Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
December 1999 Film Music CD
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Combined CD and Video review
Philip GLASS Dracula A new score for the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic Performed by the Kronos Quartet. NONESUCH 7559 79584 2 [67:04]
This is a new score for the classic Bela Lugosi Dracula film made by Universal back in 1931. I am reviewing the score on its purely musical terms in this review. The separate review of the video looks at the aptness of Glass's music for the film.
Following on from Herrmann's Psycho score, Glass has chosen to use a monochromatic score utilising just strings, and the close, limited configuration of a quartet for this Gothic black and white film. Glass's minimalistic style is prevalent but he uses multi-part writing, many string playing techniques, considerably varied colours, dynamics and shadings, abrupt gear changes or smoother modulations to sustain the interest. And yet, after about 40 minutes, I have to admit I felt tedium setting in because of the relentless repetition of like material. This album would have been more effective for some ruthless editing coupled with a judicious choice of material.
The album opens with the main Dracula theme: dark swirling, demented and tormented figures supporting screeching and piercing high-pitched staccato chords. The evocative and atmospheric cues work well: cantering, galloping figures for the 'Journey to the Inn', the swiftly shifting textures suggesting violent gales for 'The Storm' and the swirling dense motifs for 'London Fog' with its hints of hidden menaces. A dark, dank and creaky immensity is suggested by the music for 'The Castle' and the disturbing high-pitched glissandi denote only too well the 'Horrible Tragedy.' I thought the evocation of 'The Three Consorts of Dracula' was rather bland and could have been more alluring after all they are supposed to seduce their male victims but the 'Women in White' suggests some sympathy for these condemned creatures. 'Excellent, Mr Renfield' impressed in as much as it suggested a conversation piece with Renfield prattling on about the legalities of the sale he has come to Dracula's castle to negotiate while Dracula looks on with more bloody thoughts on his mind. 'Lucy's Bitten' brings out the more colourfully melodramatic with Glass pointing up all the fear and anguish and almost panic of the discovery of the affects Dracula's dining session.
An interesting experiment.
DRACULA the 1931 Universal Film Directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi. Digitally enhanced and remastered Edition and scored for the first time in 68 years with New Music by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet. UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO 061 9383 [75 mins]
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I admit to listening to the CD of Glass's music and writing the review of it before I acquired this video. First, a little about the film. There is no doubt that it belongs to Bela Lugosi - evil elegance personified; and those eyes, full of arrogant malice and so cleverly lit under the inspired direction of Browning - unforgettable. Looking at this film again after all these years, one is struck by the fact that all the blood-letting occurs off-stage its all so heavily suggestive but non the less horrific for that. Yes the acting is hesitant and stilted, and heavily melodramatic but that is its period charm. [I was watching Dracula Dead and Loving It, last week on TV, and I was interested to note how Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal's 'The Biscuit') so closely emulated the mad insect-eating Renfield as portrayed in in this production - in fact, if anything, the actor in this 1931 film is even more of a caricature!] The art direction apart from some awful cardboard mountains near the beginning is wonderfully atmospheric.
So does the music fit the film? Well yes, on the whole, I think it does. It is well balanced so that it is audible and influences the mood of the scenes but not obtrusive enough to draw attention to itself and often one forgets it is there although its presence clearly heightens the dramatic tension. Whether or not this tension would have been heightened by a more colourfully varied score, employing more orchestral resource, is debatable bearing in mind the film's rather trapped and claustrophobic atmosphere. My review of the CD above gives a reasonable impression of the use of the score, although a misprint on the CD cover has prompted me into a false assumption. 'Women in White' should surely have been 'Woman in White?' For this cue surely is for the scene where the undead Lucy is terrorising the surrounding countryside in her bloodlust and has 'taken' two young children, so my original observation, that the music 'suggests some sympathy for these condemned creatures' must therefore be applied to the children.
An interesting if not completely successful musical experiment for a classic which looks very good in its new refurbishment.
Music in the context of the film -
Don DAVIS House of Frankenstein OST PROMOTIONAL (no number asssigned)
(Note: In Europe this album is obtainable through Soundtracks direct or through Prometheus records) [60:48]
This oddball miniseries followed a real estate tycoon in search of the real Frankenstein's monster as a trophy. How does Hollywood buy these pitches? How does a composer see a pitch like that as full of musical opportunity? However these things come to be the bottom line is that Davis has written a cracking good tongue-in-cheek horror score. We know this guy to be well versed in film music genre. His Bound score is a brilliant take on Hitchcockian thriller stylings. For this, it's a splendid fusion of choral cliché with dissonant drama. Sort of Omen meets Matrix. There are fun parodies (one assumes!) throughout, such as the taster of O Fortuna in the "Main Title". Thankfully that doesn't overshadow what is a rather nice main theme. Its development is always interesting, especially in a melting pot cue such as "Dog Speed", with its twisting journey through each of the score's principal aspects. There's a curious disparity between the Gothic orchestrals and pulsing synths in certain places from one cue to the next, but it is a very nicely coherent listening experience on the whole. The pudding proof that this is to be taken less than seriously is the humorous track titles. If the series' pitch seem shard to swallow, how about "She's Not Hungary for Food"?
Hans J. SALTER and Paul DESSAU House of Frankenstein The complete 1944 film score Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg MARCO POLO 8.223748 [55:26]
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I just could not resist including a comparative review of the music for the original Universal horror film of House of Frankenstein. More rollicking and hilarious than horrific this film had a whole pack of monsters: Boris Karloff (Mad Doctor Niemann); Lon Chaney (Wolf Man); Glenn Strange (Frankenstein's Monster); Dracula (John Carradine); and (Maniacal Hunchback) J. Carrol Naish. For its 70-minute length, Salter felt that it needed about 50 minutes of music to bolster the outlandish plot. Dessau played a major role in its creation particularly with its electrifying, pulsating Main Title, a grotesque tour-de-force, a real chamber-of-horrors prelude. Dessau also composed the haunting, transparent night music for the Dracula segment.
I was delighted that Messrs Morgan and Stromberg had included the old Universal Signature motif at the beginning of this album. It was like greeting an old friend again; I remember it distinctly from my many visits to the cinema in the 1940's and 50's.
The score employs a large orchestra complete with organ and a battery of varied percussion. This 35-cue album has many delicious camp moments with ever so eerie 'don't look behind you now' creepy, lumbering music for the monsters. Particularly impressive is the music for he scene in the glacial cavern where Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man are found encased in ice; and the final sequences in which the score explodes into a veritable musical maelstrom as each of the characters are killed off. As relief there is the infectious gypsy dance music for Ilonka who is loved, unrequitedly, by the hunchback assistant Daniel whose jealousy (shown with poignant sympathy in the cue Hunchback's jealousy) when he discovers her affection for the Wolf Man, Larry, precipitates all the final horrors. The writing for this shocker is as Bill Whitaker observes, "Although definitely of the twentieth century, with all the chordal progressions and motoric intensity of Arthur Honegger, the music includes a witty salute to Beethoven's fateful fifth symphony in the Main Title, and joyful asides to Weber's operas elsewhere."
Today's film music students could do well to study this masterpiece of the macabre to see what can be accomplished without recourse to synth sounds.
The 20-page booklet includes lots of stills from the film, Bill Whitaker's usual lucid and informative analysis and a note about the reconstruction of the score contributed by John Morgan.
James NEWTON HOWARD The Sixth Sense OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6061 [30:21]
James Newton Howard's warm lyrical style is ideally suited to this tale of the supernatural in which a small eight-year-old boy "sees dead people." It is a film with a slow, quiet build-up, a slow burn with the main thrills and shocks reserved for the final reel. Newton Howard's score proceeds likewise and wisely concentrates on the feelings and vulnerability of the child; even through the more nightmarish sequences. The opening cue, 'Run to the Church' sets the overall tone with piano and strings predominant playing a theme of child-like innocence and pathos together with a chill feeling of lurking ghosts. This is continued over into 'De Profundis', prayer-like and mysterious, slow and quiet with strings and beautifully-phrased and suggestively-distanced horn motifs reaching and searching before the tone of the music darkens with low strings and nicely controlled synths suggesting the agonies of far off lost souls. Newton Howard's ghost music puts a very fresh spin on well-worn patterns, delivering many new 'fright-effect' ideas. He uses his electronics intelligently and imaginatively, blending them well with his orchestra, demonstrating a fine sense of volume and balance, and distance to maximise their effect. He uses his voices to good theatrical effect too. Take the men's chorus that opens 'Kyra's Tape', for instance; the basses suddenly sound dissonant, eerie, threatening, detached from the main chorus. Add tolling 'dead' sounding bells and high strings and you have a frightening atmosphere (which will ultimately warm considerably as the chorus fades and the strings descend into warmer regions.) Newton Howard's sense of theatre and his brilliant use of all the dimensions of the sound stage to maximise the scary tingle factor add considerably to the drama of the film and provide a satisfying listening experience away from the theatre.
