Howard Blake is that rarity in the contemporary music scene, a genuinely popular composer. If he has a recent parallel, it is probably Leonard Bernstein, though he is an altogether more ‘natural’, less troubled composer than Bernstein even at his gentlest.
Blake’s reputation rests very squarely on the success of the acclaimed children’s film ‘The Snowman’ and particularly on its haunting theme ‘Walking in the Air’. Since its first performance in 1982 the piece has become a Christmas classic both in its animated form on British television and in its theatrical form as a record-breaking ballet for Sadler’s Wells. Its merits are the classical merits par excellence, clearly audible in all Blake’s concert music. The purity of line and lack of clutter that make ‘Walking in the Air’ so utterly and immediately memorable, is also what animates the Clarinet Concerto and complements his apparent conviction that imaginative composition is still feasible within a constantly renewing harmonic tradition.
After an immensely successful period in his 20s at the peak of the London music scene, he retreated to the country to work again at the basic pillars of harmony and counterpoint, slowly refining a technique and language that have little in common with much contemporary academic music. His most obvious (distant) influence is Mozart, but there is also something of his one-time teacher Howard Ferguson’s neoclassical idiom and a strong sense of music as a cultural adhesive, rebonding a society fractured by civilisation and its discontents. Recordings of his music grow ever-more numerous and performances and releases take place around the world. Blake is unembarrassed and unhindered by his popularity. It is, as it was with Mozart, simply a response to a spontaneous melodic gift underpinned with considerable technical skill.