpet and horn calls for the Jousts of the Knights in Armour, a grand ceremonial tune for The Royal Palaces theme with which the Suite ends. This is not to down-grade the music for it transcends its original purpose. It is often heard in its wind-band version (and has been recorded as such), but here we have the première recording of the full orchestral score and most welcome it is too.

The CD concludes with the theme or title music for the 1954 BBC television documentary series War in the Air, a short stirring piece as the titles roll, its opening fanfare (no doubt unintentionally) bearing some similarity to the beginning of Walton's 'Spitfire' Prelude and Fugue that must have been in the air at the time. Not a piece of great substance but a very suitable way in which to conclude a marvellous disc of Bliss's film music.

* * *

Bliss's contribution to the cinema has been a significant if uneven one. None of his later film scores quite matched the excitement and range of Things to Come, and while The Conquest of the Air has left an effective suite, only Men of Two Worlds provided him with a challenge to produce the best within him. Even he was frank enough to suggest that there were 'at least two films where the pull was distinctly a financial one. So I suppose a graph would show a downward slope: enthusiasm and curiosity for the new thing - admiration for a particular picture - greed'. Recognising what he called 'the healthy competition' from sound effects technicians, he never doubted the role of the serious composer in films:

I do not seriously think we are in danger, as pure musical sound will always have a wide importance on the films. It is powerfully expressive. It can bring nostalgia to a landscape, drama to any hour of day or night; it can express undercurrents of human emotion, when the actors involved show little of it outwardly. It can suggest what is going to happen, it can recall what has happened; most important of all, perhaps, it can make what has turned dead and dull in a picture come alive and exciting. . . The music should do its work so smoothly and perfectly that it is only when you see the same picture run through in the studio without it, that you realise its irreplaceable importance.

Stephen Lloyd

See also review by Gary Dalkin

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