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The outstanding South African soprano Pretty Yende tells in The Times of April 10th 2018 'that the turning point of her life was seeing a TV advert for British Airways, aka Delibes's Flower Duet from Lakme, 'It's fair to say that it changed Yende's life.'
This ad was a recording which I arranged and conducted with two 'early' sopranos, Elaine Barry and Judith Pearce on March 31, 1984 at CTS Studios Wembley, London.
Lakme and British Airways. www.howardblake.com/biography/autobiography/british airways
In 1982 the film director Tony Scott invited me to be musical director for his feature film 'The Hunger', starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. He'd had the interesting idea of constructing most of the score from existing classical music, carefully chosen to fit each scene, which I was given the job of finding.
Tony wanted music for a scene played between Deneuve and Sarandon in a set like an Egyptian temple. The script suggested to me the soprano duet from Lakme called 'Viens O Mallika' and I found an old Fifties recording of it. Tony liked it but didn't like the ancient recording and the 'wobbly' sopranos (ie using heavy vibrato). I suggested using two 'early-music' sopranos, Elaine Barry and Judith Pearce (without vibrato) whom I conducted several days later with my orchestra The Sinfonia of London. Tony loved it and two years later he rang me again:
'I've shot a commercial for British Airways with the shadow of a 747 ascending the Empire State Building. Do you think you could get that opera piece we did to fit it?' I arranged a special version of 'Viens, Mallika' from 'Lakme' and recorded it with Elaine Barry and Judith Pearce with my orchestra for a second time. British Airways loved it and decided to use it as their global signature-tune, something that still happens many years later and quite possibly makes this theme the most long-running piece of ad music in history. This would have been the recording which inspired Pretty Yende to sing. I am so proud to know of this wonderful result and wish Miss Yende all the greatest success and happiness.
All sheet music for "The Snowman" and "Walking In The Air" since 2010 is published and available from Chester Music Ltd, part of The Music Sales Group, www.chesternovello.com It can be purchased online from MusicRoom.com, or from music retailers.
"Walking In The Air" is also available in a concert piano-only version arranged by the composer direct from Highbridge Music as part of the collection of piano pieces called "Lifecycle", available form Amazon or from Highbridge Music; enquiries to email@example.com
Howard Blake describes 25 years of The Snowman animated film and 10 years of The Snowman Stage Show at Sadler's Wells Peacock Theatre in London's West End and plays "Walking in the Air". View the recording here.
The classic original Columbia album conducted by Howard Blake with treble soloist Peter Auty and narration by Bernard Cribbins is available from Sony Music Entertainment CDX71116CD, Amazon and retailers.
The 2010 DVD film of The Snowman Live Stage Show narrated by Joanna Lumley is available from Sony Music Entertainment, CDR 81267; also from Amazon and retailers.
Programme-note for 'Snowman Rhapsody'
In 2006 Robert Matthew Walker, music critic and editor of Musical Opinion attended a performance of the 2-act stage show 'The Snowman' at The Peacock Theatre and wrote: 'Howard Blake's ballet "The Snowman" is now such a part of the Christmas Season in London that it deserves to be produced again and again well into the 22nd century. It is one of those rare theatrical pieces that appeals and impresses theatregoers of all ages. Musically, the score is a masterpiece. I do not use the word lightly. Howard Blake's world famous song 'Walking in the Air', with which Aled Jones had such a success, is used as a basis for a virtually continuous set of symphonic variations; a subtle and fully-wrought score which entrances the ears of all who are brought into the magical world it conjures up'. Both the original animated film and the later-created ballet were of course originally scored for orchestra, but the composer is also a pianist and over the years has often played excerpts on piano, the most notable being that of the song 'Walking in the Air' which in 2013 was recorded by no less a colleague than Vladimir Ashkenazy. The success of this prompted Blake to pursue the concept further, assembling all those sections of the Snowman music which he felt might lend themselves to piano transcription and gradually creating an immense concert work for solo piano lasting about 43 minutes. Although continuous the work contains many different sections the names of which are printed in the programme. It is thought that perhaps an addition to the work's entertainment may well be derived from the guesswork of trying to identify the sections by the different styles and emotions conveyed by their music.
