Sir Arnold Bax Website


by Graham Parlett

Muir Mathieson, Harriet Cohen and Sir Arnold Bax at the recording session
for the music to the film Oliver Twist in 1948.

Bax’s dislike of writing music for the cinema is well documented, and it was with considerable reluctance that he embarked on his first film score, for the twenty-minute documentary Malta , G.C., in the summer of 1942. ‘Have just finished my Malta film music’, he later wrote to May Harrison . ‘It has been nothing but a worry from beginning to end—and very hard work’. His difficulty with film music seems to have lain in the way in which it was used on the soundtrack: ‘I do not think the medium is at present at all satisfactory as far as the composer is concerned’, he complained, ‘as his music is largely inaudible, toned down to make for—in many cases—quite unnecessary talk’.

By the time that he came to write his second film score six years later, for the full-length feature film of Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist, directed by David Lean, Bax’s opinion of writing for the cinema was still low. After viewing the film on its release, Percy Grainger wrote two letters to Bax praising the music. In his reply to the second, Bax made some more general remarks about the subject:

I very deeply appreciated your writing again about Oliver Twist and it was most kind of Ella [Grainger’s wife] to send me a letter about it as well. I am delighted that you found new points of interest at a second hearing. I wish I could enjoy writing music for the cinema, but in England directors seem to have little or no respect for the music[;] they just turn it on or off like the ‘lights’ and too many hours are wasted in writing and scoring pages which are not used. The only exception I know is the splendid ‘Hamlet’ film [Laurence Olivier version of 1948] in which Walton seems to have [been] allowed a real collaboration and the result is that every note is heard and tells.

(From a letter in the Grainger Museum dated 31 January 1949.)

Despite his attitude to writing for the cinema, there is no doubt that Bax’s film music includes some of his most colourful and immediately attractive ideas, and Oliver Twist in particular contains a wealth of dramatic moments and memorable vignettes. His ability to conjure up an atmosphere or to capture the essence of a character or situation seems intuitive, and no one listening to, say, ‘Fagin’s Romp’, ‘Oliver’s sleepless night’ or ‘The Chase’ would have guessed that the composer had hated every minute of the task. The music is interesting too for several other reasons. Because of the uncongenial nature of the subject matter, it reveals Bax in moods that appear nowhere else in his output. He complained that there was no music in the subject of the book (which he disliked) and so had thought in visual terms deriving from what he called the ‘savage cartoons’ of Gillray and Rowlandson. Also rare in his output are musical impressions of scenes other than natural grandeur or legendary happenings, and just as Vaughan Williams found himself having to write music illustrating foot and mouth disease for the 1946 film The Loves of Joanna Godden, Bax was probably bemused when he found that he was required to illustrate floor-scrubbing, pickpocketing, and a fainting fit. Perhaps the closest he had come before (apart from Malta, G.C. with its crashing aeroplanes and exploding bombs) was the dance scores From Dusk till Dawn (1917) and The Truth about the Russian Dancers (1920), in which he was composing music for a detailed scenario, though in their cases he seems to have enjoyed his work; but then the whimsical subject matter was clearly more congenial than grim scenes set in the low-life underworld of Dickensian London. Furthermore, because of tight deadlines, Bax was required to write much more quickly than usual; he was surprised to find music he had written one night being recorded the next day. This means that what we hear is Bax at his most spontaneous, since he had no time to hone or elaborate what he had written. Finally, at about sixty minutes’ duration, Oliver Twist is Bax’s longest orchestral score; it is exceeded in length only by the unorchestrated ballet Tamara (1911), which would have lasted at least two hours in performance if he had ever finished it.

The music for Oliver Twist was recorded by Harriet Cohen (piano) with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Muir Mathieson during the second and third weeks of May 1948, and the film was premiered at the Odeon Theatre, Marble Arch, just over a month later, on 24 June. Excerpts from the soundtrack recording were issued on 78s later in the year (currently available on Pearl CD GEM 0100 and on Symposium CD 1336). No further recordings appeared until 1975, when, only a few months before his death, Bernard Herrmann conducted ‘Fagin’s Romp’ and the Finale for Decca’s Phase 4 label, where the movements were misidentified on the sleeve as the ‘Two Lyrical Pieces’, which refer to two quite different movements (later arranged for piano solo) from the suite that Bax and Muir Mathieson compiled between them. The first substantial recording was Kenneth Alwyn’s for Cloud Nine Records (with Eric Parkin playing the piano solo), later reissued on ASV. This came out in 1986 and owes its existence to the distinguished film-music historian David Wishart, whose enthusiasm for the project resulted in splendid performances and excellent presentation: a lavishly-illustrated and superbly-designed ‘gateway’ folder LP sleeve in addition to a CD.

