Sour note plays over jazz composer's legacy

Widow heartbroken as husband's final work is forced into second place by rivals
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The Independent Online
SIMON TAIT

Plans for a premiere of the last work of the late jazz pianist Roy Budd - a symphonic score for the silent classic Phantom of the Opera - have been overtaken by the conductor Carl Davis.

Budd's widow, the French television journalist Sylvia Noel, is heartbroken that despite a three-year struggle to see his work performed in public, it must now take second place to Davis's rival project.

Budd died of a brain haemorrhage, aged 46, last August, 1993 - a month before he was to have conducted the piece at the Barbican, accompanying a showing of a print of the Lon Chaney film, on which he had spent pounds 350,000 to buy and restore.

Michel Legrand, the conductor and composer who has won three Oscars for his own film scores, plans to conduct the Berlin Opera Orchestra in the piece at the Deutsche Oper in the city next summer, and then at the Munich Deutsche Oper. EMI is to release a compact disc.

However, although the piece may also form the centrepiece of next year's 50th anniversary Cannes Film Festival, it will not be the first symphonic treatment of the film to be heard in public. Next month, at the Edinburgh Festival, Davis is to conduct his own composition to a Kevin Brownlow print of the film. The two have worked together on such silent film classics as Abel Gance's Napoleon.

For Budd, composing his score was a Herculean task. A year before his death and halfway through the project, he lost his fortune when a charity he had set up collapsed. Even his piano had to be sold, and he composed almost the entire score without hearing it.

"The day before he died, Roy showed me that he had dedicated the piece to me," Ms Noel said. "He believed it was his best work, and I've made it my task since he died to get it on."

"It is heartbreaking, although I'm sure there is room for two pieces, I don't know that there will be a buying audience for two videos and two CDs. It has been a bitter blow."

Born in Croydon, Roy Budd was a child prodigy jazz pianist who first appeared on television in Sunday Night at the London Palladium at the age of 12. At 20 he had written his first film score, for Soldier Blue, and went on to compose 50 film scores, including the music for Get Carter - which has achieved a degree of cult status with five versions of the music currently available on CD - The Wild Geese and Who Dares Wins.

Since he was a child, Budd had been fascinated by Gaston Leroux's Gothic story of the disfigured musical genius who lived secretly in the caverns beneath the Paris Opera. Later, when it was his ambition to write an accompaniment for a silent movie, having been inspired by seeing the Brownlow/Davis Napoleon, he heard of a private collector willing to sell a 35mm print of Phantom and he bought it. "Even the BFI hasn't got a 35mm version," he boasted.

It took two years to restore it and write the music, a near-impossible task because the film is shot at different speeds, in three sections, a ballet sequence and an aria from Gounod's Faust in the middle. He had to slow the 78 minutes down to an even 22 frames a second, adding five minutes.

"Kevin Brownlow took me to task, saying I'd enhanced the print, and that you can't make it better than the original," said Budd at the time. "All I'm doing is making it as good as it can possibly be."

The Brownlow/Davis Phantom, which is also expected to be seen in the London Film Festival in November, is believed to be a new print taken from the original negative.

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