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Battle of Britain - Original MGM Soundtrack by Ron Goodwin and Sir William Walton - Ryko/MGM 10747 by Keith Barrett

    Back in the Jan/Feb. "99 WWUH Program Guide I reviewed the Ryko reissues of the United Artists soundtracks for Elmer Gantry and The Misfits. I was quite excited to have these scores available on CD and just ecstatic over the never released additional material that was included on the CD’s. This release, which presents the original 1969 LP also contains some unexpected and incredibly exciting additional material. But first an explanation, for there are really two scores to the film Battle of Britain. Like Bernard Herrmann’s Torn Curtain and Alex North’s 2001, a great composer wrote a fabulous score which was rejected and replaced by the work of another composer. In this case the world renowned William Walton was commissioned to score this movie about the English air force’s defense of Britain. A veteran film score composer of some 13 previous films, including Sir Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, Richard III and Henry V, Walton wrote the score and had it recorded in England with Malcom Arnold conducting and the tapes were sent to Hollywood. Several weeks later, Walton found out through a reporter that Ron Goodwin had been asked to replace his score. When the official word came from UA, the reason for the rejection was because Walton’s score was not long enough to issue on a soundtrack LP. "William had written to the exact length he had been instructed," stated Susana Walton in her 1988 bio of her husband, Behind the Facade. She goes on to tell that Walton could have written more music if asked and that, "for weeks afterward he couldn’t sleep at night; the anguish over his discarded score was devastating." So much for treating a world class artist with respect. And what a lame excuse on the part of UA.
    The program notes for this release meekly recounts that LP excuse. What they fail to state was that someone in Hollywood didn’t like Walton’s score and that Laurence Olivier was furious with the rejection. He threatened to have his name removed from the film if some of Walton’s music wasn’t used. Therefore, the producers retained Walton’s incredible "Battle of Britain" cue, which underscored the most important part of the film, the recreation on screen of the furious air battles over Britain, which helped save island from Nazi invasion. Thus the film and LP have always had a special credit listing Walton’s contribution to the score. The rest of Walton’s music lay unheard until the 1980’s when Colin Matthews constructed a 2 movement suite. This suite can be found on Chandos CD 8870, in an excellent recording by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields. What a revelation to hear the incredible "Grand March" Walton wrote for this film, cut from the same cloth as his "Coronation March."
    To get back to the release at hand and the "incredibly exciting additional material" promised above. The producer of this CD, by shear luck, located the tapes of the original recording sessions!!! Long thought to be lost forever, incredibly they had been saved by the original recording engineer. He kept them in his garage! WOW!! With special care these tapes have been restored for this CD and Walton’s complete score can be heard for the first time. Clocking in at over 20 minutes, containing music not found in the suite, this is a major find. Walton’s score is just extraordinary, powerful, and exciting, with wild sounds, a vivacious scherzo, an alternate take of "Battle in the Air,’ and of course the great "Battle March" mentioned above. The selections feature superb conducting and orchestral performances, with excellent wide spaced stereo sound. (There is some slight distortion in the percussion on several cues which has been minimized by the restorers.) If you love Walton, you’ll love this music.
    Of course this CD also contains Ron Goodwin’s score as actually used in the film. So how does it stand up next to Walton? Well, to paraphrase a certain politician, Goodwin is a good composer, but he’s no William Walton. What UA got out of Goodwin was a more conventional score, with a martial main theme (not to bad),and a real march ("The Ace High March," which is excellent - however the first eight notes of its first theme are used over and over again in subsequent cues), and a real schmaltzy tune for the cue "Work and Play" (which I can’t understand). There is also some effective mood music for the cues, "The Lull Before the Storm," "Civilian Tragedy" and "Offensive Build Up." Taken on its own, the Goodwin score is an enjoyable listen, although somewhat marred by the repetition of that eight note march theme. It just pales, however, in comparison to Walton’s extraordinary music. So, we have a schizophrenic release on our hands. It’s an absolute must have because of Walton’s previously unreleased and rejected score. Its 20 minutes of music are worth the cost of the disc. Consider the reissue of the Goodwin score - with the official take of Walton’s "Battle of the Air" as used in the film - to be a very nice extra. But please for the greatest listening pleasure, listen to them separately! Excellent production by Ryko, with the original cover art, lots of pictures and notes and an extra CD-Rom section with what I believe is the original movie trailer. Tune in on Monday, August 23 as I feature a Walton film score night, with the "Battle of Britain" music and his music to Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare films.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 1999

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