The Wilfred Josephs Society

President: Sir Charles Mackerras CBE
Chairman: Matthew Eve


KNOWING WILFRED JOSEPHS by Matthew Eve

Looking back headlong into my cloudy but not-too-distant past, I wouldn't really be far off the mark in stating that I have known Wilfred Josephs's music for much of my earthly existence. This boast however, is one that I am sure many young people of my generation could equally claim true, whether they realise it or not. Like many others of the 'television generation', rich early childhood memories inevitably flood back when I hear a familiar television or film score from my formative years. Yet many tunes strangely fade into the shadows, only to return fleetingly at odd moments in one's life. Without a doubt the television and film themes that still provoke the strongest nostalgic mental images in my life (and which, to this day, I can still hum) are those composed by Wilfred Josephs. For example, when I now hear a few bars of his music for the film Swallows and Amazons, or the television series Gammon and Spinach I am instantly taken back years. And the same is true, perhaps doubly so, of Wilfred's spine-tingling music for the BBC television series I Claudius, (still to this day one of the best and most original television scores) for which, I remember, I had to gain my parent's permission to watch!

Nostalgia aside, it was around the mid 1980s that I remember noticing Wilfred's name credited for the theme and incidental music that accompanied the television series Drummonds, and also Return of the Antelope. Interest aroused, I followed this with some fervid research which revealed a composer of astonishing musical breadth and prolificity, and whose commercial work I had known and enjoyed for many years. Locating Wilfred's address in the 1988 copy of Who's Who I duly wrote and posted a fairly uninteresting 'fan' letter. A week or two later, a large package arrived memorably on the day of my fourteenth birthday, enclosing a letter, a signed photograph, two catalogues of his compositions and, best of all, a cassette of his film and television music. Wilfred's hand-written response was as always generous and kind, answering all my questions, adding further points and modestly ending."Hope all this is acceptable to you: I do appreciate your writing to me!!" Another letter followed with more queries, to which Wilfred honestly replied:

"....a) 'I, Claudius' took several days to write and more to orchestrate. The idea for 'Antelope' I got at 4.00 in the morning and wrote it down then
.... b) Life is one long funny story!! As you'll find out!
....c) I only conduct if I really have to."

(The latter comment was reiterated by Wilfred years later when he recalled a recording session with Neville Marriner, who was playing a big violin solo with his head bent downwards. Wilfred stopped conducting and enquired why the violinist was not looking towards his baton. Marriner replied that Wilfred's foot was a much more reliable tempo guide than his baton beat!) Following this lengthy letter, a sporadic phase of communication developed between us until the early part of 1991.

Underneath Wilfred's usual salutation in his 1990 Christmas card, a missive informed me that he was finishing the orchestration of Cyrano de Bergerac, commissioned by David Bintley for the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden. A card followed a month later detailing the time and date of the World Premiere with a suggestion from the composer that we meet before the performance in the foyer of the Royal Opera House. (A back-up plan was also grafted with a note of seat numbers in case we missed each other!) May arrived and I recall seeing Wilfred and David Bintley talking animatedly about the conception, collaboration and development of Cyrano in an early morning Channel 4 programme. A few days later in London before Cyrano's première I nervously waited to meet the composer, with only a vagne, sketchy impression of his countenance and general demeanour. Inevitably, I suppose, we missed each other! The ballet nonetheless was superb, and a note of congratulations was forwarded to Wilfred's new flat in Camden Town. A letter quickly ensued:

"I'm so sorry we missed each other at the Ballet - especially as you're my No. 1 fan!! My note to you telling you my seat no. must have reached you too late, following your letter to me.

Perhaps you'll come and have a cup of tea when you're going to be in town? Just ring (ahead of time) so we can arrange it. Glad you enjoyed Cyrano!"

Our first meeting occurred on a warm Summer day two months later. Tea was poured from an 'Alice in Wonderland' pot overlooking the Grand Union Canal and the conversation flowed amiably, covering literature, art, composers and films. It would be no exaggeration if I said that we instantly clicked, finding each other good and amusing company. Other meetings were arranged and we soon became firm friends. Concerts have also naturally brought us together; forays down to Devon for performances of the Clarinet Quintet and Symphony No.11, where I first met Martin Ellerby; to Cardiff for the premiere of William and the Bomb narrated by Martin Jarvis; and to Durham Cathedral for Wilfred's Mass for St Cuthbert of Durham, each rank as significant and highly enjoyable periods in my life. Perhaps I should also be grateful that fate played a hand when we failed to recognise one another at the Royal Opera House; after all, we might never have had that all-important introductory cup of tea!


This note first appeared in the 70th Birthday Concert Programme, September 7th 1997


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