Manchester, England, who attended the Royal College of Music and the
Westminster Abbey Choir School before embarking on a career in concert,
film and stage music.
In 1927, his
inaugural operatic effort, Rapunzel, was mounted. Sir Malcolm Sargent
conducted his “Dead March” in 1929, in concert with the London
Symphony Orchestra. This was all
before he graduated from the Royal College of Music in 1933.
In 1936, his “Five
Pieces” were performed in Vienna, Austria, and he began composing
movie soundtracks for the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit. Benjamin Britten encouraged him to
write documentary film music for the Crown Film Unit in 1937, which he
continued to do after joining the Royal Artillery, in the midst of war. A few of his first films included Big Money, Ferry Pilot, Health in
Industry, Job in a Million, Kew Gardens, Men in Danger, and Spring Offensive.
In 1938, his “Piano
Concerto” was broadcast on the radio. He was in the military from 1940 to
1942, and then worked with the Public Relations Film Unit in India until
1945. From 1945 to 1946, he served
at the musical director for Information Films of India.
He made the
leap from documentaries to feature films in 1947 after being approached by
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger,
who needed someone to score their latest production, Black Narcissus. In
1948, they used his services again on the ambitious ballet movie, The Red Shoes, which earned the
composer an Oscar for Best Original Music Score.
In the early
1950s, his operas, The Corn King
and The Sleeping Children, were
staged in Paddington and Cheltenham, respectively. He continued scoring films, such as The Elusive Pimpernel, Gone to Earth, The Green Scarf, The
Heart of the Matter, Miracle in Soho, Outcast
of the Islands, Peeping Tom,
and Pursuit of the Graf Spee.
He was one of
a handful of composers asked to write original music for the consecration
of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962, and responded with “Missa Coventrensis”, a
work for chorus and organ.
In 1963, he
reworked his music from The Red Shoes
into a four-movement suite, making it accessible for the concert hall or
the recording studio. He
retired shortly thereafter and did not resurface until 1978, when he
returned to documentary work on Michael Powell’s Return to the Edge of the World.
He won the Ivor Novello Award in 1994
and passed away in 1995, after a brief illness.
years, The Red Shoes has enjoyed something
of a revival on Blu-ray and DVD, complete with
commentary by the late composer on his most famous score.
The Red Shoes Ballet (Brian Easdale)
Conductor – Kenneth Alwyn