In 2001 Chandos decided that the film music of Bax should be included in its highly successful film-music series. A few years earlier, it would have been very difficult to have compiled a complete score for Oliver Twist, since several sections were missing in written form, and a good deal of laborious reconstruction from the original soundtrack would have been necessary. However, a set of hitherto missing movements had come to light in January 2000 (see below), and the Bax Trust asked me to set about reconstructing Bax’s complete score for a proposed Chandos recording. This was duly completed, and on 24 September 2002 the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba assembled in Studio 7 of Broadcasting House, Manchester , to begin recording it. The resulting CD was issued in October 2003, coupled with Part 2 of Malta , G.C. Part 1 was also recorded but, when the complete Oliver Twist proved to be about five or so minutes longer than had been estimated, there was no room for it on the disc. I had also, at Chandos’s request, reconstructed three movements from Bax’s final film score, Journey into History (1951), but these were not even played through, much less recorded (no great loss, it must be said). Owing to lack of space in the CD booklet, I was unable to give more than a brief account of my work, and the following notes are intended to supplement it.

In reconstructing the complete Oliver Twist, I had access to the following written and recorded sources:

1. Bax’s incomplete holograph manuscript. This is owned by Oliver Neighbour and is currently on loan to the British Library (Loan 91/3). It had formerly belonged to Bax’s son, Dermot, and then to the latter’s widow, Barbara, who sold it at Sotheby’s in 1977.

2. The concert suite compiled by Muir Mathieson in collaboration with the composer. This exists in the form of a copyist’s score, written out, I should guess, some time in the 1960s or ’70s. The suite is owned by Warner Chappell Music Ltd. and held in the Concord Music Hire Library in Kenley, Surrey . It is interesting to note that Bax’s original manuscript of all but one of these movements is missing, but presumably the copyist had them in front of him when he wrote them out (unless of course he was using an earlier copyist’s score). The suite comprises the following movements:

(1) Prelude. (2) The Fight. (3) Oliver’s Sleepless Night. (4) Fagin’s Romp. (5) The Chase. (6) Oliver and Brownlow. (7) Finale (with quiet ending).

3. Another copyist’s score of selected movements held in the British Library (MS Mus. 928). This is the one that came to light in January 2000, having formerly been in the library of the conductor Stanford Robinson, who died in 1984. His widow had given it to a singer, who later became a Benedictine monk named Father Anthony and taught at Worth School in West Sussex . Father Anthony died in Peru , leaving his possessions, including the manuscript, to his abbey, and a fellow teacher at the school apparently rescued it from the doorstep as it was about to be thrown on to a skip. It was then formally donated to the British Library by the Rt. Rev. the Abbot of Worth through the offices of Mr Max Morris (MS Mus. 928). This copyist’s score contained the following movements:

(1) Prelude. (2) The Storm. (3) ‘Oliver and Sykes [sic]’ – actually ‘Oliver and Brownlow’ leading into ‘Bill Sikes’s rêverie’. (4) Comic Panic. (5) Fagin’s Romp. (6) Pickpocketing. (7) The Fight. (8) Finale (with both endings).

Although the score had been in Stanford Robinson’s possession, I am doubtful whether he was the ‘arranger’, as has been suggested.

4. An incomplete set of parts used for the original soundtrack recording. These are held in the Concord Music Hire Library and yielded a few bars not found in the extant full scores but heard on the soundtrack, namely the ones linking the fourth and fifth sections of ‘Oliver at Mr Brownlow’s house’. They were also useful for checking odd notes elsewhere.

5. The soundtrack of the film recorded by Harriet Cohen (piano) and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Muir Mathieson in May 1948. This was used to reconstruct ‘Oliver’s pickpocketing lesson’ and to check several other matters.

6. The 1948 commercial issue of excerpts from the original music tracks. One passage (the opening of ‘Oliver at Mr Brownlow’s house’) was reconstructed from this.

