Is Movie Music The New Classical?


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Is Movie Music The New Classical?

  1. 1. Is MovieJohn Williams, seen below with frequentdirector Steven Spielberg and at right in arecording session for Star Wars, has hadunusual success negotiating his double lifeas a composer of film and concert music. Asa conductor, he has led performances of filmmusic, including his own score to E.T. (largephoto, with the New York Philharmonic).In August, Richard Kaufman conducted anAtlanta Symphony Orchestra concert of filmmusic at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre,accompanied by clips from films like CitizenKane, emceed by film historian RobertOsborne. Jeff Roffman David James
  2. 2. Music the New Classical? by Jack Sullivan Once reviled by the classical music establishment, film music is making a formidable comeback. The New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra regularly program film music; special series such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “Friday Night at the Movies” and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s “A Symphonic Night at the Movies” are thriving. Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, John Corigliano, and other prominent orchestral composers are producing successful film scores; Sony, Naxos, Marco Polo, and many other labels are pouring out CDs of music by Bernard Herrmann, Nina Rota, Ennio Morricone, and John Williams, with maestros like Riccardo Muti and Esa-Pekka Salonen on the covers in solemn “classical” poses s as if they are conducting Beethoven. Chris Lee 31
  3. 3. At least some segments of the classical large numbers of young people to venues happened to like my music. Before, I wasindustry are grabbing onto movie music like New York’s Frederick P. Rose Hall always happy to just go to the movies in aas a way to survive in a treacherous and Carnegie Hall. With his mix of jazz, state of wonder, like a child.” This chanceenvironment, viewing it as a form uniquely flamenco, tango, Middle Eastern chant, element goes back to the film industry’scapable of spreading symphonic culture and post-Ligeti expressionism, Golijov earliest days. European masters like Franzto a new generation at a time when many is picking up where Philip Glass left off, Waxman (1906-67) and Erich Wolfgangcommentators worry about the dwindling drawing new faces into the classical- Korngold (1897-1957) were driven tonumber of young listeners in concert halls. music audience. The day I talked with Hollywood largely by historical accident.As John Williams, Hollywood’s premier him he was ecstatic and anxious about his “Our careers are as much what happens tocomposer, recently told me, film music is a next project with Francis Ford Coppola, us as what we plan to do,” says Williams.“unified art form” capable of reaching across whose film Tetro Golijov was beginning “For Korngold, if it hadn’t been for Mr.boundaries of age, ethnicity, and class, not work on that very day; the two had Hitler he never would have come overto mention the classical-pop divide. In an previously worked together on Coppola’s here and probably never would have doneera of globalization where, as Williams 2007 film Youth Without Youth. Golijov film music. It’s probably the last thing insays, the multinationals seem to make rhapsodized about the appeal of movie 1928 that Korngold would have imagined“more than the treasury departments of music for symphonic composers. “Great for himself.”various countries,” film music has a special film directors come up with ideas that take Modest and soft-spoken, Williams is a prolific film composer who occasionally writes concert music “for my edification and instruction, and even a small degree of pleasure. Most of what I have accomplished in music—what little I may have done— probably will rest in the area of film music. I can’t claim to have done so much work in the concert area.” Yet his concert output, including a new Viola Concerto and Duo Concertante for violin and viola, is extensive. Williams is especially fond of concertos, where he derives “wonderful inspiration from players.” Esteemed by his symphonic colleagues in a way that most movie composers are not, he has written Stephanie Starz concertos for principal players in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland edge. “It’s a larger audience John Mauceri, currently chancellor of the Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic, as than symphonic music can UNC School of the Arts, has been a longtime well as symphonic suites derived from his Donald Dietz advocate of film music. Last November, he led have, just because of the way film scores. His recent piece for cello and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra at the the material is disseminated. Vienna Konzerthaus (above) during a festival orchestra, based on themes from MemoirsFor better or worse, the audience for film devoted to film composer Erich Wolfgang of a Geisha, was premiered by Yo-Yo Ma atmusic, even in an unconscious way, is Korngold, seen in a projected photo above the Tanglewood in 2006.multinational and enormous.” In 2006, the stage with his wife and son. No one has been more successful overLeague of American Orchestras recognized a longer span than Williams in bridgingWilliams’s achievements, giving him its you places you wouldn’t otherwise go,” Hollywood and Carnegie Hall. Golijovannual Gold Baton Award