"THE SNOWMAN" AND ALL THAT : THE MUSIC OF HOWARD BLAKE
By Philip L Scowcroft
As I write, the Christmas TV feature "The Snowman" is 30 years old; the music for that, comprising not only the song Walking in the Air, but a nigh on 30 minutes sound track (though not for its 2012 Channel 4 sequel, "The Snowman and the Snowdog") was by Howard Blake. The composer may have become fed up with being remembered primarily for that, rather as Rachmaninoff was, when asked to play so many times that Prelude. In fact he has produced so many works - upwards of 600 - that it will not be the easiest of tasks to summarise his output. Generally speaking it has an easy, shapely, lyrical feel; although it includes substantial pieces like concertos and a Symphony we may fittingly regard it as "light music" in its broader sense.
Howard Blake, appointed OBE in 1994, pianist and conductor as well as composer, was born in 1938, in London, although he was brought up in Brighton. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Harold Craxton and Howard Ferguson. Evidence of this classical training may be found in his concertos for clarinet, piano (1994, later recorded) and violin and a Symphony in one movement subtitled Impressions of a City. Other orchestral compositions include Concert Dances, A Nursery Rhyme Overture (1987), Heartbeat for tenor saxophone, big band and strings (1982, revised 1989) and a suite for strings entitled A Month in the Country derived from a play; other incidental music (for theatre, TV and film) we can exemplify was for "The Avengers" (1968), "SOS Titanic", "Henry V" (1985), "The Canterville Ghost" (1986) and "The Master Builder " (1989).
His work included a considerable amount of what we may describe as "light chamber music": Penillionand a charming Burlesca for violin and piano, Jazz Dances for cello and piano, originally for two pianos; a Piano Quartet; and two deliciously tuneful Trios for respectively, flute, clarinet and piano and piano, violin and cello. Piano solo repertoire (as we have seen, the piano was his primary instrument) includes an appealing Ballade in G Minor, Eight Character Pieces, notably an Andantino in B Minor, and a suite, Party Pieces.
Apart from The Snowman, Blake is not unknown to the world of film music. He provided a score for an adaptation of Erskine Childers' classic 1903 novel of secret service, "The Riddler of the Sands". His music for "Agatha", a film not in the best of taste, about Agatha Christie's notorious disappearance of 1926 was attractive but for some reason was not used. He also wrote music for a TV advertisement for the British Paralympic Association.
Blake's portfolio included a children's musical and a large number of solo songs and choral works; we have not space here for even a selection of their titles.
It is perhaps a pity that The Snowman overshadows his generally amiable output. It may be, too, that its prolific nature has, as so often happens (and not just in our present day – think of Telemann!), worked against more than a small proportion of it being performed. But this should not prevent us saluting that output and the pleasure it has given us.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, issue 195, April 2013.