When I was a teenager, I sort-of-learned to play the flute. I never got very good at it, because I rarely practiced. My feeling after each lesson, as I packed the flute into its brown plastic case, and the case into my school bag, and began the long journey home (two buses and over an hour) was relief. Thank God, that’s over for the week.
Here’s the thing. I never chose to play the flute. I had not shown an interest in it, or asked for the chance to learn. It was decided for me that I should do so. At home, encouragement and involvement in my musical journey consisted of quarterly complaints about the cost of lessons.
It wasn’t my teacher’s fault – he was kind, and patient. His name was Tony. Nice guy; loved jazz, played trombone in a big band. The problem was that at a basic level I just didn’t get it. I regarded Music in the same way as I regarded Applied Physics: something which I had to do, and at which I might fail. I approached Music as an extra subject, requiring extra homework, which had been forced on me.
Tony tried. He asked out what music I enjoyed, hoping (I see now) that the joy, the engagement, would come. He even, after I gave him a recording of it, listened to and transcribed this tune.
The record it comes from is a collection of the music which William Walton scored for three different films, all starring Laurence Olivier and all adaptations of Shakespeare. One is Olivier’s 1955 film Richard III. There is a scene early on, when a medieval band strikes up a cheerful tune to celebrate the coronation of King Henry IV, and (as everyone hopes) the end of the long English civil war, known to history as the Wars of the Roses, and to millions today as roughly the plot of Game of Thrones. Think of Henry IV as Robert Baratheon, and you are on then right track.
The music is playing. Richard, currently Duke of Gloucester but already planning to murder his way to the throne, walks away from the coronation. A door closes and the music is – not cut off, but grows faint. And Richard begins his monologue: “Now is the winter of our discontent …”
The joy of the coronation, we realize, can’t last. Winter is coming.
You don’t hear the cinematic effect of the door closing in this version, which is an extract from the ten-minute “Richard III: A Shakespeare Suite” – you just get to enjoy the thing for what it is.
Thank you, Tony, for going way beyond the call of duty, transcribing this tune for me to learn on the flute. I did have a go at playing it, but never got very good. It wasn’t your fault. At that time, I just was not able to enjoy the thing – playing music – for what it is.
- Artist: Sir William Walton conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra
- LP Title: Sir William Walton Conducts His Great Film Music (Henry V / Hamlet / Richard III)
- Track: Extract from Side 1, Track 2 “Richard III: A Shakespeare Suite”
- Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
- Label: Seraphim S-60205
- Manufactured in: United States
- Year: Unknown
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