COBLENZ INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL PRESENT A PROGRAMME OF MUSIC BY HOWARD BLAKE TO CELEBRATE HIS 80th YEAR. Der Alten Kirche, Spay, Coblenz, September 9th., 2018 at 17.00 pm
Xin Wang (solo pianist), Wolfgang Schroeder (violin), Rosalind Ventris (viola), Benedict Kloeckner (cello), Howard Blake (composer and pianist).
1. SPEECH AFTER LONG SILENCE for solo piano, a piece commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenazy for the Hong Kong International Piano Competition 2011 (Opus 610)
Unlike most new works, whose fate is to be played on multiple occasions ad nauseam at a competition and then shelved for eternity thereafter, this one promises to be heard rather often. Blake’s partiality for tonality and emotional connection (unsurprising for the composer of the children’s favourite The Snowman) makes this a most accessible work. At about 8 minutes, its Romantic gestures replete with lush harmonies and crashing chords resemble an updated and extended version of one of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-tableaux Chang Tou Lang,
2. ‘DIVERSIONS FOR CELLO AND PIANO’, the work that in 2010 won Benedict Kloeckner the European Broadcasting Union first prize (Opus 337A)
1: Prelude (moderato) 2: Scherzo (vivace) 3: March (tempo di marcia) 4: Waltz (vivo) 5: Aria (andante espressivo) 6: Serenade (allegretto) 7: Sarabande (lento non troppo) 8: Finale (vivo) minutes 27 seconds
‘Diversions’ was originally conceived as a suite for cello and piano as far back as 1973. In 1984 the great French cellist Maurice Gendron encouraged the composer to rework the piece for cello and orchestra, and he himself edited the cello part. The first performance of the work in this orchestral form was given by Steven Isserlis and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves at The Fairfield Halls Croydon on 29th March 1989. This transcription for cello and piano was made by the composer at about the same time
The work pays mischievous homage to instrumental suites of the past. The Scherzo is not quite a scherzo, the March more than a march. The Waltz has a wrong-stepping jazz tinge to it, the Aria a sudden profundity. The Serenade bursts into arrogant display, the guitar-like Sarabande becomes an eloquent cadenza. We are led back to the theme of the Prelude via a Finale of such bristling virtuosic energy that its simple melodic line assumes a far more complex character – having been well and truly ‘diverted’.
'Diversions' is also the name of an album of music by Howard Blake for cello and piano played by Benedict Kloeckner and the composer, released in 2015 by the Leipzig label Genuin. ’Benedict Kloeckner plays the cello music of Howard Blake, with the composer himself accompanying - unfailingly attractive and often tremendous fun for both performers and lsiteners., THE STRAD, 2/2018
Der englische Komponist Howard Blake ist eine lebende Legende: Soundtracks wie „Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone“ oder der mit dem Academy Award nominierten „Schneemann“. Dass einen solch ein Musiker zum Musizieren einlädt, ist wahrscheinlichsehr selten. Dass er dann aber auch noch ein neues Werk zur Ersteinspielung aufs Pult legt, mag an ein Wunder grenzen. Benedict Klöckner aber erweist sich dieser Ehre als absolut würdig: Der Shootingstar der Cello-Szene verschmilzt in der neuen GENUIN-CD mit dem Grandseigneur selbst am Klavier zu einer Einheit: Die ganze Vielfalt des Blake‘schen Oeuvres, seine rhythmischen Finessen und sein Witz leuchten in tausend Farben. Für Kammermusik- und Filmmusik-Fans ein Muss!
3. PIANO TRIO NO. 3 ‘ELEGIA STRAVAGANTE’ (Opus 654) a trio in 7 linked movements, first performed at the Coblenz International Music Festival 2013
Composer's notes: On the afternoon of my birthday I went to sleep for a short while and dreamed up a septuplet 'trill-flourish' motif in C major and an ensuing 'upward-sweeping' melodic fragment of a minor 2nd and major 7th, both of which I immediately wrote down. This was to be the material on which the trio was based.
