Howard Blake


Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians states that ‘Howard Blake has achieved fame as pianist, conductor and composer.’  He grew up in Brighton, at 18 winning a scholarship to The Royal Academy of Music where he studied piano and composition. Over the course of an immensely busy musical career as composer, pianist and conductor he has created over 700 works in many genres and categories. His most famous score is undoubtedly that composed for the animated film 'The Snowman' with its iconic song 'Walking in the Air'. The orchestral concert version of 'The Snowman' is now performed world-wide whilst the stage show, in effect a full-length ballet choreographed by Robert North, has run for twenty years in the West End, courtesy of Sadlers Wells. Concert works include the Piano Concerto commissioned by The Philharmonia for Princess Diana's thirtieth birthday, the Violin Concerto commissioned by the City of Leeds and The English Northern Philharmonia, the Clarinet Concerto for Thea King and the English Chamber Orchestra and large-scale choral/orchestral works such as ‘The Passion of Mary’ and 'Benedictus',which was championed and recorded by Sir David Willcocks and Robert Tear with The Royal Philharmonic. His catalogue of CDs more recently added Sir Neville Marriner conducting his woodwind concertos with The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and an album of his piano music recorded for Decca by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Amongst scores for feature films are 'A Month in the Country' which won him the BFI Anthony Asquith Award for musical excellence, Sir Ridley Scott's  'The Duellists' which won him the critics award at the Cannes Film Festival and his orchestral score for 'Flash Gordon' for which he was jointly nominated for a BAFTA award with the group Queen. In 2010 a performance of Howard's 'Diversions' in Bratislava by the young cellist Benedict Kloeckner won him The European Broadcasting Union Award, which led to further collaborations, more compositions and a complete album of music for cello and piano, with Howard playing the piano himself. It was called 'Diversions'. Howard is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and received the Order of the British Empire from the Queen for services to music.


 

Go to LINKS page for HOWARD BLAKE OFFICIAL YOUTUBE

To DOWNLOAD SHEET MUSIC go to highbridgemusic.co.uk. If necessary adjust your screen size. Place items in the cart from either Featured Products or Sheet Music Downloads. To check out, register for a free account and pay with either a PayPal account or with your credit/debit card on PayPal Guest Checkout. You may see Return to Merchant which is unnecessary. Simply go to your e-mail to find your purchases ready to print. If you have difficulty downloading from our website you can order printed music by post from Howard Blake, Highbridge Music Ltd., Studio 6, 18 Kensington Court Place, London W8 5BJ, or by e-mail: howard@howardblake.com or by phone: 020 7937 1966

For enquiries regarding HIRE of materials for orchestral, choral music and films contact Adam Harvey, Chester Music Ltd., Hire Library, Unit F3, Dettingen Way, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 3TU hire@wisemusic.com 01284 596 004

 

QUOTES

'There is something about the tune 'Walking in the air' that spells something to people about freedom and joy and loss and all the things they would like to regain.'

'The Station' - a most unusual , innovative, stylish and enjoyable work by one of our most talented and accessible Composers (Review on Howard Blake You Tube Official Jan.25, 2020, John Williams)

Blake's inspired work 'Benedictus' for chorus and orchestra filled the second half.The composer himself conducted with calm and restraint; One imaginative idea followed another in this largely penitential but also blazing cantata. The plangent opening viola solo set the pleading tone. Psalm 38 yielded drama galore: urgency in the strings ("Thy arrows pierce me. . ."); the aching central passage, akin to Psalm 22, which yields to growing optimism, harp in attendance, but finally crushed and mournful. The finishing touch of the viola solo was one of genius.' [from a review of St. Albans Cathedral Concert by Roderick Dunnett, Church Times Aug.2019]

'I recommend a  disc from the Genuin label where Benedict Kloeckner plays the cello music of Howard Blake with the composer himself accompanying - unfailingly attractive and often tremendous fun for both performers and listeners.'  [The Strad Feb. 2018]

*An English composer with a pronounced lyrical gift, In his latest 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.[Gapplegate Review USA 20i5]

*Howard Blake joins up with Benedict Kloeckner the rising star of the cello world to present a programme of his own compositions. When Kloeckner won the New Talent Competition of the European Broadcasting Union in 2010 with Blake’s suite ‘Diversions’, the composer presented him with the Cello Sonata and the opportunity of being first to perform it. This led to the two musicians joining up in a close working relationship which has produced a wonderful-sounding album in which the rhythmic finesse of film music and elements of jazz combine to delight the ear. [Das Orchester Germany 2015.]