Many different titles have been used for the various cues in Oliver Twist over the years, and the ones written on the manuscript and the copyists’ scores cannot always be regarded as definitive, since some passages were used for different scenes from those for which they were originally intended (e.g. Bax’s ‘Walk to Sowerby’s [sic]’ was eventually used for ‘Oliver as funeral mute’). In choosing titles for the complete score, I reviewed all the existing ones and retained those that seemed appropriate (e.g. ‘Prelude’, ‘Fagin’s Romp’, ‘Comic Panic’). I rejected others that either did not reflect the music’s final use in the film or were prosaic or obscure (e.g. ‘Beadle Music’ for ‘Mr Bumble’s March’, and ‘Rabbit Warren’ for the scene in which Oliver meets the Artful Dodger; this presumably referred to the warren of alleyways and derelict stairs the two of them traverse on their way to the rooftops and Fagin’s den). The titles used for this reconstruction are listed below in bold lettering, following the CD’s track numbers, with details of the editing that was needed for each section of music.

1. Prelude. This is used in the film for the opening credits and exists in written form only in the hands of two copyists. On the soundtrack the final three bars in the suite version are missing, and a fade on tremolo violins (similar to the opening bars) is heard instead. This was suggested by David Lean: ‘I haven’t the faintest idea what sort of music should accompany the titles, but I should like it gradually to fade away—a fade into an orchestration that suggests that something is about to happen…’ (John Huntley, ‘The Music of “Hamlet” and “Oliver Twist”’, Penguin Film Review, 1949, p.114). In the absence of Bax’s manuscript it is impossible to know which he wrote first, the violin tremolo or the ending found in the suite; for the reconstruction I opted for the latter.

2. The Storm. This musical sequence, which was omitted from the final soundtrack, consists of what were originally three separate chunks of music, later conflated to two. The first to be written was the Allegro tempestuoso (which starts at 2:02 on the CD and continues to the end of the track). Bax originally began this with a bar containing a rising tremolando arpeggio on violin and violas. But he crossed this bar through in the MS when he later came to write a new, forty-bar section to precede it. This has the tempo marking Allegro molto and begins on the CD at 1:16 . (Bax includes a part for cor anglais in this section, presumably having forgotten that he had not used one in the Allegro tempestuoso, the main theme of which derives from the chorus ‘O for a defenceless land’ in Bax’s music for the aborted pageant-play St George, written in 1947 with words by John Masefield.) The third section of music, clearly written last, to replace the Allegro molto and part of the Allegro tempestuoso, is marked Con vivo and then, after five bars, Moderato; this is the one that starts the ‘Storm’ sequence in the reconstruction. A sketch for the opening triplet figure on woodwind (which resembles the fanfare motive used at the start of the finale) appears in Bax’s hand on page 2 of what he calls ‘Mrs Thingummy seeking admission [to Mr Sowerberry’s shop]’ with the note ‘Oliver’s mother sees the workhouse on the hill’, indicating that it was intended for the latter part of the opening scene. This section ends with the eerie passage for flute and string harmonics, followed by four bars for trumpets, trombones and tuba. Bax has written ‘segue Letter F (or G) of original (preferably F)’ at the end, indicating that it was intended to lead straight into one or other of those two cue letters in the middle of the Allegro tempestuoso storm itself. Marginalia on the manuscript show that the Allegro molto and Allegro tempestuoso sections were actually recorded in May 1948, but they were never used on the soundtrack. Having expended so much time on this scene, Bax cannot have been very pleased when he found that of the 117 bars that he had written for this storm cue all that could be heard on the final soundtrack was a mere three chords played in harmonics by the upper strings that were adapted from the passage starting ten bars from the end of the Moderato.

In reconstructing the complete score, I naturally adopted Bax’s plan of having the Allegro molto lead straight into the Allegro tempestuoso (thus omitting the bar that he had already crossed through). The third section to be written (the Con vivo-moderato), although intended to come near the end of the scene, was clearly unsuited to following the two Allegros since it ends anticlimactically on an unresolved cadence, and so I put it at the start instead, its inconclusive final chord being immediately swept away by the robust opening of the Allegro molto. The final bars of ‘The Storm’ are scored for tremolando strings and timpani, the latter to be played ‘with pennies’, an effect that Bax occasionally employs in earlier scores, though timpanists nowadays use a pair of two-pound coins instead of pre-decimal pennies to get the same sound. (In the original 1948 orchestral parts, a dozy copyist had mistakenly written the instruction ‘with pennies’ in the tuba part, which must have given the player a nasty surprise when he saw it — he has put an exclamation mark against it!) There is no space here to go into the curious story told in a television interview by the film’s producer, Ronald Neame, that Bax came to a recording session without having written any music for the storm sequence and, when asked to produce something, took a piece of paper and scribbled down the string harmonics, which were immediately recorded. I am grateful to Mark Doran for kindly bringing this matter to my attention.)

