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Ken Russell's Composers

A list of all composers given the Ken Russell treatment

Main image of Ken Russell's Composers

As Alfred Hitchcock is indelibly linked to the suspense thriller and Merchant-Ivory embody the respectable British costume drama, so Ken Russell's career is defined by music. Always far more stimulated by notes than by words, he made his first composer portrait for the BBC in 1959 and over the next four-and-a-half decades would make fifteen more, ranging from TV documentaries to full-length feature films. In addition, he has made numerous films and programmes about music in general, from the encyclopaedic Ken Russell's ABC of British Music to smaller-scale studies of specific areas, such as colliery bands, mechanical musical instruments and the English folk song. He has said on more than one occasion that if he had the talent, he'd rather have been a composer than a film-maker.

This is a list of composers whose lives and works inspired complete films and TV programmes by Ken Russell, in chronological order of birth:

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) - Lisztomania, feature film (1975)
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) - The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner: 50-minute South Bank Show (ITV, tx. 14/10/1990)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) - The Music Lovers, feature film (1970)
Edward Elgar (1857-1934) - Elgar: 56-minute Monitor special (BBC, tx. 11/11/1962) and Elgar - Fantasy of a Composer on a Bicycle, a 52-minute South Bank Show (ITV, tx. 22/9/2002)
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) - Mahler, feature film (1974)
Frederick Delius (1862-1934) - Song of Summer: 72-minute film for Omnibus (tx. 15/9/1968)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) - Dance of the Seven Veils: 55-minute film for Omnibus (BBC, tx. 15/2/1970)
Claude Debussy (1865-1918) - The Debussy Film: 85 minute Monitor special (BBC, tx. 18/5/1965)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1873-1958) - 60-minute South Bank Show documentary (ITV, tx. 8/4/1984)
Béla Bartók (1881-1945) - 50-minute Monitor special (BBC, tx. 24/5/1964)
Arnold Bax (1883-1953) - The Secret Life of Arnold Bax: 60-minute South Bank Show documentary (ITV, tx. 22/11/1992)
Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) - The Mystery of Dr Martinu, 60-minute fantasy (BBC, tx. 16/5/1992)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) - Prokofiev: 28-minute documentary for Monitor (BBC, tx. 18/6/1961)
Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) - 17-minute documentary for Monitor (BBC, tx. 29/3/1959)
Georges Delerue (1925-1992) - Don't Shoot The Composer: documentary for Omnibus (BBC, tx. 29/1/1966)

Other music-related works, listed in order of broadcast/release:

Guitar Craze (BBC, tx. 7/6/1959) and The Light Fantastic (BBC, tx. 18/12/1960) - short Monitor documentaries about then-current music and dance crazes.
Variations on a Mechanical Theme (BBC, tx. 27/9/1959) - short Monitor documentary about mechanical musical instruments.
Marie Rambert and Cranks at Work - short Monitor documentaries about choreographers Marie Rambert and John Cranko (both BBC, tx. 17/1/1960)
Miners' Picnic (BBC, tx. 3/7/1960) - short Monitor piece about a colliery band contest.
Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill (BBC, tx. 26/3/1961) - live performance, co-directed by Humphrey Burton
The Boy Friend (1971) - feature film adaptation of Sandy Wilson's musical
Tommy (1975) - feature film adaptation of The Who's rock opera
Ken Russell's View of 'The Planets' (ITV, tx. 12/6/1983) - a 52-minute South Bank Show
Aria (1987) - Russell directed a visualisation of Puccini's 'Nessun Dorma' for Don Boyd's multi-director operatic feature film extravaganza.
Ken Russell's ABC of British Music (ITV, tx. 2/4/1988) - 75-minute South Bank Show special
Classic Widows (ITV, tx. 5/2/1995) - a 52-minute South Bank Show about the widows of composers Sir William Walton, Bernard Stevens, Benjamin Frankel and Humphrey Searle
Ken Russell In Search of the English Folk Song (Channel 4, tx. 31/8/1998)

Distinguished composers and musicians who have worked with Ken Russell include:

Richard Rodney Bennett - original score for Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
John Corigliano - original score for Altered States (US, 1980)
Carl Davis - original score for The Rainbow (1989)
Georges Delerue - original scores for French Dressing (1963) and Women in Love (1969)
Thomas Dolby - original score for Gothic (1986),
Peter Maxwell Davies - original score for The Devils; arrangements for The Boy Friend (both 1971)
André Previn - music director on The Music Lovers (1970)
Pete Townshend - original score for Tommy (1975)
Rick Wakeman - original scores for Lisztomania (1975) and Crimes of Passion (US, 1984).

Michael Brooke

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Béla Bartók (1964)

Béla Bartók (1964)

Ken Russell's portrait of the great Hungarian composer

Thumbnail image of Dance of the Seven Veils (1970)

Dance of the Seven Veils (1970)

Ken Russell's controversial caricature of the composer Richard Strauss

Thumbnail image of Debussy Film, The (1965)

Debussy Film, The (1965)

Ken Russell's film-within-a-film about the French composer

Thumbnail image of Elgar (1962)

Elgar (1962)

Ken Russell's remarkably imaginative portrait of the composer

Thumbnail image of Gordon Jacob (1959)

Gordon Jacob (1959)

Ken Russell's portrait of the English composer at home and at work

Thumbnail image of Ken Russell's ABC of British Music (1988)

Ken Russell's ABC of British Music (1988)

Wild and (sometimes) wonderful trip through Britain's musical heritage

Thumbnail image of Prokofiev (1961)

Prokofiev (1961)

Ken Russell's portrait of the great Russian composer

Thumbnail image of Song of Summer (1968)

Song of Summer (1968)

Ken Russell's moving drama about the last years of the blind composer Delius

Thumbnail image of Vaughan Williams (1984)

Vaughan Williams (1984)

Ken Russell's study of the great composer's nine symphonies

Related Collections

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Russell, Ken (1927-2011)

Russell, Ken (1927-2011)

Director, Producer, Writer, Actor