The soundtrack to the 1982 adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman uses subtle orchestration to bring the hand-drawn on-screen animation to life. A swirling flute solo accompanies the boy as he reaches up to place a hat on the newly built snowman’s head.
Then, as he draws the mouth and stands back to admire his creation, the musical ensemble comes together with a flourish. The distinctive treble vocals (later popularised by a cover sung by Aled Jones) are universally known: “We’re walking in the air/ We’re floating in the moonlit sky/ The people far below are sleeping as we fly.”
After snowman and boy have touched down under the aurora borealis, they enter a dark and snowy forest, accompanied by an ominous passage in the strings. This soon develops into another famous tune as the duo joins a party, hosted by none other than Father Christmas. Snowmen play flutes, tambourine and fiddle, while snow people dance.
The way this particular theme has been treated in a new vocal arrangement has not pleased Howard Blake, composer of the original score. “You can’t recreate it through vocals,” he explained to Carolyn Quinn on Radio 4’s PM programme. “How might it sound?” asked Quinn. Blake hummed and howled the well-known melody. It sounded like a tape being swallowed up by an unfriendly machine.
The new voices-only arrangement was intended to headline the Christmas programming on Radio 3 and Radio 4, due to be performed by the BBC Singers, with narration by Stephen Fry.
It is not the principle of having a different arrangement – Blake has licensed thousands of versions of The Snowman – but this particular offering has been deemed below par. “I care a great deal about The Snowman,” said the composer. “If we have an arrangement that mocks it and makes it sound silly it will take a great deal of pleasure away from the world. I agree to pretty much every arrangement, but this one I don’t think is a good idea.”