3. Oliver’s birth. ‘As daylight pours in, I should like the music to start again. Hopeful: a new day: new life. I should like the music to “accent” the locket round the girl’s neck, as it is a very important plot point’ (David Lean quoted in Huntley, op. cit., p.115). On the soundtrack, bars 18-33 of this cue were omitted, and then a passage from ‘Oliver’s sleepless night’ was interpolated before the final six bars of clarinet solo. Bax’s original concept has been reinstated in the reconstruction.

4. Picking oakum. This begins with six bars of music representing Oliver scrubbing the floor. There are three versions of this cue on a single page in the manuscript, none of them in Bax’s hand, though they sound authentic enough. The first, an oboe solo with string accompaniment, is the one heard on the soundtrack and is thus used for this track on the CD. In the film this scrubbing music is separated from the oakum-picking march by the scene (without music) of Oliver being interviewed by the board. However, on the CD this brief cue had to lead straight into the march, which is in F minor, and so I transposed it up a tone from a nominal E flat to F, so that it ends not on the original B flat but on a C, the dominant of F minor.

The second version of the cue is for first violins with woodwind accompaniment and uses exactly the same material as the first. I was loathe to leave this out, and so I used it to preface the next track (‘Oliver asks for more’), where it seemed to make musical sense. The third version, four bars of the ‘Oliver theme’ for unaccompanied clarinet, is identical to part of the solo at the end of ‘Oliver’s birth’ and is therefore omitted here. Oliver is interrupted by the arrival of Mrs Corney with Mr Bumble (the interruption is indicated by the oboe’s abrupt termination). There follows the grim march of inmates on their way to pick oakum, i.e. to unpick old rope. A still on p.10 of the Chandos booklet shows a room full of inmates doing just that. This precise shot was cut from the final film (we only see a brief close-up of Oliver sitting hard at work) but it explains why Bax’s cue is much longer than what is heard on the soundtrack.

5 & 6. Oliver asks for more and Mr Bumble’s march. This cue comprises four separate sections: (1) The alternative scoring of the cue for Oliver scrubbing the floor; (2) The reaction of the Workhouse Master (‘What?’), Mr Bumble (‘What?’), Mrs Corney (‘What?’), and the workhouse board (‘Asked for more?’) upon hearing of Oliver’s audacious request, with Bax’s music echoing these four exclamations; (3) The music originally written to accompany Mr Bumble and Oliver on their way to Mr Sowerberry’s but not used on the soundtrack; (4) The music actually used for this scene in the film, although it was originally intended only to accompany Mr Bumble on his way to Sowerberry’s after he has been summoned following the fight between Oliver and Noah Claypole; however, it made more musical sense to include it here rather than after ‘The Fight’.

These four separate cues were originally in E flat, B flat, F sharp minor, and A flat/F minor respectively. In making them follow on from one another more naturally (from the point of view of key relationships), it was necessary to do some transposing. I decided to keep the third cue, which begins with low woodwind, in its original key. It would have been impossible to lower it even a semitone, since it would then have been out of the 2nd clarinet’s range, and to have raised it would have caused problems elsewhere. The second cue I then lowered a semitone, so that it ended in A, the third cue’s relative major. The fourth section I raised a semitone to A/F sharp minor, so that it begins in the same key as the third. The first cue was retained in its original key of E flat. In Bax’s manuscript the ‘Asked for more’ cue begins with the three isolated chords for woodwind with pizzicato strings. On the soundtrack what sounds like a side drum with slackened snares replaces or is added to these chords, probably a last-minute rearrangement at the 1948 recording sessions; but I decided to omit this in the reconstruction so that Bax’s original sounds could be clearly heard. Although the scene in which Oliver asks for more gruel has no music, it is amusing to find that in the comedy film The Happiest Days of your Life (1950) there is a parody of this same scene for which Mischa Spoliansky has written a few bars of imitation Bax.

