Friday, February 08, 2013

CCC 058 Howard Blake

British composer Howard Blake is this subject of the Consonant Classical Challenge for this week. Blake is a respected composer both in the fields of classical and film music. He writes in a post-romantic idiom that has a strong English flavor to it.

His composition "Walking on Air" from the animated short "The Snowman" is his best-know work. To many, it's his only known work. The song is well-crafted, and quite appealing. But if you listen carefully, there's more going on here than just pretty music-making. Blake infuses the song with an undercurrent of unrest, which gives it more emotional depth. I think perhaps its one of the reasons to song has remained so popular since its release in 1982.

Blake's classical compositions are just a solidly constructed. His clarinet concerto sounds somewhat like Gerald Finzi's in terms of its Englishness, but the harmonies are little more aggressive. While still a quite attractive work, there's enough substance to reward the careful listener.

Speech after long Silence, for solo piano is another work that has more going on under the surface. A casual listener will her the flowing chords and pop-inflected turns of the melody and feel quite at home. An active listener will take the title into account, and hear a carefully constructed elegiac work instead.

Blake is first and foremost a melodist. It's his strength as a film composer, and it gives his classical music an instant accessibility. His flute quartet is a good example of that talent. The melodies are attractive and memorable.

Although "Walking on Air" gets plenty of performances, there are many other works by Blake that should be well-received by concert audiences. Although his movie scores could be used in pops programs alongside those of John Williams and Howard Shore, there's more to Blake's catalog than just a collection of music cues. His classical works might not be considered proper academic fare, but they were written to communicate with the listener -- which is not a bad thing, I think.

Recommended Recordings

Howard Blake: Violin Concerto "The Leeds"

 Howard Blake: Violin Sonata; Piano Quartet

The Snowman

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