A Boy Could Dream
A Boy Could Dream
Richard III: Death of Richard and Finale, by William Walton (1955)
First Encountered 1957?
Having witnessed how much the William Walton soundtrack for Laurence Olivier’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry V had seized my imagination, my parents, who wanted a literary son and who were no fools, somehow brought into the household the soundtrack album of Richard III. This package reunited Olivier, Shakespeare, and Walton. Cunningly, they located the entire movie soundtrack, including all the dialogue (in fact it included a smidgen that wasn’t in the movie), and still with the Walton cues intact. Thus, to listen to the music, I had to go through the poetry.
It was a wonderful idea. Although I remember seeing the movie somewhere, somehow, and having thrilled particularly to the battle scene, my experience was less cinematic than phonographic. I listened to those old red-labeled RCA Victor 33s (six sides) so often I had them pretty much memorized. I suppose you could say that those Walton music cues were collectively a theme song of mine. But for consistency in these blog entries, I have to choose a cue.
My choice is the very last music in the movie.  Evil Richard, mortally wounded in battle, grasps a sword, making stabbing motions as his expressive last actions, and the music closely follows the helpless thrusts. As he expires, dropping his sword, a solo violin skitters down the scale.  His corpse is loaded upon a horse, and a sort of funeral march takes over for a few bars. But then the music shifts again; the minor funeral march is swept away for a triumphal major key march celebrating, apparently, the crown itself.
And indeed the focus shifts to the crown. It has rolled away from Richard during the battle like Tolkien’s Ring of Power deserting one owner for another. But as Richard’s corpse vanishes over the brow of the hill, the Crown is suddenly discovered in a bush, and brought to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, the man destined shortly to have it encircle his head, and thereby become Henry VII. It is held up to him. That image is succeeded by a disembodied crown suspended in the sky, which stands at the head of the end credits.
The message of that triumphal march was not lost on me. The Crown, underlined by that gorgeous major key march, was a glorious thing worth all the fighting over it that the movie had just chronicled. No wonder Richard had lusted after it so.
I wanted a crown too, with music just like that playing in the background. And this led to perhaps the earliest struggle between fantasy and reality I encountered.
There was the inconvenient fact that I was American, a citizen of a land that does not brook official royalty of its own, and that I possessed not a drop of royal blood from anywhere else. But there was the very recent example of Grace Kelly marrying into royalty; maybe I could do that! When I asked, though, I learned that the only British princess remotely age-appropriate for me was Princess Anne. And with all due respect to the lady, at the age of seven I already sensed that I would not be her type, or she mine. Though I often returned to the theme, I always concluded that I had no shot at this. Reality triumphed, and my fantasy perished like Richard, stabbing away feebly.
Oh, well, there was the music, at least. I could enjoy it as I walked around wearing make-believe armor. A boy could dream.
. Again, there’s an issue with a good recording. The original soundtrack, issued in the U.S.A. as RCA Victor LM-6126, with Muir Matheson conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is simply the best of any I know. Fifty-five years later, the harps are more plangent, the french horns more stirring, the strings more shimmery, and the understanding of where Walton was going with this music more intelligent, than I have heard even on recordings that are technically far superior. However, Cut 10 on the Neville Marriner compilation, William Walton’s Film Music, Vol. 4, is pretty good, and available.
. The death scene is described at some length as part of an amusing analysis and collection of anecdotes about the movie by Paul Trevor Bale. Bale has nothing to say about the music though, which is as striking as any image.
Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for album art