Battle of Britain was one of those stuff upper lip war movies that crammed as many British thesps as the budget would allow where daring deeds were done and the dastardly Germans duly dispatched. Of course, the battle of Britain was an important turning point in the war, but I would doubt that this exactly represented the events. Whatever the case, the story of the music is rather interesting. Sir William Walton was persuaded to write the music (after a 10 year film scoring absence), but his score was deemed too short to release commercially and so the producers hired Ron Goodwin to write a replacement (at double his normal fee, he was less than willing to do it, so asking for twice the amount felt they wouldn't agree...). He also made sure that they didn't use any of Walton's music, but Sir Lawrence Olivier was so outraged at the dumping of Walton's score that the producers decided to keep the Battle in the Air by Walton and the rest by Goodwin. You couldn't make this stuff up. Needless to say, neither composer was particularly happy with the result, but what it does mean is that we get two very fine film scores, about 20 minutes of Walton's (all the original music he wrote) and around double that of Goodwin's score, along with Walton's version of the Battle in the Air that was used in the film.
I'm not an especially great admirer of Ron Goodwin, his music always struck me as being rather samey, all WW2 marches and so on, but in this instance he has done a marvellous job of writing some really first rate music. The opening Battle of Britain Theme is a short concert piece which features the reasonably well known motif that I suddenly realised I recognised on first listening. This is then followed by the Ace High March (which I think should be Aces High...), which is exactly what you'd expect for a Ron Goodwin WW2 march. I would suggest that it's not one of his most memorable, but it's very good none the less and on hearing it you wonder how anyone could have effectively summed up the era or movie better in music. After this stoic opening, the score proper begins and while there is a fair share of pomp and heroism as befits a film of this type, there are also some more sublime and sombre sections. Most notable of these is Civilian Tragedy that is as elegaic as would be expected for such a morose title. One curious thing I did notice was that the German music (Briefing the Luftwaffe and Hitler's Headquarters) were really quite patriotic sounding... in a Germanic way, but with music as equally thrilling as the Allies based music. Goodwin does, of course, make good use of the main march themes whenever something really heroic happens, but also works them in more subtly, such as a quieter horn version of the Battle of Britain Theme in Prelude to Battle, which then bursts into a fully fledged march version. Walton's Battle in the Air is distinctly different music, but I honestly didn't notice it appearing the first time around. The type of orchestration is similar to Goodwin's, but obviously doesn't use Goodwin's motifs. It has been suggested that Walton's music, while being superb on its own, didn't fit in the film very well, but musically, it doesn't really grate as a huge turn in style from Goodwin's. Going from Goodwin to Hans Zimmer, that would be obvious, but in this case, Walton and Goodwin gel pretty well. If the CD only contained Goodwin's score I'd have no hesitation in giving it four. The patriotism could be reigned in a little at times, but it's less of a patriotic battering that something like Gettysburng or Independence Day. One couldn't accuse Goodwin's music of containing filler music and each moment has interest, something that is becoming rarer in modern times.
Sir William Walton's brief score is really a much more complex affair than Goodwin's. The opening March starts of a little non descript, but then bursts into a very typical Walton sounding march that anyone who's heard Walton before will immediately recognise as his style. It is noble and heroic, but in a much more restrained classical way than Goodwin's rather more typical WW2 march. Walton treated the score as more of a tone poem and so each episodes flows beautifully along to the next. His use of orchestration in many instances is rather interesting (the score was orchestrated by conductor Malcom Arnold), the muted brass bring to mind Bernard Herrmann, but more interesting for younger fans will be his use or woodwind clusters that perform runs and add excitement during the dogfight sequences. This orchestration idea was used in several sequences of the Death Star Run from Williams' classic Star Wars score. I suppose all those suggestions of the Death Star being WW2 dogfights in space were taken to heart by Williams in his scoring method (indeed the Throne Room music is very much in the Walton ceremonial march style as well).
It is a superb and rare privilage to hear two scores for the same film, with both composers at the height of their composing abilities. Goodwin, then a highly paid and respected Hollywood composer and Walton the classically trained composer who did scores once in a while. It is a shame that one had to be rejected at the expense of the other, but musically they are both excellent, although the complexity of Walton's short contribution gives it the edge musically. The original tapes were apparently lost, but recording engineer Eric Thomlinson had copy reels in his garage and so the album was mastered from these. You'd honestly never guess the age or condition of the tapes as the sound quality is crystal clear. Both scores have a similar recording ambiance, quite dry, but very clear indeed and every orchestration nuance can be heard and would beat some modern recordings in clarity. I can't recommend this disc enough as not only is it a fascinating double take on the same film, but is a marvellous listening experience.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad