Oliver Twist

this is # 18 in the ongoing Saturday Soundtrack series

Film music from the Motion Picture Oliver Twist, Composed by Sir Arnold Bax, total time: 73:06, with 34 tracks (cues)

This is wonderful music, one of my favorites of Chandos’ film music discs.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, we come to a natural break in the musical output of the composer Sir Arnold Bax. Bax was then almost fifty-six and was feeling he should retire.

By this time Bax had written the majority of his most celebrated works, including tone poems such as Tintagel and The Garden of Fand, seven symphonies, his concertos and choral music, chamber music and the piano music and it was some time before he was tempted to compose again.

January 1940 he stayed at the Station Hotel at Inverness-shire, where he set started writing his autobiography, Farewell, My Youth, which was published in 1943.

But in 1948 Sir Arnold Bax was asked to compose the score for David Lean’s celebrated film Oliver Twist.  Bax didn’t much care for the book, and he had some trouble writing the music, though he did so on schedule and upon hearing we can gauge his effort quite successful.

With the music he had a notable success and produced a score that for a while was one of his most frequently heard. With its solo piano part, written as a vehicle for Harriet Cohen, and 78rpm records available almost immediately, it was often played.

Bax’s Oliver Twist was, over the years, known from two sources; the soundtrack of the film, from which the best known numbers were issued on two 78s featuring Harriet Cohen, and the so-called ‘Suite’ which was extracted by Muir Mathieson, the conductor on the film, for concert performance, and which has been the source for public performances, broadcasts and recordings during the more than fifty years since the film first appeared. During that time an incomplete manuscript in Bax’s hand appeared at Sotheby’s. Formerly the property of Bax’s son, it was bought by Oliver Neighbour, who placed it on loan with the British Library.

More recently a copyist’s score of selected movements was found thrown out in a skip in Brighton. It turned out to be another suite which had been extracted from Bax’s score by the conductor Stanford Robinson and includes music that would otherwise have been lost: it too is now in the British Library.

When Chandos announced their intention of making this recording, the Bax Trust commissioned Graham Parlett to investigate all the sources and bring together a complete score. To do this he also had an incomplete set of parts used for the original soundtrack recording, from which a few bars have been taken, though they are not in the extant full scores. Inevitably, as in so many film music projects, Graham Parlett has also referred to both the soundtrack and the set of 78s to reconstruct two passages from each.

Thus here we have just over an hour of music, in 30 cues, giving the best possible version of the music. As always, Chandos has done a fine job of recording,  with Rumon Gamba leading the BBC Philharmonic. The music is inventive, at times humorous and always evocative of the story it supports.

The disc also contains 12 minutes of the music from the short film Malta, GC comprising the second movement of the suite from that film, all there was room for on this73:06 CD. Another fine job by the Chandos Movies label.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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5 Responses to Oliver Twist

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    I still don’t hear the music in movies. I can only concentrate on story. But at home, on the CD player, I can enjoy it.

  2. I just ordered this CD after reading your review, Rick. Can’t wait to listen to it!

  3. Richard says:

    I think you’ll like it George!

  4. Richard says:

    It’s good that you can enjoy some film music outside of the theater, Patti. I still believe that it is the “classical music” of our times, and well worth buying on CD for listening on stereo. iPod, computer, etc.

  5. MrRiCE says:

    Just a suggestion, you have to express more your opinion to attract more readers, because just plain text without any personal approach is not that valuable. But it is just from my point of view.

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