Masterful Melodies: Exploring William Walton’s Best Movie Music

Composer John Williams’ collaboration with director Stephen Spielberg has produced some of his best film scores. For William Walton, it was a partnership with celebrated British actor and director Laurence Olivier that resulted in some of the composer’s most enduring and iconic works, including soundtracks to four epic film versions of plays by William Shakespeare. Here’s a selection of seven of our favorite themes.

1. As You Like It: Prelude (1936)

As You Like It is a 1936 British film based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name. It was Olivier’s first on screen performance of a Shakespearian work, and it marked the beginning of a collaboration that would see Walton go on to score Henry V, Hamlet, and Richard III for Olivier.

2. Henry V: Touch Her Soft Lips and Part (1944)

Made towards the end of World War II, the stirring tale of English king Henry V‘s victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt was intended to boost the morale on the war-weary home front. Directed by and starring Laurence Olivier and with Renee Asherson as Princess Katherine, this clip features tender theme Touch Her Soft Lips and Part.

3. Richard III: Prelude (1955)

The prelude for this Laurence Olivier collaboration, based on the William Shakespeare play, is full of pomp and pageantry.

4. Escape Me Never: Suite from the Film (1935)

Walton composed some gloriously sweeping and dramatic themes for this 1935 British melodrama about a married composer who has a brief affair with the heiress who is engaged to his brother.

5. Hamlet: Funeral Music (1948)

During his career, Walton’s soundtracks were nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Score. His Henry V score was beaten by Hugo Friedhofer’s The Best Years of Our Lives in 1947. In 1949, Hamlet won a slew of Oscars—including for Best Picture and Best Actor—but Walton’s score was beaten out by The Red Shoes, by Brian Easdale.

6. Battle in the Air, from Battle of Britain

Walton’s grand, bombastic, patriotic theme was initially cut from the 1969 film Battle of Britain, detailing the decisive air battle in which British air forces defeated the German Luftwaffe in the summer and fall of 1940. Director Guy Hamilton had wanted to leave space for the sound of the actual sound of munitions firing, but MGM studio executives favored a more traditional full score by composer Ron Goodwin. The tapes of Walton’s original soundtrack were found in the sound mixer’s garage in 1990, and the restored Walton soundtrack was released in a 2004 special edition DVD version of the film.

7. Hamlet: Fanfare for a Great Occasion

William Walton’s triumphant Fanfare for a Great Occasion was performed at the beginning of Lord Olivier’s 1989 memorial service.

FRESH INSPIRATIONS, featuring William Walton’s Symphony No. 1, takes place Saturday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 21 at 4 p.m. at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $49 to $79 and $20 for students 25 and under, and include a free 30-minute pre-concert talk starting one hour before the performance. Buy tickets online or call or visit the Lesher Center Ticket Office at 925.943.7469, Wed – Sun, 12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m. 


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