Sir William Walton's Dance of Death - A FragmentSaturday, May 29, 2010
My friend Tim Bray has an extremely popular blog ongoing in which he never dates his postings and in some cases compiles several thoughts on his mind in what he calls fragments or Short-form fragments. This idea of his has much merit. In many cases I feel that I cannot write a blog when I do not have an accompanying photograph and I am loathe at downloading someone else’s.
The repeated cool rainy weather has slowed down the first-flush blooming of my roses so while our garden is pristine in its greenness it is skimpy in colour. This has not lessened this week’s melancholy.
The situation was not helped by my finally pointing the TV remote and punching channel 46 (Turner Classics Movies) and watching in its entirety the longish 1969 Guy Hamilton film The Battle of Britain. Like most war films, even the good ones it is full of the clichés including marital discords and gruff leaders with hearts of gold. But this time around I noticed a name in the opening credits. The score of the film was composed by Sir William Walton. I forgot about until almost the end where the sound effects of exploding German bombers and the ack-acks of the machine guns of the Spitfires and the Hurricanes were all silenced and the airplanes magically danced like ballerinas with Walton’s beautiful score. One could almost be forgiven that it was a dance of death. .
Walton was commissioned to write the score for the 1969 film Battle of Britain. The music was orchestrated and conducted by Walton's friend and colleague Malcolm Arnold, who also secretly helped Walton compose several sequences.The music department at United Artists objected that the score was too short. As a result, a further score was commissioned from Ron Goodwin. (Goodwin, when told he would replace a score by William Walton, reportedly replied, "Why?") Producer S. Benjamin Fisz and actor Laurence Olivier protested this decision, and Olivier threatened to take his name from the credits. In the end, one segment of the Walton score, titled The Battle in the Air, which framed the climactic air battles of 15 September 1940, was retained in the final cut. The Walton score was played with no sound effects of aircraft motors or gunfire, giving this sequence a transcendent, lyrical quality.