The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Malcolm Pratt

Allan Gray
Notes from a CD sleeve

Allan Gray (1902 - 1973) was born Joseph Zmigrod in Poland, and studied under Arnold Schoenberg. He served as music director for Max Reinhardt in Berlin, where his compositions included a children's opera called "Wavelength ABC." He took his new name after arriving in England in the early 1930s, and began his motion picture career with the thriller "F.P.I." [not to be confused with the FBI, the Film British Institute - Malcolm] [F.P.1. - that's a digit 1, not a letter I - starring Connie Veidt] in 1933. In 1943, he started writing music for The Archers, the production company founded by the writer/producer/director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. "Stairway to Heaven" (titled "A Matter of Life and Death" in England) was the last and grandest wartime film made by the duo, a romantic fantasy about a pilot (David Niven) who finds himself caught between two worlds - a Technicolor Earth, populated by passionate, robust men and women, and a cold, monochromatic Next World, dedicated to order - after he survives a jump from a burning plane without a parachute. [Why oh why didn't they think to attach a parachute to that plane! - Malcolm] The film wove a delicate, dazzling spell, its moods alternately exultant, witty and tragic, with a boldness of spirit that lay somewhere midway between an Offenbach opera and Beethoven's Choral Symphony.

Gray's score for "Stairway to Heaven," the major themes of which are contained in this 1946 Prelude conducted by Charles Williams, opens with its expansive title music, swelling ominously (as does the universe on screen) before giving way to the theme associated with the pilot's fear of the irresistible heavenly forces at work, and the immense celestial stairway that he imagines is waiting to lead him to his death (curiously, some 15 years later, composer Leonard Rosenman adopted a similar piano theme for the "Twilight Zone" story "And When the Sky Was Opened", [any old-timers recall this episode? Although an old-timer myself, and a fairly large fan of the "Twilight Zone", I don't recall it - Malcolm] about three astronauts who find themselves caught in a similar predicament.) The stairway motif is replaced by the love theme (which was published, with lyrics, as "So Heavenly") [anyone ever heard or seen this? - Malcolm] - which is first heard in the film coming from a harmonica played by a dead airman, newly arrived in the Next World in the pilot's fantasy - manifested in a triumphant mode for the dénouement.

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