Love from a Stranger
By the time Britten came to write the music for the film Love from a Stranger in November 1936, he had already composed scores for no fewer than twenty-five short films (most of them for the GPO Film Unit). He had expected to begin work in September of that year, not long after completing Our Hunting Fathers, but a series of frustrating delays meant that the whole score had to be written in a few days at the end of November, and immediately recorded. The composer Grace Williams worked on the score as an amanuensis; the musical director for the film was Boyd Neel, for whose orchestra Britten was to compose the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge the following year.
Love from a Stranger was a 'thriller' starring Ann Harding and Basil Rathbone, based on an Agatha Christie short story, Philomel Cottage. As well as Britten's score, the film also included excerpts from Grieg's Peer Gynt music, and a contemporary dance band. Not all of the present score was used - No. 3, 'Brighton', was omitted and cuts were made in nos. 5 and 6. In the latter, a savage cut deleted the references to the music of the other numbers in bars 13-20, including the trombone's scale, which alludes to a scene in which a child practices the piano unseen. Britten was not happy with the way his music was used, and this was to remain his only work for the commercial cinema.
The full score of the film music has been lost, and so this score has been reconstructed from sketches in the Britten-Pears Library, Aldeburgh and from the soundtrack. Since the quality of the surviving copies of the film is poor, and the sketches are frequently lacking in detail, a certain amount of reconstruction is hypothetical, although I have not had to invent anything of substance. I have, however, added to Britten's miniature recapitulation in no. 6 a tiny reminiscence of the 'Love Music' in the woodwind figures in bar 19. Since this passage was cut from the soundtrack, it seemed a justifiable liberty to take.
The first performances of Collin Matthews's transcription took place on 20 May 1995 at the Barbican Hall, London, with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Carl Davis.
The gala premier of the film was given on 7 January 1937; it was produced by Max Schach and directed by Rowland V. Lee for Trafalgar Films.
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