John FRIZZELL Teaching Mrs Tingle OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6064 [30:30]
Immediately one recognises that Frizzell is paying homage to Bernard Herrmann in this darkly comic and atmospheric score for Teaching Mrs Tingle. One recognises a broad hint of Herrmann's theme that underscores the scene in which the Janet Leigh character is driving through the rain to the Bates Motel in Psycho. Later one also hears hints from The Trouble With Harry (and a subtle hint of John Williams's music for Presumed Innocent).
Lest I be misunderstood, by mentioning these quotations, I hasten to add that Frizzell has created a fresh and innovative, and powerful and intriguing score that consistently interests the ear. It is full of quirks and arresting off-beat effects. There are some entertaining and exciting sudden shifts of musical gears. What begins as some ghostly wailing, for instance, slides into a jazz blues number. Some of the music is firmly tongue in cheek, the odd cuckoo-like sounding fragments signal that Frizzell is teasing you. At other times, the music is deadly serious and it chills with its sudden frighteningly violent eruptions.
This score seems to me to be an ideal solution for what seems to be a hybrid of a film that contains elements of comedy, drama and suspense. Frizzell writes in a warmer sympathetic vein for the heroine Leigh Anne, to contrast with the more spiky, grotesque material for the wickedness that surrounds the evil Mrs Tingle.
I will refrain from track by track analyses for the music is so quicksilver as to frequently embrace many moods in one single track. Just take it from me that this is an unusual and fascinating score worth hearing more than once.
Hans ZIMMER The PeacemakerOST Dreamworks DRMD 50027
The first project Zimmer worked on as the new Head of Music at Dreamworks, The Peacemaker came on the coattails of Crimson Tide's enormous success. This project gave Zimmer a chance to finish certain ideas he started but never completed in Crimson Tide, and the similarity between the two scores is notable. The Peacemaker shares the same rousing, military heroism and smoldering male choir, but takes on more pronounced action flairs than the Crimson Tide's simmering dramatic underscore. It also has a more striking orchestral sound, with only subtle blends of synthesized percussions coming through. The score resounds with horns, trumpets, strings, cymbals, snares, and other symphonic instruments. Embellished by near east oriental sparkles and a deep Russian undercurrent, The Peacemaker is a delightful combination of Zimmer's blood-stirring action expressed with classical and orchestral media. As such, it stands as one of his more stylish and sophisticated action scores.
A main theme is somewhat hard to identify in this score. There is a romping action theme that marches with forceful and fiery determination, heard mostly in "Devoe's Revenge" and "The Chase." Appearing the most frequently, this theme probably becomes the most familiar by the time the score is over. However, it lacks the no-holds-barred passion that is intrinsic to Zimmer's main themes and sounds more like a secondary accessory. The only theme that has the kind of wattage to reflect the music's emotional core is the melody in the middle of "Sarajevo." It is mainly here that Zimmer carried over the broiling sentiments from the main themes of Crimson Tide. The resemblance is unmistakable, though it is no where near the fervency of the original. In the end, even "Sarajevo's theme" is missing the characteristic evocative command of his other masterpieces.
If The Peacemaker gets less than a perfect rating, it would be because there is a nagging sense of the music as "dressed-up leftovers" from Tide. Although it draws comparisons to Tide, The Peacemaker is actually unique in that it finally merged Zimmer's action power with the eloquence of an orchestra. (In truth, Tide was always more of a dramatic force than galvanizing action.) When appreciated as a gestalt, it is a splendid and thoroughly enjoyable listening experience, standing as one of my favorite Zimmer scores.
We are grateful to Helen San (www.cinemusic.net) for giving us permission to include this review which is currently appearing on her Film Music site.
Various / Chris BECK Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Soundtrack TVT Records TVT 8300-2
Following the recent and popular trend of TV soundtracks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is filled with songs reflecting 90's teenage angst. Not being hip to new bands like Garbage, Velvet Chain, or Face to Face, I can only say these are the sort of songs that you can expect to emanate from a teenager's bedroom: guitar strums with forlorn whininess and a pinch of romantic longing. Although this is not my style of music, the songs and selections are well conceived, leaving very little doubt that they would be thoroughly enjoyable for the young adult population of our time.
With only two score tracks totalling less than 4 minutes on this album, there isn't much to review from a score lover's perspective. The main theme is an edgy, hard rock tune--an unremarkable, palpitating melody rushed by heavy electric guitars. The gem here is found in Christopher Beck's beautiful love theme. Woodwinds, strings, piano and a hint of brass float in this a gentle, loveswept melody. It closes with a dramatic, ardent finale, complete with timpani and cymbals. The track is a tiny miniature of perfection that only makes one wish there was more of it, a lot more. As it stands, the brevity of the track does not offer even a sample of the TV score, only a glimpse that disappears in the blink of an eye. Until teenagers at large can appreciate good orchestral music, I guess this will have to do.
We are grateful to Helen San (www.cinemusic.net) for giving us permission to include this review which is currently appearing on her Film Music site.
Craig ARMSTRONG The Bone Collector OST Decca 289 466 804-2
A heretofore relative unknown, Craig Armstrong has been very busy lately, what with Best Laid Plans, Plunkett and MacLeane, and now The Bone Collector. Another timely Halloween release, The Bone Collector is an impressive horror score with a striking main theme. Using orchestral and choral elements, Armstrong delivers a hypnotic, unsettling score that is melodically beautiful, but frightful. The score reminds me of one of my favorites this year, Shore's Existenz, with its complex but entrancing canvas. Unlike the more romantic Existenz however, The Bone Collector is steeped in a heavy-hearted, black current that effectively brings to mind crawling around in sewers and chasing the recesses of a serial killer's mind.
The main theme is the focal point of this score: a solid, easily memorable melody capturing drama, suspense, and action. The entire score is well-articulated and strong, though the rest of the music plays a more supporting role. There is no timid underscore here, but rather, an eloquent portrait of darkness. When developed with orchestral colors, the themes are simply terrific.
Horror fans should love this score, for it is one of the most downright disturbing and scary pieces of music that I have ever heard. This is serious horror music, resounding with ominous evil while thinly laced with a hint of romanticism. It is, in fact, too dark for me to enjoy unless I feel like jumping into the throes of fear and depression. This is to say Armstrong was incredibly effective in depicting an eerie, perturbed mood for the film.
We are grateful to Helen San (www.cinemusic.net) for giving us permission to include this review which is currently appearing on her Film Music site.
Christopher YOUNG In Too Deep OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6072 [37:46]
Did somebody say 'contemporary' and 'urban'? There's your two-word review. But to embellish that, you need to know we're talking about a Chris Young who has been seemingly saddled with lame-o action flicks for a while that haven't allowed either aspect of the two-word review to shine. Entrapment went contemporary via synths and loops that sat in conflict with the orchestra. And Urban Legend only succeeded in having 'urban' in the title. Take the title-opening cue here to be re-assurance if you've been worried. A breezy fused jazz number, it features muted horn from Saul Marquez. Setting a subdued pace and dark tone, the next half-hour wafts by on a bed of mellow rhythms (even R&B for "Missing Vocal"). A couple of up-tempo action cues increase the volume (e.g. "Bust"), but quite often you'll find yourself straining to hear the long-held sustains.
Drum loops, vinyl scratches, and interesting samples all suggest Young found more inspiration in this than most recent projects. Without a blaring main theme to volubly carve itself upon the memory, this could easily pass you by. It's therefore an album to accompany an easy read. Unobtrusively excellent.
Joe HISAISHI Princess Mononoke OST MILAN 73138 35864-2 [59:30]
Joe Hisaishi is a master of the leitmotif and of clever orchestration. Think of a Japanese John Williams. The soundtrack from "Princess Mononoke" (a film released in 1997, only now reaching the world at large) may take some work getting into, but grasping onto its pulse the score hauls you along a ride of various beauties and terrors. The first things you notice are pleasant enough, but listen closely and you discover so much going on beneath the surface, so much complexity and heart.
