William Walton: Two Pieces from Henry V

No.1 Passacaglia – The Death of Falstaff


William Walton was asked to compose the music for the 1944 film of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Walton himself did not create a suite from the music he composed for this film, however Sir Malcolm Sargent and Muir Mathieson did, with both of the suites gaining fair popularity. What has stayed at the forefront are two gentle works, scored for string orchestra. 


The Music

The first of the two, a passacaglia is entitled The Death of Falstaff. The lower strings begin the piece, creating a dark and mysterious atmosphere. The rich middle strings enter, bolstering the texture and creating a mournful character. The slow movement of the strings, paired with the subtle decorations and ingenious orchestrating makes this delicate piece really effective. As the strings grow to a heart-wrenching climax towards the end of the work, the intensity begins to rise. The woody timbre from the cello and viola creates a rich texture that the mournful violins can lay on, before the piece slowly dies away – just like Falstaff. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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