Posts Tagged 'soundtracks'

Music Monday: The Mowgli’s

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Music Monday: Breathe Carolina

Music for the Silver Screen

You can’t talk about twentieth-century music without acknowledging the cinema. As the music of Rebel without a Cause and Jules et Jim comes out on CD, Peter Davey tells the story of sound and vision, taking in composes lured to Hollywood, and how the best film-score writers stand up to the greatest classics.

Can you imagine Jaws without John Williams’s menacing, accelerating theme as the shark’s fin makes its first appearance on screen? Or how much less shocking Janet Leigh’s shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho would be if it wasn’t accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s piercing, jagged-edge orchestral score? ‘Film music’, said Herrmann, ‘can intensify the inner thoughts of the characters, can invest a scene with terror or gaiety, can propel narrative forward or slow it down, and is the communicating link between screen and audience.’ In the endless variety of music scores you will find everything from the heavily symphonic, swooning love music of Steiner’s Gone with the Wind to the circus polkas and Sicilian rhythms of Nino Rota’s La Strada and Godfather series.

This month’s new film Paradise Road is set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp where inmates sing arrangements of classical music. Its soundtrack of appropriated classics will no doubt thrive as Mozart did after Amadeus, Mahler after Death in Venice and Rachmaninov after Brief Encounter, and, most recently, Shine. But what about those composers who write especially for the cinema? What is their greatest work and which films should we watch to appreciate their best music?

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Music of the Movies

With the bestselling success of the Titanic soundtrack, film music has never been more popular. Michael Scott Rohan hails an end to snobbery about film scores.

Two bands played on while Titanic sank – one on the ship, the other on the soundtrack. It’s this second band which really drives home the drama. Alfred Hitchcock once described an innocuous scene of people chatting in a sunny room – and its total transformation when the audience discovered there was a corpse behind the door. Music can subtly subvert that innocent atmosphere even before the audience knows anything – ‘reaching out’, as Bernard Herrmann once said, ‘and enveloping all into one single experience’.

This is no mean art to command; and yet over the last half-century the musical establishment has constantly undervalued film scoring. As recently as the late 1960s an otherwise go-ahead young music lecturer informed me that the Sinfonia Antarctica couldn’t be a real symphony because it was just ‘cobbled-together film music’. Where did this kind of blindness come from? In considering the answer we can restore credit to some, at least, of cinema’s underrated musical giants.

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Korngold’s Top Five Film Scores

Captain Blood (1935)
Korngold’s fourth film score was his first consisting of his own music rather than arrangements (apart from one small interpolated Liszt item). The film, a spectacular swashbuckler, starred two almost completely unknown newcomers called Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It was a huge success, rocketing both its stars and Korngold to fame in their new medium.

Anthony Adverse (1936)
Extending his winning Captain Blood formula of swishy late-romanticism spiced with rhythmic intricacy, Korngold produced, for this epic set in the Napoleonic era, a more introspective score including a remarkable opening sequence running for 25 continuous minutes. The score won an Oscar for Warner Brothers’ music department. 11 years later, Korngold re-used some of it in the slow movement of his Violin Concerto.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
‘Can you be in Hollywood within 10 to 12 days for scoring Robin Hood stop… cable answer’ read the telegram from Warners to Vienna. The Korngolds were therefore in California when Hitler’s army annexed Austria, a lucky foothold that enabled them subsequently to rescue the rest of their families. Korngold’s fizzing score for this latest vehicle for Flynn and De Havilland won him a second Oscar, this time personally.

The Sea Hawk (1940)
Korngold’s last score for an historical epic again starred Flynn, this time with Brenda Marshall and Dame Flora Robson. The music’s soaring imagination and colour make it probably Korngold’s ultimate achievement in the medium. The opening sequence is an unforgettable instance of his flair for conveying illustrative exoticism – perfectly suited to the sense that the cinema is a magic place – in music of uncanny immediacy and vividness.

King’s Row (1941)
A change of direction. This study of domestic life and fortunes in a turn-of-the-century midwest American town starred Anne Sheridan and one Ronald Reagan. Korngold later said in an interview: ‘I arrived in the projection room and the film was run through to the end, at which time I was sure of my entire score, time and measure for each sequence, each theme and action.’

Classic CD magazine, 1997


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