True, the score's repetition dulled my initial reaction somewhat severely. It took a few listens before I picked up on the myriad nuances and intricacies that convoke this music to work as a whole, and as I write this, with the score playing behind me, I continue to hear little 'personal discoveries' in this extraordinarily detailed score. The temptation to do a track-by-track analysis is here, but at 32 tracks, several of them under a minute in length apiece, that may turn out to be rather unwieldy for a simple review. A Cook's tour and a few examples must suffice...
The scoring is preponderantly symphonic, and the synthesizer padding is extremely well used so that it is a continuation, as opposed to an impoundment, of the composer's ideas. The opening track, 'The Legend of Ashitaka,' introduces the central melody -- actually one in a series of those delightfully lush, extravagant ordeals, these with an obvious and
attractive ethnic flavor. But the score wastes no time in getting to the action, as 'The Demon God' pounds out a creepy, brutal recurring motif befitting of any nightmare. 'Kodamas' brings pizzicato strings,wood blocks, and otherworldly sounds together in a peculiar fashion that left me curious to hear more. Another thought: the fanfare and
cadence of 'The Furies' is worthy of a master composer from Hollywood cinema, just as the undulating sorrow of 'Requiem I, II, & III', softly offer dissimilar subtlety some moments later. The 'Theme Song,' also sung to ripe lyrics with delicate polish by Sasha Lazard near the disc's end, is sumptuous. 'The Battle Drums' plays in the grand tradition of The Drummer's Salute; rhythm is king. 'World of the Dead I & II' are a particularly distinguished pair, being the most unusual tracks on the disc as a wall of electronic and electronically amplified effects fly about the orchestral sound; *this* is how one may use a synthesizer to brilliant effect. By enormous contrast, 'Ashitaka and San' is possibly the most refreshingly typical; the piano love theme set against a halcyon instrumental background is impressively classical in form and development.
Unforgettable. The soundtrack has refulgence galore! This is a film score that has a functionality of its own, the sort of dramatic impact to not only support a film but rewrite it so that on top of the film you have the excitement of another unique vision. This is what helps make film music special.
Bernard HERRMANN at Fox Vol 2: The Garden of Evil; Prince of Players; King of the Khyber RiflesVARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6053 [71:29]
Here is an object lesson in how to present a soundtrack anthology. The music on this album comes from three consecutive films Bernard Herrmann scored for 20th Century Fox between October 1953 and November 1954, so that, rather than being the usual Hermann compilation, it focuses the famous Fox searchlights on one very specific period of the composer's career. The time was a turning point in film history, as in an attempt to win back audiences from television, Fox had just launched the CinemaScope process with The Robe (1953). Each of the three films featured on this album was shot in CinemaScope, Technicolor and four channel magnetic stereophonic sound. They were spectacular, prestige productions, and Alfred Newman, the Musical Director at Fox, essentially 'cast' Herrmann as the ideal composer to capture the larger than life essence of these films. Herrmann had already scored one the studio's previous three CinemaScope productions, Beneath the 12 Mile Reef, while King of the Khyber Rifles reunited Herrmann with director Henry King, for whom the composer had recently scored The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
Ever the anglophile, Herrmann was attracted to the idea of a Kiplingesque adventure promised by Rifles, through the drama of colonial India (with California doubling as the sub-continent) turned-out to owe more to the conventional Hollywood swashbuckler than English literature. The score is represented by six selections - sadly missing is the wonderfully frenetic cue 'The Attack on the Mountain Stronghold', recorded by Charles Gerhardt with the National Philharmonic and issued on The Spectacular World of Classic Film Scores sampler disc. And there is room for it here, so I wonder what went wrong? Were the original tapes damaged beyond salvation? The main title is bold and adventurous, with thundering drums and rousing fanfares - the galloping horsemen which fill the screen when new version of The Mummy moves from ancient Egypt to the 1920's appears to be a homage to this opening. 'The Ruins' is slow and atmospheric, introducing a striking romantic theme on strings just before the fade out. With its brooding, monolithic power, 'The Storm' seems to anticipate Herrmann's writing for the Ray Harryhausen fantasy pictures he would score a few years later. 'The Dunes' interweaves suspense with a love theme which suggests Hitchcock, while the final cue, 'Nocturne' is a typically lovely example of Herrmann's gift for romantic melancholy, a cousin perhaps to Mrs Muir and a parallel 'road' to that taken in Fahrenheit 451.
Prince of Players was a very different sort of film, an accomplished historical drama about the American theatre in the 19th century, and which marked the directorial Philip Dunne, writer of The Ghost and Mrs Muir. Herrmann wrote an appropriately majestic and theatrical 'Prelude', while the remaining 6 selections are typically dark and romantically Herrmannesque. 'The Closet' is especially bleak, while 'Homecoming' suggests stately foreboding. The somber mood continues with 'The Dressing Room', while 'The Dawn' is evidently fiery and bloodshot. 'The Confession' is eloquently made, rising with a tender and lyrical voice before 'John Brown' brings a coldness to the end of the suite which closes without resolution.
The vast majority of the album (over 46 minutes) is given over to 24 cues from Garden of Evil. This was Herrmann's first western, a visually stunning New Mexico location shot drama in the tradition of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It doesn't sound like it though, for Herrmann was on typically Herrmanesque from. This could as easily be the music to a Hitchcock thriller: look over the edge of 'The Chasm' and you may well get vertigo. This is pulsating, dynamic, starkly effective scoring, western as psychological noir thriller, we are on dangerous ground indeed. To list each track would be superfluous. However 'Me-Mue' is a scene-setting cantina song performed by Rita Moreno, which is, as the accompanying booklet notes, 'as close as the score ever gets to authentic Mexican music'. This is a very good score indeed. If it is not one of Herrmann's very best, and Herrmann's very best are among the best ever written, it is still a fine example of classic film scoring. The only thing that might put one off is that, if you already have a good selection of Herrmann scores in your collection you could just find this overly familiar. Certainly all the Herrmann trademarks are present and correct, and there is nothing startling different here to that which can be found in the composer's more famous films scores. It may be a strange thing to say for such dark, unsettling and malevolent music, but it is all rather comfortably familiar.
While the sound is not up to the standards of a good modern recording, listeners who have only seen these old films on television may be astonished by the quality. The sound is in true stereo (remixed by Brian Risner from the original 35mm elements) with the instruments well defined in a wide sound-stage. Hiss is to a minimum, and while there is not the detail or dynamic range we now expect, the sound is full and rich, with the quieter passages coming off very well indeed, and even the loudest moments escaping with barely a hint of distortion. I have heard recordings made a quarter of a century sound nowhere near as good as this. It is a sad fact that the movies went small again and eventually dropped the original CinemaScope specification for multi-channel hi-fidelity sound, with the result that some younger fans now operate under the delusion that George Lucas first brought a consideration for good quality sound to the cinema.
Jon Burlingame's booklet notes are concisely written and packed with information, placing the scores within the context of Herrmann's career, and the history of 20th Century Fox, with admirable clarity. Album Producer Nick Redman is due considerable praise, and with a weighty 71 minutes running time the only possible grumble can be that it is a shame the budget didn't stretch to reproducing the illustrative stills and poster art in (techni)colour. Certainly every true Herrmann aficionado will want, and should buy this collection. However, it must be said that last year the Marco Polo label released a brand new recording coupling Garden of Evil with Prince of Players, and if sound quality is more important to you than the authenticity of having the original soundtracks, then that really is the album to have. Of course, if you can afford it, buy both: you can never really have too many discs of the wonderful music of Bernard Herrmann in your collection.
Gary S. Dalkin
Richard HARVEY Animal Farm Original Television Soundtrack VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6082 [66:23]
All human life is here, or rather all musical life, down on Animal Farm. This is Richard Harvey's music for a new live action film version of George Orwell's second most famous book, his brilliant fairytale fable of the horrors of totalitarianism. The film recently received its premiere in Swanage as part of the Purbeck Film Festival, and I almost went to see it. I chose to see something else that night, deciding to see Animal Farm when it inevitably became a Christmas blockbuster - the animal effects have been done by the same Jim Henson Creature Shop team as worked on Babe. Unhappily I have missed my chance, for it turns out that the film is actually a Hallmark TV movie, and will, despite a cast including Kelsey Grammer, Ian Holm, Julia Ormond, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Scofield, Patrick Stewart and Peter Ustinov, by-pass the cinemas. Even so, the production values appear to be worthy of a major feature, and it seems that the film has been made with a great deal of integrity and fidelity to the source.
