Battle of the Bulge/Frankel

November 11, 2012

Benjamin Frankel (1906-1973) like many other British composers is right at home in classical compositions as he is in composing for the silver screen. In either type of music he hasn’t received the recognition he deserves. His style of composing is quite unique and should definitely be explored. What better way to start than listening to his last and best score “Battle of the Bulge” (1965) for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe award? While this release is a direct reissue of the Warner Brothers LP #WS1617 and there have been other releases of it they are all forgotten and very expensive to obtain. It offers a retail selling price from Perseverance of $12.98 and sales are limited to 3000 units. Better to act sooner than later on this golden age material. If you wish a reconstructed score that is longer (78 minutes) it is still available on the CPO label #999 696-2. It is performed by the Queensland Symphony conducted by Werner Andreas Albert. The Queensland ensemble also recorded his symphonies and a recording of Music from the Movies.

The film was one of many war films of the 60’s era featuring all star casts and large budgets. This one featured Robert Shaw, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Telly Savalas, James MacArthur, Robert Ryan, Ty Hardin, Charles Bronson and others. It was the last gasp fight that Germany had to offer before their supplies were depleted. If you want to see the film get ready for a full evening as the running time is approximately 160 minutes.

The 40 minute score uses the somewhat traditional leitmotif style where the Americans and Germans have their own theme and there are descriptive melodies for some of the actors and actresses. “The Prelude” which I include as an audio track (remember these are low quality) Prelude to the Battle of the Bulge – 01 – Track 1 features a new military march which is dissonant (war isn’t?) but also tonal in nature making one think it could have been a Sousa march. If you listen to the 4th movement of the 5th Symphony of Shostakovich you’ll hear some of the same ideas. I’ve also included the entire 4th movement so that you can compare. 04 – 4th Movement Symphony #5 Shostakovich Also included in the track is the first offering of the traditional German Tank men’s Song, with lyrics and melody from Kurt Wiehle. The tune has international acceptance as it is also used by South Korea, Chile, and South Africa. The song is performed by the tuba and it is this instrument that makes it comical and pretentious. It is a striking contrast to the main title and makes for an interesting listen. “Interlude with a Courtesan Ist Class” begins as a pentatonic oriental flavor which is light and airy and again a radical change from some of the heavy Wagnerian material you’ll hear. “Panzerlied” is a male chorus singing the patriotic tankmen composition.  “Kiley’s  Plane Chases Hessler’s Car” gives us a theme for Kiley in the form of a proud majestic horn in addition to grumbling brass giving off dissonant phrases where there seems to be no structure (there is I just can’t hear it). The final track “Victory and Prelude” restate the tankmen theme, again on the tuba in a grave tempo and the main title proud and majestic bringing this soundtrack to a finale.

If this is an OST that you’ve neglected purchasing now is the opportunity to take advantage of the low price that Perseverance has to offer.  It will introduce you to a composer that you’re not familiar with. I urge the listener to give this one repeated listens as some of the inner layers of the score will be revealed to you. The remastering is  a typical sound from the 60’s. I found myself adjusting my equalizer to take the edge off of the high end. The brass was a little distorted so I had to turn the volume down a bit from my normal listening levels. None of this is any reason not to purchase the CD. New liner notes were written by Dimitri Kennaway stepson of Frankel and provide an excellent explanation as to how it was put together. Recommended. Total time for the CD is 40 minutes

Track List

1. Prelude (02:57)
2. Kiley’s Plane Chases Hessler’s Car (03:34)
3. Panzerlied (The Tankmen’s Song) (02:22)
4. Interlude with a Courtesan 1st Class (02:51)
5. The German Tanks Emerge and Break Through (07:22)
6. 1st Tank Battle (08:54)
7. The Massacre of the American Prisoners (03:10)
8. The Attack on the Fuel Depot Fails and Hessler is Killed (06:38)
9. The Panzermen Abandon their Tanks: Victory and Postlude(02:13)

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