THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN

Battle of Britain movie soundtrack CD liner notes
(from RKYO Deluxe Edition CD)

 

Filmed in England, France and Spain, Battle Of Britain was producers Harry Saltzman and S. Benjamin Fisz's epic $13 million celluloid recounting of the pivotal victory of the Royal Air Force over the German Luftwaffe in the summer skies over England in 1940.

The United Artists (now a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.) production was a superb feat of aerial filmmaking, and a testament to the combined talents of director Guy Hamilton, aerial photographers Johnny Jordan and Skeets Kelly, first assistant director Derek Cracknell and cinematographer Freddie Young, and was Saltzman's biggest undertaking outside of his partnership in the successful James Bond series.

The film featured an all-star cast, a virtual "who's who" of British actors: Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane, Edward Fox, Kenneth More, Susannah York and Christopher Plummer. RAF Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding was portrayed by Laurence Olivier, and it was at Olivier's behest that the producers approached famed British composer Sir William Walton, who had scored Olivier's celebrated film adaptations of Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III, to score the film.

Aside from Olivier's Shakespeare films, Walton had scored many landmark British films, among them The First Of The Few, which told the story of R.J. Mitchell's development of the Spitfire, the plane synonymous with the Battle of Britain. However, Walton's score for the film was considered too short to compile a soundtrack album and Ron Goodwin, who had a solid reputation as one of Britain's leading film composers, was hired to write a new score for the film. Goodwin had long list of successful, pedigreed British films, including the chilling Village Of The Damned, The Trials Of Oscar Wilde, and the wildly infectious theme for the Miss Marple films Murder, She Said and Murder, Ahoy!.

The films that made Goodwin the ideal candidate were the British comedy Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, United Artists' earlier aerial World War II film 633 Squadron and MGM's World War II action film Where Eagles Dare. like Battle Of Britain, Those Magnificent Men featured extended aerial sequences, British stiff-upper-lip heroism and arch German adversaries, and although it was a comedy, Goodwin scored it as an action film. It's in the vein of these films that Goodwin scored Battle Of Britain, with similar thematic elements and orchestrations as found in all of his films, especially the "rat-a-tat-a-tat" punctuation of action.

Walton's "Battle In The Air" was retained in the film and enhances Goodwin's score, providing a classical underlying theme for the final confrontation between the RAF and the Luftwaffe in September 1940.
- Richard Ashton

Sir William Walton's Music for Battle Of Britain

When Sir William Walton was approached to compose the music for Battle Of Britain he was initially circumspect -after all, he had not written a film score since Richard III, some thirteen years previously-and prevailed on his friend and fellow composer Malcolm Arnold to aid him by conducting the recording sessions; but Walton was also painstaking and therefore slow in his work, and inevitably Arnold also assisted with orchestration and indeed in some instances even with actual composition. Certainly, traces of Arnold's own style can be discerned in both the "March Introduction" and the coda of "Battle In The Air." legends have arisen as to why Walton's score was eventually rejected, although its sheer brevity must have been a determining factor. Some prints of the film later had Walton's "Battle Of Britain March" restored for the finale of the film. In the mid-Eighties composer Colin Matthews adapted Walton's manuscript into a two-movement concert suite which was subsequently recorded -but this current album represents the first time on disc for Walton's original and entire score.

Not having access to the movie's original music spotting sheets it is not possible to precisely pinpoint exactly where each of Walton's cues would have been placed, but in possessing each cue's reel and index number and a print of the film it is possible to hazard an approximation of each musical selection's probable position and purpose.

"March Introduction & Battle Of Britain March" - William Walton's brazen March is hardly militaristic - it is imperial - the resolve regal; but here pomp and circumstance are not mere ostentation, but serve to conjure a national heritage of fortitude where together crown and populace have historically countered every foe.

"The Young Siegfrieds" - If British determination is musically delineated then so is the initially arrogant bravura of German pilots, the "Young Siegfrieds." The pride of teutonic manhood is heralded by a Wagnerian horn-call, their theme developed in ebullient mode as they carouse and contemplate victorious Nazi troops routing the British Expeditionary Force who are forced to evacuate from Dunkirk.

"Luftwaffe Victory" - A martial salute to Herman n Goering, nominal head of the Luftwaffe, is soon superseded by sprightly variations on the "Young Siegfrieds" motif as the Luftwaffe claim dominance of the skies essential if Hitler is to proceed with his plan to invade Britain.

"The Few Fight Back" - With an heraldic flourish from Walton, a confident young British pilot optimistically practices a Victory Roll, an indulgence frowned on by RAF hierarchy, but the composer's muse suddenly becomes more agitated, more terse, then reflective, as the formidable task facing the British Airforce becomes evident; only the sleek maneuverability of the Spitfire and the determination and vigilance of its stalwart pilots can ever hope to counter the insuperable Luftwaffe. The RAF crews face intimidating odds of four to one.

