Saturday, 1 March 2008

William Walton’s Two Pieces for Strings from Henry V

To many people the favourite screen version of this great Shakespearean play is the one starring ‘Larry’ Olivier with Bill Walton’s fine score. However long before discovering Walton or his music, I remember as a child sitting in the lounge with my father watching the Olivier film. I was not impressed and announced this fact to him – in a facetious manner! My father read me a lecture as to what the film meant for the many men who were to ‘roll up’ on the French coast on D-Day (6th June 1944) and the deep debt owed to those who ‘handed in their mugs and blankets’ during those momentous days. My late father, a sapper, was one of the first to struggle up ‘Gold Beach’ on that now far off June morning. I can never hear this music now without moist eyes.
I first came to appreciate the music by way of Christopher Plummer’s moving account on Chandos [CHAN8892]. This had been arranged as a sequence by Christopher Palmer. For me the highlight of this film music is the exquisite Death of Falstaff and the equally moving Touch Her Sweet [‘Soft’ in Craggs Catalogue] Lips and Part. It was originally taken from the film’s score and later arranged for string orchestra with a nod towards performance by amateurs. “Touch her Sweet Lips” has some interesting Waltonian harmonies and the well exploits divisi writing for the strings. It has been said that Walton looked back to Purcell when he wrote the music to accompany the Death of Falstaff. It is a nice conceit.
These two miniatures for strings sum up the depth of thought in this great fusion of English stage and music. They are at once simple yet profound.
Two Pieces

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