*"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 UK 2015]      

*'Howard Blake's music for the 1977 film 'The Duellists', the first feature film directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the great modern romantic film scores.' ['Overtones and undertones'- Royal S. Brown USC]

* 'Blake has a seemingly endless gift for melody and beauty.' [Jonathan Woolf UK web review 2015]

*'Like William Walton, William Alwyn and other masterful British composers from the concert world, Blake has left his mark on the British cinema by providing superb scores for some fine movies, but all of his 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 USA 2015]

* 'The Clarinet Concerto in particular shows Blake as a truly great composer.' [Christopher Hathaway,  News for Houston. USA 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' from the film 'The Snowman'. 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 UK  2013 ]

*Unlike most new works, whose fate is to be played on multiple occasions ad nauseam at a competition and then shelved for eternity, Howard Blake's newly- commissoned work 'Speech after long silence' promises to be heard rather often. Blake’s partiality for tonality and emotional connection makes this a most accessible work. Magnificent performances of Blake and Rachmaninov from Giuseppe Andaloro.'
[Chang Tou Lang, Hong Kong 3rd International piano competition 2011]

* I would prefer our children to see this film (The Snowman) and listen to this music. The lyrics, the music and this boy's voice come from somewhere magical. Every now and again, man creates something that is worthy of ringing through eternity. [Tin Cup review USA 2014] 

* What is almost unheard of is for a composer deliberately to abandon a flourishing career in media-music 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, Philharmonia programme-note]

Blake, Howard (David) b. 1938

A highly respected British pianist, conductor and composer for the concert hall, ballet, opera and a dozen feature movies, he is most known to the general public for his radiant score for the animated short The Snowman.

Born in London to a family that loved music - his mother, a violinist and pianist and his father, a tenor in the church choir - Howard Blake grew up in Brighton. Blake sang in operettas, gave piano recitals, and soon began composing original pieces. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music where he studied piano, but he lost interest in composing because he had no interest in the avant garde music that was so prevalent at the time. After graduation Blake performed in pubs and nightclubs, then got work work as an arranger as arranger and pianist for EMI records.  His interest in film began when he got a job as an assistant projectionist at the National Film Theatre in London and became fascinated with movie music. Blake’s first film score was for the Peter Brook short Ride of the Valkyrie (1967) and the next year he wrote music for the popular television series The Avengers. His first feature film assignment was the comedy Some Will, Some Won’t in 1970, but wide recognition did not come until seven years later when he scored Ridley Scott’s first film The Duellists. When Raymond Briggs’ children’s book The Snowman was made into an animated short in 1982, Blake was hired to write the score. Both the film and Blake’s music became internationally famous, the song ‘Walking in the Air’ (lyric also by Blake) becoming a chart record as well. He also scored other film shorts and TV movies in England as well as such American and British feature films as ‘ Flash Gordon’, ‘The Lords of Discipline’, A Month in the Country, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, My Life So Far. Movies have been only a relatively small part of Blake’s prolific music career. In the 1980’s he was very productive writing ballets, concertos, chamber pieces, oratorios, song cycles, operas and various kinds of orchestral works. Blake has had a very eclectic career; winning honours from the British government and famed institutions; scoring movies; writing commissioned works for festivals and special occasions; and even turning out TV commercial jingles. In 1983 he founded Highbridge Music Ltd to publish and handle the performance rights to his over 600 musical works. For some years he was an executive director of the Performing Rights Society and he was co-founder of the Association of Professional Composers in 1979.

Blake’s music for the screen is as eclectic as his career. The period drama 'The Duellists' is set during the Napoleonic Wars and is beautifully filmed: Blake created a sparkling, classical-sounding score that supports the stunning visuals. A string orchestra plays the main theme, a restless and passionate piece in which rising crescendos add to the drama. As the title suggests, the movie includes a series of rapier duels and most of these are presented without music, quite against the Hollywood tradition. Only in the final and climactic duel on horseback does Blake introduce rumbling percussion and worried strings that climb up the scale as in the main theme. Male rivalry takes a different form in The Lords of Discipline set in a Southern US military school in the 1960s. The haunting main theme poses flutes against a distorted bass line as forbidding percussion creates tension. There is also a touch of jazz in the music which keeps it modern. Blake wrote an extensive score for the campy sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon but only a portion of it was used. Instead there are rock songs by Queen and others that are used extensively and Blake’s playful music is secondary. Recordings of the unused score have been released and there is some marvellous music in them, including a witty theme for Emperor Ming (Max von Sydow) that is regal and silly at the same time. The music for the unintentionally funny Amityville 3D is in the expected horror film mode with wordless voices and a pounding tempo. Yet Blake adds some nice touches, such as hesitant strings, piano and oboe that ignore the percussion and merge in a lilting passage. The pre-World War 1 spy thriller The Riddle of the Sands has a stately score that conveys suspense in quiet and subtle ways. The main theme is graceful and rhythmic, conveying the sweeping motion of water. (Much of the movie is set on a yacht at sea). One musical passage rises and falls with the waves in an enticing manner. 

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 contained 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 is never forgotten. The hymn-like theme is both reverent and spirited, gleeful and bittersweet. The brief prologue for The Snowman has the only spoken words in the film and no music; the rest of the twenty-six minutes is a glorious blend of visuals and music. Snow falling is heralded with brass and excited piano chords, the creation of the snowman is a flute-piano piece that captures the boy’s glee, a ride on a motorcycle is scored with a vigorous series of rising and falling strings, and the dance of the snowmen at the North Pole is a sparkling Scottish air. Blake is not embarrassed that, of the hundreds of works, his most beloved music is that composed for an animated short. How can one not be proud of this twenty-six minutes of pure, musical joy? [Thomas S Hischak, Encyclopedia of Film Composers, Roman and Littlefield, 2015]

 


 

PUBLISHING

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 PRS for music, (MCPS-PRS Alliance), PPL and MPA.)



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