Quite how this music will work with the film is obviously hard to say, but when first pressing play it is likely that many listeners will be surprised. The album is certainly not what I was expecting. 'Storm of Judgement/Main Title' announces the drama as if it were Legends of the Fall Part II, or perhaps that drama filtered through Trevor Jones The Last of the Mohicans. In other words, brooding percussion leading into fatalistic, sweeping and somewhat portentous theme appropriate to a western epic. It may be that when coupled with the on screen action there is a degree of sardonic humour, some of Orwell's satire of pomp and power, but on disc it simply sounds grand, stirring and rather fine. This is music for acts of valour, destiny and the anticipation of tragedy. However, later, as Harvey adds elements of massed voices singing in choral conformity, together with elements pointing to 20th century Russian classical music, it becomes clear that he is setting East against West, the sound of regimented Soviet Russia against the freedom symbolised by the vast plains of the American west, as mythologised and romanticised in countless westerns. It is an ingenious method of setting the conflict at the heart of Animal Farm in musical terms.
'Dumb Animals ' is playful English pastoral, yet are there Jawas at work here? Whatever is certainly already, this is an imaginatively crafted score, and Richard Harvey is having tremendous fun weaving his threads together. 'Meeting in the Barn' introduces a new and lighter theme, then the choir arrives, and just for a moment we might be somewhere near Southampton and a certain famous ship. 'Old Major's Last Words/Beasts of the World' introduces the first setting of Orwell's famous revolutionary song 'Beasts of the World', for which Harvey has crafted a people's anthem, simple, catchy and instantly memorable. The choir returns with distant atmospherics, and the sequence continues through 'We Can Help Ourselves', a glacial piano set against Autumnal strings. Now, by track 5 we should be certain that the level of invention and wealth of material here marks this as a major score. A more certain setting of 'Beasts of the World' indicates the animal's growing resolve, with a sly Soviet style chorus slipping in just for a moment. Matters come to a head with the bold action of 'The Battle of the Barn', a brief but dramatic set-piece, which combines action writing with a march-like treatment of the main theme. The faint, occasional evocations of Titanic, may just suggest that all are sailing a doomed ship of dreams.
Nicole Tibbels gives full voice to 'The Song of the Grateful Duck', before the piece explodes into a choral anthem which would not disgrace a grand Russian opera, and the finale 'We Were Never Free', combining electronics with orchestra and choir, lingers in the mind long after the disc has ended. I am not going to comment further on the tracks which come between the opening selections and the finale, because this is one album to explore yourself, a vast, complex, rich and extravagantly multi-layered score.
If there is a weakness as an album, it is that it would be nice to hear certain sections more fully developed, while those with a disliking for the music of James Horner should perhaps be aware that it seems someone at Hallmark asked Mr Harvey to sound as much like Mr Horner as possible. Beyond this, the sound does seem a trifle clouded, lacking the last degree of clarity one expects from a modern recording. Even so if you simply want to enjoy film music of considerable depth and beauty, demonstrating intelligence, wit and a well developed melodic sensibility, you would be hard pressed at the moment to find a better new score.
Gary S. Dalkin
Miklos ROZSA at M-G-M Motion Picture Soundtrack Anthology RYKO R2 75723 2CD [78:17] [78:20]
CD 1 [78:17]
Knights of the Round Table
Valley of the Kings
CD 2 [78:20]
The King's Thief
Tribute to a Bad Man
Lust for Life
The World, the Flesh and the Devil
King of Kings
Yes, I know we carried this album in our reviews last month. But my copy only arrived on 8th November and this is such an important release that I am exercising my editor's prerogative to include another assessment from myself as a grey-haired film fan who sat through many of the above films when they were first shown in theatres here in the UK.
This album is a fine follow-up from Ryko's 2-CD set released earlier this year The Lion's Roar which was devoted to the non-musical soundtracks from M-G-M for the years 1935 to 1965. Once again the packaging is sumptuous with a 48 page booklet crammed with information including an insightful article by Fred Karlin, analytical notes on the scores, and stills from the featured films. Ryko have chosen to major on Rozsa's music for historical films excluding the spectaculars: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis; and El Cid.
Karlin rightly emphasises Rozsa's often intensive and over-thorough research (but then that is the sign of genius - a capacity for meticulousness and thoroughness) to ensure that his music sounded authentic of period and place. (After all, as he observed, the art directors and other technicians on the set had to do their homework so why shouldn't he?).
The first CD opens with a suite from Madam Bovary (1949) adapted from Flaubert's novel set in 19th century provincial France. We had already been treated to the Waltz sequence from this score in the earlier The Lion's Roar collection. This is repeated within the scope of this 17½-minute suite. One marvels again at this key sequence's music; it underlines all the emotional and dramatic undercurrents and there is the sort of frantic, desperate hysteria that one associates with Ravel's La Valse. Rozsa described his score for Bovary as "romantic, luxurious and expressive." The music swirls dramatically and intensely and it perfectly matches Madam Bovary's (Jennifer Jones) idealistically romantic but ruthlessly passionate and yet gullible nature. Ivanhoe (1952) prompted research into 12th century music and Rozsa found the appropriate material including a song written by King Richard I (the Lionheart) and a popular French song which Rozsa adapted for Lady Rowena's theme. Ivanhoe is represented by a 20-minute suite of music that is spectacularly heroic and tenderly romantic. The sense of chivalry is also paramount in the suite for Knights of the Round Table (1953) which again starred Robert Taylor but this time with Ava Gardner instead of Joan Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor. This suite has very thrilling music of swaggering bravado suggestive of knights in heavy armour setting out on quests or making ready for tournaments and there is another beautiful broad romantic melody.
Beau Brummell (1954) was originally scored by Richard Addinsell but producer, Sam Zimbalist, was not happy with the opening and closing cues and asked Rozsa to rewrite them, which he did -- and asked for no screen credit. The opening music is proud ceremonial stuff mixed with softer more tender material while the 'Farewell' cue where Stewart Granger (Brummell) takes his leave of the dying King is nicely poignant. Stewart Granger was also the star of Moonfleet (1955) a story about smuggling in 18th- century England. Rozsa did not like the film and the score tends to show this distaste for it is astringent, almost brutal (most of the characters are unsympathetic) and the score has a rather curious dragging character, it is rather sour and downbeat and distant. However there are some mordantly witty and poignant moments.
Valley of the Kings (1954), had Robert Taylor and the gorgeous Eleanor Parker in Egypt with a treacherous Carlos Thompson (along with Edmund Purdom, one of M-G-M's prospective leading man misfires) trying to find artifacts to prove the events in the Bible.
This is a very colourful score with Rozsa fashioning the sinuous, sensuously twisting North African/Arabian rhythms very evocatively and somewhat humorously in the 'Carriage Race' cue.
Disc 2 begins with music for another Stewart Granger adventure about the pursuit of emeralds this time set in Colombia - Green Fire (1954). Rozsa was compelled to hear his main title theme ruined by the crass song that the producers insisted on inserting (following the success of the more appropriate and more successful title song of High Noon ). Nevertheless this theme is strong enough to be attractively developed into variations with a Spanish/South American flavour. The King's Thief had David Niven, unbelievably cast as a villain with the ineffective Edmund Purdom in the lead. Rosza wisely provided music that provided enough energy drive and romance to smooth over the cracks in this inferior swashbuckler. For Tribute to a Badman (1956) a western starring James Cagney, Rozsa avoided the usual clichés and came up with a stirring score that had a memorable Prelude with a broad arching tune, with trenchant writing for the timpani, redolent of wide open spaces. His homely and romantic folk melodies were fresh-sounding too. Diane another historical drama set this time in 15th-century France drew one of the most beautiful themes from Rozsa's pen not surprisingly for he admitted that "Diane de Poitiers was a favourite character of mine." Lust for Life (1956) the story of Vincent Van Gogh inspired Rozsa to write one of his finest scores. In a slightly anachronistic mode, he used impressionist music to tellingly underscore Van Gogh's creativity: his view of his subjects and his bold interpretative paintings; while using other more dramatic and atmospheric music for the artist's anguish and torment and his descent into madness.
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) is about the last three people alive after a nuclear disaster destroys New York. Rozsa's music verges on his film noire mode for this score that has tough relentless urban feeling about it together with a sense of despairing isolation. Finally, King of Kings (1961) was the story of Christ and again Rozsa was fastidious about doing his homework. He fashioned themes after examples of ancient Babylonian and Yemenite melodies. The result was a score that was deeply moving and one that added warmth and a quiet dignity to the film. This suite concentrates on the final Crucifixion section of the film.
This is a first-class, if a not too representative collection, of the wide-ranging talent of one of the giants of Hollywood's Golden Age. It is to be hoped that Ryko will release more Rozsa material in the not too distant future. We also urgently need a reissue of the marvellous recordings that Rozsa made of his own film scores with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and released on the Polydor label in the 1970s.
EDITORS CHOICE December 1999
Georges AURIC Orphée. Ruy Blas. Thomas l'imposteur Suites from the films. Slovak Radio SO conducted by Adriano MARCO POLO 8.225066. [70:27]
This new collection follows on from Marco Polo's 1994-recorded album devoted to Auric's score for the 1946 film La Belle et La Bête [also reviewed this month] and, again the conductor is Adriano. Adriano has great commitment and enthusiasm, his knowledge and love of French cinema, and its celebrated composers' music, is apparent not only in these splendid performances but also in his eloquent and insightful liner notes.
Orphée was Jean Cocteau's fifth work as a script/dialogue writer and film director. (Cocteau was very much involved with Les Six of which Auric was a member) The film is a modern and highly original elaboration of the ancient myth of Orpheus. It is heavy with symbolism. Its cast includes Jean Marais as the poet, Maria Déa as Eurydice, Maria Casarès as the Princess, François Périer as Heurtebois and Eduard Dermit as Cégeste. Cocteau's script is set in a provincial French town of the 1950s and its theme is immortality. To reach this stage, a poet has to pass through the world of Death (imagination) in order to regain his lost inspiration (his wife). It is finally Death himself who sacrifices his own existence for the poet's salvation. The film involves a mix or real and unreal characters, situations and locations. The so-called "Zone" through which the poet will have to travel, by penetrating it through mirrors (scenes which have made this film famous), represents no-man's land between life and death "made of men's remembrances and of ruins of their habits." In the Zone, he has to account for his work in front of a jury of policemen and other writers. Orphée then must return to the Zone a second time after his purifying "death" in order to win back his wife for ever.
Auric's six-movement suite from the film owes much to the composer's earlier fantasy score for La Belle et la Bête. It commences with a bold heroic and dramatic Main Title that also suggests a searching and yearning as well as Orpheus's love of Eurydice. 'Orpheus and the Princess' sounds other-worldy (but anchored by a funeral-like treading ostinato) and a dialogue between the two characters seems to be suggested. The music alternates between the light-as-air delicacy of a pastoral dance and more shadowy material. Auric makes interesting use of a saxophone. 'In Zone 1' the earlier light-as-air material is recapitulated but it now sounds more plaintive and melancholic; and together with 'In Zone 2', Auric uses string tremoli against harp, celesta and vibraphone to heighten the eerie atmosphere. The glittering 'Looking for the Princess' is an arresting rushing scherzo in 15/8 time. The most extended six minute movement, 'Orpheus and Eurydice', includes the main love theme, and is a beautiful Andante (yet with shadows lurking). This movement is sheer magic in Auric's own inimitable fantasy style. Auric's arrangement of Gluck's 'Complainte d'Eurydice' (Eurydice's lament) also included in the film, rounds off the Orphée section of the programme.
Les Parents Terrible was a film about incest: a mother's stiffling love of her son and a father's love of his son's fiancée. Auric's brief three minute 'Image Musicale' from the film is made up of short extracts. Not surprisingly, the music is melodramatic, oppressive and sombre. But in the middle there is a playful tune for ondes martenot and piano which sounds oddly like something written by Percy Grainger.
Thomas l'Imposteur came to the screen in 1965 two years after the death of Jean Cocteau from whose novel the screenplay was adapted. The story, set in France during the First World War, is about a group of wealthy Parisians who, led by Clémence de Bormes, a widowed princess, bring some action into their boring everyday lives by transforming her palace into a hospital and organizing an ambulance convoy to the devastated countryside. Clémence and her daughter Henriette make the acquaintance of Guillaume de Fontenoy, an exalted young man (actually Thomas "the imposter") in a fake uniform who pretends to be the nephew of a famous general and who offers to join the charity group as a helper. Very soon the realities of war intrude and whilst Clémence is gradually infatuated by Guillaume, Henriette falls in love with him. But Guillaume decides to join the fighting troops and undertakes a dangerous mission and is killed. At this news, Clémence who has renounced her love for the young man in favour of Henriette, experiences the breakdown and eventual suicide of her daughter in a mental
Sanatorium. The opening Main Title is a perky march full of irony and written tongue-in-cheek. It culminates in a hymn that reminds one of Mahler's Second Symphony. 'Meeting the bishop' is a charming, rather neo-classic chamber piece for eleven wind instruments and ondes martinot. 'Clémence and Henriette' is another brilliant one of Auric's penetrating satirical pieces. The ondes martinot adding the sardonic touch for the unrealistic too-old affections of Clémence. The movement is a clever airy waltz that shows up the two women as charming but rather superficial. This waltz theme is later varied as a lively scherzo for 'Across the dunes on motorbikes.' On the fringes of the drama - The spirit of adventure' is another mainly romantic interlude contrasted with the 'Hell at Reims' which introduces a much more dissonant and realistic atmosphere, Auric really makes you feel as though you are under fire.
Ruy Blas (1947) was based on Victor Hugo's novel set in the Spain of the Inquisition. It starred Jean Marais in the dual roles of Ruy Blas and Don César in a story of court intruigues and forbidden love (Ruy's for the Queen). For Auric it must have been fun to write such straightforward and colourful music for what was essentially a swashbuckler albeit rather darker with an unhappy ending. Auric uses a large orchestra including triple woodwinds and cor anglais, a larger percussion section, celesta, vibraphone, piano and two harps besides the usual strings. The Main Title is Auric's special Gallic take on the sort of bravado and romance served up by Korngold for his Hollywood romances. 'Festival' is a colourful swirl of Spanish dance rhythms. 'Through Mountains and gorges' is an atmospheric and bravado-narrative style piece for the sequence where Ruy risks death to pluck an exotic plant for his Queen. The growing romance between the pair is contained within such cues as 'Le Bouquet', 'Le messager blessé' and 'Rendezvous dans le parc') but there is also plenty of dark sinister material particularly associate with the villanous Don Salluste.
A very entertaining programme full of Gallic wit and charm
Georges AURIC La Belle et La Bête Complete Film Score. Axios Chorus, Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adriano MARCO POLO 8.223765 [62:06]
Only £4.99 at Amazon UK
(Note this recording has already been released. The recording was made in 1994)
La Belle et La Bête (1946) remains one of the best loved films of the French cinema and a triumph of the imagination, with an inspired score by Auric supporting Jean Cocteau's equally inspired direction.
The story needs no retelling. Conductor Adriano, who also wrote the erudite notes, found Auric's full manuscript amongst other manuscripts left by the composer. Previously, it had been thought that the music was lost. There followed much toil in examining, transcribing, clarifying the differences between the composer's original intentions and the conductor's markings, and preparing the material for this recording. Cocteau's previous experience of working on a film with Auric, gave him the confidence to allow the composer much freedom without dictating what material should fit what sequence. As Adriano comments, the music "unsynchronised and contrasting, gave the picture new and fascinating dimensions." Here, for the first time, is the complete score, much of which could not be heard properly under the dialogue or sound effects of the film (or which was often abruptly stopped to prioritise the surface drama; and the more primitive 1940s film sound recording lost much detail too.)
Auric's highly atmospheric music fits the fantasy world of the fairy-tale like a glove. The sound world he creates is beguiling, bewitching, romantic, mysterious, vaguely alarming: in short, pure magic. At times, there is a sense of other-worldly innocence that is utterly captivating. Much of the scoring is fragile, gossamer delicate, hushed, and anticipatory even, with emphasis on sheening glissandi and the higher registers of wind, strings and percussion, with harp. There are, clearly, low rumbling punctuations, and extended sinister episodes plus ceremonial and regal music. Rather than attempt to analyse the 24 tracks that comprise the score, I will quote extensively from Adriano's eloquent notes:
"Its overall orchestration includes three flutes (with piccolos), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, three horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, eight percussion instruments, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, celeste, pianoforte, two harps, a wordless mixed chorus and strings. Nine cues are scored for a smaller ensemble, without brass and with only about 10-15 strings exempting double basses. In these cues the chorus has an important part.
