Airedale Symphony Orchestra

Battle of the Somme film

King's Hall Ilkley

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The 1916 Battle of the Somme was captured in soft-grained black and white by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell for this amazing 75 minutes-long silent film. Planned initially as morale-boosting wartime propaganda, the Somme film was seen by almost half the UK population. Millions packed cinemas across the land in the hope of catching glimpses of loved ones on the battlefield. Such was the film's appeal that audience figures remained unsurpassed for six decades - until the release of Star Wars in 1977.

Laura Rossi's resourceful symphonic score sensitively and lovingly matches the interwoven tapestry of Malin and McDowell's harrowing footage of dead and wounded as well as the smiles and cheery waves of the troops, or jubilant battlefield preparations.

The launching of a preliminary attack by avalanches of so called "plum pudding" bombs - designed to eradicate the German barbed wire defences - is heralded by suspenseful hovering strings and the eerie-sounding gale from a wind machine. Full orchestra with thunderous timpani depict gunfire and heavy artillery. Plangent oboe and crystalline harp textures accompany recovery of the wounded on stretchers, images of dead horses or the regimental dog and its beloved master fallen in battle.

Rossi had earlier set the scene by reading poignant passages from her great-uncle's battlefield diary. She must have been both moved and delighted by the Airedale Symphony Orchestra's luminous and impeccably synchronised performance conducted by John Anderson. A large audience was held in thrall by the overwhelming power of the film and Rossi's atmospheric soundscape.

Geoffrey Mogridge