Showcase January-February 2015 - page 24

Program Notes
22, 23, 24
William Walton
March 29, 1902, Oldham, England
March 8, 1983, Ischia, Italy
Suite from Henry V,
adapted by Muir Matheson
enry V
has always been one of Shakespeare’s most
popular—and problematic—plays. In some of the
most ringing language Shakespeare ever wrote, the
play traces Prince Hal’s self-transformation from a young
libertine to the heroic king who defeats the French at
Agincourt and marries the French princess Katharine. This
is a play full of heroism and humor, violence and charm,
and in his portrait of young King Henry, Shakespeare
virtually defined his conception of the ideal leader. Yet
in the play’s jingoism, its strident militarism and Henry’s
readiness to make moral decisions for purely pragmatic
reasons, Shakespeare reminds us of the complexity of the
human condition and the many dimensions of what it
means to be a hero.
It was during World War II that Laurence Olivier filmed
Henry V
, which he directed and starred in. When he
William Walton to write the music for his film, he could
not have anticipated that the composer would respond
with the finest Shakespeare film score ever written. In
1963, with Walton’s blessing, Muir Matheson arranged
a five-movement symphonic suite from the film score. In
these concerts we hear a performance of the Matheson
suite, intercut with excerpts from Shakespeare’s play.
The actor Samuel West worked with conductor Mark
Wigglesworth to select portions of Shakespeare’s script
for these performances, and he has kindly provided this
“Lawrence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s
Henry V
made in 1943, when France was still under German
occupation; a great work of wartime propaganda showing
an English victory in Europe was badly needed. The film
was originally dedicated to the ‘Commandos and Airborne
Troops of Great Britain, the spirit of whose ancestors it
has been humbly attempted to recapture.’
“The stirring score by William Walton almost immediately
began a second life outside the cinema. Malcolm Sargent
made a suite for the 1945 Proms; a year later a set of
four 78 rpm records were released by HMV with Olivier
as narrator. In 1963 Muir Matheson, conductor of the
original soundtrack, produced the suite you are to hear
in these concerts, spanning approximately 25 minutes.
Another, longer suite returned the majority of Walton’s
music to the concert hall in 1990, when Christopher
Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario
, running over
an hour, was first performed, with Christopher Plummer
as narrator.
“Mark Wigglesworth and I have discussed what scenes
from the play might best accompany Matheson’s suite,
inspired partly by Olivier’s recorded narration and partly
by Palmer’s
This is a bespoke arrangement: we
have conflated a pair of French battles, but since that
allows you to hear two of the greatest speeches ever
written, we hope you will allow us the artistic license.”
the music
The suite opens with music from the very beginning of
the movie: we are in London’s Globe Theater, where
a playbill announces a performance of
Henry V
. The
opening Prologue (“O for a muse of fire”), with the
playwright’s appeal for understanding from the audience,
sets the scene and leads to a succession of pageantry,
fanfares and dances as the action begins.
A key moment in the play is Prince Hal’s curt dismissal
of Falstaff, with whom he had spent many wastrel
hours at the Boar’s Head. The suite’s second movement,
Death of Falstaff
, depicts the end of the old knight in the
aftermath of Hal’s crushing dismissal. Walton cast this
music, scored only for strings, as a slow passacaglia,
solemn and grieving.
Charge and Battle
takes us to the
field at Agincourt, where the English “band of brothers”
routs the French knights. Ominous rumblings suggest
the preparations for battle. Distant trumpet calls and
rolling drums lead the way into the ostinato-like charge,
the battle and Henry’s ultimate triumph.
Touch her soft
lips, and part
, for muted strings, actually accompanies
the scene of lovers’ farewell before the departure of the
English army for France. Finally, in
Agincourt Song
battle has been won, and the English forces celebrate.
Ringing bells, pealing horns and cascading strings
welcome peace and the alliance of England and France
that comes with the marriage of Prince Hal to the French
princess Katharine.
narrator with orchestra comprising
2 flutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling
English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns,
2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum,
tabor, bells, cymbals, tambourine, harp and strings
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