"On a first hearing, the music seems impressionistic. There are moments in which the sensual element of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé and the organum-like fourths and fifths of his L'Enfant et les sortilèges come to mind. The wordless chorus (mouths closed and open) is also inspired by Ravel's ballet. 'Les couloirs mystérieux' and 'Les entretiens au parc' have passages that seem closer to Debussy. Nevertheless, in its excursion into the realm of the magic, the irrational and the atmospheric, the music of La Belle et la Bête may be recognised, rather, as symbolist Most sections describing the Beast and his surroundings are of a blurred musical atmosphere, obtained through precise notation, unusual rhythmic counterpoint, sensitive dynamic changes and sophisticated and highly intricate instrumental colouring, ranging from the eerie, mysterious and dream-like ('Les couloirs mystérieux', 'La Bête jalouse' and 'Le pavillon de Diane') to moments that are nightmarish, troubled and brutal ('Apparition de la Bête' and 'Moments d'effroi'). A unique element of drama is heard in the orchestral tutti passages of 'Le vol d'une rose' and 'Le miroir et le gant.' A handful of leitmotifs and thematic cells are used, but not to identify particular characters or emotions: they remain purely within the domain of music. Harmonically, Auric steps further into atonality than the so-called Impressionists. His score, starting and finishing in a brilliant E major, wanders through various unusual, floating tonalities and some episodes of advanced dissonance. By using a wordless chorus in a film score, Auric certainly surpassed many contemporary and subsequent Hollywood scores and as a colourful orchestrator, his only rival was Dimitri Tiomkin."
This is very atmospheric and thrilling performance of a ravishing score that preceded and still overshadows such wonderful fantasy scores as Jerry Goldsmith's Legend and, this year, Simon Boswell's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream.
ARTHUR HONEGGER Les Miserables (suite, 1933) La roue (overture, 1922) Mermoz (2 suites, 1943) Napoleon (suite, original version, 1926-7) The CSR Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Adriano MARCO POLO 8.223134
Combined Book and CD Review
(note: this is not a new release; the recording was made in 1987)
This album has been in my collection for some time but it seemed appropriate to review it now because we are carrying a review of a new book on the composer and Music on the Web is also carrying reviews of more music by Honegger this month.
Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), one of the greatest of twentieth century composers, made a very significant contribution to film music during the course of some 30 years from his scores for Abel Gance's La Roue in 1922 and Napoléon in 1926, to his last work in the genre in 1951. He scored for a total of forty films. Honegger arranged some of his film music for the concert hall. Probably his most famous work, Pacific 231 (the name of a locomotive - he was passionately interested in railways, including model railways) was originally composed as a concert piece but was later used in a film about the train.
Les Misérables begins with the sombre 'Générique', intense and dramatic almost a funeral march but it soon develops into a lighter veined and appealing pastoral accompaniment for Jean Valjean on his travels. 'Dans les Égouts' (In the sewers) is another dark expression of superhuman effort and is based on a continuous rhythm of pairs of eighth-notes. 'Music chez Gillenormand', using an ensemble of string octet and solo wind, recreates the chamber character of this contrastingly cheerful rollicking piece. Clarinet and trumpet play a picturesque duet in this charming interlude. 'La mort de Valjean' (The Death of Valjean) is a lovely deeply-felt cue employing trumpet and saxophone in the melodic line, with a continually modulating two chord ostinato figure passing from piano to strings. The final L'émeute (The riot) is epic battle music.
La Roue (The Wheel) is something of a misassembly of scraps of material from the music Honegger wrote for Abel Gance's film. As one might deduce from the short piece's rhythmic patterns, the film is about railways and the melodramatic material suggests dirty doings afoot(plate).
Much more significant and impressive is Honegger's splendid music for Mermoz (1942). It is one of the best scores Honegger wrote for the cinema. The film was about the French aviator Jean Mermoz. It is interesting to compare this score with that of Franz Waxman's for Billy Wilder's marvelous The Spirit of St Louis for there is a commonality between the two screenplays. The suite is in two movements: La Traversée des Andes (Crossing the Andes) and Le Vol sur l'Atlantique (The Flight over the Atlantic). The music is vividly evocative. You can visualise the swirling of the air around the aircraft and its progress through the clouds over the Andes and the lightning flashes around the little plane as it gropes its way through the storm over the Atalantic. This is imaginative evocative writing at its very best. I would commend every student of film music to listen to this work.
Honegger's Suite from Napoléon consists of very varied material. The opening 'Calme' is an idyll in the style of the composer's highly popular Pastorale d'été.
'La Romance de Violine' is romantic pastiche; a salon piece. 'Danse des Enfants' is a buoyant folksong-like trifle in the manner of Messager. The tone changes in 'Interlude and Finale' which starts out sounding darkly impressionistic before revolutionary songs intrude. The 'Chaconne de L'Impératrice' is more of a slow rather sultry waltz that nods towards Fauré or Messager. 'Napoléon' sounds appropriately imposing, indomitable and regal. Adriano makes much more of 'Les Ombres' (The shadows) than Marius Constant on a rival Erato Ultima CD. This is a mysterious and atmospheric piece for strings and mid-distanced trumpet suggesting the call of duty before an approaching storm. The final 'Les Mendiants de la Gloire' (The Beggars of Glory) brings the suite and the album to a magnificent and glorious conclusion as Napoleon's army marches off to Italy to La Marseillese in a peroration that rivals that of Tchaikovsky's 1812.
This CD is also reviewed by Didier C. Deutsch
ARTHUR HONEGGER By Harry Halbreich (Translated by Roger Nichols) Amadeus Press 680 pages
£32:50 (Amazon UK £24.54)
USA $44:95 (Amazon US $31.47)
This important book traces the life of this great twentieth century composer and analyses all his many works written in every genre. Every one of his 43 film scores is discussed in detail together with his many works for the theatre and radio plus his light music as well as his more "serious works". A much more detailed review of this book appears on our companion site Classical Music on the Web
Collection: Cinema Du Monde Music from European Films MUSIC CLUB MCCD127 [71:51]
This disc is cheaper in the UK than US. Purchasers will have to comparepostage charges.
Complete list of composers and films featured: Maurice Jarre: Dead Poet's Society, The Year of Living Dangerously. Alex North: Ghost (Unchained Melody) Philippe Sarde: Fort Saganne, La Pirate. Jean-Claude Petit: Jean De Florette, Manon De Sources. Karl-Ernst Sasse: Klara. Georges Delerue: Le Mepris. Jurgen Knieper: Apres La Guerre. Bjoern Isflat: My Life as a Dog. Louis Crelier: Concert for Alice. Stefan Nilsson: Pelle the Conqueror. Nicola Piovani: Le Grand Chemin. Per Norgard: Babette's Feast. Frederic Devreese: Benvenuta.
It could be considered churlish to pick a conceptual argument with a CD which offers a considerable amount of good film for less than £5, so here goes. This album doesn't know what it is, and if you are like me and prefer a certain conceptual coherence to a theme anthology, then you have come to the wrong album. Not that that should distract from enjoying the disc too much, which on the whole is a pleasant listen.
So what, conceptually, is the problem with Cinema du Monde? The cover claims '18 Film Soundtrack Masterpieces'. It would appear to be a collection of music from recent European films, except that some titles date as far back as 1963 (La Mepris - music by George Delerue), and that two of the films are made by the Australian director Peter Weir. Certainly the music for these two, The Year of Living Dangerously and Dead Poets Society is by a European, Maurice Jarre. But where does that leave Ghost? Yes, Jarre scored Ghost, but the selection here is 'Unchained Melody' by Alex North, which wasn't even written for the film, and which the cover of album incorrectly attributes to Jarre. So, conceptually, we have an album of music from recent European films, plus some older ones, plus some none-European films directed by Peter Weir, with music by a Frenchman, plus an American film with music by Alex North. The connecting factor in this muddle is that all the tracks are licensed from the Milan label, presumably to fill a perceived gap in The Music Club label's range of budget compilations.
And the confusion doesn't end there, because track 8 contains a possibly unique bonus feature. The cue, 'Au Moulin' by Jurgen Knieper from Apres La Gurre appears to last 11:39 minutes. However, it is actually the same 3:48 minute long piece presented three times in a single track. Therefore the 71:54 minute running time of the disc should really be counted as 64:16 minutes.
Then there are the notes by Damien Ffrench (does anyone really spell their name like that? Or is the second f more pointless repetition?) These tell us that film music can be very powerful, that European film music is less fettered by commercial considerations than American film music, and quite a lot about Maurice Jarrre. And a little bit about some of the other composers whose music is featured on the album. There are not the most in-depth or insightful notes in the world, but when most full-price releases don't offer notes at all, they are a welcome and unexpected bonus, and to his credit Mr Ffrench knows that Maurice Jarre didn't write 'Unchained Melody', though he doesn't say who did.