7. Oliver sent to bed among the coffins. This episode appears complete in Bax’s hand but was only partially used on the soundtrack. It required only one piece of editing: in the MS at bar 53 a four-note rising figure is scored for muted trumpet; on the soundtrack it is played by xylophone alone; in the Chandos recording it is played by both trumpet and xylophone in unison.

8 & 9. Oliver as funeral mute and The Death of Mrs Thingummy. This processional music was originally meant for the scene in which Mr Bumble takes Oliver to Mr Sowerberry’s. It was finally used for the scene in which Oliver acts as a mute in a child’s funeral cortège, which was intended to be prefaced by a shot of Noah Claypole scrubbing the floor of the undertaker’s shop, with Bax’s energetic music leading straight into the outside scene. In the final cut of the film, Noah is seen scrubbing the floor at the start of the next scene instead, and without the music; and the scene with the child’s cortège is prefaced by two bars of the ‘Oliver theme’ on a pair of flutes. Since these two bars (which are not in Bax’s hand in the MS) are identical to the opening of ‘Oliver’s sleepless night’, but a fifth lower, I decided to omit them here and revert to his original idea. These four scrubbing bars have a repeat marked in the MS, but I decided that once was enough.

In the MS, the procession ends with a pizzicato chord; a string tremolo is then written in another hand, anticipating the tremolo with which the next scene begins, and it is this version that is heard on the final soundtrack. But for the reconstruction I omitted the tremolo interpolation since it may not have been Bax’s idea to add it. The next piece of music, with prominent cor anglais solo, illustrates the frail Mrs Thingummy entering the undertaker’s shop to look for Oliver and speaking to Noah Claypole (‘Mrs Thingummy seeking admission’). On the soundtrack this is followed by ‘The Death of Mrs Thingummy’, though it appears that the music was originally intended only for the flashback to that scene heard later in the story, just before ‘Oliver at play’. However, it follows on so well musically from the previous scene that I decided to retain it here rather than to insert it later on. Although mutes for the brass are not indicated in the MS for this section, they are used to good effect on the soundtrack, making the scene seem even more eerie than it already was, and I decided to have them muted for the new recording.

10. The Fight. This episode is complete in both Bax’s hand and in that of a copyist, and no editing was required.

11 & 12. Oliver’s sleepless night and Oliver’s flight to London. The first movement is complete in two copyists’ hands. The brief second is complete in Bax’s hand but was not used on the soundtrack. There is no tempo indication for the opening eight bars, and so I added ‘[Poco allegretto]’ to the reconstruction. However, at the rehearsals Rumon Gamba decided (quite rightly, I now think) to adopt Bax’s tempo indication Allegro moderato con vivacità, which is marked above the ninth bar, from the very opening. From the appearance of the MS, I suspect that Bax added these opening eight bars (which are on a separate page) after he had written the Allegro.

13. Oliver meets the Artful Dodger. This is complete in Bax’s hand and required no editing, though I took the liberty of adding a più mosso at bar 18 since the music clearly needed to move on at that point (as it does on the soundtrack). On the 1986 Cloud Nine recording the final chord has a cymbal clash, but this is not in the MS; it was added by the conductor, Kenneth Alwyn, at the recording session and, although effective, is omitted in the Chandos recording.

14. Fagin’s Romp. This is complete in two copyists’ hands. On the film’s soundtrack a few bars near the end are omitted.

15-17. Oliver’s pickpocketing lesson, Pickpocketing and The Chase. The opening 41-second episode does not exist in any extant written form and I had to reconstruct it entirely from the soundtrack. Unfortunately the music is recorded there at a very low level and much of it is barely audible below the dialogue between Fagin and Oliver that goes on over the top. Several bars or parts of bars were completely inaudible, and here I had to make a guess at what Bax may have written. ‘Pickpocketing’ is complete in a copyist’s hand, while ‘The Chase’ is complete in the suite. On the soundtrack the final chord has added reverberation.

18 & 19.Oliver faints in court and Comic Panic. The first part of this is complete in Bax’s hand, though it is cut slightly on the soundtrack. In the film it is separated from ‘Comic Panic’ by a few lines of dialogue; but since ‘Comic Panic’ (which is only in a copyist’s hand) follows on from the final cello glissando of the previous cue quite naturally, I simply juxtaposed them. Half of bar 18 is repeated on the soundtrack, and this is followed in the reconstruction; I also took the liberty of repeating the previous bar to add extra excitement in the build-up to the climax. On the soundtrack, the tune for unison trombones and tuba at the end of this episode is extended by two bars that do not appear in the copyist’s score, and this is followed in the reconstruction.