for writing he said. “With a symphonic commission, regards Williams as “a master who combinesorchestral music for film, television, and you are more restricted. A movie can high inspiration with great craftsmanship”;concert hall that has become “an indelible take your imagination to a whole new he says that placing Williams nextpart of America’s cultural fabric, inspiring dimension.” Golijov finds the experience to his colleagues in film music is likemillions of listeners worldwide.” Previous of working with a musically savvy director comparing Mozart to his now-forgottenrecipients include Leonard Bernstein like Coppola—whose father played flute 1959, actor Danny Kaye in 1973, and for Toscanini—to be invigorating: “You Williams’s success in negotiating hisconductor Robert Shaw in 1988. learn something new even when you write double life is unusual. The Korngold- The lure of movie music goes well an uninspired cue.” With film, he says, Waxman generation had a much harderbeyond pragmatic considerations. One of it’s possible to constantly take chances, time bridging the classical-Hollywoodthe latest symphonic film composers is experiment, and learn from failure. divide. In their era, the intelligentsiathe 47-year-old Osvaldo Golijov, whose Like many in the field, Golijov never openly disdained movie music, using itlarge-scale Passions, operas, concertos, planned to write movie music. “It was as an automatic metaphor for anythingsong cycles, and chamber works draw a fluke,” he recalls. “A few directors sentimental or simple-minded. Stravinsky32 symphony november–december 2008
  4. 4. Hollywood and Classical Music AMADEUS, Thomas Hulce, 1984Remember Mr. Holland’s starring Gary Oldman); Mahler actor Gérard Depardieu as aOpus, the movie where Richard (that’s Alma Mahler, in Bride of pianist who falls in love withDreyfuss plays a composer who the Wind, 2002); Beethoven Andie MacDowell. The pianobecomes a music teacher? Or again (Copying Beethoven, is endlessly fascinating—fourthe ones about cellist Jacqueline 2006) and again (in Stanley more that come to minddu Pré (Hilary and Jackie), a Kubrick’s 1971 A Clockwork are The Pianist (2002), The Warner Bros./ Courtesy Everett Collectioncastrato singer (Farinelli), and Orange, where the thuggish Competition (1980), The PianoMozart (Amadeus)? Those main character’s favorite Teacher (2001), and The Pianofilms mostly span the 1980s composer is “lovely Ludwig (1993)—but occasionally otherand 1990s, but Hollywood’s van”); and even the fairly obscure instruments have gotten somelove affair with classical music Marin Marais (Tous Les Matins screen attention, as in The Redhas been going on for a long, du Monde, 1991). Violin (1999), which featureslong time. There have been Most often, it’s not composers a score by John Corigliano.rollicking comedies (the Marx but performers who have Youngsters trying to make their the piano that are impossibleBrothers’ 1935 A Night at the captured Hollywood’s interest. way as performers always have based on where their hands areOpera); suspense films with a There are films aplenty that screen appeal (Fame, 1980), placed, and leading orchestrasmusical score as the key to an feature struggling musicians, while offbeat and sometimes but not moving the baton at theassassination plot (Hitchcock’s like Carnegie Hall (1947), hilarious portrayals of musicians right time. For trained musicians,The Man Who Knew Too Much, about a mother (Marsha Hunt) abound, from Woody Allen as it’s impossible not to laugh at1934 and 1956); One Hundred and her pianist son (William a cellist in a marching band in mistakes that seem so obviousMen and a Girl (1937), starring Prince), in which real-life Take the Money and Run (1969) and easy to avoid, but I suspectDeanna Durbin and featuring musicians Artur Rubinstein, to Warren Beatty’s soprano that most of us are happierLeopold Stokowski as himself; Jascha Heifetz, Bruno Walter, saxophone-playing football when the actor is doing theand Humoresque (1946), about and Walter Damrosch appear. player in Heaven Can Wait actual performing, the way Hugha tortured romance between a The 1996 film Shine tackles (1978) and Sigourney Weaver’s Laurie, star of Fox TV’s hit seriesclassical violinist (John Garfield) the mental pressures suffered cello-playing Dana Barrett in House, does when he plays theand his lover/patron (Joan by another pianist, David Ghost Busters (1984). piano on that show. He plays aCrawford). Helfgott, obsessed with the Over the years, we’ve seen brilliant medical doctor who also Mozart isn’t the only Rachmaninoff Third Concerto. Hollywood’s screen musicians happens to be a brilliant pianist.composer the film industry has Possibly one of the silliest pianist bowing away when no music Of course.dipped into. There’s Beethoven portrayals is in Green Card, a is emanating from their string(Immortal Beloved, 1995, 1990 romance starring French instruments, playing scales on —Jennifer Melickridiculed Rachmaninoff ’s symphonic Nevertheless, critics denounced Hollywood or Arnold Schoenberg for their abortivework as “grandiose film music”; conductor music as shallow and degenerate—ironically, attempts at writing for Hollywood—Otto Klemperer, upon hearing that the very terms the Nazis had used to drive indeed, their failures were badges of honor.Korngold was working for Hollywood, Korngold, Waxman, Ernst Toch, and their Nor were critics as hard on Sergei Prokofiev,scoffed that he “had always