THINGS TO COME – Arthur Bliss
Original Review by Craig Lysy
At the invitation of H. G. Wells, Arthur Bliss was hired to score one of the earliest science fiction films, Things to Come, which was released in 1936. Wells had full artistic control over the film and tasked Bliss to write the score, and then he would adapt his film to it. This radical approach went against all convention of the day. It suffices to say that Bliss, who was renown for his modernist classical compositions, only took the assignment because of the creative license Wells provided. Well the rest is history, as Bliss created a masterwork that in every way supported Wells’ creative vision, as well as the film’s narrative, which revealed humanity on a noble quest to establish a better society, and a new world order grounded in principles of science. Bliss created a concert suite for his score, which survives to this day. Regretfully, producer Alexander Korda over-ruled Wells’ vision and subjugated Bliss’ score to the film, which necessitated edits.
The score offers a remarkable journey. We open with energetic music, which alludes to a palpable and growing menace. This portentous prelude ushers in the destruction and confusion of modern war. What follows is the suffering of war, its pathos, pain and pestilence. Yet hope remains as patriotism rouses the populace and inspires the heroism of the airmen. Victory ushers in the mechanical crescendo of reconstruction and the drive towards a new world order. Remarkably, Bliss emotes this with a growing orchestral tranquility and confluence, thus reflecting a growing efficiency by which humanity abolishes the inequity of the earlier mechanistic civilization of the nineteenth century. The music of the new world abounds with optimism, yet is soon countered by a reactionary counter-revolutionary revolt. We conclude with an inspired and heroic victory as we see a massive Space Gun fire a moon cylinder spacecraft on its momentous journey, thus realizing humanity’s quest for the stars. Bliss’ score is a seminal achievement in the annals of film score art. His inspired writing in every way enhances the dramatic arc of the story’s narrative, thus making Wells’s film better.
Editor’s Note: For those who don’t know who he is, Arthur Bliss was a very respected composer of serious, traditional classical music in England, who also dabbled in film, composing a dozen or so scores between 1936 and 1966. He was knighted in 1950, and became Master of the Royal Music in 1953 – an incredibly prestigious appointment previously held by Edward Elgar, among others. He died in 1975. The only recording of the Things To Come film score (not the concert suite, which has been recorded may times) is on the Chandos album ‘The Film Music of Arthur Bliss’, conducted by Rumon Gamba, which also features selections from his scores for the 1944 film Caesar and Cleopatra, and a 1966 TV documentary about British Royal Palaces.
For those of you unfamiliar I have attached a Youtube link to his magnificent concert suite.
Buy the Things to Come soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Prologue (2:35)
- Ballet for Children (3:41)
- March (3:40)
- Attack (1:56)
- The World in Ruins (2:42)
- Pestilence (2:54)
- Excavation (1:53)
- The Building of the New World (2:15)
- Machines (1:28)
- Attack on the Moon Gun (1:21)
- Epilogue (7:41)
Running Time: 31 minutes 58 seconds
Chandos CHAN-9896 (1936/2001)
Music composed by Arthur Bliss. Conducted by Rumon Gamba. Performed by The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Arthur Bliss and Gordon Jacob. Album produced by Mike George.