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Howard Blake is that rarity in the contemporary music scene, a genuinely popular composer. If he has a recent parallel, it is probably Leonard Bernstein, though he is an altogether more ‘natural’, less troubled composer than Bernstein even at his gentlest.
Blake’s reputation rests very squarely on the success of the acclaimed children’s film ‘The Snowman’ and particularly on its haunting theme ‘Walking in the Air’. Since its first performance in 1982 the piece has become a Christmas classic both in its animated form on British television and in its theatrical form as a record-breaking full-length ballet. Its merits are the classical merits par excellence, clearly audible in all Blake’s concert music.
The purity of line and lack of clutter that make ‘Walking in the Air’ so utterly and immediately memorable, is also what animates the Clarinet Concerto and complements his apparent conviction that imaginative composition is still feasible within a constantly renewing harmonic tradition. After an immensely successful period in his 20s at the peak of the London music scene, he retreated to the Sussex countryside to work again at the basic pillars of harmony and counterpoint, slowly refining a technique and language that have little in common with much contemporary academic music. His most obvious (distant) influence is Mozart, but there is also something of his one-time teacher Howard Ferguson's neo-classical idiom and a strong sense of music as a cultural adhesive, rebonding a society fractured by civilisation and its discontents. Recordings of his music grow ever-more numerous and performances and releases take place around the world. Blake is unembarrassed and unhindered by his popularity. It is, as it was with Mozart, simply a response to a spontaneous melodic gift underpinned with considerable technical skill. His most famous work is 'The Snowman' for which in 1982 he wrote the orchestral score and music and lyrics of the song 'Walking in the Air', In 1993 he further created a two-act stage show adaptation which has proved to be the longest-running Christmas show of all time.
(Pamela Collins, The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Composers)
Howard Blake grew up in a musical family in Brighton, attending Downs County Primary School from 1944, in 1950 winning an 11-plus scholarship to Brighton Grammar School where he sang lead soprano parts in Gilbert and Sullivan and won both junior and senior school prizes. From there at 18 he won the Hastings Festival Scholarship to The Royal Academy of Music where he studied piano with Harold Craxton and composition with Howard Ferguson. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy in 1988 and received the OBE for services to music from The Queen in 1994. (For a detailed history of his career go to Biography/Autobiography.)QUOTES
*"It may seem perverse to put the words 'snowman' and 'genius' into the same sentence, but the inspired range of delights in this dance adaptation of Raymond Briggs's book deserves no less an accolade" [Time Out 2015]
*'Howard Blake. whose music for the 1977 film 'The Duellists', the first feature film directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the great modern romantic film scores.' [Royal S. Brown]
* 'Blake’s seemingly endless gift for melody and beauty.' [Jonathan Woolf 2015]
*An English composer with a pronounced lyrical gift, Howard Blake is perhaps best known for his soundtrack to the feature cartoon, "The Snowman," which has a hauntingly beautiful refrain "Walking in the Air" for boy soprano and orchestra. In his 2015 album of works for cello and piano 'Diversions' the music is of a pronounced tonality but without anything in the way of a neo-classical glance at the past. The works hold their own as contemporary music with a pronounced Blakean signature affixed and the music is filled with inventive flourishes that evince a fertile creative mind at work. It is rousingly good music. It is not high modernist but it is thoroughly contemporary. It has a special quality to it that belongs very much to the musical personality of Howard Blake.[Greg Applegate 2015]
* What is almost unheard of is for a composer deliberately to abandon a flourishing career in media-music, in mid-course, in order to devote himself exclusively to his 'own' or 'real' music. Yet this is what Howard Blake has done. What is even more unusual is that far from disowning his alter ego, the kind of musician he was and the kind of music he produced for the first 10 years of his professional life, he has found in them the mainspring of a remarkable personal renaissance. Much of the raw material of his most significant works -the Toccata for Orchestra and the Piano Concerto- derives from this source, but so refined, processed, enhanced, sublimated, as to be scarcely recognisable. The end product has a deceptive simplicity not unlike that of of Mozart. I mention Mozart advisedly since the classical qualities implicit in scores like The Snowman and the Diversions for Cello and Orchestra are on full frontal display. There is a child-like exuberance and spirit of delight...but a shrewd supervisory intelligence plots every move...and never allows the plain, ordinary, even commonplace musical language it speaks ever to to sound plain, ordinary or commonplace.' [Christopher Palmer]
*'...Like William Walton, Howard Blake, William Alwyn and other masterful British composers from the concert world who work or worked occasionally in films, Benjamin left his mark on the British cinema by providing superb scores for some fine movies, but all of Blake's many musical works, both for the screen and elsewhere, are somewhat eclipsed by his score for 'The Snowman'. The contagious six-note phrase in the 'Walking in the Air' theme (and song) is one of those rare pieces of music that needs to be heard only once and it is never forgotten. The hymn-like theme is both reverent and spirited, gleeful and bittersweet......Blake is not embarassed that of his hundreds of works his most beloved music is that for an animated short. How can one not be proud of this twenty-six minutes of pure musical joy?' [The Encyclopaedia of Film Composers 2015]
* 'The Clarinet Concerto in particular shows Blake as a truly great composer.' Christopher Hathaway, KUHF 88.7 - News for Houston. [ Music Library Reviews: Beethoven, Wagner, and Blake], 5/11/2013
*The Piano Music of Howard Blake (Decca) is the first recording Vladimir Ashkenazy has made of music by a living British composer, a remarkable fact in itself, made more so by the choice of composer. Howard Blake belongs to that rare breed of modern composers whose music has 'crossed-over' as the saying has it, to the consciousness of the general public, through the world-wide success of the song Walking in the Air The film was a colossal success, and it must be said that the main ingredient of that was Howard Blake's music...' [Robert Matthew Walker - Musical Opinion 2013 ]
* When Bernard Herrmann's wife Norma was asked if Bernard knew Howard she said: 'Oh yes he loved Howard Blake before everybody loved Howard Blake.' [Running with the kids - Gunther Koegebehn June 2006}
* I would prefer our children to see this film (The Snowman) and listen to this music. The lyrics, the music, this boys voice…come from somewhere magical. Every now and again, man creates something that is worthy of ringing through eternity. [Tin cup website review - Sunday 4th May 2014]
Highbridge Music Ltd was incorporated in 1983 and is a music publishing company which exclusively publishes the works of English composer Howard Blake.
It takes its name from Highbridge Mill near Cuckfield in Sussex, a converted watermill dating from 1810 which was the composer’s home from 1971 to 1981 and a source of inspiration for many of his musical works.
He has written music for more than 50 years and during that time employed various publishers to administer his catalogue. On July 14th 2004 however he gathered in a large part of his catalogue and reorganised Highbridge Music to provide a hands-on service to those who wish to hire or buy his music.
The new 2006 website was created from a comprehensive database of his entire varied output, which amounts to over 650 opus numbers. His works can be browsed by category, viewed as a chronological list or searched using the search box at the top of every page, whilst certain works are available as sheet music for download.
(Howard Blake and Highbridge Music Ltd are members of MCPS-PRS Alliance and MPA)