Film Music on the Web (UK)

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


A Golden Age: Before - During - After?

An opinionated ramble written and compiled from many sources by Rob Barnett

Alphabetical composer listings   A- F   G - Z    Discography etc. (text only)


These pages are intended to provide a personal introduction to one segment of the vast expanse of film music. Music written for British films seems to have come a poor second or even lower down the field to the Hollywood greats: Korngold (who referred to films with music as ‘spoken opera’), Rózsa, Waxman, Steiner, Friedhofer, Newman and, above all, the master, Bernard Herrmann. Apart from the odd track on an LP and the soundtrack memento LPs for big commercial successes, little had been done until the 1980s to preserve and promote this enjoyable heritage.

The great Hollywood names featured on the RCA Classic Film Scores series (13 albums) which came out in the early 1970s. Those catalogue prefixes (ARL LRL etc) and the names George Korngold and Charles Gerhardt still conjure up the magical music of those scores discovered afresh in great sound. They can still be enjoyed in various BMG reissues and recouplings. However about British film composers like Alwyn, Arnell, Arnold, Frankel and Rawsthorne we heard nothing or practically nothing. If we knew their names it was because ‘their’ films still commanded audiences on Sunday afternoon TV matinees. Their existence was also known to another group who were interested in the composers and their music first and were not prepared to accept that the film (rather than the concert music) of these composers was in some way second class or unworthy of assessment.

During the 1960s and 1970s interest in composers of the second British musical renaissance began to stir. Symphonies and concertos heard many years ago began to be broadcast after years of fashion-led obscurity. At last we were hearing again Elgar symphonies. Symphonies by Bax were broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. The Bax 4th was the first on LP and Moeran’s symphony and concertos had some exposure.

It was natural that the new generation, then exploring this repertoire, would wonder about the film music written by those whose concert music was now enjoying the first glimmerings of interest. People began to watch and now listen with renewed interest to the films upholstered or structured by this music. It would be some years before those who had begun to explore British film music would start to ask about the concert works of people who were well know as film music composers but hardly known at all as composers of concert music. I am thinking, here, of composers like Arthur Benjamin and Hubert Clifford. More of that later as once again I breach my own terms of reference; speaking of which:


These pages were written at the request of Ian Lace who is the editor of the film music section of the Coventry University site. The University’s complete music site is run by Dr Len Mullenger. I am grateful to both Ian and Len for giving me the excuse and the mission to produce these pages. I hope these pages will become important as much for what they will evolve into as for what they are now. They can only evolve with your feedback which should be directed to me at mail here

These pages are concerned with films made to be shown in cinemas either purpose-made or touring. Music for films made with an eye to consumption by schools and colleges are also included. At one time these documentary shorts were a rich and consistent source of income for composers as well as providing a backdrop against which to launch experiments. These scores often amounted to working sketch books from which their more ‘serious’ concert scores were derived. I am not directly concerned here with TV music though that too is another genre which deserves attention and has many interesting points of linkage with the world of films. However hard and fast rules are difficult to apply as some films go direct to TV or are made for TV. Some flexibility will be exercised.

These pages are about British film music. This is film music from the British Isles rather than the U.K. I also cast the ‘nationality’ net very wide to take in those ‘Commonwealth’ composers who contributed to the Golden Age. Rózsa rates a place here because of his five years in England and the rich scores he contributed to British cinema at that time. Composers such as Arthur Benjamin and Hubert Clifford are also included here.

This brings us back to the definition of ‘Golden Age’. This I take to be the period running from say 1935 to 1960. As the title of this sequence of webpages suggests the coverage is before, during and after that era. Inevitably, for now, the material will concentrate on that core period spanning the pre-war period, the Second World War and the 15 years after VJ Day. Information in as much detail as possible about the preceding period 1850s through to silents to early sound to mid 1930s and then through the 1960s to the present day will be just as welcome but I know that currently my coverage in these areas is going to be rather thin.

The focus will be on the composers and their music although the film makers, the musical directors and others will make an appearance from time to time and may in due course be presented in more detail.

Errors: I am sure there will be mistakes and I apologise for them for they are all of my making. I have no detailed knowledge of the film industry and still less technical knowledge of music. My researches have been restricted to the materials I have easily available at home although these are extensive. This restriction has had its benefits because although I have had a project something like this in mind for many years the writing up of the material would have never finished if I had not had access to the riches of the British Film Institute or even a large library.

I do hope that people will let me know about errors so that I can put them right and from time to time update the site. Corrections of straight errors and the correction of omissions of key and even peripheral composers, scores, recordings no matter what the format (78, EP, LP, cassette, 8-track cartridge, open reel tape, video - Beta or VHS, video-disc, CD, DAT, DVD) are positively welcomed by me. Don’t be slow in telling me.


