Except where marked with a *, programme notes are already in existence. Notes for pieces marked * can easily be assembled from written lectures on these composers. Programme notes can also be quickly assembled from writings (reviews, lectures and articles) on any works by:-
Sir Arthur Bliss
Sir Edward Elgar
First generation Hollywood film composers: Steiner, Korngold, Herrmann, Rózsa, Newman, Tiomkin then Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Alex North, John Williams etc etc.
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A typical programme note is shown below. This received acclamation from the conductor himself!
ORIGINAL FILM SCORES
Of the function of film music, one of the most celebrated composers of the genre, Bernard Herrmann, once said:
"Music on screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the character. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety or misery. It often lifts mere dialogue into the realms of poetry. It is the communicating link between screen and audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience."
Before the talkies arrived, music was played by pianists, chamber music ensembles or, in larger theatres, orchestras, to suit the on-screen mood and action. With the arrival of the talkies, the opportunity was seen to incorporate music, with dialogue and sound effects, onto the soundtrack. In the Hollywood of the 1930s, the concept of the original score was developed to a fine art and used for the majority of films. An original score comprises music specially composed for the film as opposed to using existing music and fitting it to the film (e.g.- the use of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto for Brief Encounter). Interestingly, the first recorded original film score was by Saint-Saëns for a 1908 film called L'Assissinat du Duc de Guise.
The first generation of original film score composers, in Hollywood, were mainly European emigrés. Max Steiner, from Vienna, was the first major figure, working first at RKO where he made history by composing music for 35% of the film, Symphony of Six Million (1932), in the symphonic manner. Steiner would go on to compose music for King Kong etc before joining Warner Bros where he composed music for some 155 films over 30 years including: Casablanca, Now Voyager (AA)*, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Big Sleep, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre plus, for David O'Selznick, Since You Went Away (AA) and the immortal Gone With the Wind (AAN). Steiner preferred to wait until a picture was completed before commencing scoring. He would have sequences broken down into exact footage, minutes and seconds. As he composed, he continually referred to a stopwatch. He felt strongly that his music should exactly synchronise with on-screen action and he was uncannily successful in capturing moods and events. Steiner worked well under pressure - a trait exploited by O'Selznick when he contracted Steiner for Gone With the Wind. At the time, Steiner was committed to score three other films and was working 20 hours a day propped up by daily thyroid extract injections and vitamin B12 shots. He scored 99 separate pieces of music for Gone With the Wind, the most famous of which, Tara's Theme, played over the film's imposing main titles, is to be played in tonight's concert.
The most influential composer to work in Hollywood, at this time was another Viennese emigré, Erich Wolfgang Korngold whose birth centenary was celebrated last year. Korngold, considered the greatest composing wunderkind since Mozart, had built a significant reputation composing operas, orchestral works and chamber and instrumental works. His Hollywood scores included: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk and Kings Row. It was Korngold and Steiner who established the lush, romantic, big orchestral sound that was to underscore the majority of the films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Other major talents working in Hollywood at that time included: Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin and Hugo Friedhofer at Warner Bros, Alfred Newman at 20th Century Fox,Victor Young at Paramount and, at MGM, Miklós Rózsa.
Bernard Herrmann, who worked for many of the major studios, is now generally regarded as the greatest film composer of his generation. The irascible and often difficult-to-work-with Herrmann contributed very imaginative and atmospheric scores using unusual combinations of instruments. After writing the score for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, he went on to write music for leading directors like Truffaut, Scorsese, De Palma and Hitchcock for whom he wrote such memorable scores as Vertigo, Marnie and Psycho. For Psycho, Herrmann uses only a string orchestra but to remarkable dramatic and atmospheric effect, as he screws up the tension almost unbearably as Janet Leigh drives through the dark and rain towards her nemesis at the motel; and all film fans shiver as they recall the sudden outburst of shrieking violins that accompanies the horrific murder in the shower.
In Europe, leading composers were also writing original music for the screen including Prokofiev and Shostakovich in Russia, Ibert and Honneger in France and, in England, Walton (who wrote celebrated scores for such films as Henry V, Richard III, Hamlet and The First of the Few - "Spitfire" Prelude and Fugue etc), Vaughan Williams (Scott of the Antarctic), Bax (Oliver Twist), Arnold (The Bridge on the River Kwai - AA), Alwyn (Odd Man Out) and Sir Arthur Bliss. Bliss wrote the music for a number of films including Men of Two Worlds, Christopher Columbus and Things to Come. The latter is his best known score for the film based on the H.G. Wells novel of a future world torn by war then rebuilt and reaching towards the stars. Bliss always responded well to colourful and dramatic commissions and his score for this film is a true classic of the genre. It contains much first class music that stands very well, independently of the film. Bliss's popular concert suite of his visionary music from the film includes the stirring March included in our programme.
British composers have always been in demand for film music. John Barry has contributed scores for countless films including Born Free, The Lion in Winter (AA), Out of Africa (AA), Dances with Wolves and Somewhere in Time. Barry is probably best known, though, for his James Bond movie music. He scored Dr No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball, The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker and the two Bond scores we are to hear tonight - Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever. Ron Goodwin is another prolific British film music composer who has composed memorable scores for such action films as Where Eagles Dare, The Battle of Britain and his popular 633 Squadron music for the 1964 film about a Second World War British Mosquito squadron's mission to destroy a munitions factory in a Norwegian fjord.
French composer Georges Delerue was often in demand for lush romantic scores for screenplays such as Steel Magnolias and Beaches. Another French composer in demand for this type of score was Francis Lai who wrote the music for Un Homme et une Femme (AA), Trop Belle pour Toi and the famous 1970 Hollywood tear-jerker, Love Story (AA). American composer, Henry Mancini, was also in demand for romantic dramas and comedies. His impressive list of screen credits includes: The Pink Panther, Charade and Hatari but he will always be remembered for his inspired score for Breakfast at Tiffany's (AA) with its haunting Moon River theme. The 1961 romantic drama starred the enchanting Audrey Hepburn.
It is fitting that the second half of tonight's programme is devoted to the most honoured and successful composer of film music working today - John Williams (not to be confused with the guitar player of the same name!)
Williams's Star Wars soundtrack album sold over four million copies. His music stands supremely well independently of the screenplay as the numerous recordings of his work testify. Unlike so many scores that are impoverished of invention after the statement of a solitary main theme, John Williams's music has real integrity - it is superbly crafted with a richness of invention of themes, melody, harmony, dynamics, texture and orchestration. There is always something to interest the ear.
The record shows that he has composed the music and served as music director for more than seventy-five films since 1959. He has received thirty-three Academy Award nominations and has been awarded five Oscars, four British Academy Awards and sixteen Grammies as well as several gold and platinum records. His Academy Award scores are: Fiddler on the Roof (Best scoring: adaptation and original song score), Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. and Schindler's List.
The composer's range and versatility, writing for so many diverse screenplays, is truly remarkable: the boyish hero worship of Empire of the Sun, the terror of Jaws and Jurassic Park, the tragedy of JFK, the "sci-fi" spectacle and heroics of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (AAN), the horror of Born on the Fourth of July (AAN), the Boys-Own-Paper thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark (AAN), the quirky humour of The Accidental Tourist (AAN) the poignancy and compassion of Schindler's List, the sparkling sophistication of Sabrina (AAN) and the dark, disillusionment of Nixon (AAN) - all are unerringly and sensitively caught. His latest score, for the Brad Pitt movie, Seven Years in Tibet, is a current favourite Classic FM choice.
Ian Lace ©1998