I was searching for a 6/8 allegro idea and worked at several until I suddenly remembered the 'jazz fugue' from 'Movement for orchestra' which I'd written way back in about 1963. It seemed to fit perfectly and work most effectively for piano trio, forming a perfect link between the Andante (rapsodico) and the next section Tragico.
Tragico begins with the upward-sweeping motif, but now very slow and sad. This forms a bridge and modulation to E-minor where the cello enunciates the theme 'Parting', a fragment I had dreamt up whilst preparing the repertoire for Vladimir Ashkenazy's album of my piano works in June 2013. Here the 'Parting' theme develops greatly, leading quite rapidly and unexpectedly to a colossal climax, then falling down to a paused low chord of C major which begins section 4.
Grave molto espressivo is a deeply-felt cadenza for violin and cello which then starts to accelerate (piu mosso) towards section 5
Cello and violin play in unison at the 16th against a constantly turning piano phrase using the ever-present 'trill-flourish' motif. Martial and tragic hints and twists are now overcome by massive upward scalic movements seeking a major key and suddenly triumphantly asserting that of E major.
Giojoso, ecstatico transforms and inverts the minor 'upward-sweeping' theme into a major 'hymn of triumph' punctuated with huge piano chords. The energy of this is so great however that it must inevitably sink down to regain stability and a hardly-moving harmonic 'thirds duplet' grows gradually quieter and slower until it sinks away to nothing without resolution.
The music of the opening returns but this time in the key to which the piece has ascended - E major, the final bar picking up the 'trill-flourish' motif and giving the whole work a resolution with a very short coda on violin and cello sounding alone - yet perhaps finally together. The piano is wise enough not to interfere
4. PIANO QUARTET (Opus 179)
A dramatic theme A (and in A minor) is presented by unison violin and viola over a pounding rhythm that would be equally at home in rock. A second theme B is equally rhythmic on contrapuntal strings over hammering piano semiquavers but subsides into a lyrical C minor piano version of A against legato strings. This subsides further again into a Theme C (and in C major) announced by the cello. It is spread across the three strings against piano chords gradually dying down to a held F sharp unison. This kicks off the development by taking us back to the first tempo but this time featuring theme B with running semiquavers which build and build until a pedal pulls us back into a full-bodied return of our home theme A on full strings and rocking piano chords.
A very fast tempo allows all instruments to fly through a Scherzo of heavily-syncopated rhythms and riotous escapades. It follows the scherzo form with a trio featuring predominantly piano against pizzicato cello, but they yield to questioning phrases on violin and viola before recapping to the scherzo and a noisy coda.
3. Lento espressivo
The deeply reflective E major slow movement of the Piano Quartet has always been particularly dear to me. I wrote it one beautiful Spring afternoon in 1974 at Highbridge Mill, with sun streaming through the window and total silence. It begins with a major third repeated on the piano acting as a bell-like accompaniment to three statements of a four-note rising phrase, firstly started by violin, secondly by viola and thirdly by cello. The piano weaves intricate patterns around them until the four notes echo again in a diminuendo of violin, viola and cello to a close.
The fourth movement is pure sixties. A jig-like rhythmic theme A is presented in 3-part string canon in several transpositions against vibrant 'rock 'n roll' chording. A second theme B on the dominant is presented on the viola against rising minims. Theme A returns in a piano solo doubling at the 16th but stops abruptly to reveal very quiet slow piano chords. Against them is placed a mysterious theme C which builds to a surprisingly large climax. It does this again in a different key but at the height of the climax this time hurls us back into theme B. Cello begins a strict fugue which is joined by viola, violin and piano building into a powerful stretto which bursts straight back into the 3-part contrapuntal jig of the beginning and a unison accelerando coda.
The opening of the first movement is used as a signature theme by KUSC, the audience-supported classical music radio station of the University of Southern California. Its composer is delighted and honoured by this