The 1999 reissue of this soundtrack is one of the most exciting finds in the realm of film music in decades, but to understand exactly why, one must realize that the original soundtrack to the movie Battle of Britain was one of the most controversial movie scores of the 1960s. Sir William Walton, who had previously written the music for the film First of the Few (aka Spitfire), not to mention Sir Laurence Olivier's three major Shakespearean films, wrote a score for Battle of Britain only to have it dropped by the film's producers. At the time, United Artists Records, the music division of the movie's distributor, was having particular luck with orchestral pop-type releases, such as John Barry's James Bond scores, and Walton wrote a complex, serious music score that sounded like it came from the concert hall. The producers replaced his music with a much simpler, more conventional movie score, authored by Ron Goodwin and built around various brass-heavy march tunes, interspersed with a romantic theme or two. Then Olivier, who (with Michael Caine, was the star of the epic film, threatened to have his name taken off the credits of the movie over the snub of his composer friend's music. A compromise was worked out, wherein Walton's scoring for the climactic "Battle in the Air" was kept in the movie; mostly, it was the presence of the five-minute "Battle in the Air" theme that kept the Battle of Britain soundtrack in print (the movie was a notorious failure) for years. The 1999 Rykodisc reissue utilized surviving tapes of Walton's original music (conducted by Malcolm Arnold) to recreate his original score. The Walton "Battle in the Air" stood apart from Goodwin's relentless march themes in no uncertain terms, surging up gradually, through the lower strings, the reeds, and winds, with the brass adding punctuation while the violins play running scales. The recovered Walton score is no less impressive as orchestral writing -- his original main title theme is very similar to his music for Olivier's Richard III, while much of the rest of his writing involves some fairly complex music, sometimes with sophisticated development, with "Battle in the Air" now assembled from superior alternate takes, as the highlight.
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