By all means skip this page as it amounts to a self-indulgence by the author.

My earliest recollections of films involve BBCTV during the 1960s running the so-called ‘Sunday Matinee’. There I saw core classics of the British cinema such as ‘The Cruel Sea’, ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, Genevieve’ and ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’. The majority of the features shown derived from the USA. I was not really conscious of the music at this stage but no doubt it etched its impression on my teenage subconscious.

Later I became interested in classical music through a friend (Paul Tozer) at the local College in Torquay, Devon. I said I would not mention TV music but I must because a deeply felt impression was left by the music used by a BBC adaptation of ‘Ivanhoe’ (no - not the one shown in 1996) but one dating from about 1970 (if anyone can give me more details I would love to be reminded of what it was and when and who was in it). Anyway the music was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. For a 17 or 18 year old as I was then the heavens-storming passions of this symphony mingled with the vivid plot and adaptation to leave a real mark.

Paul plays a very important part in this story as it was through him that I began to become drawn a little into the world of films and film music. Paul gave me the best possible introduction to classical music. This was not the Beethoven and Brahms avenue but via a whole range of composers not seen as mainstream or at least not then. Paul’s LP collection was based on sales at W H Smiths in Torquay and occasionally in Paignton. There he had picked up Everest LPs (I recall Spivakovsky’s Sibelius Violin Concerto), Supraphons (Janácek Glagolitic Mass and Taras Bulba and Sinfonietta), Vaughan Williams and Bax amongst many others. I took enthusiastically to this repertoire and did my own exploring by listening to and taping off the radio. Soon I had become a Bax enthusiast and this contrasted nicely with Paul’s dedication to Vaughan Williams. I also bought the Gramophone each month and got much of my education (including a smattering of other languages) through its pages.

I left Torquay to study in Bristol. This would have been in 1971. Paul opted to go into paying employment, a very important consideration as it gave him access to a paypacket and to some serious record buying while he was still living at home. It was at this stage that RCA, Charles Gerhardt and George Korngold initiated the classic film scores series of LPs. As each one came out Paul bought them. He also picked up the Bernard Hermann collections dating from the early 1970s and the new Unicorns as they appeared. I still remember the incredible frisson of hearing the Decca Phase Four recording of Journey to the Centre of the Earth complete with a ‘serpent’ (an obsolete instrument) warbling pathetically as the ‘dinosaur’ was engulfed by lava. The pulsing radio and satellite dish figure in The Day the Earth Stood Still and the sumptuous Overture and bazaar music from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad are also obstinately present. Deeply impressive were the RCA Bernard Herrmann and Waxman discs. The Herrmann highlights were the Citizen Kane suite and the music for Beyond the Twelve Mile Reef complete with multiple harps previously emulated only by Granville Bantock in his Celtic Symphony. The Waxman was also a marvel with the devastating Prince Valiant Suite and the feverish energy of Taras Bulba scherzo. These impressions were overpowering. When I came home at Christmas and during the summer many an evening was spent at Paul’s house listening to these LPs and seeing films including early silent epics then being screened with newly-made scores.

Over the years I lost touch with Paul as work took us both in different directions away from the area but I owe much of the start of my present interests to him and remember our explorations, in reading, studying, films and music as indelible experiences. That later I became interested in film music of Vaughan Williams and others can be traced back to those days. I can still recall recording in Bristol on a very basic Philips cassette recorder and microphone(!) the soundtrack for ‘The 49th Parallel’ while my landlady was out.


The film music genre is a fragile one. Its sources are commercial and not artistic. Composers can reap handsome rewards but the arrangement is usually that the materials, recordings, parts, full scores etc are the property of the studio. The composer is typically close to the bottom of the heap and must endure all sorts of artistic indignities over which he has no control. A popular film may well make the score. A good score to a bad film will occasionally rescue the film but more often will drag the score down into obscurity. Composers frequently had to endure the worst of both worlds: a subservient position in film making and the snobbish attitude of concert promoters, orchestral managements, broadcasting organisations and fellow composers in the world of serious music.

The control of studios comes and goes. Their stock in trade is the film itself rather than its source material. Tapes, discs and paper material take up space. Space is valuable. Accountants and others must put a value on that space. In what way is the expensive storage of such materials revenue-generating. Usually it is not and so - what happens? The spectre of the skip arises and clanks its chains. The material rots, moths gorge on it and it disappears into pulping machines, landfills, rubbish heaps and incinerators. All we are left with then is the soundtrack which can, over the years, also become fragile. Whole films have disappeared especially those issued on the old nitrate stock which was highly inflammable and which with age tends to coalesce into a glutinous and corrosive soup.

