William Alwyn: The Art of Film Music

January 2006
11 black and white illustrations
368 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843831594
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC MUS020000, BIO004000

William Alwyn: The Art of Film Music

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson's evaluation of Alwyn's film music places his achievement in the context of wider movements within the film industry.
William Alwyn was a leading composer of British film music in the 1940s and '50s, a time when the British film industry was at its peak. His scores ranged from documentaries to almost 80 full-length feature films, including classics such as Fires were Started, Desert Victory, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol, and The History of Mr Polly; he was adept at any musical genre, from classical to cartoon slapstick, and in the process worked with legendary directors, including Carol Reed, David Lean, Humphrey Jennings, and Anthony Asquith. Alone with Vaughan Williams he was granted the distinction of a separate title credit; columnists mentioned him alongside Bliss, Bax and Walton. However, as the reputation of the British film industry declined in the 1950s, so musical snobbery against those who were its leading lights became unpleasantly raw. In recent years, however, with sensitive performances of his film and concert music available on CD, this most appealing of composers has enjoyed something of a renaissance.

In this long overdue reassessment, Alwyn's films are analysed and put into the context of his biography, the film industry, and of society at large: the author shows in particular this remarkably versatile composer developed a hitherto unrecognised grammar of film music which enhanced every film on which he worked. He also examines his work for war propaganda, radio, and the concert hall. The volume is enhanced by the most complete filmography, discography, and bibliography of the composer's works yet published, as well as listings of his concert and radio music.


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Keywords: Film & TheatreMusic


A breathtaking journey through the British cinema in its heyday with much fine detail, well delineated research and detective work and many musical examples presented in a lucid, apt and highly readable fashion...The book is a fine achievement, a must for film fans and those interested in this period of British culture. An essential filmography puts the icing on the cake. GRAMOPHONE [Adrian Edwards]
Superbly authoritative. CLASSIC FM MAGAZINE
British film music has found a friend in the Boydell Press...An absorbing and pleasurable read....One feels closer to knowing Alwyn through his music, thanks to this book. THE CUE SHEET
A remarkable book. THE VETERAN [The Magazine of the British Cinema and TV Veterans]