"Cat And Mouse" - Small flights of Spitfires dodge then harry and harass the numerically superior but ruefully overconfident German aerial forces. Walton's music artfully suggests stealth and bravado.

"Scherzo 'Gay Berlin"' - Life in Berlin is relaxed,joyous, celebratory. With the war going well and being fought on far-away fronts there is excuse for revelry, with Walton contributing to the roistering via a rollicking gallop; but following the Luftwaffe's first raid on London the Berliners' gaiety is given short shrift as Winston Churchill orders an immediate reciprocal bombing of the German capital.

"Dogfight" - A snarl of bitter brass and abrasive strings beckon increasingly taut renditions of the "Young Siegfrieds" theme as the Luftwaffe duel with the RAF in a frenzied action above the ardacian English countryside.

"Scramble! / Battle In the Air" - Following woeful miscalculations by the Luftwaffe and with the hitherto beleaguered Royal Airforce now joined by crack Polish and Czech squadrons the redoubtable RAF now scramble en masse to take undisputed military control of the skies. Walton initially strikes a sprightly, optimistic tone as an army of Spitfires throttle into action, but the tenor darkens as intent becomes more urgent, and battle is joined; the music becomes headlong -accelerating, darting, scurrying, spurring, rasping-as the pride of the Luftwaffe is systematically destroyed, with the resolute coda identifying a German plane spiraling to destruction.

"Finale: Battle Of Britain March" - Unable to defeat the RAF and dominate the skies Adolf Hitler now abandons his plans to invade Britain. The tides of war have truly turned. The Battle of Britain has been won. William Walton celebrates with a reprise of his gloriously imperial march.
- David Wishart

Restoration Notes
 
After the demise of Anvil Recording studios in Denham it was thought the tapes of the original Battle Of Britain score by William Walton had been lost forever. Fortunately the recording engineer Eric Tomlinson had the foresight to "retain" three back-up reels from those sessions. These were dutifully stored in his garage gathering dust, damp and mould over the years. While working with Eric in 1990 I happened to mention it was sad nothing had been kept from those sessions - when lo and behold he suddenly produced these very worn and aged masters!

Having been approached with a view to restoring these tapes I was able to examine each cue in detail, and while some of the "takes" were in reasonable condition, many suffered from severe distortion, mainly in the left bias, emanating from one of the percussion channels. I was able to select the least affected cues as well as reduce some of the distortion without degrading the original dynamics. As the original recording was "bone dry" I also added a touch of reverberation to lessen the uncomfortably harsh impact of the brass. The music was recorded with a wide stereo image and this has not been altered.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this restoration was being able to compare Walton's original tempo markings against those used in subsequent recordings of Colin Matthews' concert suite of the same music - with Walton's original tempo invariably being much more brisk. Finally, although "Battle In The Air" had been retained for the final print of the film, it would appear the choice of take was between numbers 5 and 6. These certainly might have contained slicker ensemble playing than earlier takes but the initial two takes are breathtaking in their faster speeds and virtuoso playing -so I have opted to utilise take 2 as the basis for this restoration finely demonstrating Walton at the peak of his enduring musical prowess.
- James Fitzpatrick

footnotes to the above:
- Page 97. William Walton: Behind the Facade by Susana Walton; Oxford University Press (1988).
- Sir William Wafton's Film Music Vol l. Chando. CD (CHAN 8220) liner notes by Christopher Palmer.

Rerelease Produced by Ian Gilchrist
Sir William Walton Score Restoration
Produced by James Fitzpatrick
Editing by Gareth Williams, SRT, Cambridge, England
Rerelease Art Direction & Design by Ph.D
Remastered by Dr. Toby Mountain @ NDR
Production Assistance: Lukas Kendall
Thanks to David Wishart for his help in compiling the William Walton score
Special Thanks to the following people:
Christine Bergren, David Bishop, Tom Briggs,
Rodney Davis, Paul Dickman, Tammy Dotson, Robert
Hardenbrook, Dirk Hebert, Sam McCay, Gregor Meyer,
Chris Neel, Beth Pickett, Steve Ricotta, Chris Saito,
Michael Sandoval, Anthony Sciafani,
Denise Stevens, Heather Stevenson, Vidoria Stokdyk,
Traci Swartz, Gary Teetzle, Eric Tomlinson
Ron Goodwin score composed and conducted by Ron Goodwin
Published by EMI Unart Catalog Inc. (BMI)
Sir William Walton Score composed by Sir William Walton OM and conducted by Sir Malcolm Arnold
Recorded at Anvil Studios, Denham, England
Recording Engineer: Eric Tomlinson
Published by OUP (ASCAP)

 

 

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