William Walton: Spitfire Prelude and Fugue

Leslie Howard as R. J. Mitchell. David Niven as his test pilot. The First of the Few. It sounds, and is, a product of its time, a flag-waving morale-booster movie on the subject of the Supermarine Spitfire.

For Walton, movies were his bread and butter. Yes, he was lucky enough to enjoy the support of various patrons along the way – particularly Lady Alice Wimbourne. Indeed, by way of answering the question ‘What did you do in the war, Uncle William?’, when the Queen’s Hall was destroyed in 1941, it was the very same air raid that took out Walton’s house, too. Consequently, the composer moved in with his patron and continued composing. It’s said that when a friend passed on the artistic desires of the director (also Leslie Howard) for the music, Walton turned to him and replied, ‘Ah, Leslie wants lots of notes. I see!’ The film came out in 1942, and the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue was premiered by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, at the city’s Philharmonic Hall, in January 1943.

Recommended Recording

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Neville Marriner (conductor). Chandos: CHAN8870.