The problem of loss of materials is exacerbated by changes of ownership of studios and changes of management. A further factor is that until comparatively recently there were no archives at which to store the precious source materials or even the older films no longer enjoying an active cinema, TV or video life. Here the USA were perhaps ahead of the game in that their academic institutions became interested in film music and film generally far earlier than British universities. The British Film Institute and the film music centre archive at the University of York are welcome exceptions to the general rule. However we are still leagues away from meeting the call of the late Christopher Palmer for a repository specifically designed to receive film scores and to preserve them and make them available for study, concert performance or recording. As Palmer said in 1990 in Gramophone magazine: film music can be all too unknowingly undersold. ‘How many of us, I wonder, received their first musical impressions at the cinema? How many first tuned in to Walton (and to Shakespeare) through the medium of Olivier’s Shakespeare films?’

There have been so many music score victims of the process of rubbish disposal that, as interest in re-recording has grown, there has arisen the curious phenomenon of reconstructing scores by listening to the soundtrack. People such as Philip Lane, the late Christopher Palmer, John Morgan and William Stromberg became doyens of this arcane skill. These practitioners, both celebrated and unknown, inhabit a world not all that far removed from a classic cliché of the film world: Dr Frankenstein giving new life to the dead. Let us hope that their ‘creatures’ can take their place in the society of music generally. Certainly they deliver no shortage of pleasure, excitement and challenge.


At this point I will disregard the geographic boundaries and examine what was happening across Europe and the USA. Bear with me.

Moving pictures were a miracle. Allowing for the odd experimental novelty here and there film grew to great prominence during the early 1900s. Before that, magic lantern shows at public exhibitions, in halls and in music halls were wondrous things. Some of these were given with musical accompaniment. In fact it was apparently the norm for a piano accompaniment to be given as a backdrop to these displays.

One interesting experiment involving a very full orchestra took place in London in 1908. The Irish poet Herbert Trench wanted a composer to set his philosophical poem ‘Apollo and the Seaman’ to music. He chose the British composer Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958) on the recommendation of Henry Wood. Holbrooke and Trench engaged the young lion of the day: Thomas Beecham (not a name associated with films except in the case of The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann), scion of the Beecham Pills empire, as the conductor. They booked the Queen’s Hall. The event involved what had become a seventy minute symphony with a choral finale. This was played in almost complete darkness with the text of the poem projected by magic lantern onto a massive screen. The subdued glow of music-stand lights were the only real illumination. On-screen the verses of the poem were interspersed with suitable images. The music though apparently quite impressive sank into obscurity after a second performance. The concert, attended by socialites and petty Royalty, was remembered in Beecham’s and many others’ autobiographies for the disasters when the poem slides became out of synch with the music. The second performance may have been better co-ordinated but this has still left the music in obscurity. This was an expensive event and an example of one which only the phenomenally wealthy could afford to mount. Holbrooke later wrote three film music suites during the 1920s probably as mood music for the silents and he also used film (now lost unless anyone can tell me where to find it!) as backdrop to a number of scenes in his trilogy of operas ‘The Cauldron of Annwn’ (Dylan, The Children of Don and Bronwen). Oddly enough the medium of film is probably the only one in which these treasures of scores (hardly at all Wagnerian by the way) can make their way in the world.

The arrival of the moving pictures at prices accessible to all classes opened a new field in entertainment. It was one which, in the absence of other forms of truly mass entertainment, would hold a world dominance until the arrival and secure victory of television brought the convenience of high quality moving pictures and sound into the home.

The silent film was a wonder. However its magic would have palled without any form of aural backdrop. The story and dialogue boards interspersing the scenes were no substitute for something to occupy and divert the ear. Somehow the lack of sound was exacerbated by the fervid miming and over-dramatic gestures on-screen. For as long as film makers, hall proprietors, theatre managers and entrepreneurs were active in the movie world they would seek out musicians to provide that diversion.

For the most part the music would be provided by a solo piano and a pianist well able to improvise or to use his or her repertoire of the standard or obscure classics to match the screen-scene. The composer Tom Johnson was one such pianist. He recalled using Herbert E Haines’ ‘Three Woodland Sketches’ for many silent film scenes. Walter Elliott was another popular composer in the field. ‘Hearts and Flowers’ was a favourite for the swooning romantic scenes and Albert Ketèlbey’s ‘morceaux’ were also phenomenally popular with their effusive emotionalism. ‘In a Monastery Garden’ and ‘Bells Across the Meadow’ all featured in the film repertoire. Anthologies of mood music were issued for sale to theatre and cinema pianists. Each volume offered a page by page to key to the required emotions: battles, races, killings, love, passion, deceit, joy, sorrow, storms, tranquillity, rebirth, discovery - and many more. These volumes of mood music drew on existing repertory as well as containing specially commissioned pieces. Examples were the volumes by Giuseppe Besce (Kinotek) and Erno Rapee (Motion Pictures Moods). Other pianists and perhaps few at that improvised their own compositions. This repertoire was accompanied with a whole host of sound effects for hail, thunder, shots, broken glass ands so on. The more opulent theatres were able to boast a full orchestra and this added immeasurably to the impact of the music and of the film.

