Christopher Columbus/Bliss

December 7, 2009

Sir Arthur Bliss is known primarily for his score to Shape of Things to Come (1935), based on the H.G. Wells novel which is considered by some to be “the greatest of all film scores,” writes Giles Easterbrook for Chandos Records. Bliss also wrote an outstanding film score for Christopher Columbus (1949) starring Frederic March, recently released on the Naxos label #8572226. While this isn’t the original soundtrack (Rank only issued a 78 rpm of two tracks), it is a nicely arranged 10 track 24+ minute suite by Adriano (edited from 140 pages), who also conducted the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra for this recording. Muir Mathieson and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded the original soundtrack. Mathieson was responsible for promoting and recording so much film material from the British major composers like Alwyn, Bax, Vaughan Williams, Walton, and so many others, making this material available to the British public.

“The Overture” is an opening majestic fanfare giving us the main theme, using castanets for a Spanish flavor followed by the middle section that is a delicate theme played by the oboe, woodwinds, and a somber horn. It returns to the proud majestic theme to conclude. “The Commission,” is in three sections all very classical period sounding and non-cinema. “Dona Beatriz,” the love interest is quite romantic and Bliss turns up the romance with solo violin passages. “The Voyage Begins” does as the title indicates musically depict the open freedom of the ocean. “Return To Spain” is also a return to the main title in “Overture” with the majestic horns and the violins participating nicely. “The Messenger,” “Mutiny,” and “Columbus Put in Chains” can stand alone as cues to a film but don’t contribute to the flow of the suite. However, as an overall listening experience, this suite is a pleasant one and a nice additional work to have from Bliss.

Men of Two Worlds is the story of a man who studies music in Europe and then returns to Africa having to deal with witchcraft and sleeping sickness. The opening track “Baraza” is a 7-minute concert work for piano, orchestra, and chorus. The elements of tradition from Europe and Africa is blended nicely together although you won’t find much in the way of technically challenging piano material. The remaining (4) tracks also try to blend traditional European music with Africa although there is little in the way of drums or material you would associate with African music.

Seven Waves Away (1957) (Abandon Ship) was the last of the (7) films that Bliss did for the silver screen and most of the material has disappeared. Starring Tyrone Power, the film directed by Richard Sale and distributed in the U.S. by Columbia, was a psychological drama dealing with living and dying centered around a lifeboat that had 50 people and could only support 20. Three parts remain and it has been orchestrated into an 8+ minute suite. The First section is a frantic almost chase like, the second is a disaster cue, and the final that of funeral march. It is a shame that not more of the material survived as it is well orchestrated.

Another nice entry in the Film Music Classics series from Naxos. It will most probably introduce you to material you’re unfamiliar with at a bargain price.

Naxos CD# is 8.572226

Performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adriano

Produced by Martin Sauer

Track Listing:

Christopher Columbus (Suite, 1949, arr. Adriano)

1.…Overture (4:46)

2.…The Commission (3:25)

3.…Dona Beatriz (3:07)

4.…Struggles (1:30)

5.…The Messenger (1:05)

6.…The Voyage Begins (2:23)

7.…Mutiny (2:19)

8.…Land at Last! (1:14)

9.…Columbus Put in Chains (2:17)

10..Return to Spain (2:12)

Seven Waves Away (3 Orchestral Pieces, 1956)

11..Allegro con fuoco (1:57)

12..Allegro (2:05)

13..Maestoso quasi Marcia funebre (4:20)

Men of Two Worlds

14..Baraza (6:58)

15..Return to Tanganyika (2:46)

16..The Challenge-The Wrath of the Evil Gods (2:05)

17..Kisenga’s Family (2:34)

18..Village Fire and Finale (2:16)

Total Time is 50:11