Cordell's score for the 1966 film Khartoum was originally issued on LP in that year.
The film starred Charlton Heston as General Gordon and Sir Laurence Olivier as
"The Mahdi", with Sir Ralph Richardson as Gladstone. It was not received
well by the critics. As Halliwell puts it, "Dullish history book stuff which
fails to explain Gordon the man but occasionally erupts into glowing action."
I don't know how action can glow but certainly Gordon's complex, charismatic but
erratic character (he was regarded by many in government to be something of a
loose canon and not to be trusted to carry out orders - and as far as this Sudanese
venture was concerned, they were proved right).
One of the highlights of the production, however, was Frank Cordell's vibrant music
that mixes the nobilimente type music of Elgar and Walton with a novel spin on familiar
Arabian stylistic devices. The Overture sets the scene evoking heat and dust and the
eerieness and mirage mysteries of the desert coupled with Elgarian/Waltonian military
swagger. An interesting feature is Leo Genn's authoritative-sounding, scene-setting
narration in the Prelude. 'Hick's Army' sent to eradicate the threat of "The Mahdi"
is music of bewilderment and loss, to underscore the British troops led round and round through
the heat and immensity of the Sudanese desert to their doom. The music sounds their descending
fortunes from optimism to despair as their music is drowned by sinuous figures and wailing
representing their "fuzzy-wuzzy" foe. 'Gordon meets Gladstone' has an air of
restrained heroism. 'Up the Nile' is a glittering watery evocation, and there is a quotation
from Gustav Holst's Beni Mora. This music is very imaginative with its soft tambourine murmurs
and sensual perfumed atmosphere.
'Gordon Enters Khartoum/Gordon Enters the Mahdi's Camp' begins with eerie ghostly figures.
There is a feeling of great emptiness; but also of intrigue and menace. Assertive music for
the meeting with "The Mahdi" is displaced by material of despondency.
The Intermission music has much splendour and swagger and raw parched desert evocation.
The music of the second half of the film is music of battle and conflict sometimes eerie as
in Severed Heads with its plangent timpani and bass drum ostinatos, sometimes foreboding,
sometimes optimistic as the rescuing forces under Wolseley approach (just too late to save
Gordon alas), and ultimately tragic as Gordon is killed.
Gordon's dramatic death conferred great hero status on him. Elgar was moved to consider writing a
symphony on him; and we know that his exploits inspired parts of Elgar's First Symphony.
Elgar also took due notice of Gordon's markings in his copy of Cardinal Newman's
The Dream of Gerontius when he came to set that poem to music. I recognise that Cordell
had to provide a score intelligible to a popular audience, nevertheless it would have been
a nice touch if he could have included a brief reference to either of the two Elgar works
mentioned in this paragraph.
Cordell's Ring of Bright Water music is quite different. Written on a smaller scale, it's intimate,
charming and delightful. The 1969 film starred Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna and the music
appeared on an LP in 1981. The film was about civil servant Graham Merrill (Travers) who upon
purchasing a pet otter, Mij, abandons the tedium of his London existence to settle in a
crofter's cottage on Scotland's west coast where he begins a writing career and allows Mij to roam free.
The title theme introduces the lovely romantic main theme on the harmonica against a rippling watery
background all sunny and sparkling. 'Mij, the playful otter' is playful and quicksilver music played
against a pastoral background complete with birdsong on the woodwinds. The cue also contains some
ravishing material passed back and forth between the woodwinds and the strings. 'Parade of the goslings'
is a tongue-in-cheek evocation played first as a march and then as a waltz for the wee birds, some of
which are not quite so sure on their feet as the cheeky orchestral slides demonstrate. 'The Changing
Seasons' is predominantly sad and wistful, perhaps reflecting on the transience of all things.
'The big aquarium show' is bouncy music of the circus and hurdy-gurdy; high spirited, it reminds one of
the film music of Georges Auric. The suite ends on a note of poignancy and sadness for the 'Deathof Mij'
A very successful coupling of two very different but very atmospheric scores. The refurbished sound is