Walton, William (1902–83)
Henry V (1944)
Full title: The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France. Walton also wrote the title music for the BBC Shakespeare series (1977). Non-original music by John Dunstable (“Agincourt Hymn”) [uncredited]. Based on one the most popular historical plays by Shakespeare and made in order to boost moral of British troops during World War II, this movie is about English king Henry V and his military campaign in France in 1415.
The development and use of dramatic vocalization by English composers in the early years of the twentieth century would not be lost on the following generation. William Walton (1902–83) included a wordless chorus in the film score to Shakespeare’s Henry V, directed by Laurence Olivier. It was during the making of his first Shakespeare film As You Like It (1936) that he met Olivier, who seven years later turned again to Walton for Henry V. Completed in 1944, this was one of Walton’s major scores. Walton made no suite himself, but two were arranged by others, one by Malcolm Sargent, and the other by Muir Mathieson (with the composer’s authorization). In 1988, Christopher Palmer prepared a much more comprehensive “Musical Scenario” for speaker, chorus, and orchestra, based on the Walton score. For notes accompanying a recording of his arrangement, Palmer wrote the following:
In the opening aerial view of medieval London the camera travels westwards upstream from the Tower over London Bridge to the point on the South Bank where the “Wooden O” referred to by the Chorus in his opening speech was located. Olivier was here—aided and abetted by Walton’s glorious ode, or paean, for wordless chorus and orchestra—invoking the heroic defense of the city against the Luftwaffe, indeed of the whole of our cultural heritage which seemed to be under threat.1
The opening aerial view of London presented in the film is a stylized seventeenth-century panorama based on Claes Jan Visscher’s 1616 engraving of the Globe Theatre and the Bear Garden. Palmer speculates as to the meaning of the wordless chorus in this scene:
The “prologue”—the “London panorama”—is based on a theme developed by majestic orchestra and (wordless) chorus into a fanfare-like hymn in praise of—what? London Pride? Spirit of England? Grandeur and Glory? 2
Whatever its emotive significance, one thing is clear: the noumenal chorus sings “Ah” in an expressive example of dramatic vocalization. Walton’s inclusion of dramatic vocalization was neither the first nor the last time this technique would be used in a cinematic production.
(Nauman 2009, 190–91)
|Introduction to Shakespeare’s Henry V
1 Christopher Palmer, liner notes to Henry V, by William Walton, Chandos CHAN 8892, 4–5.
2 Ibid., 7.