One of the earliest of these scores was the music (comprising an introduction and five tableaux) which Camille Saint-Saens wrote for his Op. 124 the H. Lavedan film ‘L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise’ in 1908 scored for strings, piano and harmonium. The French composer’s music was later to gather fame when Walt Disney selected ‘Les Fossiles’ a section of ‘Carnival of the Animals’ to accompany one of the episodes in ‘Fantasia’ (1940). In the same year (1908), in Imperial Russia, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (better known for ‘The March of the Sardar’) provided music for the film ‘Stenka Razin’ which his compatriot Glazunov had set as a symphonic poem in 1885. There were at least two more film scores from this composer. Glazunov’s music was used as the score for Mashenka (1942).

Familiar concert names contributed many of the scores for the early silents. Karl Breil arranged music by Grieg and Wagner for the epic Birth of a Nation in 1914. In 1915 Pietro Mascagni wrote for ‘L’Amica’ and ‘Satanic Rhapsody’. In 1916 Milhaud provided a score for ‘The Beloved Vagabond’. Later, Milhaud was to contribute music to British made GPO Film Unit production: the islanders. Victor Herbert a native of the British Isles wrote a full symphonic score for the epic ‘The Fall of a Nation’ in 1916. Louis Gottschalk’s ‘Broken Blossoms’ followed in 1919 and in 1922 ‘Orphans of the Storm’. Charles (Charlie) Chaplin, a British composer amongst all these non-Britannic names, wrote the scores for ‘The Kid’ (1921) and ‘The Pilgrim’ (1922) however in his case the arranger’s (often of Eisler or Raksin) work was crucial. Antheil’s notorious ‘Ballet Mécanique’ was written for a short film in 1924 in the same year as Satie contributed a score for Rene Clair’s film ‘Entr’Acte’ which featured the ballet ‘Relâche’. Honegger also wrote the film score for ‘Fait Divers’. 1924 was also the year in which the first film score of any great importance was produced: Milhaud’s ‘L’Inhumaine.’

Other composers’ names crowded that hour up until the arrival of the sound picture and its secure victory over the silent. These included Deems Taylor (the narrator in ‘Fantasia’), Henry Hadley, M. Rabaud, Manuel Ponce, Paul Hindemith, Jaques Ibert and even Jean Sibelius in the 1926 film ‘The Unknown Soldier’. Florent Schmitt’s dionysiac and voluptuous score for the 1925 film by Pierre Marodon of Flaubert’s ‘Salammbo’ (recorded on Ades 203592) was one of many exotic films and scores which mesmerised audiences of the time. Koechlin called the composer of the score ‘The Flaubert of French music.’ There was Edmund Meisel’s music to various Russian epics: Potemkin (1925), Berlin - Symphony of a Great City (1927), Ten days That Shook The World |(1927), and Eisenstein’s October (1928). Max Butting wrote music for Walther Ruttmann’s animated film Opus I and Hans Eisler for Ruttmann’s Opus III.

The French composer Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) wrote The Seven Stars Symphony in 1933. It was inspired by the stars of silent cinema. There is a movement for each of seven stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Lilian Harvey (whose screen presence so captivated or obsessed Koechlin that he wrote several complete cycles of pieces inspired by her), Greta Garbo, Clara Bow and sunny California, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and, lastly, Charlie Chaplin. The work has been recorded at least twice: The most recent recording is on RCA/BMG 09026 68146 2 with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester/James Judd. The earlier recording dates from the 1970s and is on EMI-Pathé with the Monte Carlo PO. Koechlin wrote music for the film Croisière avec l’escadre (Pathé-Natan) in 1933 but in another dismissive gesture for which the film industry was to become known his music was replaced in the final film without notice or explanation to the composer. Koechlin discovered this only when he went to see the film in 1934. This music emerged as the orchestral piece L’Andalouse dans Barcelone Op. 134. It is on that RCA/BMG CD.

Although coming much later we should also mention another evocation of the silver (and largely silent) screen. This is by another French composer Louis Aubert (1887-1968). Aubert was associated with the production of the 1925 film of Salammbo (the one scored by Schmitt). His piece for orchestra: Cinéma: six tableaux symphoniques has the following movements: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford; Rudolph Valentino, Chaplin et les nymphes Hollywoodiennes, Walt Disney, Charlie Amoureux and Valse Finale. This was for a 1953 ballet. Aubert’s Dryade was also for a 1924 film of the same title by Murphy. Both these pieces can be heard with Aubert’s vivid, greatly and unjustly neglected Atlantic marine picture Tombeau de Chateaubriand (1948) on Marco Polo 8.223531 (Rheinland-Pfalz PO/Leif Segerstam).

