Music Webmaster Len Mullenger: Len@musicweb.force9.co.uk
Christopher Palmer by David Wishart
David Wishart's writing below originally appeared on the Film Music Internet discussion group, Filmus-L. I add it here, with his permission, because I endorse everything David says. All film music - and British Music enthusiasts owe a great debt to the unceasing hard work and dedication of the late Christopher Palmer. I knew him only slightly - I talked with him a few times by telephone. I was always impressed with his enthusiastic support of my ideas and projects. Towards the end of his life, it was planned that I interview him for the British Music Society Journal, but he had to decline when he became too ill. He never complained and it came as a complete shock to me when I read of his untimely death. One of the last things he said to a friend was "don't take on too much." - advice he just could not take himself to the detriment of his health but to our considerable benefit. I had the honour to write an obituary notice for him for British Music Society News. I think it is also appropriate to place David's piece in juxtaposition with the In Memoriam to Charles Gerhardt with whom Chris worked. Chris was also an informed and erudite reviewer (in Gramophone) of Chuck's recordings.
Christopher Palmer (1946-1995) died on 22nd January 1995.
David Wishart Remembers Christopher Palmer
'I feel I must say a few words about my late friend, neighbour and colleague Christopher Palmer. Those who knew him and worked with him would, I think, classify him as a giant. As a person he was formidable ... he was the sort of person who got things done ... who could easily prompt others into doing things they otherwise might not do. In short ... he got rare classical and film music projects into the studio ... something which twenty five years ago was nigh impossible ...and which is still difficult today ... but at the least the trail was blazed by Christopher ... making it all the easier for those of us today who propose such "esoteric" projects.
The high regard currently enjoyed by composers such as Rozsa, Tiomkin, Bernstein, Webb, Jarre, Delius, Alwyn, Arnold, Howells, Walton, Moross ... and Herrmann ... is in no small part due to Chris's campaigning ... even before he got to touch their manuscripts. But more than anything Chris really put film music on the classical and commercial maps. He had the ability to coerce uncommitted top record company executives into financing projects they would never normally have considered. More than that, he was the first to say ... "no score in existance ... well, we won't let that stop us, we'll reconstruct." He opened new doors and offered untold fresh initiatives. In short ... he was the great catalyst as far as getting film music and woefully underrated twentieth century classical works on to a mainstream agenda.
The current commercial trend for film music ... and in particular the massive amount of re-recordings of vintage movie music which now abound ... really stem from Chris Palmer intiatives. Many will not remember when film music was anathema to classical companies and classical sensibilities. Chris blew a lot of those mouldering cobwebs away ... by force of personality. He wrote endless articles ... he campaigned tirelessly ... and he bearded record company executives in their dens. In life some people just sit back and bemoan the sorry state of things ... but others, like Chris, actively change matters by dint of verve and personality. Chris was a guy who accomplished things ... and more than that ... he made other people accomplish things too.
All the composers he worked for .... including Herrmann, Bernstein, Rozsa, Tiomkin and Jarre ... he approached directly ... just laying his cards on the table ... and all those composers immediately trusted his judgement ... particularly striking in the case of Bernard Herrmann. Chris also worked closely with Sir Malcolm Arnold, with Roy Webb, with the Sir William Walton estate, the William Alwyn estate, the Bernard Stevens estate, the Jerome Moross estate, the Franz Waxman estate, the Vaughan Williams estate, the Herbert Howells estate, and the Delius Trust, and with many other composers and composer's estates ... and I believe all trusted him implicitly. This is quite something. And all those composers and composer's estates benefitted from Chris' unstinting efforts on their behalf. You need exemplary talent, mercurial energy and great strength of character to be able to achieve so much good work for so many. Chris Palmer effectively changed the course of musical history; untold languishing musical manuscripts and lost scores found their way into the recording studio or concert hall thanks to Chris.
Chris showed us "the possibilities". I would never have ventured into the recording business if it had not been for him. I worked with him on many projects ... and some of those projects have yet to come to fruition as there are still some suites of rare scores which Chris prepared that have yet to be recorded. His legacy is continuing. Chris was very ill at the end ... but he never stopped working ... and during even the last days he would speak to me via telephone from his hospital bed to consult on the Roy Webb album we were about to put together; he was just about to start writing the booklet notes when he died. I felt an entire era had come to a close.
I write all this because there has been some sniping at Chris' work on Filmus-L of late ... mostly centring around the fact he was apt to "arrange" on occassion rather than merely reconstruct. Well yes, given the chance he would like to exercise a little artistic input of his own ...but this was mostly because he saw himself as basically preparing "concert" versions of scores ... he would hope the pieces he was preparing would not only be recorded as "film music" but would also debut in the concert hall ... and, of course, this was very often the case -and Chris had a particular penchant for devising opening stanzas, building bridging passages and deleting "extraneous" musical material. Personally I think this worked very well most of the time ... although when I came to recording Rozsa's Madame Bovary waltz I did "undo" Chris' more polite concert version to restore the music to something of its original wild grandeur.
But musical manuscripts aside, Christopher Palmer's great legacy is that he put vintage film music on the commercial map. He had the imagination, the daring, the will, and the facility. But above all he was an instigator. Today we all benefit from the intiiatives Chris launched. Moaning that he may have changed a note here or a phrase there hardly seems relevant. More than that ... it seems downright uncharitable.