And so to the music, 64 minutes of generally very pleasant, unhurried and elegantly crafted themes from some of Europe's finest film composers. Jarre's two pieces are rich in almost ambient atmospherics, showing a subtle and delicate side to his talent, while his orchestral arrangement of 'Unchained Melody' is restrained and tasteful. There are two selections by the immensely gifted Philippe Sarde. 'Generique' is a cello-led theme from Fort Saganne while a sequence from La Pirate maintains a similar mood. There are two selections from Jean-Claude Petit's attractive and popular music from Jean De Florette, with a further extract taken from the sequel, Manon Des Sources. 'Uncle Arvidsson's Dream', a beguiling melody from My Life as a Dog, composed by Bjoern Isfalt, is absolutely delightful, but after a mere 75 seconds suffers from one of the most abrupt fade-outs in memory. Happily, the album concludes with the lyrical title theme from the same film, an equally brief, but musicaly complete piano solo. The only real disappointment is the 'Pastorale Moderato' from Babette's Feast. Hearing this now for the first time, it reminds me nothing so much as of the out-of-tune comedy music from Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn's Ravenous and in the present context is no fun at all.
There is a lot of good music here, and at a bargain price. Much of it is difficult to find elsewhere, but this compilation seems to be in every soundtrack section of every shop I visit. The presentation may be less than model, but either as an introduction to some of the many talented film composers working in continental Europe, or simply as an anthology of elegantly refined and melodic themes, you really can't go wrong with this charmingly idiosyncratic set.
Gary S. Dalkin
THE FILM MUSIC OF ARTHUR HONEGGER (1892-1950)
And JACQUES IBERT (1890-1962)
ARTHUR HONEGGER Les Miserables from the 1933 film The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Adriano MARCO POLO 8.223181 [58:55]
Only £4.99 at Amazon UK
ARTHUR HONEGGER Les Miserables (suite, 1933) La roue (overture, 1922) Mermoz (2 suites, 1943) Napoleon (suite, original version, 1926-7) The CSR Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Adriano MARCO POLO 8.223134
ARTHUR HONEGGER Crime et chatiment (suite, 1934) Farinet ou L'or de la montagne (suite, 1938) Le deserteur ou Je t'attendrai (fragment symphonique, 1939) Le grand barrage (image musicale pour orchestre, 1942) L'idee (complete score, 1934) Jacques Tchamkerten, Ondes Martenot The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Adriano Marco Polo 8.223466 [58:48]
ARTHUR HONEGGER Mayerling (suite, 1936) Regain (suite I, 1937) Regain (suite II, 1937) Le demon de l'Himalaya (2 symphonic movements, 1935) The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Adriano Marco Polo 8.223467 [59:51]
ARTHUR HONEGGER MARIUS CONSTANT Napoleon (1926-27) The Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo conducted by Marius Constant Erato 4509-94813-2 [54:00]
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JACQUES IBERT Macbeth (suite, 1948) Golgotha (suite, 1935) Don Quichotte (1933) Jacques Tchamkerten, Ondes Martenot Henry Kiichli, bass The Slovak radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Adriano Marco Polo 8.223287 [77:13]
As every student of film music knows, the often neglected, often maligned art of film scoring found its genesis in the works of modern classical composers. While pioneers like Erich-Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner laid out the rules by which instrumental scores have been composed since the 1930s, when most filmmakers began to add music to their films, much of what was heard in earlier productions was borrowed from the classics or began with traditional classical composers such as Camille Saint-Saens, whose music for the silent L'assassinat du duc de Guise, in 1908, gave an early voice to this pseudo historical recreation of the war that opposed Catholics and Protestants (or Huguenots, as they were called at the time) in XVIth century France.
Over the years, other prominent classical composers also delved, some quite extensively, in film music, among them Aaron Copland, who brought a distinctive Americana flavor to such films as Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), and The Red Pony (1949); Serge Prokoviev, whose contributions to Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan The Terrible (1944-46) still rank among the most impressive scores ever composed for the movies; Dimitri Shostakovich, who illustrated himself with New Babylon (1929), The Battle Of Siberia (1940), The Fall Of Berlin (1945), The Condemned Of Altona (1963), and Hamlet (1964); and Leonard Bernstein, whose music for On The Waterfront (1954), profoundly marked this celebrated film directed by Elia Kazan. Add to this list two French composers, Jacques Ibert, who created the scores for The Italian Straw Hat (1927), Don Quichotte (1934), Macbeth (1948), and Marianne de ma jeunesse (1954), among others; and Arthur Honegger, one of the most influential serious composers of the 20th century, who elevated the art of film scoring with his music for Abel Gance's epic Napoleon (1926), Pacific 231 (1931), Les Miserables (1934), Mayerling (1937), and Jeanne au bucher (Joan At The Stake)(1954).
The link between classical music and film music through Honegger is even made more suggestive when one recalls that it was he who advised Miklos Rozsa, then a much admired but impoverished classical composer, to turn his skills to writing for the movies in the early 1940s, prompting the latter to work on The Jungle Book and The Thief Of Bagdad, a move that paved the way for one of the most successful careers in film scoring.
In the first days of its existence, Marco Polo, a label dedicated to the rerecordings of significant film scores, paid a belated homage to some of the works by Ibert and Honegger in a series of CDs that have long become much sought after by collectors and fans of film music, all featuring the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by the single-named Swiss conductor, Adriano.
One of the first great composers to express unbridled enthusiasm for the movies, Honegger often could be seen on the sets during shooting, impregnating himself with the atmosphere of the films he scored, and eventually creating cues that revealed, in the words of Adriano writing in one of the CD's liner notes, "astonishingly advanced ideas on the function of music in the cinema."
Well aware of the limitations imposed on a composer by the medium itself, Honegger rejected the notion of film music being synchronized with movement on the screen, opting instead to create music that complemented the action, commented on it, and eventually served as an extra form of its visual expression. He reached the pinnacle of his art in the two most realized scores he wrote - Abel Gance's Napoleon and the 1934 Les Miserables.
A massive, six-hour recreation of the Napoleonic saga, Napoleon made cinematic history in more ways than one: always a trendsetter, Abel Gance used for the first time the camera as an integral part of the action, moving it around instead of keeping it static as had been the case until then, thus giving the film a fluidity that set it apart from anything that had been done before; also aware of the visual limitations imposed by the small screen in use at the time, Gance devised the first big screen projection, in some instances simultaneously filming the same scene from three different angles, in a device that would have to wait another forty years to be perfected with the Cinerama process.
As innovative as Gance's technical prowesses might have been, Napoleon also benefitted grandly from the score Honegger devised for it, one of the first instances of a large scale work being applied to a film of this magnitude. But because Gance constantly worked on the film, editing and reediting it, the final score - a combination of themes borrowed from the composer's other works, original cues, and compilation of folk tunes - ultimately sounded disjointed and, in the words of a critic at the time of the film's premiere, "cacophonous." Today, many of the composer's original cues have been lost, and his score only exists in fragmentary form.
In a sad turn of events, the film was released almost at the time the movies began to talk; as a result, it was summarily dismissed as old fashioned and dated, and fell in unjust oblivion, despite Gance's vain efforts to try and post-synchronize it and present it again to new generations of filmgoers. In 1980, it was shown in London in a new version edited by Kevin Brownlow, who had spent more than two decades reconstructing it, with a new score by Carl Davis; the following year, it was brought to the U.S. for a roadshow presentation that was ill-advisedly rescored by Carmine Coppola.
If the Davis score can be said to more closely match Abel Gance's initial concepts about his massive undertaking, the eight selections from the original score by Honegger, vibrantly brought to symphonic life in the Adriano recording, belie the idea that his work was flawed to begin with, and thoroughly evoke the breadth and scope of the film itself, in a way that may be different from Carl Davis' but no less compelling. To put it simply, it is magnificent, and only makes one regret that so little of it actually was saved.
Though the score evidenced moments of sheer melodic beauty and quietness ("Calme," "La romance de Violine"), what mostly impresses here is the sweep and grandeur of the remaining cues (some based on the revolutionary folk tune "Dansons la carmagnole," others using Rouget de Lisle's "Marseillaise" and Mehul's "Chant du depart") which match in epic scope the visual elements in Gance's film ("Napoleon," "Les ombres," "Les mendiants de la gloire," "Interlude et final"). In every way, this is solid film music that evokes much more than just a passing vision of an extraordinary film.