Mr. Kenneth Young in his book “Music’s Great Days in the Spas and Watering Places” recalls that on October 9th 1914 at the end of the afternoon concert in the Kursaal (Royal Hall) Harrogate, the wonderful film “Tannhauser” was shown with music from the pit arranged by Ernest Farrar and Julian Clifford. In 1924 Richard Strauss arranged Der Rosenkavalier for film. This was an ambitious development for its day. The music was adapted by composer for theatre orchestra plus additional items for extra scenes. In 1916, there were three versions of with diva Geraldine Farrar, one with Theda Bara, and a spoof with Charlie Chaplin. There must be other examples of these operatic silent films to which live orchestras provided accompaniment.

The musicians rejoiced in the heyday of the silent movie. Pianists and other instrumentalists were in work and in demand. Every silent had at least a pianist and more usually a small ensemble and in the more opulent venues, a full orchestra. The veteran organist, Ena Baga (still able to improvise to order) reminisced, in 1996, about being “the orchestral organist to the Tivoli Theatre in the Strand.” She played alongside an orchestra of fourteen players. The orchestra were issued with numbered ‘theme cards’ - a card for each mood or sequence. The conductor (Alfred Filer) would give two taps of his baton for theme 2 and so on. What they played were often extracts from the great or even the now largely forgotten classics from Raff to Lachner. Years later the mother of critic Bayan Northcott attending Proms at the Queen’s Hall used suddenly to catch herself being reminded that a particular piece was one which had been played quite unattributed in the silent cinema. There were also experiments where music was played using a phonograph though these were not great successes.

The Crash and world-wide recession forced economies. These events also coincided with the arrival on a widespread basis of the electronic theatre organ. These ‘marvels’ were, at least nominally, able to recreate the sound of the orchestra and in the straitened circumstances of the time orchestral musicians were paid off in their droves and the pianists and keyboard players able to adapt to electronic instruments with all the ‘bells and whistles’ retained a brief time in the sun before the talkies arrived.

Donald Mackenzie, the organist at the Odeon, Leicester Square recalled the storm and lightning effects built into the better specified instruments. The Cinema organ saved money. It saved paying 12-14 musicians. But the days of those left behind at the keyboards were also numbered.


Al Jolson’s words ‘You ain’t heard nothin’ yet’ in ‘The Jazz Singer’ were first heard in 1927. The talkies were here! This time the pianists and organists who had enjoyed a late summer success were the ones who were shown the door. Again many musicians who had enjoyed a tolerable or excellent lifestyle found themselves without employment. As the talkies killed off the cinema orchestra and organist so fashion and technology (gramophone and radio) gradually took its toll of dance bands. The quality of recorded and broadcast sound together removed many jobs for musicians and concentrated them amongst the few: - the professional orchestral musicians and the studio composers and orchestrators and arrangers - who recorded the master soundtrack forever wed to the appropriate section of the film.

The gap which music had occupied in the days of the silents was largely concerned with expressing the emotions and message of the mute actors. Now actors could speak would there be a role for music? The industry seemed to have little doubt. Music became part of the soundtrack along with speech. It was used to illustrate and heighten emotion, action and landscape.

Schoenberg’s orchestral ‘Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene’ (Accompaniment to a Film Scene) from 1930 (premiered in Berlin on 6 Nov 1930 by Otto Klemperer) marked the era’s turning point with sound movies well and truly established. The three movements (Threatening Danger, Anxiety, Catastrophe) were written for imaginary scenes not to illustrate any particular film. The music seem never to have been used as film music.


Many ‘serious’ composers have contributed film music. William Schuman (1910-1992) wrote the score for ‘Steeltown’. The Latvian symphonist Janis Ivanovs wrote several tuneful scores (The Late Frost, 1955 and The Son of a Fisherman, 1956) as did Shaporin, Sherbachev and Shebalin. Prokofiev and Shostakovich wrote many orchestral scores between them. Interestingly Shostakovich’s film scores are being meticulously edited, reconstructed and recorded with at least two cycles of CDs running in parallel. Prokofiev’s many scores seem not to have had the same attention though the music for Lieutenant Kijé, Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible have all gained a life of their own in the concert hall and recording studio. The following scores by Prokofiev are surely worth exploring: Kotovsky, Guerillas in the Steppes of the Ukraine and Lermontov. The film music revival has with the exception of Shostakovich and Khachaturyan hardly touched the vast heritage of scores written for the vital Soviet film industry. My intuition is that there are some wonderful discoveries to be made there amongst the great and not so great names. Time for a pioneer to step forward … Marco Polo - after all you already record extensively in Moscow.