20. Oliver at Mr Brownlow’s house. This sequence can be found almost complete in the 78 rpm recording. None of it appears in written form in Bax’s own hand, and the opening twelve bars for clarinet solo with piano accompaniment had to be reconstructed by ear. Despite repeated listenings, I just could not make out exactly what was going on in the piano part during the final two bars, and so I made something up. Unfortunately in the Chandos recording these bars are too prominent in the piano part, drowning out the clarinet, and I wish in retrospect that I had made them less elaborate (though I think they do sound reasonably Baxian). The next passage, with piano solo, was complete in a copyist’s hand, though on the 78s the final three bars are cut. The passage for violin solo with clarinet arpeggios and four muted (practically inaudible) solo violas was also extant in a copyist’s score, as was the following one for cello solo with flute arpeggios and four muted cellos. This leads into a passionate passage for full orchestra, which in the copyist’s score and in the extant 1948 parts leads, rather unexpectedly, straight into the music used on the soundtrack for the ‘Dawn after the Murder’ scene, with the ‘Patrick Pearse’ theme on horns (see below). This clearly represents a proposed course of events that, in the end, never made it on to the final soundtrack, where this passage is followed (as in the reconstruction) by the section in 6/8 for piano and small orchestra. This meant that I had to reconstruct one bar for two oboes and a clarinet from the 1948 parts; the repetition on strings I reconstructed from the 78s. The final 6/8 section is complete in a copyist’s hand in the suite (‘Oliver and Brownlow’).

21. Oliver at play. This comprises two very short separate sections: the former for a scene in Mr Brownlow’s garden, the latter meant for a later scene that was cut from the final film and was intended to follow on from the scene in which Mr Brownlow is seen grieving over his chessboard. The first of these was prefaced on the soundtrack by two bars of muted brass playing the ‘locket theme’. This was not extant in full score, but it appears sketched in rough short score at the foot of a page (not in Bax’s hand), and I scored it for muted trumpets and trombones. (It closely resembles bars 8 and 9 from the flashback to ‘The Death of Mrs Thingummy’, which occurred in the previous scene.) These two playful cues were not intended to be heard together; but, since they are identical in mood and too insubstantial to stand on their own, I thought that it would make sense to turn them into a miniature ABA scherzo, with the first (A) repeated after the second (B) had been played through once. All that needed doing was to transpose the second one down a semitone from B flat to A, so that it was in the same key as the first one. Interesting to note that above the final five bars of (B) Bax has written in the MS ‘sees Fagin walking in street’ —clearly another scene not used in the film.

22 & 23. The portrait and Oliver’s abduction. These two episodes exist entirely in Bax’s hand. In the film only the first one appears, the scene for which the second was intended having no music on the soundtrack. The latter scene opens with a simple march tune headed (in Bax’s hand) ‘Oliver walking to bookseller’s shop’, leading into the tempestuous Allegro agitato, which ends abruptly on an unresolved cadence. I resisted the temptation to resolve it but, in order to make it sound a little less abrupt, I added a fermata (a pause or lengthening sign) to the final chord.

24 & 25. Mr Brownlow’s Grief and Nancy ’s hysterical outburst. In the reconstruction I juxtaposed four separate musical episodes for consecutive scenes separated in the film by dialogue. The first, showing Mr Brownlow, his friend, Dr Grimwig, and housekeeper, Mrs Bedwin, becoming increasingly concerned that Oliver has not returned from his errand, exists in Bax’s hand in two similar versions, both scored for strings, the second one ending with a few bars of piano solo. The first version, which is played in the reconstruction complete, ends inconclusively with a suspension on a high F sharp (violins) falling to an E (rather Mahlerian, as someone pointed out at the Chandos recording sessions). The second version is identical to the first one for the first five bars, except that the first bar is scored for violas instead of violins. It made sense to omit the repeated opening five bars of the second one and to allow it to follow on instead immediately after the first from bar 6 onwards, so that it sounds like a natural progression. This second version, ending with a few bars of piano solo, is followed without a pause on the soundtrack by the scene in which Oliver is returned to Fagin accompanied by a modified version of the music where he first meets the Artful Dodger, and this is followed in the reconstruction. In the film there is quite a long pause for dialogue between the ending of this and the next scene, in which Nancy hysterically attacks Fagin and then falls unconscious to the floor. There then follows another scene with Mr Brownlow brooding over his chessboard in a scene with Dr Grimwig. This last cue is in G minor, and so I transposed ‘ Nancy ’s hysterical outburst’ down a semitone in order that it should end on a diminished 7th of that key. Part of the final section is repeated on the soundtrack, and I marked the repeat ‘optional’ in the reconstructed score, though Rumon Gamba decided not to play the passage twice in the recording.