[Honegger's original cues can also be heard in another recording, released by Erato, with additional selections for the film composed by Marius Constant, who also conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, in a different, albeit no less fascinating attempt at giving a more complete musical expression to Gance's masterpiece.]
Les Miserables was composed in 1934 for the fourth screen retelling of the classic Victor Hugo novel, another massive five-hour undertaking, originally shown in three parts running consecutively in different theaters, but eventually reedited by its director, Raymond Bernard, into two parts, each with a running time of 100 minutes.
Particularly memorable for its close visual description of the novel, its superb cast, and its fluid direction, Les Miserables starred Harry Baur as Jean Valjean and Charles Vanel as Javert, and preceded by one year Hollywood's most famous version with Frederic March and Charles Laughton in the leading roles. For it, Honegger wrote another majestic score, an impressive achievement in its own right, which unfortunately suffered when the film was reedited. Lovingly reconstructed from existing cues and sketches, and assembled to give it greater symphonic continuity, this is an essential recording that should belong in every collection.
In creating it, Honegger displayed a rare talent for musical images that are attractive and catchy, solidly built around melodic material that challenges the listener and compels repeated hearing. Though the cues are short for the most part, they make a lasting impression, with the longer "Tempete sous un crane," "La foire a Montfermeil," "Le jardin de la rue Plumet" and "Dans les egouts" (the only cue without a melodic motif) surprising for their vitality and emotional impact.
The other recordings mentioned here present various suites from scores the composer wrote for a wide range of films made in the late 1930s and early 1940s, in which his colorful compositions translate in musical terms the dramatic narrative of each film. Of these, the three most important are Mayerling, a historical drama made in 1936; Regain, from 1937; and Crime et chatiment, from 1934, in which the composer prominently featured the early electronic Ondes Martenot.
Interestingly, the Ondes Martenot were also used by Jacques Ibert for this 1935 score for Golgotha, a re-telling of the life and passion of Christ, directed by Julien Duvivier, in which Robert Le Vigan portrayed the Messiah.
Ibert, a composer better known in concert halls for works such as "Divertissement" and "Escales," also enjoyed a prolific career as a film composer, with some 30 scores to his credit, between 1933 and 1956. While many of those might not have been full-length contributions, they bore Ibert's distinctive style and taste for brilliant orchestral colors, that contrasted with Honegger's darker moods (though both men worked together on two operas, and Honegger was known to have collaborated with others on some film works, they never teamed for a film score).
Starring the great Russian basso Fedor Chaliapin, it seemed only natural that Don Quichotte, directed by G.W. Pabst in 1933, should include some songs. The four tunes created by Ibert, with words by Pierre de Ronsard and Alexandre Arnoux, show a Spanish influence, much in keeping with the subject of the film and Ibert's own musical leanings.
While the Golgotha suite showcases the composer in a more dramatic vein, the real delight in this release is the series of cues Ibert created for Orson Welles' Macbeth, itself another sadly neglected masterpiece worthy of a thorough reexamination. Solidly defined and powerful in its dramatic exposition, the score provided a solid anchor to this screen adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, in which the eerie "The Ghost Of Banquo" and the martial "Triumph Of Macduff's Armies" particularly stand out.
As with the Honegger titles, the CD casts a long glance at a composer not known for his movie scores, but whose contributions should be remembered and acknowledged among the most descriptive and vivid ever created for the screen.
Overall performance by the CSR Symphony Orchestra is superb, with the great DDD sonics adding immeasurably to one's pleasure.
Didier C. Deutsch
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Piano Quintet in E Major. Suite Op. 23 (1930) Kathryn Brake (Piano); George Marsh (Violin); Claudia Chudacoff (violin); Nancy Thomas Weller (viola), Steven Honigberg (cello). ALBANY TROY 348 [68:58]
This enterprising album, which offers two contrasting chamber works from the young Korngold, may come as a surprise to those only familiar with the composer's famous film scores, or perhaps with his grand concert works, which in any case often bear marked similarities to his film music.
The Piano Quintet was begun shortly after Korngold's great success with his opera Die tote Stadt, and completed in 1921 when the composer was still in his early 20's. Dedicated to his friend, the sculptor Gustinus Ambrosi, the three movement work lasts, in this performance, just over half-an-hour; Korngold himself was the piano soloist for the Hamburg premiere in 1923. The opening movement is concentrated in its distilled lyricism, offering a density of invention quite different to the later, inevitably more directly melodic film music. One really startling moment comes when a passage of intense melancholy abruptly takes a detour through brief atonal piano writing and caustic strings. It lasts less than half-a-minute before tonality triumphs and the movement ends, but from Korngold it is shocking that it is exists at all. In the following 'Adagio' the piano pushes at the edges of tonality in a questing, urgent exploration towards a most affecting melody. This is music with a youthful uncertainty, wanting to resolve into absolutes, yet asking introspective, self-doubting questions along the way. When a 'big tune' finally arrives at '5:20' Korngold almost immediately strips it down to the essentials of a stark mournful line, before rising to a peak of angst. The material is derived from Korngold's own Songs of Farewell, most particularly the third song of the set, 'Moon, thou Riseth Again' and the music certainly contains the hallmarks of youthful emotional torment.
The 'Finale' opens with a bold statement by the violin, joined by confrontational block piano chords and leading to a characteristically Jewish violin melody which in turn develops into a spry rondo. A dazzling sequence of themes spin through rapid variations, before the work is tied together with a return opening melody.
The compactness of the material demands the fullest attention, as the young Korngold obviously had so much to say he almost risks spilling it out all at once. Listening to this music one almost wishes the composer had taken more time to develop his melodies, rather than rushing on headlong like a butterfly, turning first this way then that, always beguiling, but perhaps ultimately achieving less than a more direct route might have obtained with more economy. Less is more may well apply, though youth has always had more energy than time to spare.
The Suite, Opus .23 (for 2 violins, cello and piano: left-hand) dates from 1930, and in the nine years between the two works it is obvious that Korngold has matured into a composer of considerably more control and authority. Here the pacing is more measured, the use of piano against strings more carefully structure to achieve precise emotional effects. By saying one thing at once, Korngold makes sure we hear him clearly. The romantic melodies are stated with great clarity, each instrumental line evidently part of the overall structure such that the musical architecture is revealed in clean lines and strong design. In five movements, the work is almost a concentrated symphony, and could perhaps have been re-orchestrated into symphonic form had Korngold chosen to do so. Certainly the development is more 'symphonic' than in the Quintet, though the economy of instrumental forces has the advantage of allowing us to appreciate Korngold's musical invention without the distraction of his customary rich orchestration. Here, rather more so than in the earlier work, the film music aficionado will find pointers to the style of the great romantic melodramas Korngold scored in the following two decades.
The Suite was Korngold's second commission for the noted one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein - the first had been a piano concerto in 1923 - and was premiered by Wittgenstein Vienna in October 1930. Korngold runs the gamut from fugue to waltz, with controlled dissonance set against a slow movement based upon the composer's own beautiful 'Was du mir bist?' from the Opus 22 lied, and again a finale spinning variations from an opening rondo. This time the result is more appealing, for rather than demanding our attention with an onslaught of invention, Korngold's writing makes every phrase a pleasure.
Both pieces on this disc require playing of a high order, and the informal ensemble respond with virtuoso performances. The booklet (which also features some beautifully reproduced photographs of the composer) gives informative notes both about the music, and about the musicians, who although apparently not a permanently established group, all hail from the Washington D.C. area. Cellist Steven Honigberg is clearly the driving force behind the recording, for the booklet lists four other albums featuring his artistry, and he is also the producer of this current release. With engineer Ed Kelly he has achieved a very clear and unforced sound, with the instruments defined in a natural soundstage making following the interplay between the parts delightfully easy. The balance is good, and each instrument has a real sense of presence. The fact that it has been produced to the highest standards is further indicated by HDCD encoding, enabling those with the appropriate audiophile equipment to benefit from the best possible sound quality.
The Piano Quintet is full of youthful passion, while the Suite is certainly a stronger, more mature work. Taken together they present not only a less well known facet of a fine composer whose 'serious' work is only now coming to be known, but offer the opportunity to see the development over a decade of a composer approaching two rather different works for comparable forces. This is not a release to recommend to the hardcore film music buff, for apart from this not being film music, there is little here which sounds directly like Korngold's later soundtrack work. However, for the more adventurous film music fan, and for those interested in a range of classical as well as film music, this is a very interesting and rewarding album.
Gary S. Dalkin
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