The Swedes, Alfvén (Gipsy Summer -1951; The Stranger Left No Card - 1954) and Rosenberg (Short is the Summer - 1969) produced film scores. The Dane Poul Schierbeck contributed the music for the classic 1943 film Dies Irae. Einar Englund’s film The White Reindeer dates from 1956. The Brasilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a massive score for a film Descobrimento do Brasil. It employed so much music he was later able to make four suites from it and these were duly recorded by HMV. He also composed scores for the feature films Green Mansions (1959) and Joao (1972).

Nino Rota the composer of considerable concert music including at least three symphonies has achieved remarkable international success. Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements began life as music for a film on life of St Bernadette. A Japanese composer of concert music, Toshiro Mayuzumi, wrote the score for The Bible. Virgil Thomson wrote the music for The Plow That Broke the Plains and extracted from it a multiply recorded concert suite. Aaron Copland’s film music is quite well known with scores such as The Red Pony enjoying a concert life. Unaccountably one of Copland’s most successful scores for a pro-communist anti-Fascist wartime rouser Red Star as not been recorded. This is a most attractive score in its convincing pastiche of Russian rural music with a real streak of heroism. Red Star deserves a recording. It is surprising that it has not been revived in this way. This deserves either a complete re-recording or a substantial concert suite. Ronald Reagan was rumoured to have taken grave exception during the MacArthy era to Copland’s pro-communist leanings and said he would never work in Hollywood again. Whatever the reason commissions for Copland film scores dried up shortly afterwards.

Quite apart from original score we have many examples of cinema using existing classics. Brief Encounter used Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 to devastating effect and probably helped boost the concert-hall and recording success of the concerto. Howard Hanson’s Romantic Symphony was used at the end of Ridley Scott’s film Alien. The Swedish Film Elvira Madigan used a Mozart piano concerto and secured such fame for it that recordings of the concerto emerged with ‘Elvira Madigan’ as a nickname - a marketing ploy of course but one which left its mark on the work’s reputation and helped to spread the music. Platoon used the Barber Adagio as did a number of other films. I will be happy to add to this list but it is not a trend which has added any vitality to the world of the film composer except perhaps by way of reaction against the trend. The use of Allan Pettersson’s searing symphony number 7 in a Swedish film about persecution, pogroms and torture in South America was devastatingly effective. It has also been used in two other Swedish films. I hope it lead a few people to explore the very demanding music of this masterly composer.


A glance through these pages will give some impression of the wide spread of composers who have ventured into the field of film music. Film music is a young art and cinema itself is a young medium only recently having celebrated its centenary. All judgements on the music must be provisional. However as Rawsthorne said at the May 1950 Florence International film Music Congress: “…. What is needed for a good film composer is a composer.” Certainly from the perspective of the 1940s and 1950s very few composers active in the concert field had not also written film music. The proportions now are smaller. A degree more specialisation has entered in although there are still those composers who move effortlessly between the two worlds. These include Richard Rodney Bennett and Wilfred Josephs. They are however easily outnumbered by the specialists like Patrick Doyle, John Scott, Rachel Portman and others.

In general the film composer has had to play a very subordinate role in relation to his music. Usually he is composing to the film rather than the film being composed to fit the music. An exception (and a rare one) is Alwyn’s music for Odd Man out a film made by Carol Reed. Sections of Olivier’s Henry V were to be produced in the same way but this is not the way things turned out in practice.


Light Music by the likes of Coates, Binge, Tomlinson, Haydn Wood, Curzon and a host of others has enjoyed a renaissance of interest (largely on CD) since the early 1990s. Before that as we have seen the music of the British musical renaissance began to receive attention, performances, broadcast and recordings from the late 1960s onwards. There was a great revival in Broadway shows and British musicals. The unfailing lyric and poetic gift of Stephen Sondheim came to the fore and heroes of the musical began to excavate the rich repertoire there - David Kernan, Robert Cushman and Ned Sherrin all saw the opportunities that were there and seized the day. By contrast during the same era the BBC reduced their house orchestras by dropping the BBC Training Orchestra and the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. During the late 80s and into the 90s a significant drop in the production of studio concerts was noted. Although far from dead as an avenue for producing unrecorded music the way was certainly narrower.