composed for colleagues out of Germany and into the film Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton,Warner Brothers, he just didn’t realize it.” industry, where (with Max Steiner already Dmitri Shostakovich or others who madeSumming up the attitude of many of his blazing the trail) they created the sound of only modest money from the French,colleagues in a New York Times piece in Golden Age Hollywood. Mauceri believes British, or Russian cinema. Composing for1945, conductor Erich Leinsdorf blasted these denunciations are a “fake aesthetic” American pictures, where one could actuallyfilm scores as “odious” and “absurd,” a form masking a profound resentment that so make a living, carried a special taint.hopelessly compromised by “the demands many great German composers came toof standardization and pattern.” Hollywood. “Sounds Like Movie Music” As John Mauceri, founding director Academics piled on as well. Railing The atmosphere is obviously moreof the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and against the Hollywood “culture industry,” positive now, but we still practice a curiousnow chancellor of the University of North music critic/philosopher Theodor Adorno doublethink. Even critics normally friendlyCarolina School of the Arts, points out, singled out movie music as particularly to the genre regularly use “sounds like moviethese standardization demands are not used insidious because its artificially “warm” music” to dismiss a new work they deemagainst other composers whose incidental nineteenth-century idiom seduced audiences saccharine or overblown. I’ve caught myselfmusic is played in concert: “You don’t hold it into forgetting they were being manipulated using this damning cliché, even thoughagainst Tchaikovsky that he wrote Sleeping by a “cold” consumer machine. The biggest I’ve loved the genre since being blownBeauty to certain requirements or Bach sin of composers like Korngold, Steiner, out of my chair by Steiner’s score for Thethat he had to write a new cantata every and Dimitri Tiomkin was apparently their Searchers more than 50 years ago. AccordingSunday whether he was inspired or not.” success. No one denounced Igor Stravinsky to Golijov, the prejudice is now 33
  5. 5. more limited and specific, coming mainly and experience the two genres as closely of movies from all periods through DVDsfrom the older generation and “academic related. On two recent occasions, I’ve taken and downloads. “The more people go tomodernists” in the U.S., Germany, and students in my American Studies classes at the movies, the more they want to hear theFrance; his own generation of composers Rider University to John Williams concerts score,” he says. Kaufman adds that whenhas not been affected by it, nor have such with the New York Philharmonic. Many he programs concerts with film music, oldlate-twentieth-century contributors to the told me this was their first exposure to and new scores are equally genre as Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) symphonic music—and that they loved it. Kaufman is one of a growing number ofand Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). This fall I’m taking the next step, bringing musicians who view film scores as a form But one almost never hears a symphony them to hear Marin Alsop conduct of classical music, a “pure art form that canorchestra program a film piece by a master Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony with stand alone very successfully in the concertcomposer—a Korngold or Herrmann the New York Philharmonic. My thirteen- hall.” Hearing movie music live, he believes,overture, for instance—on a regular year-old son can happily sit through a allows the audience to focus on it in a waysubscription concert, as opera overtures are. Mahler symphony, but only because I we cannot while watching the film, whereRichard Kaufman, who conducts regular began by brainwashing him with Close the score is compromised by dialogue,film-music series with the symphony Encounters and Indiana Jones. noise, and of course the visual image. Theorchestras of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Audiences do not have a torturous very constraints of the form—the necessityUtah, among others, tells me that some ambivalence about film music. They have of advancing narrative, character, andorchestra managers “don’t even want to always loved it. Kaufman told me that dialogue—are also the music’s strength;know about film music. They’re afraid it will initially skeptical principal players, once as the late Elmer Bernstein once said, thedetract from an appreciation of classical, reluctant to perform in film programs, film composer’s most important trait isthat it will dumb the audience down. Why are now on board. “There is less and less that he or she “must be a great dramatist.”not have confidence in the audience to snobbism now,” Kaufman says. “Once In Kaufman’s words, the score “must beappreciate many kinds of music?” really fine film music is put in front of emotionally and dramatically based.” Common sense should tell us that the players, they recognize its quality.” Before the April 2008 premiere by thethey can. Kids brought up on movie Part of the reason the genre has surged, Chicago Symphony Orchestra of Golijov’smusic frequently move on to classical explains Kaufman, is the new availability suite from Youth Without Youth. “I was very scared,” Golijov says. “Film music is not really the same as opera, where the music is the ‘film.’ In a movie, music is only one voice in the counterpoint; you don’t know how it will stand by itself. Fortunately, the reception was very good, and the piece went on to be played in Amsterdam.” Hearing Without Seeing? Often, the score is not only compelling on its own but the best thing about the picture. Directors who know they are presiding over a bomb sometimes admit this terrible secret. Maurice Jarre once told me that after Topaz (1969), Hitchcock took him aside and said, “I didn’t give you a great picture, but you gave me a great score.” On the other hand, a score can help keep a great film alive: This year, the fiftieth anniversary of Vertigo, we should not forget that recordings of Herrmann’s incomparable music kept Hitchcock’s film spiraling through our imaginations during the near-decade when it disappeared from circulation. Nevertheless, some believe that the score should not be segregated from the film and that the best way to present film music is to play it live in tandem with clips. “Live from Lincoln Center” Executive Producer John Goberman, an innovative producer34 symphony november–december 2008
  6. 6. of film-music series, insists that “to hear Youth sounds like no one but Golijov us,” says Williams. “It isn’t applicable towhat the composers intended, you should himself. Since the Eastern European motifs every film that comes along, but when it’ssee the images. The film is the form of of Schindler’s List (1993) and the ethereal needed, there’s nothing that we’ve inventedthe music.” From his André Previn/Los Asian textures heard in Memoirs of a Geisha yet that’s a better instrument to deliver theAngeles Philharmonic Alexander Nevsky (2005), Williams’s most striking recent emotional impact that it can.”in 1987 to his recent Wizard of Oz success achievement, in Golijov’s estimation, is What’s distinctive about the bestwith the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Munich (2005), where Williams “approaches film scores is that they are instantlyin May 2008, with film clips projected as the score like a young person,” using ouds recognizable and unforgettable; they evokethe orchestra played live, Goberman has and Middle Eastern street music in ways an image—a landscape, a tracking shot,presented concert-film fusions around the “new and subtle.” a close-up of a face—indelibly linked toworld. These are not screenings, he insists, Thirty years ago, no one could have sound. In Golijov’s words, the attractionbut “performances of the film, with the predicted the stubborn resilience of of film music lies in the ability of its bestenergy of 100 live musicians. The audience symphonic music in film, as prominent practitioners to “conjure in a few secondsis seeing what the composer had in mind.” today as it was in Hollywoods Golden the essence of a film.” In a brief stroke, a What will happen in the future is Age. Indeed, Herrmann’s death in 1975 composer can move millions. As Golijovhard to predict. The recent deaths of seemed to many the last nail in the coffin asks, “To create a memorable momentcinema-music giants David Raksin, for big, expensive orchestral scores, which of such deep emotion that people willElmer Bernstein, and Jerry Goldsmith— were falling victim to synthesizers and pop remember it the rest of their lives: Whatresponsible for scores like Laura, The tracks. Then in 1977, something called else can you aspire to?”Magnificent Seven, and Chinatown—have Star Wars burst into theaters, powered byleft a sudden void. “No one knows whether a huge blast from the London Symphony Jack Sullivan, the author of Hitchcock’s Musicthe field will be degraded in 50 years,” says Orchestra. The stunning success of (2007 winner of an ASCAP-Deems TaylorWilliams, though he believes our addiction Williams’s score highlighted the unique Award) and New World Symphonies: Howto computers and visual stimulation bodes capabilities of a symphony orchestra. American Culture Changed European Music (1999),well for the field. “We are visual addicts. It’s “The orchestra is a fabulous tool and is director of American Studies and professor ofharder for the younger generation of people always has been and still is very much with English at Rider listen to Beethoven and be completelyengaged in a way that from a purist pointof view we would prefer them to be. ButI think to ignore that fact is going to beignoring reality: The audio-visual couplingas expressed in film music is somethingthat is really with us to stay because ofthe way we live. As a consequence, I thinkit will have a bright future, and I hope agood one. I think younger people willrecognize the importance of these trends,the irrevocability of the link betweenvisual and aural. And as musicians, they’llapproach the opportunity to write for filmvery seriously.” Right now the field is wildly eclectic,encompassing the minimalism of Nyman(Man on Wire) and Glass (The Hours),the sinister lyricism of James NewtonHoward (The Village) and Danny Elfman(Edward Scissorhands), the subtle wit ofRachel Portman (Emma), the bombastof Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) andJames Horner (Titanic), the icy modernismof Jonny Greenwood (in the remarkablescore for There Will Be Blood), and muchelse. Golijov, whose world-music style isneither minimalist nor neo-Romantic, hastaken the form in a new direction. Withits Eastern chant, raspy percussion, zippytangos, and exotic cimbalom, Youth 35