August 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Book Review

William Walton –
The Romantic Loner: A centenary Portrait Album  
By Humphrey Burton and Maureen Murray
  Oxford University Press. Hardback. 182 pages. ISBN 0-19-816235-9 £25  

Walton Romantic Loner

Film composer John Williams once told me that William Walton's film music was held in very high esteem in Hollywood. In fact his scores for Hamlet and Henry V were nominated for Academy Awards (both facts shamefully ignored by Halliwell's Film and Video Guide in their crassly brief coverage of his film career). This new picture biography from OUP in their celebrated 'portrait album' series that has included Elgar and Vaughan Williams, includes a full coverage of the composer's achievements in film music. In the main I shall confine my remarks to this genre because my colleague Christopher Fifield has contributed an excellent review of the book on our sister site MusicWeb and I direct admirers of Walton's music, as a whole, to his review via this link

WilliamWalton - Henry V

Walton's life story would have made an interesting screen play in itself. Born in Oldham Lancashire, he left that mill town to enter Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford at ten, and went on to become an Oxford undergraduate. As a young man he became something of a 'cuckoo in the nest' with the bohemian Sitwells and wrote for Edith Sitwell music for her extravagant verses (Façade). His love life was colourful. He had an eye for the ladies. One of his first loves was the daughter of a German prince and widow of a baron much older than herself. At length the affair foundered and caused Walton much pain, pain that he sublimated in his First Symphony. Later, he fell happily in love with Alice, Viscountess Wimborne, beautiful, intelligent, fun-loving and patroness of the arts and married to one of the richest men in Britain. Theirs was what they used to call an 'Edwardian marriage'. She was twenty-two years older than William. Her love inspired his beautiful Violin Concerto. Alas Alice died of cancer in 1948. Then, in Buenos Aires, Walton caught the eye of the British Council's social secretary, a vivacious girl of 22. Immediately he proposed marriage to her and kept on proposing when she refused him. Ultimately, he succeeded and they married in 1949. She became Lady Susana Walton in January 1951 and they settled on the idyllic island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples well away from the British musical establishment.

The book includes stills from many of the films that Walton scored; plus a full list of them commencing with Escape Me Never (there are rare stills from this 1935 film and from Stolen Life and Dreaming Lips, scored in the late 1930s) to his last film – Laurence Olivier's film version of his National Theatre production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1970). Walton had a great admiration and affection for Sir Laurence Olivier; accordingly, the book includes many pictures of the celebrated actor. There is for instance, a photograph from 1942 of Olivier as an officer in the Fleet Air Arm. Another shows him with his wife Vivien Leigh together with William and Susana. The caption reads: "…the Waltons sustained Olivier through his wife's bouts of mental illness." On a page devoted to the making of the film, The Battle of Britain (1969), there is not only a picture of Olivier in the role of Air chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding but also a photograph of the film's producers, S.Benjamin Fisz and Harry Saltman who rejected Walton's score. (Reportedly, Walton had not composed enough music to fill a soundtrack LP and they favoured the more commercial music of Ron Goodwin.). Olivier threatened to remove his name form the film credits unless some of Walton's music was restored.

William Walton - war films

Sir William Walton died on March 5th 1983, just three weeks before his 81st birthday.

For film music fans and lovers of Walton's music in general, this tome is highly recommended – a coffee table format book to be treasured.

Ian Lace


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