Film music is gaining a new respectability. The next edition of Grove will give it more attention not in some separate ghetto but as an integral part of the output of composers. Alan J Poulton who is working on a massive 3 volume catalogue of the works of some 40 British composers (1900 onwards) will list films alongside the concert works. Progress has been slow however. While light music now takes its alphabetical place alongside works by serious composers when reviewed in Gramophone magazine, film music is too often relegated to a film music corner at the end of the magazine. Also reviews tend to be queued up and the reviewed once every three months in a film music feature. It was only after about 1995 that film music CD reviews began appearing in their alphabetical place alongside the others. It was heartening to see the Bernard Herrmann Salonen Sony album of film music reviewed between CDs of music by Knussen and Handel.

Some primarily film composers also ventured into concert music. Both Lee Holdridge and Franz Waxman (a fine Sinfonietta for strings and Joshua a major cantata, to his name) wrote concert works which were performed with film money and Californian celebrity in Hollywood. They were apparently studiously ignored elsewhere. Perhaps Rózsa, Korngold and Alwyn are not in this category being both film and concert composers in equal measure. Nevertheless for years the BBC ignored Korngold’s concert works such as the symphony. Herrmann’s opera Wuthering Heights and the symphony seem to have been on the Radio Three blacklist. It is interesting to see how reputations migrate from one field to another as history progresses and fashions change.

Film music which is closest in renown to light orchestral music has been the slowest to be treated at all seriously. Light music had made the transition much earlier in the 90s and film music is often seen as the new light music with as much popularity. The truth is however that film music can be as serious in demeanour and message as any concert music. In fact scores like Herrmann’s Taxi Driver and Maurice Jarre’s Enemy Mine are just as intense as any concert work. Film music often has a much better right to be counted alongside the established greats than conventional light music. Even Fanfare which is a standard bearer when it comes to enlightened reviewing policy deals with its film music reviews at the back in a special compound. So there is some way to go yet!

The return Ulysses-like of film music was part of a much larger new romantic trend. Of course like all fashions these trends need to be watched for they will just as easily change and leave areas unexplored and inaccessible. However the durability of the compact disc contrasts nicely with the days of LP and 78. Also the internet may well be the vehicle for providing on demand access in years to come to the whole of the world’s recorded music. In a world of choice those who want to explore and enjoy British film music will be able to. We have now begun to benefit from these trends and a few companies and individuals have been at the centre of that movement. Christopher Palmer (long active in the studios and a mainstay of the Gerhardt series), Marcus Dods, Bernard Herrmann (that noted Anglophile), Richard Hickox, David Ades, Philip Lane, Carl Davis, David Wishart, Tony Thomas, Kenneth Alwyn, Silva Screen, Chandos, Decca, EMI, the BBC and others have played important roles and we owe them all considerable thanks.

The phenomenon of the recording of complete scores of film music began effectively in the mid-late 1970s when specialist companies issued LPs of for example Steiner’s score for King Kong. The practice extended to pick up and record for the first time music written by the composer but discarded in the film making process. When high(ish) quality discs, tapes and soundtracks survived these were used to produce LPs of the original soundtrack minus sound effects and dialogue. Some enthusiasts are only satisfied with original soundtrack material. Herrmann’s Vertigo is an example of an OST. Another approach came when scores were re-recorded afresh with a new conductor and orchestra. A fine examples is the LP plus 45rpm OST disc set of Hugo Friedhofer’s The Best Years of Our Lives from Intrada. The arrival of the compact disc in 1983 was a blessing in many ways. On the downside the visual splendour of some of the se LP productions making full use of the 12 inch compass of the black vinyl disc and the gatefold sleeve design was lost forever. Those many films which had insufficient music to make up a full CD were momentarily left in a wasteland of uncertainty. Previously they might have conveniently taken up a whole LP or with some pruning one side of a black disc. The customers were now demanding that the fullest possible use of the 79 minutes CD would be used. For this reason trail blazing companies such as Varese-Sarabande and Intrada began recording two film scores on each disc.

Film music like that for The Magnificent Seven, King of Kings, Spartacus and Exodus represented the ultimate in spectacle. The music was occasionally loud and often exciting and imperious. This factor linked the rebirth of film music with the 1970s hi-fi phenomenon. The buff who had tired of stereophonic trains seeming to go from one loudspeaker to another and of ping-pong sound effects then warmed to the audio dream of a massive orchestra playing its heart out with Rózsa buccinas in Roman epics and superb Viking horns in Mario Nascimbene’s music for The Vikings. All the better if this could be played through quadraphonic speakers. The long suffering neighbours had better watch out.

Some of the fee-paying work for orchestral managements in recording the original sound-tracks had dried up. The 1960s and 1970s saw a marked decrease in the number of full symphonic scores for films. Pop groups were more commonly asked to provide scores. The album sales of the film music sound-track were an important part of the film commercial project. The odd song chosen to boost income might well have been the norm since the late 1940s. How much more would revenue be generated if you chose a pop group with an already powerful fan base and got them to produce instrumental solo and songs for a soundtrack album?

With the onset of the 1980s another factor came into play. Experiments in electronic music stretched back to the 1950s with the score for 1956 MGM film The Forbidden Planet. Although the film theme was written by David Rose the score comprised electronic music written by Louis and Bebe Barron. This was a pretty isolated example. However as synthesiser claviers and keyboards began to develop some sophistication during the 1980s the idea of a richly produced, ear-engaging film score from a single instrument began to make its impact. Digital technology improved and became more of a domestic reality. Prices fell and in the world of computers continue to fall. Keyboards and software began to incorporate digitally sampled actual sounds of orchestral instruments from the most ordinary to the most exotic. Once stored in chips they would not degrade and they would not get ill or charge fees or refuse to work beyond a certain number of hours per day. These sounds could also be digitally-enhanced, amplified, quietened, extruded, attenuated - any one of a battery of effects could be applied to them. All of this would have obvious attractions for the studios and their financial directors some (perhaps many) of whom may have had little feeling for music anyway. A film music documentary during the 1990s showed at least one prominent composer of the day at work producing an extremely impressive score using multiple keyboards and computers.

Composers of concert music also entered this field. The arrival of Sibelius 7 run on an Archimedes computer coupled with a synthesiser keyboard began to fulfil the ‘impossible dream’ for many composers. Full orchestral scores could be produced on screen, parts produced automatically, adjustments made easily, custom, home-grown publishing became possible and you could play a computer file back via the keyboard and a hi-fi system to hear an approximation of how it would sound. Music colleges began to respond to these developments and course emerged to ensure that the next generation of musicians were adept in using the new (and not so new) technology. Software also became more user-friendly, more intuitive so that the artist needed to be less of a techie and could give freer rein to inspiration and the notes.

These developments had an impact on orchestral managements. This would not have been as dramatic as the changes brought about for cinema musicians in the 1920s with the arrival of sound but cumulatively they took their toll. The managers were very much ready to welcome the re-recording of old scores. Orchestras which were seen, often quite unjustly, as being second rank suddenly were able to cut into a new field of revenue producing work. The Utah Symphony Orchestra, the scratch/session orchestras of topflight professionals like the National Philharmonic (lead by Sidney Sax) used extensively by Charles Gerhardt and George Korngold, Marco Polo’s RTE Symphony Orchestra and Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Silva Screen’s Prague Philharmonic and the Royal Scottish National Symphony Orchestra. This was and remains significant business and of great value at a time when broadcasting organisations seem to be moving away from paying for studio recording concerts. Gone are the days of Myer Fredman conducting the Royal Philharmonic in a studio-only concert of rare British music such as Lambert’s Piano Concerto and Van Dieren’s Elegy for cello and orchestra (1971) and some years previously of the New Philharmonia being conducted in 1965 by Stanford Robinson in an absolutely staggering performance of Bax’s Sixth Symphony. Of course grants and subsidies were disappearing too so the great enthusiasm to unearth gems of film scores offered an opportunity to make good at least some of the shortfall.

Then there was the union factor. In the USA the cost of hiring orchestras both established and studio orchestral began to escalate. Fees crept up and restrictions on the hours orchestral musicians could be asked to work were imposed. This drove film entrepreneurs to record their soundtracks in the UK and elsewhere. As costs in the UK also began to escalate more work went to the regional orchestras. More significantly with the opening up during the late 1980s of the USSR hundreds of orchestras previously with secure state subsidies began looking for fee paying work and foreign currency. The work of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Marco Polo is one example of the effect although similar comments can be made about Silva Screen’s work with the Prague Philharmonic - both initiatives which have contributed to the revival of classic film music though not exclusively British.

A further phenomenon was the laser video-disc which appeared in various formats from the late 1970s onwards. These were produced by Pioneer, Sony and Philips and for a while a battle raged quietly about which format was going to win. No clear winner appears to have emerged. The importance of these laser discs was that they also offered very high quality sound alongside excellent picture quality. The collector and film music mavin suddenly had the possibility of the best of both worlds and the convenience of the front room of the house rather than the gum-festooned, smoke-fogged and rowdy interior of a cinema. Home entertainment centres, big screens, electrostatic speakers and all the paraphernalia of the hi-fi shop at last began to come together for the film music fan able to afford the necessary kit. Now it seems likely that DVD with its very high storage capacities and digital hi-fi sound plus information tracks will triumph overall at least temporarily. Diligent collectors will need a whole wall-full of equipment to play all the different formats. PC technology and fibre-optic and/or satellite communications may offer too the dream of pay-only access to the world’s riches of cinema in high quality resolution and fine sound.

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