The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Written by Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond, Directed by Billy Wilder, 1970

I have a lot of toasty warm affection for this underrated movie (which I saw second-run in Minneapolis the summer before I started music school), not least because of Hungarian-born Miklos Rozsa‘s score, which he based on his Violin Concerto op. 24, and on which I’ve based my stroke story, The Rosza Concerto.

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Robert Stephens as the great detective and Genevieve Page as his latest client. Yes, that’s Sherlock Holmes embracing a beautiful, nude, warm and willing woman while heroically subduing his id.

This is Austrian-born Wilder and Romanian-born Diamond at their best, examining—through impish Hollywood eyes, of course—that weird combination of emotional reticence and superciliousness that makes English men just sooo attractive. Their great detective, however, turns out in the end (not to give anything away) to be a lonely man, unsophisticated, profoundly vulnerable, and something of a loser. Stephens’s highly original performance makes his my favorite Holmes of all.

Here’s the trailer from the latest theatrical re-release of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It’s also now on Amazon Prime in entirety.

“Warsaw Concerto” by Richard Addinsell, Played by Valentina Lisitsa with the BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Keith Lockhart, BBC Proms 2013

Warsaw Concerto Lisitsa Lockhart 2013
I love watching how Lockhart, official Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, scrupulously keeps in sync with not just his orchestra but with his soloist. It’s also a delight to watch at the beginning of the clip Lisitsa curtsying almost shyly to leader Cynthia Fleming.

Valentina Lisitsa, who started out as a YouTube sensation 12 years ago and is now counted as one of the foremost keyboard interpreters of the Eastern European Romantics, gives an intensely satisfying performance here of Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto”. The Concerto was written for the movies—for, specifically, the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight, in which Polish concert pianist Anton Walbrook becomes a fighter pilot for the RAF, falls in love, gets amnesia, and composes some music. The movie, although a success from a propaganda viewpoint, was considered a potboiler by critics, and even the astute Anthony Burgess, who was an army sergeant and nascent composer himself at the time, looked down on the “Warsaw Concerto” as a cheap imitation of Rachmaninoff. Intellectual snobs have derided the piece, but it’s lingered in the memory for lo these many years, and is only now taking its permanent place in the classical repertoire.

For that we have to thank composer/film music restorer Philip Lane. It was to Lane that the musical estate of Richard Addinsell was entrusted and, like composer/orchestrator William David Brohn (for Prokoviev’s Alexander Nevsky) and my beloved John Wilson, Lane took on the task of reconstructing by ear written scores for film music whose manuscripts had been destroyed through carelessness or war. (Some suggest that the “Warsaw Concerto” was entirely the work of Addinsell’s orchestrator, Roy Douglas, who died in 2015 at the age of 107.) Addinsell’s—or Douglas’s—”Warsaw Concerto” was one of them. As Lane writes:

“The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Horner in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.”

Harriet Cohen Plays Cornish Rhapsody by Hubert Bath, Featured in the 1944 Film, Love Story

Margaret Lockwood is a dying pianist, Stewart Granger is an RAF pilot going blind in this wartime romance from Gainsborough Pictures.

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Legendary pianist, anti-fascist activist and muse to Arnold Bax, Ralph Vaughan Williams and others Harriet Cohen at the piano here. “Cornish Rhapsody” was written by Hubert Bath (who also wrote, for all you English sports fans, “Out of the Blue” for the BBC5 Sports Report).

End Title Music from Waterland by Carter Burwell

After all these years I’m still so steamed at Steve I forget how beautiful his movie and how achingly beautiful the music is.

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To get a glimpse of Steve’s movie starring Jeremy Irons, read my post on Waterland above. PS 8 January 2019: I posted, then just as quickly removed, a pretty snarky photo of Steve just now. Can’t keep beating my fists on his chest, he’s gone, completely gone…body, mind, spirit, everything

Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in the Film Brassed Off, Starring Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald (1996)

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As I remarked earlier, I will go almost anywhere my beloved leads me, and it was a remark of John’s that led me to this movie, which in 1995 was released to much acclaim in England but neglected and devalued in the States when it was shown here a year later. When asked by The Telegraph about his early musical influences, said John Wilson, Conductor, “Brass bands. Coming from a working-class background, the tradition of amateur music-making was important to me…”

In this scene Tara Fitzgerald is showing the lads her superior proficiency on the flugelhorn, which inspires their conductor—played by Lancashire-born Peter Postlethwaite—to consider taking the band on a competition tour and win some desperately needed prize money for their out-of-work members. There were a spate of British films in the 90s that dealt with the mass unemployment in Britain in the 80s that created a crisis in the culture of the north of the country a decade earlier, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot being two of the better known. Brassed Off is well written, well acted, has lots of very listenable music, and well deserves a larger audience.

Waterland Starring Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, 1992

As I said above, this is one of Steve’s better movies. (Re the pic below: It’s the only movie still I could find on the ‘net without a watermark and yes, that is Lena Headey in her first screen role.)

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From the novel by Graham Swift, who has the semi-amusing story in his own memoir of how Steve got the job in the first place.

Tragic Love and Swoony Music

Brief Encounter

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2, played by Australian pianist Eileen Joyce in the famous ending of Brief Encounter.

From Jeremy Paxman’s 1998 The English: A Portrait of a People:

Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in the tearoom of a railway station, where she is waiting for the steam train home after a day’s shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction, the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following eighty minutes of this beautifully written movie depict their deepening love and guilt each feels about it. …

As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background, their affair unfolds, measured out in cups of tea in the waiting room of Milford station. … Being English, Celia Johnson feels no animosity towards her husband, whom she considers “kindly and unemotional”. Trevor Howard, equally trapped in a dry marriage, also expresses no hostility towards his wife and children. But the two of them are in the force of a passion they can hardly control. “We must be sensible,” is the constant refrain. “If we control ourselves, there’s still time.” In the end, despite all the protestations of undying devotion, the romance remains unconsummated…

What does this most popular of English films tell us about the English?