26. Nancy ’s flight in the rain to meet Mr Brownlow. The whole of this episode exists in Bax’s hand. On the soundtrack bars 9 to 16 of the Allegro are repeated; in the reconstruction bars 1 to 16 are repeated, as in the Cloud Nine recording. Bax originally wrote the slow, second part of this cue mainly for trumpets and trombones, but on the soundtrack this is replaced by a different, shorter passage for three flutes and then a solo cor anglais, which ends the cue rather inconclusively. In order to use both pieces of music, it was, as usual, necessary to juxtapose them. Seeing that the cor anglais’ last note (G) is the leading note of G sharp minor, the key in which the original brass episode is set, I thought it made more musical sense to have them played in this order in the reconstruction rather than the order in which Bax wrote them.

27. Dawn after the murder and Bill Sikes’s rêverie. This sequence exists only in a copyist’s hand and is played in shortened form on the soundtrack. It begins with a horn theme that Bax lifted from his earlier orchestral work In Memoriam (1917), written in memory of the Irish nationalist Pádraig Pearse. (As mentioned above, this section was at one stage intended to follow on from part of ‘Oliver at Mr Brownlow’s house’.) The second section illustrates Bill Sikes sitting, with Nancy ’s body still lying on the floor, and being assailed by phantom images and voices. No editing was necessary for these two sections.

28. Wanted for Murder. This cue exists complete in Bax’s hand, but only the final thirteen bars were used on the soundtrack (the last three bars truncated), in the scene in which ‘Wanted for Murder’ posters for Bill Sikes are being posted. It is not clear exactly what the earlier part of the cue was intended to accompany. Bax’s dynamics needed a little editing near the beginning.

29 & 30. Finale. The finale from the Suite, with quiet ending, is complete in a copyist’s hand, while the loud ending used in truncated form on the soundtrack exists on its own in another copyist’s hand. This is labelled ‘Alternative finale’, which suggests that Bax originally wrote the quiet ending and was then asked to provide a more rousing conclusion. The fact that there is no cor anglais part in it also suggests that this alternative was added later, Bax clearly having forgotten to include the instrument; for the purpose of this reconstruction I added a part for cor anglais, mostly doubling the third trumpet.

In the score the final chord is a crotchet (quarter-note); on the soundtrack it is a sustained breve (double whole-note) with fermata, and this is the version that Rumon Gamba decided to use in the reconstruction. On the Chandos disc both versions of the finale can be heard (they are identical as far as 2:11 ), with the original ending placed second. I had originally intended them to be the other way round but finally decided that it would be more effective to end the complete Oliver Twist in tranquillity, using Bax’s original conception, especially since it is followed on the CD by a complete contrast of mood (the ‘Gay March’ from Malta, G.C.). It may be of interest to add that the original soundtrack recording of the finale was later used for the opening credits of the 1951 film The Browning Version (starring Michael Redgrave), though the credits themselves do not acknowledge the music’s source.

When Cloud Nine originally recorded a selection of movements from Oliver Twist in 1986, I naturally hoped that it might be possible one day to record the complete score. Seventeen years later, I am most grateful to Chandos, the BBC Philharmonic, Rumon Gamba, producers Mike George and Brian Pidgeon, and sound engineer Stephen Rinker for making that wish come true.


In an interview on the American Movie Classics website (2000), Malcolm Arnold claimed that he was asked to write the music for the 1949 Anglo-American film Britannia Mews (American title: The Affairs of Adelaide, later The Forbidden Street) because ‘the original score which had been written by Sir Arnold Bax got lost in the post and the producer needed a new one very quickly.’ Britannia Mews has a Victorian setting, and it is just conceivable that Bax may have been approached about writing the music after the success of Lean’s film (though Oliver Twist itself is pre-Victorian, set in the reign of William IV); but it is highly improbable that Bax would have accepted such an uncongenial commission, and no evidence has so far been found to support Sir Malcolm’s statement.

© Graham Parlett 2003

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