Brian Easdale was a composer whose work was principally centered in the concert hall. Beginning in 1937, however, his work came to encompass film music, and a dozen years later he achieved international renown -- which has continued long past his death in 1995 -- for "The Red Shoes Ballet," authored for the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger drama The Red Shoes (1948), for which he received the Academy Award. Easdale was born in Manchester, England in 1909, and was educated at the Westminster Abbey Choir School the the Royal College of Music in London, where his principal teacher was Gordon Jacob. He composed the first of his three operas, Rapunzel, at age 18 -- his two subsequent works in this medium were The Corn King (1935) and The Sleeping Children (1951). His greatest success lay in the concert hall, where his Dead March (1929) was taken up into the repertory of his one-time mentor Sir Malcolm Sargent. He had various orchestral works performed in Vienna, and his Piano Concerto received a broadcast performance in 1938. In 1937, with the help of his friend and contemporary Benjamin Britten, he began writing music for documentaries produced by the Crown Film Unit, and he continued to write documentary scores after the outbreak of World War II, during which he served in the Royal Artillery. He didn't aspire to writing for feature films until 1946, when Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were preparing their production of Black Narcissus (1947). For the previous four years, they had relied on the services of Polish-born composer Allan Gray, but he was unprepared to score this film, a drama set amid the extraordinary vistas of the Himilayas. By contrast, Easdale had by chance, in the years leading up to the making of the movie, become a friend Rumer Godden, the author of the underlying book. That friendship led to his being selected to write the music for Black Narcissus, and he provided a well-nigh perfect score for a movie that required a special body of music. It was Powell's plan for the film's climactic sequence, involving the search for a distraught, possibly mentally unhinged character, ending with an attempt at murder, to edit the action to the music. Easdale made Powell's idea work perfectly, and so well that the director and his partner thereupon decided that their next film would be even more thoroughly woven through with musical structures. That film was The Red Shoes, and it had been the Archers' intent to work once more with Allan Gray, but when they found themselves unhappy with Gray's attempt at writing a ballet for the movie, they called upon Easdale.
He delivered a score that not only won an Academy Award but also, thanks to the involvement of Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the recording of the ballet for the film, led directly to the duo's next big music-based project, The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). Easdale worked with the two filmmakers for the next 14 years, not only on their joint productions such as The Small Back Room, The Elusive Pimpernel (which was originally conceived as a musical), and Gone to Earth (aka The Wild Heart), and The Pursuit of the Graf Spee, but also on their separate projects, the Pressburger-produced Miracle in Soho and Powell's Peeping Tom.
In 1963, after the "Red Shoes Ballet" had found something of a life in the concert hall and on commercial recordings, Easdale devised a four-movement suite from the film score. He spent most of the 1960's in retirement from the film world, though he returned to work with Powell on the latter's Return To the Edge of the World (1978), a follow-up documentary to his 1937 drama Edge of the World. "The Red Shoes Ballet" was reissued in at least two different recordings on compact disc during the late 1980's and 1990's. And during the early 1990's, a Broadway adaptation of The Red Shoes took the boards and disappeared after five performances, becoming one of the more notorious flops of the 1993 season -- Easdale might have been gratified to know, however, that one of the more widely held criticisms of the stage version was that the producers had declined to use his ballet music; apparently, what was used was a disappointment to anyone familiar with the film (which would have comprised most of the audience). Near the end of his life, Easdale expressed an interest in returning to active composition, and reportedly was devising a multi-media work inspired by "Confessions of an English Opium Eater" by de Quincey, a project that he never finished. Easdale passed away in 1995, a year after receiving the Ivor Novello Award. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi