A MONSTER CALLS is not released officially until the new year (2017) and by all accounts this is a real tear jerker of a movie that is beautifully filmed and superbly acted by all concerned. Based on the novel by Patrick Ness. This is movie that teaches us that we must face up to our problems in life and be honest about what problems we do have. The story focuses upon an 11-year-old boy, Connor, who is being bullied at school and has an even greater worry on his mind, because his Mother has cancer and he is in constant fear that should could die at any time. The Monster that calls is an old and very wise tree monster voiced wonderfully by Liam Neeson. At first the Monster is fearsome and aggressive but as things progress the boy and the monster become friends. The music for the movie is by Spanish born composer, Fernando Velazquez, and once again he has produced a score that brims with melody and attractive themes which support and underline the at times fast paced storyline and compliment and augment the more emotive and poignant scenarios within the film. The composers delicate and affecting touch adds another dimension to the actual story that is unfolding on screen, plus the composers musical score ingratiates all that it meets. The opening track on the compact disc, is a perfect opener to the work, CONOR WAKES UP/MAIN TITLE is an entertaining and totally absorbing cue, the composer utilising a light and fragile sounding piano for most, the composition, which is mirrored by a childlike sounding chime that is almost lullaby like, but within the cue there is also a slightly more sinister or darker side, when choir is added momentarily to give the piece a fearsome or foreboding sound. Track number two, DRAWING, is a slightly more apprehensive and dissonant sounding piece, with strings and choir introducing the cue, these however soon melt away and give way to the lighter sounding style that was present within the MAIN TITLE. Track three is a lot more dissonant and fearsome, THE MONSTER WAKES UP is a collaboration of percussive elements, brass flourishes. choir and threatening and stressful strings which evokes certain sections of the composers score for DEVIL, low strings that are underlined by a deliberate and threatening percussive beat and swirling strings and voices works both with and away from the screen action. Jumping forward to track number six, THE FIRST TALE which is I have to say my favourite cue, this I think is like a mini overture for the score, it contains many of the themes that are included within the soundtrack and the composer weaves these together cleverly to create a piece works wonderfully to film, but is also a rich and rewarding listen, it is filled with powerful and at times abrasive interludes, which are complimented and interspersed with some beautiful tone poems performed by woods and strings, which are brought to life and given a magical persona by the use of delicate piano and shimmering chiming effects.
But the cue alters from being a subdued and lilting composition to an action led and commanding force approximately midway through with the brass and strings taking the lead backed up by percussion, the taught and somewhat aggressive musical persona forging ahead as if it is an unstoppable force, this then melts away and we are returned to the poignant and emotive side of the work, with piano once again being in the forefront underlined by strings. I like the way the composer utilises organ within the score, it brings to the work a sinister but at the same time safe and warm feeling, it is an instrument I suppose that is associated with both good and evil. The cue I WISH I HAD A MILLION YEARS is one that will leave listeners mesmerised, a heavenly sounding choir and strings combine with piano to create a melancholy and absorbing mood, as does the rich and romantic sound achieved with the films END CREDITS. The emotion and the sadness of the films storyline is brought to the forefront in the final cue on the compact disc and digital download. MONTAGE, includes dialogue from the movie being underscored by the composers highly affecting music, this is certainly a tearjerker of a film, but I have a feeling that the musical score might have a lot to do with creating this also. In my opinion this is another triumph for Velazquez, and one of the film score highlights of 2016 and I for one look forward to more from this highly talented and ever original Maestro.
Recently I decided to revisit the movie VAN HELSING, and although it is a film that is basically nonstop action throughout, I personally did not consider this to be a particularly good motion picture, it kind of failed in places and was very OTT in others, the pump action crossbow for example. I was pleased however that the director paid homage to the horror films of bygone days with the opening sequence of the film. Composer Alan Silvestri also built his powerful sounding musical score around the original scores of those Universal Horrors that were produced during the 1930’s and 1940’s or at least every so often the Maestro would include a motif or a musical passage that was a gentle nod in the direction of composers such as Frank Skinner, Hans J Salter, Roy Webb, Franz Waxman and others that worked upon these timeless classics of American cinema. Even the opening logo was presented in black and white and turned into a fireball as the opening fanfare for Universal rang out.
The film too contained certain references to these horror classics of yester-year that were directed by the likes of Tod Browning and James Whale. Films such as FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE WOLFMAN etc. For example, the inclusion of the famous windmill sequence from FRANKENSTEIN or at least a version of it, the angry villagers were also in tow complete with torches, pitchforks and inaudible shouts and comments as they made their way to the formidable looking castle to destroy the evil FRANKENSTEIN and his abomination of a creation, all intended as a tribute or salute to the age of Universal horror when it reigned supreme and attracted audiences in their droves to the cinema’s and picture houses to be scared witless. These classics because that is what they are, set the standards for many of the films that followed and were a blue print if you like for many movies that were produced years later.
Think about it without the Universal horrors and the famous creatures, monsters, dark characters and storylines that they included and introduced to us there probably would not have been the successful movies as produced by the British film company Hammer, who themselves eventually ended up influencing other film makers and studios who specialised in horrors and supernatural tales, such as AMICUS, TYBURN and AIP. Although AIP would have probably found its own way within the horror market because of the presence of film makers such as Roger Corman and his like. American International Pictures also would be instrumental in introducing the weird and wonderful world of International Horror movies which were directed by the likes of Mario Bava to audiences Stateside. However, it was whilst halfway through VAN HELSING that I was prompted to unearth my classic horror soundtracks as re-constructed and re-recorded by John Morgan and conducted by William Stromberg for the excellent Marco Polo series of releases.
The first disc I purchased included music from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN and THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS music courtesy of Universal pictures main stays Hans J Salter and Frank Skinner. It is surprising that much of the music that was on the soundtracks of these movies was in fact stock music that had been written by the composers for the Universal music library and indeed often showed up in films that were completely removed from the horror genre. So, as well as listening to the excellent soundtracks I also re-visited the movies, many of which I watched as a 15-year-old on the BBC late at night. Out of all the Universal horrors I think that it was the WOLFMAN films that made me feel uneasy, this was I think due to the acting talents and the wonderful make up of Lon Chaney and the way in which the movies were shot, fog shrouded woods, eerie looking sets, the monochrome look and of course the music. The earliest Universal horrors DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN both released in 1931 contained music that was a mix of original score, stock music and even some classical cues because the original score per-se was in its infancy, although that would alter soon in 1935 with the coming of another Universal Horror, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which had a completely original score by Franz Waxman, with one of his themes for the movie or at least hints of it surfacing in a famous musical some 15 years later when it premiered on Broadway. But I digress and I will leave that one for the solicitors and music copyright people.
Universal’s DRACULA, which starred the mysterious and flamboyant actor Bela Lugosi, had a composer credit for Heinz Roemheld, although I think he was more a conductor and arranger for this particular project as opposed to being enlisted in his capacity as composer. Born May 1st 1901 in Milwaukee USA, Roemheld began his association with music at an early age, he commenced piano lessons when his was just four years of age, and by the time he had reached his teenage years he was already performing in various Vaudeville shows. He later attended the Wisconsin College of music and went on to study composition further in Berlin. After he finished his studies he became known for composing piano preludes, sonatas and various serious or classical pieces for concert hall performance. After being seen leading the orchestra for a screening of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1925 he was appointed the manager of Universal Theatres in Berlin and then later in 1929 was made musical director.
After his time at Universal, Roemheld moved on to become the musical director at Warner Brothers studios between 1938 and 1945 and during that time acted as chief of film, theatre and music within the information control division attached to the American forces based in Europe during WWll. Roemheld then moved to United Artists in 1946 where he remained for two years. After which the composer went to Columbia pictures from 1948 to the latter part of 1950 after which he pursued a career as a freelance composer and arranger. He died on February 11th 1985.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) also contained a score that was a mix of library or studio stock music and original score plus strategically placed snippets of classical music which was supervised and arranged by composer Bernhard Kaun. Kaun, who was of German family background was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin, USA on April 5th 1899. The composer began his musical career as a conductor and often directed the orchestra in several theatres but predominantly was resident at the well-known Alhambra Theatre in Milwaukee. In 1930 he began to work in Hollywood and was employed by various studios, Universal, Warner Brothers and Paramount among them, where he would often act as an orchestrator and compose and arrange original music for horror movies. Which was invariably re-used in other movies that were produced at that time. He passed away in January 1980 in Baden-Baden Germany.
Every horror or indeed every Universal movie in those early days opened with that ever familiar proud and robust sounding fanfare which quickly and seamlessly segued into the opening theme of the score that was played over the credits. The most familiar opening logo theme must be the one which was composed by Jimmy McHugh and arranged by Frank Skinner but there was also a Universal opening fanfare prior to the McHugh composition which was the work of Heinz Roemheld. On each opening the logo music just became part of the score for the movie a starting point if you will for any composer to take his cue from. Wistful strings and urgent brass being the order of the day for most the Universal horrors, with booming percussion and a tense and taught undercurrent adding its support, creating an atmosphere that was exciting, anxious and filled with a dread and nervous expectancy that would engulf the watching audience, preparing them for the untold horrors that were about to be unleashed.
I think that the decade of the 1940, s was the most fruitful for Universal as in output terms, but it was also the decade that in my humble opinion and one which is just a personal view, marked the decline of the classic horror with the studio feeling the need to introduce movies such as ABBOT and COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in 1948, which was directed by Charles Barton and starred Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney jnr, it was and again this is just a personal opinion, a period in the studios history where they had basically reaped the benefits of the horror movie and now the horror was being relegated to second or even third position taking a back seat to the slapstick comedy purveyed by the likes of Abbot and Costello.
I am however, not implying that the movies were not entertaining because they were they must have been because Universal released many of them and they did in fact serve a purpose because not only did they get people into the picture houses and kept the horror genre in the cinema goers eye, just about the mainstay characters in Universal movies of the horror variety. It seemed a little sad that the studio was having to resort to comedy to sell the pictures, which is what happened during the 1970,s with the Hammer studio, after they had a very successful run with movies as in DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF tales and pictures involving MUMMYS and other horrors and subsequent spin off’s of the original DRACULA and friends etc, but the studio in a similar way to Universal seemed to lose their way slightly and deviate from the path of true gothic horror and began to introduce not comedy into the storylines but, nudity, lesbianism and sex. This was also seen as an opportunity to entice a younger audience into the cinemas and acquaint them with these dark and fearsome characters, because the world of cinema and the world as a whole was changing, becoming more and more permissive and in a desperate attempt not to be left behind Hammer experimented with this somewhat volatile and risky concoction, in some cases it worked but in most it failed and because of the studios attempt to become “hip” their productions began to be looked upon as somewhat clichéd and dated even though these were current releases and looked upon as mediocre and tired by an ever more critical audience. One of the things that tied both Universal and Hammer together was the production of quality horror films and also the decline in their quality as tastes changed both studios then attempting to regenerate the once popular horror film by adding another genre to them or having horror as a sub-genre within the actual films they were producing. The other tie was the use of music, both Universal and Hammer maintained a high level of musical richness even when the standards of the films began to dip, so for example Universal’s ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN may not have been Oscar material but its score by Frank Skinner still did its job and worked wonderfully underlining and supporting the comedy and the horror or the watered down comic horror that the film contained.
This too can be said for Hammer for example DRACULA AD 1972 was a dire attempt to update the DRACULA cycle, bringing the infamous count into the bustling, far out and groovy 1970, s. It failed and failed quite miserably, but the score by Mike Vickers was still infused with the quality that one expected from a Hammer production, this was probably down to the influence and expertise of Hammers musical director Phil Martell.
But, back to UNIVERSAL and the Marco Polo records compact disc release THE MONSTER MUSIC OF SALTER AND SKINNER. Like the films the CD opens with the familiar strains of the Universal Pictures logo music, which slips nicely into Frank Skinners opening music for THE SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, which has a highly tense and urgent beginning, but soon moves into a more subdued mood although still maintaining an atmosphere that is taught and apprehensive. The composers use of woodwinds combined with strings and further supported by jagged brass and punctuated by percussion is wonderfully alluring and sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the compilation. This is as one might expect grand and fully symphonic material, dark and foreboding in places but also possessing a sense of calm within in certain passages and brief interludes. Track two segues seamlessly into THE MESSAGE which is certainly less aggressive and urgent than its predecessor, the composer utilising an almost reverent and heavenly sounding organ within the cue, this slightly subdued aire continues within track number three THE GENERAL, but as the track progresses a slightly darker persona emerges as does a martial sounding theme which although short lived is affecting. Track number six THE EXAMINATION/LOOKING FOR A MONSTER is one of the longest cues on the album, clocking in at 8 minutes 29 secs, it is at first a brooding piece which builds and grows Skinner utilising woodwind and underlying strings initially, then introducing percussion laced with brass to create a more urgent and threatening aura. The cue then reverts back to relative calm with strings and woods once again taking centre stage, the mood is mysterious and edgy until the cue is in its final stages when again percussion supported by brass makes an appearance. Track number eight is classic horror or monster fare, MONSTERS RAGE is a combination of taught and jagged brass and sinewy but at the same time swirling strings punctuated and heightened by more pronounced brass stabs. The final cue from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is THE CAST, this is triumphant and almost anthem like with again brass taking the lead as the score and film reaches its conclusion.
THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, is next in the compilations running order and this opens with the Universal logo music but a version that is a slightly more up tempo arrangement than the one which opened the album. Music for this motion picture was courtesy of Hans J Salter, and the opening theme is wonderfully lush and filled with a lavish and rich sound purveyed by the string section. Its opening bars are given to the brass which establishes the cue straight away laying down a foundation that the composer then builds upon as his main theme soars and develops. Salters score for THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS is for a horror score very melodic, I am not complaining as the music is excellent and there are enough moments which are slightly apprehensive and chilling to ensure we are suitably made to feel uneasy, again the music is of a high quality as one would expect from such a distinguished and talented composer. The performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is also superb under the direction of William Stromberg. THE WOLF MAN comes next, opened by the Universal logo theme, the score launches headlong into action, and I must say is still one of my favourite Universal Horror scores with the writing talents of both Hans J Salter and Frank Skinner being utilised. This is the stuff from which classic horror scores are made from, dramatic, romantic, melancholy and filled with tense and hostile stabs and jolts this in my very humble opinion is the stand out soundtrack featured on this compilation and that is something of a grand statement as all three scores are powerful examples from the early Universal days. THE WOLF MAN, also has about it an abrasive, aggressive and raw sound, something that is wild and untamed every so often is let loose within the music then it reverts to a more serene or calm persona, mirroring the central character’s struggle with his inner self as his attempts unsuccessfully to contain the savage and evil creature that lurks within him as the full moon awakens it to hunt and savagely kill indiscriminately. This is purveyed perfectly within the track THE KILL, which in the movie underlines and supports superbly the rampage of the WOLFMAN as he claims yet another victim. I remember feeling sorry for the WOLF MAN as the powers of the full moon drive him to kill the thing he loves the most.
The score by Salter and Skinner is a haunting and iconic work and one from which many other composers drew inspiration. The recording is a masterpiece with some sterling work carried out on the re construction of the scores by John Morgan, who is also a composer himself and well known in the film music collecting fraternity for his passion, enthusiasm, knowledge, and talent.
THE WOLF MAN was Universal’s most lucrative release of 1941 but this was not the studios first foray into the legend of the Werewolf, they had earlier produced THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON in 1935, which starred the actor Henry Hull in the title role, Hull was not a horror actor or at least was not as well-known as Lugosi or Karloff within this genre and this is probably why the move did not fare as well as FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA at the box office. It was also the first sound motion picture that dealt with the Werewolf legend. The screenplay was not based upon one single story or incident, but instead was compiled from numerous tales that had been described and passed down from generation to generation within folklore. The musical score for THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON was by Hungarian composer Karl Hajos who was born in 1889 in the Austro-Hungarian-Empire. Hajos emigrated to the United States and began to work in Hollywood writing music for films. He started to write film scores during the silent era of the movies and worked on over a hundred films, he was one of nine composers who created the score for the 1931 western THE FIGHTING CARAVANS and in 1934 worked for Cecil B Demille on FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE. His last film score was in 1949 when he wrote the music for SEARCH FOR DANGER which was directed by Jack Berhnard. He passed away in 1950. Although THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, contained many interesting points and was to be fair an entertaining piece of cinema within the horror genre, it was outclassed and overshadowed by the studios 1941 production of THE WOLFMAN with Lon Chaney in the lead role. It was THE WOLFMAN that provided Universal with its fourth classic monster and came at a time when they were in the process of giving its original trio of horrors something of a revival. In 1931 Robert Florey had provided Universal with a screenplay that was destined to be THE WOLFMAN but starring Boris Karloff in the title role based upon his success in FRANKENSTEIN, however the studio did not think it was a viable project at the time so the script was rejected.
Marco Polo released a handful of music compilations from the Universal horrors and indeed issued numerous compact discs of the classic scores of Hollywood by the likes of Herrmann, Newman, Steiner, Waxman and Korngold, these were either in the form of compilations or full soundtrack projects and included scores such as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CAPTAIN BLOOD,THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, KING KONG, SON OF KONG, THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO etc.
THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which had music by Hans J Salter and Paul Dessau (uncredited) was released on its own with 35 tracks of music and not part of a compilation. The music as always was impressive and inventive and if you listen carefully one can hear certain musical passages that maybe acted as inspiration for composer James Bernard when he came to write his now famous DRA-CU-LA theme for the Hammer Films production some 14 years later. THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a movie that was in a word “strange”. Ok yes, I know it’s a horror but this one had a rather interesting or should I say a you have to see this to believe it plot, it was however different and appealed to a wider range of audience. The film certainly was not short of star power, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, J.Carrol Nash and Lionel Atwill all pitched in for this one directed by Erie C. Kenton which included appearances from DRACULA (John Carradine), THE WOLFMAN (Lon Chaney) and FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER( Glen Strange). An evil Scientist Dr Niemann portrayed by Boris Karloff escapes from prison accompanied by his assistant Daniel a hunchback played by J.Carrol Nash. The Doctor plans revenge on the people who put him in prison and enlists the aid of the terrible trio to do his dirty work. However, the Doctors grip over the three monsters is not strong enough to contain them and their own agendas and ultimately this proves to be his downfall. The composer Hans J Salter was born in Vienna on January 14th 1896, he had always shown an interest in music and shortly after he completed his education the young musician started to become involved with conducting orchestras in some of the many theatres in Vienna. It was at this point in his career that Salter gained the talent of producing music that would accompany any type of scenario within the theatres and of course this too would give him a good background when it came to writing music for motion pictures. In his early twenties, a film company employed Salter to conduct the musical accompaniment for operettas that had been filmed and were then screened in theatres which was his introduction to adapting music and directing it to film. A few years later Salter found himself in Germany where he gained more experience in the actual scoring of films for UFA in Berlin.
The composer then returned to Vienna as the Nazi,s in Germany were beginning to come to power, but he found that the same thing was happening in Vienna and decided to leave Europe and travel to the United States. In the latter part of 1937, Universal pictures engaged Salter to compose, arrange and conduct music for movies, this was a collaboration that endured for over twenty years, the composers first significant scoring assignment came in 1942 when he provided the score for THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN which contained a soundtrack that was nearly fifty minutes in duration, the film running for 1 hour seven minutes so Salters music was almost continuous throughout the movie.
Many assignments for Horror movies followed, THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) being among them. The Universal studio often re-using his music from one movie within others that they released. Salter became known for his work on the horror films of Universal but this was just a small part of his output as the composer worked on a staggering amount of westerns and scored numerous movies of varying genre.
Stepping away from the music for a while lets head back to FRANKENSTEIN, many believe Universal were the first to produce a motion picture on the subject of Mary Shelley’s creation, however, there were others before Universal got to stamp its own particular brand and style upon the classic tale. One of the earliest versions of the story to be committed to celluloid was in 1910, when the Edison company produced a movie. Then in 1915 another take on the story was filmed and was released under the title of A LIFE WTHOUT SOUL. Then five years later in 1920 there was MASTER OF FRANKENSTEIN which was an Italian production. When it came to the appearance of the monster in the first Universal production, it is said that director James Whale was inspired by a figure that was depicted in Goya’s drawing LES CHINCHILLAS, and Whale sketched his own ideas for the monster and passed them to creative make-up artist Jack Pierce, who in turn added his own ideas and created the now iconic look of Frankenstein’s monster, a look that would be imitated and inspire many make-up artists that would follow. Pierce not only thought about the face of the monster but considered the fact that it was made up of body parts stolen from graves and the like, thus these would have been misshapen or stretched and withered, so the monsters body would have been out of proportion.
Pierce also studied anatomy and discovered the then six methods that a surgeon could cut a human skull. He concluded that Frankenstein would have probably opted for the simplest method, which meant removing the top of the head and then after inserting a brain closing the skull and the top of the head into a square shape as opposed to rounded.
Pierce also utilised rubber around Boris Karloff’s eyes, which reduced the showing of emotion or indeed any expression whatsoever, this was a masterful stroke of genius by Pierce. The movie was often censored after its initial release and in 1937 some six years after it was first unleashed upon cinema audiences the film was edited further when it was re-issued. The scene where the monster without knowing it is wrong throws the small child into the water thinking she will just float was trimmed, and thus audiences were convinced that the monster had attacked and killed the girl for no reason.
Which probably altered the audience’s opinion of the creature drastically. This scene was however restored during the 1980, s, which would allow audiences to realise that the monster was not aware what he was doing would harm the child. This and other dialogue parts and sequences were restored when the film was re-issued. The original release ran for approx.; 70 mins.
The film of course starred Boris Karloff who was originally an actor in theatre, Karloff was born in Dulwich England in 1887. He began to venture into motion pictures during the early part of the 1920’s but went almost unnoticed until film maker James Whale saw that there was something about this tall unassuming man that maybe audiences would like. Karloff became associated with the horror genre and specifically with the FRANKENSTEIN cycle as produced by Universal, but there was far more to this talented and eloquent actor than portraying a mute and violent creature, as we would see in the coming years and future productions. Between 1932 and 1944 Karloff seemed to be on screen almost permanently and added his ample talents to films such as, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE MUMMY, THE BLACK CAT, THE RAVEN, THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN which would be his final appearance as the Monster in 1944. His career continued through the 1950, s and into the 1960’s when he made appearances on television in England in COLONEL MARCH OF SCOTLAND YARD, plus he was in demand on recordings because his voice was so distinctive and later made appearances in films such as THE COMEDY OF TERRORS etc during the 1960, s. The director James Whale was also British, and was born in Dudley Staffordshire in 1896. His first foray into acting came when he was a prisoner of war during the first world war, after being de mobbed he joined the Birmingham Rep company and later took on the duties of stage manager at the Savoy theatre in the heart of London.
He soon became known to many within theatre-land and was asked to travel to New York with a production of JOURNEYS END which starred Colin Clive in 1929. He then worked in several areas of production etc and was asked to direct WATERLOO BRIDGE for Universal in 1931 and in the same year helmed FRANKENSTEIN. A film was released in 1998 which told the story of his often quirky and eccentric life, GODS AND MONSTERS which starred Sir Ian McKELLEN enjoyed some success at the box office.
James Whale returned to the story of FRANKENSTEIN in 1935 with THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This was a more humorous approach to the story which was still based upon original characters created by Mary Shelley. In THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Whale seemed to be trying to parody the style and convention that he and his collaborators had created a few years previously. This was successful due to the over the top Gothic sets and also a musical soundtrack that was not only highly dramatic but at times highly intrusive, but still the formula worked.
The music was by Hollywood giant Franz Waxman. Waxman, was born in Upper Sielesia in Germany on Christmas eve 1906. Waxman was the youngest of six children and came from a family that was not musical in any way, His Father was a successful industrialist who felt that Franz would be better suited to a career in banking as he was of the opinion that no one could make a living out of music. The young Waxman however did have piano lessons from the age of 7 yrs, when he started working he went into banking as his Father wanted and worked as a clerk for some two and a half years using his wages to fund his lessons in piano, composition and counterpoint. After this period, Waxman resigned from the banking job and moved to Dresden but stayed there for only a short time, he eventually moved to Berlin to study music proper. His musical education was paid for by money he earned from playing the piano in nightclubs and also from working with a band called the Weintraub Syncopaters who were very popular jazz ensemble at the time. Waxman also began to do arrangements for the band and this led him into orchestrating some early German musical films. Fellow composer Frederich Hollander, who had written music for the band gave Waxman his first significant scoring assignment, this was to perform the orchestrations and to conduct his score for THE BLUE ANGEL. The film’s producer Erich Pommer was impressed with the way in which Waxman orchestrated the score and he offered the composer work at UFA Studios in Berlin.
Waxman’s first job there was to score Fritz Lang’s version of Liliom (1933), which again was successful for Waxman. Pommers next movie was Jerome Kern;s MUSIC IN THE AIR which was for Fox films in 1934, this meant that the producer had to travel to the United States and he asked Waxman to accompany him to work on the arrangements for the film. Waxman soon became noticed by other filmmakers and in 1935 he worked on James Whale’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which was his first Hollywood film score. This assignment led to a two-year contract with Universal studios as head of their music department. He worked on more than 50 movies during this time as music director and composed the scores to at least 15 of these. Among the best known of these are THE INVISIBLE RAY and MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. In 1936 aged 30, the composer was offered a long-term contract with M.G.M. as a composer, during this time Waxman scored approx; seven movies a year and whilst with M.G.M. he worked on movies such as, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS and WOMAN OF THE YEAR.
It was also whilst at M.G.M. that Waxman came into contact with David O Selznick and in 1937 worked on YOUNG AT HEART for the filmmaker, which was a score that the composer received two Academy Award nominations for, for best original music and best score. Four years later Waxman was again loaned to Selznick by M.G.M. this time to work on REBECCA for which he was again nominated for an Academy Award. The composer left M.G.M. in 1943 and began a long and fruitful collaboration with Warner Brothers films. In 1947 the composer founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival, which he was head of for some 20 years. In 1950 he won the Oscar for his music to Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD and again in 1951 for George Stevens, A PLACE IN THE SUN. The 1950s and 1960s proved to be a busy time for the composer and it was also during these decades that Waxman produced some of his most memorable works for the cinema, CRIME IN THE STREETS, TARAS BULBA, THE NUNS STORY, SAYONARA, PRINCE VALIANT, THE SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS and PEYTON PLACE being just a few titles from his impressive assignment list. It was also during this period that Waxman re-invented the way in which he wrote music progressing from the romantic to at times hard hitting jazz infused scores and also big epic sounding works. He passed away on February 24th 1967 in Los Angeles at the age of just 60.
Waxman’s score for THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was reconstructed and re-recorded in 1993 and released on Silva Screen records. An earlier reconstruction of a composition from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was available within the CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF series on RCA Records which was conducted by Charles Gerhardt. The series of film score from the Universal horrors on Marco Polo still to this day remain enticing and attractive, I leave the last word to John Morgan who was responsible for bringing them to life via his reconstruction work.
“Those Universal horror scores by Skinner and Salter have been favorites since I first saw the films on television in the fifties. I just loved the music and it really became part of me and my musical taste. I was so happy we could do these as I am convinced no others in the music world would tackle them as the films, for the most part, were considered B material. But they had A scores. It was difficult too, as none of the orchestration survived, so I had to use the abbreviated piano-conductor sheets and orchestrate the music from top to bottom. I was glad Hans Salter was still alive when we started on his project”.
ROGUE ONE-A STAR WARS STORY opened in cinemas this weekend in the UK, the film has never been out of the news or so it seems. It is they say the first STAR WARS movie that is basically a spin off from the main films in the series, but there were of course a couple of other spin off pictures when the Ewoks were given their own stories in THE BATTLE OF ENDOR and THE CARAVAN OF COURAGE. Which I must say I quite enjoyed and I still have the videos and the soundtrack LP music courtesy of Peter Bernstein. ROGUE ONE of course is a little more sophisticated than the Ewok adventures and I suspect it had a larger budget than both of the aforementioned combined. The music for ROGUE ONE has also not been out of the news as far as film music collectors are concerned. Composer Alexandre Desplat was originally named for the project but this altered recently and American composer Michael Giacchino was announced as the man for the job. In a very short period of time the composer completed the score and I have to say has managed to create a score that is not only in keeping with the John Williams style (after all Star Wars film without this type of music would not be Star Wars, would it?) but it also has to it a style and sound that is for the most part original or at least has certain musical trademarks and quirks of orchestration that is now something that we as collectors associate with Michael Giacchino. Like his score for JURRASIC WORLD the composer has built his themes around the ever-familiar foundation of motifs created by John Williams, i.e. THE IMPERIAL MARCH, DARTH VADER’S THEME and THE CENTRAL THEME etc. This a powerful and high octane work filled to bursting with adventurous and pulsating thematic material and has more twists, turns and gut wrenching moments than the most volatile rollercoaster ride. Plus, it has its fair share of emotive and romantic sounding pieces, lush and sweeping strings creating lavish and opulent sounding passages, thundering percussion underlining the urgency and action, commanding and threatening brass demanding you listen to it and then there is the wistful and flyaway sounding woodwinds that dart here there and everywhere bringing a certain magical or delicate layer to the score. These elements and more combine to create a sound and purvey a score that is robust, entertaining, and highly exhilarating. The score opens with HE’S HERE FOR US, the style of John Williams shines through here more or less straight away, but as I have already said Giacchino fashions the music to incorporate this style and then kind of turns it around and integrates his own musical character and sound to bring us a piece that is exciting and filled with an up-tempo urgency, yet at the same time oozes with apprehension, and foreboding. At times one can hear little snippets of his Star Trek action music or at least the action pieces within ROGUE ONE do resemble the full-on cues that we heard earlier this year in BEYOND. Does this make ROGUE less enjoyable, No, certainly not.
I think that one of the more prominent tracks within the score is also one of the shortest, HOPE (track number 16) has a duration of less than two minutes, but it very quickly establishes itself and sets the scene for the remainder of the cue, swirling strings and choir combine to make a grand opening statement, these elements are supported by the brass section, the initial opening collaboration soon fades and the brass section intervene with a short lived but strong fanfare of sorts which has the beginnings of THE IMPERIAL MARCH, again brief but affecting. Frome the one of the shortest cues to one of the lengthiest which is track number 9, CONFRONTATION ON EADU. This is pure action and classic Star Wars material, Giacchino bringing into play rasping and growling brass, dramatic and driving strings, with booming percussion and woods to add a touch of intensity. However, after the powerful and tense atmosphere there is a calm and melodic interlude as the composer introduces a wonderfully lyrical but tragic sounding theme which is performed by heartfelt strings and powerful horns that complement and embellish perfectly the string section. Another highlight is THE IMPERIAL SUITE, this is magnificent, timpani backed brass lead the proceedings and are joined by strings which punctuate and augment the central thematic material of the piece, this is Giacchino’s IMPERIAL MARCH or at least his take on it and I must say he does a good job. ROGUE ONE is in my opinion a good score, and any STAR WARS fan will not be disappointed. It is tense, fast paced, action led, romantic and has themes new and old which Giacchino masterfully fuses. Recommended.
1. He’s Here For Us
2. A Long Ride Ahead
3. Wobani Imperial Labor Camp
4. Trust Goes Both Ways
5. When Has Become Now
6. Jedha Arrival
7. Jedha City Ambush
9. Confrontation on Eadu
10. Krennic’s Aspirations
11. Rebellions Are Built on Hope
12. Rogue One
13. Cargo Shuttle SW-0608
14. Scrambling the Rebel Fleet
15. AT-ACT Assault
16. The Master Switch
17. Your Father Would Be Proud
19. Jyn Erso & Hope Suite
20. The Imperial Suite
21. Guardians of the Whills Suite
Film music concerts are very rare, and film music concerts in my home city of Brighton are even rarer, this year however we have been treated on the South Coast to a pair of excellent performances at the cities famed Dome Concert hall, the first being back in the summer with the Bournemouth Symphony orchestra who performed a great evening of music from sci fi movies and movies about superheroes. Then this Sunday the 4th of December it got better as the BRIGHTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA took to the stage to perform a varied and rich programme of music from British movies. THE BEST OF BRITISH FILM SCORES as it was billed and promoted was in fact just that, it included a line up which I think you will agree is the cream of the crop when it comes to British movie music. However, saying that after this concert I am hoping the Brighton Philharmonic might consider dipping their toes into the deep and thriving waters of British film music both old and contemporary. What I loved about this concert was that the content was not in any way predictable, in fact there were several items in the programme that I was surprised at. The conductor for this afternoon performance was Richard Balcombe, he is a conductor who has worked in opera, west end shows and is also well known as an arranger and orchestrator for numerous popular artists such as Sir Cliff Richard, Will Young, Lesley Garrett, Michael Ball, Ronan Keating and many more. He also conceived, arranged, and orchestrated WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW the music of Burt Bacharach and has conducted for Jose Carreras, Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorgiu on BBC TV. He has collaborated with orchestras all over the world, including, THE GOTHENBURG SYMPHONY, ORCHESTRE NATIONAL DE LILLE, PRAGUE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA and ACCADEMIA NAZIONALE DI SANTA CECILIA. The orchestra has been established at the DOME since 1928 which is when they also became the fully orchestral symphonic players. They initially however started out as the Symphonic String Players in 1925 and were formed by Herbert Menges and gave concerts at Hove Town hall. In 1932 Sir Thomas Beecham was appointed as the orchestra’s first President, Beecham was followed by the likes of, Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughn Williams in this position. Herbert Menges remained as the orchestra’s principal conductor until his death in 1972, he was succeeded by John Carewe and then later in 1989 Barry Wordsworth was appointed in the role and in 2015 he became the orchestra’s first conductor Laureate after being their principal conductor and music director for 26 years. During their time the orchestra have tackled numerous pieces which are varied and diverse and regularly collaborate with the Brighton Festival chorus.
The concert opened with Sir William Walton’s stirring and patriotic sounding, SPITFIRE PRELUDE AND FUGUE from the 1942 movie, THE FIRST OF THE FEW which told the story of the development of the spitfire fighter plane by R. J. Mitchell played by Leslie Howard who also directed the movie.
The piece we heard was the composer’s own adaptation of his score for the movie for concert hall performance. This acted as a perfect opener for the concert with the orchestra giving a polished and forthright rendition of this familiar and now famous music. After this rousing opening the conductor Richard Balcombe spoke to the audience welcoming them to the Dome and also giving a little information about the performance that opened the proceedings, he then said that not all of the music in the programme would be serious and turned to conduct the orchestra in a foot tapping and enjoyable performance of composer Ron Goodwin’s THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, this was the orchestral version of the well-known vocal main title that graced the movie.
Again, the orchestra acquitted themselves marvellously, with the musical ups, downs and stops and starts of Goodwin’s infectious composition being accentuated and given an even more bouncy and comedic mood by the sheer enthusiasm of the orchestra’s playing.
Up next we were treated to a double helping of the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams, the first being taken from the score for COASTAL COMMAND, DAWN PATROL is a apprehensive and rather exciting piece which builds slowly but surely, purveying an atmosphere that is filled with uncertainty and urgency. Made by the Crown Film Unit in 1943, COASTAL COMMAND was funded by the Ministry of Information and was a propaganda film produced to boost morale, it starred the men and women of the RAF and showed how they patrolled the coast line and protected convoys and targeted the German U-Boats and warships as they attempted to cut off the life line of supplies being sent to Britain. Vaughn Williams score was almost continuous and underlined each and every moment of the film, giving the scenes on screen a greater impact.
This was followed by a particularly beautiful and emotive theme from the movie THE 49TH PARALLEL, the film which starred Richard George and Eric Portman tells the story of a German U-Boat crew who have become stranded in Canada and to avoid internment they make their way to the United States border who at the time are still neutral. Vaughn Williams poignant and breathtakingly beautiful theme for me was one of the highlights of the concert. Music from THINGS TO COME was next on the programme, the section of the score performed was THE MARCH music composed by Sir Arthur Bliss, released in 1936 the film was something of a landmark in film music history as it would mark the first time that a major composer would write music for film.
At first Bliss was reluctant to become involved with the project, but he was reassured by H.G. WELLS himself that his music would be respected, the march from THINGS TO COME is probably the most familiar piece from the score, and is an ominous and at the same time patriotic accompaniment to the residents of London preparing for conflict.
The illustrious actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier once described the next piece as “The most wonderful score I have ever heard for a film”. HENRY V, was released in 1944, and is still to this day a film that can excite and inspire, with its wonderfully lush colours and outstanding acting it is a classic in every sense of the word. The film was greatly aided by the driving and at times dissonant music composed by Sir William Walton, the music at times taking on the guise of the sounds of battle, but also underlining the nobleness of Henry and his dedication to his country and people, THE CHARGE AND BATTLE is a robust and rousing piece which when listened to away from the images it is intended to enhance, manages to conjure up scenes of conflict and the savagery of battle. The orchestra launched itself into this piece, again creating a wonderful performance which drew loud applause from the audience.
For the next three sections the programme concentrated on one composer Ron Goodwin, Goodwin was one of the busiest composers during the 1960, s often writing music for war movies and producing some of the most enduring and popular themes in British film music history, Goodwin also was in demand as an easy listening artist and released many albums on the EMI Studio Two label. Which were compilations of both film themes by the composer or light music which was given the Goodwin treatment and at times the composer acted as an arranger giving popular themes by other composers his own twist. These albums included ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT and releases such as HOLIDAY IN BEUIRUT and ELIZABETHAN SERANADE. The pieces performed in the concert included the lilting and haunting BELLE’S THEME from a made for television film of THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST which starred George C. Scott as the beast. For the performance at the Dome the orchestra’s leader John Bradbury took centre stage and gave a heartrending solo performance which seemed to mesmerise the audience. Then we were treated to the resounding and volatile sounding theme from THE TRAP, which is probably a movie that not that many people have seen, but the music is familiar because the BBC use it for their coverage of the London Marathon.
The movie starred Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham and was released in 1966, directed by Sydney Hayes who began his directorial career in the late 1950, s and later acted as second unit director on movies such as A BRIDGE TOO FAR and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and worked extensively in TV in the States on series such as T J HOOKER, THE A TEAM and BAYWATCH to name but a few. THE TRAP tells the story of a young mute girl who is forced to marry a fur trapper nicknamed La Bete (the beast) played by Oliver Reed. The performance of this was just like listening to the original version and evoked memories of my early days as a collector back in the mid 1960’s. Then the ultimate Ron Goodwin theme from the 1964 war movie 633 SQUADRON, again this was a lively and well performed piece by the BRIGHTON PHILHARMONIC and delighted the audience. The last piece before the interval was from the 1955 motion picture THE DAM BUSTERS, music here is courtesy of Eric Coates, and what a theme this is, it is equal to POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE or even LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY, it is such an iconic piece of music, rousing, patriotic and inspiring. It is as popular and familiar now as it was when it was first written, the performance was also epic and it brought the concert to its halfway mark. So, the first half ended as it had begun with superb thematic material from a bygone age of film making and of film music. Many film music collectors and historians talk of the Golden age of film music, normally this relates to the vintage film scores of Hollywood as penned by the likes of Korngold, Newman, Steiner, Toimkin, Friedhofer and their like, but what of the golden age of British film music, with the music of Sir William Walton, Sir Benjamin Britten, Eric Coates, William Alwyn, Clifton Parker, Richard Adinsell, Vaughn Williams etc. I know we have seen releases on Chandos records of the classic music from British movies, but I am of the opinion we need more re-recordings of this magnificent material and more live performances and concerts.
Part two of the concert opened with a suite of music from CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER music by Canadian born composer Robert Farnon. Although Canadian by, Farnon is looked upon by many as being a Brit. Critics and fans of his music held him in high esteem and considered him as being the greatest composer of what was labelled as light music during the second half of the 20th Century, he was inspired by the music of Eric Coates and his contemporaries and decided that writing music for film was the way he wanted to go.
In 1951 Warner Brothers commissioned the Maestro to score the Gregory Peck movie CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER R.N. His score was perfect for the film, the composer loved writing music that depicted seascapes and the movement of the sea itself he was inspired by the power and unpredictability of the ocean and its varying moods for want of a better word, the music is not only written in a traditional swashbuckling fashion but also has to it a heart and an emotive side that is hauntingly beautiful and purveys perfectly the and one can actually smell the salty air when listening to it. The suite which was a lengthy one included, the opening and introduction from the score plus, THE WIND, POLWHEAL, LADY BARBARA and NATIVIDAD.
This was wonderful to hear live, I have had the recording a long time now but it sounded so fresh and bright when performed by the Brighton Philharmonic. Next on the programme was the highly lyrical and effervescent opening music from the Kenneth Branagh movie MUCH A DO ABOUT NOTHING, the score for this adaptation of the famous Shakespeare work was by Patrick Doyle, who also featured in the movie in an acting role. Doyle worked with the filmmaker and actor Branagh on numerous movies which included DEAD AGAIN, FRANKENSTEIN, HENRY V etc. MUCH A DO ABOUT NOTHING the Overture is one of those pieces of music that instantly draws attention, it is rousingly lyrical and abundantly energetic and on this occasion, was performed with much commitment and gusto by the Brighton Philharmonic.
This was followed by one of the most beautiful melodies that Has been composed for film in recent years, the music was by Nigel Hess who began his musical career in theatre and progressed to scoring TV series such as DANGERFIELD, WYCLIFFE and the ever popular HETTY WAINTHROPP INVESTIGATES, his music for the 2004 movie LADIES IN LAVENDER is in a word stunning,
THE FANTASY FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA was the piece that was performed and again leader John Bradbury created an emotive and polished performance.
Music from the 1946 Ealing studios production THE OVERLANDERS which had a score by composer John Ireland, was next in the running order and the cue THE STAMPEDE FOR WATER was the selected piece from the score for the afternoons performance. This is an exciting and highly robust composition, which aided the action on screen greatly, sadly this was to be the composers only foray into scoring movies and his last composition as after writing the score the composer retired. The last piece on the programme was suitably fitting as it was a FANTASIA ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS by Malcolm Arnold, taken from his score to the 1952 film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, the film which starred Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson, dealt with a vicar who had neglected the needs of his own grown up child to tend to the problems of his flock.
This brought the concert to a resounding end and drew much applause from a very appreciative audience. This was a concert that was not only entertaining but interesting because of the diversity of its content. I must congratulate the orchestra on their flawless and highly polished performance and thank conductor Richard Balcombe for his sterling work and his informative commentary during the concert. Bravo Brighton Philharmonic, Bravo THE DOME. More please, much More film music..
Adrian Konarski is for me one of the great discoveries within film music, after hearing his score for the movie THE WELTS I was for want of a better word smitten totally by his gift for melody and his haunting and tuneful music. I would like to thank the composer for agreeing to do this interview and also to thank him for his patience and his great effort in bringing it to fruition.
Your score for THE WELTS which I have to say I cannot stop playing, has just been released on CALDERA records were you involved in the compilation of the album, because it also contains music from two other scores which you composed, CITIZEN and DROWSINESS as well as a handful of cues from various theatrical projects and short films?
Thank you very much – I am glad you liked it and because you said this I feel that maybe this score must have something fresh – thank you! Because this was my big screen debut – I noticed that I had some freshness of debut in the meaning that I knew that apart from telling the story, and score serving the movie, it must have been musically very good and fresh material, otherwise nobody would notice it and therefore I might not have had the chance to write for a movie again. So sometimes my intuition was saying to tilt the scales a little from letting the film tell its story to allowing the music to tell the story, to construct musical themes that are interesting to listen to away from the movie and also to write music that would hopefully be remembered and appreciated in the future. We had to do additional editing and cuts as I was scoring the film, later syncing this music with the movie but I think it was a good idea to just follow my heart. Generally, it is my golden rule that no matter how much music serves a movie it must be interesting by itself, when you want to release a CD after even 10 years, which I hope watermarks me from other composers – I write MY nice melodies and MY harmonies or my dark or not nice melodies (if a movie tells me to write darker or maybe more sinister music) however music I think should always act as servant to any movie I score. As for selecting the music for release yes I was involved in this, it was my dream to add some more music, because I loved the idea of Caldera to produce so beautiful CD with a beautiful booklet inside. I appreciate their work. I simply told them that you do so nice work, that it would be a sin to not to add some more… But the selection was based on a key of emotionality of this music…
THE WELTS is a highly lyrical score, which you perform the piano solos on, do you also work out your musical ideas at the piano, or do you use more contemporary tools such as samples, computers etc.?
I am always performing piano on all my music unless something is so technically difficult that I am not able to play it. I used to play Liszt Piano concerto with Philharmonic Orchestra when I was finishing my secondary school, then I started more to compose rather than practise the piano, so I am not technically as good as before… But maybe because of the composing I learned to play simpler phrases… But this is mostly about feeling and emotions this is more important for me than an ability of playing fast passages. I am not composing for an effect or for things to be difficult but to underline the emotions within the film, so I am writing from the heart. There were no samples at all in music for THE WELTS as I worked on the movie in 2004 and the use of samples was not that common at this time, but NOWADYS there are more possibilities and samples sound more beautiful than many years ago. I listen to a lot of film music and I feel that I do not want to sound the same, and what I like in music the most – is something imperfect in performances that has a value. Sample libraries sometimes sound too perfect and too clear. European cinema music is more chamber and because of this I think you have more of a chance to be yourself and not become a part of an industry as much as it happens at times in the United States. Nowadays though I do use more samples, and I achieve things which just a few years ago, one would not have believed to be possible. Sometimes I even compose on a sampled piano not on a real one because it is simply more comfortable with all cabling in a studio etc. Now the business requires everyone to do things so quickly and the way that you compose the music exactly to a timeframe – to not to use any faders on a final sync mix. I think now there is no place for a composer who is able only to write with a pen, paper and candle… Although it is so romantic…
THE WELTS is your debut score, was it something of a daunting task for you, was it difficult to work on the movie or was it a film that inspired you from the first time that you saw it?
I felt so much that I was ready for my debut, I was very confident and knew I could handle everything – I felt an extra power within. I knew that even if I make errors there will be a lot of heart within the score and music is all about heart. And yes, the movie inspired me from the first time I saw it.
Staying with THE WELTS, as I say it’s a highly lyrical work, and contains some beautiful themes, do you think that film music has altered in recent years so we hear less thematic material on soundtracks and there is a more atonal or sound design approach?
I am glad you asked me this question because I am constantly thinking of how people receive music and understand music nowadays. Also, about musical education of listeners. I do not think there is less thematic material on soundtracks – maybe – but I also think – maybe because in my heart there is something between a song and classical music and my music aims West but it always has an eastern European feeling, some roots. I have also a feeling that many composers do not have so much need of melody in their heads. I am always winning with my melodies although because of an around world constantly altering it is not always easy to persuade that melody still has a value. Sometimes people simply believe that the best is strange, people need stories that this music is so original because a moment before composing composer ate a bouquet of green daffodils… For me music it is all about heart, sensitivity and not being able to stop composing.
Magdalena Piekorz, made her directorial debut with THE WELTS, did She have specific ideas about how the music should sound and what style of music should be utilised?
Sincerely I started to score this movie from a scene about Windmills which constructed the father and the son. I felt it and it was my trampoline. Magdalena only wanted a theme that I wrote one summer – CONFESSION OF LOVE, I wrote it when I was thinking of one girl cello player, she went somewhere to Japan for holidays and did not even know I was thinking about her.
What size orchestra did you employ for THE WELTS and how much time did you have to compose and record the score?
There was an orchestra like 30 people and among this me playing the piano, bass player, and djembe player…
You have recorded mainly in Poland, what studios do you like to use when you are recording a score for a movie?
Such story does not happen to often but I had recordings twice.
I wanted to debut but producers did not want to give me any orchestra.
I had to gather an orchestra myself – of musicians of Academy of Music in Krakow. My desire to debut and write music in a shape that I really wanted caused that there were no impossible things for me. Then when they realised that the film had power and that my music was good enough, they hired a Polish Radio Orchestra to record more music – and we were recording this in Warsaw in a Polish TV studio.
I understand you began to play piano at the age of just four, did you come from a family background that was musical?
My twin sister also plays the piano, she plays Chopin so beautifully, it is the same Sister who is singing on the CD… My mother she is a professor of Psychology but she plays the piano…I remember before primary school I was able to make a replacement for a teacher of music and to play songs on the piano when she was not there…
What musical education did you receive?
I finished Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland – department of Composition, Conducting and Theory of Music, and before Primary and Secondary School on a piano.
I think your music is so haunting and has a beguiling and enchanting effect upon the listener, do you orchestrate all of your own scores for film and do you conduct at all or do you prefer to monitor the proceedings from the recording booth?
Thank you very much for this. Yes I do orchestrate myself. I do not conduct, I understand that whatever I do I need some distance while recording and quickly switch from being a composer to the point of view of a film director, I am always at the recoding booth… But whatever I am telling about music and heart, and no matter how much a composer „loves” the music himself – it is always necessary in film music to remember that what is really important is the film and story not your music. And conductor for me is a necessary link that allows me have some distance….
Your music is for me personally like a breath of fresh air within the world of film music, it is not only wonderfully melodious and emotive but also has a lingering and affecting aura about it, what composers would you say may have influenced the way in which you write or approach a film score, or inspired you?
Thank you for this: Zygmunt Konieczny, Pat Metheny, Ennio Morricone, Philip Glass…
When working on a movie, do you like to see the film once before getting any ideas about the score, or do you return to the movie on a number of occasions before you make any decisions about what type of music you will write and where it will be placed to best serve the film?
I am always surprised how much power a picture has. I have so many ideas at the beginning when a movie impresses me that I would like to write very quickly, most of those first ideas are often the ones that are the best solution for the score. But I am always trying to slow down the spontaneous way of working because film is more about understanding what, why and first of all where not to write music at all, to remember about silence. But there is an opposite thing, film is almost always holding off your musical madness, because there are time frames. When improvise to a picture for a long time and do not know where to go sometimes I make a break and set my sequencer prompt where there is no picture at all and try to play what I am thinking ABOUT the movie. This restores a voice to my music and is sometimes a great idea.
Do you find when scoring a documentary or a short that the process varies a great deal from when you are working on a feature film, or is it mainly the budgets that are different, so you cannot do as much on TV as you can for a motion picture?
Usually you cannot write huge music to something that is documentary because who believes the story then…It is as an oversized suit.
If you are working on a TV series which is more than six episodes in duration and the schedules are beginning to get more demanding, do you ever re-cycle themes or sections of the score from for example episode one and re-use it in episode seven?
I do not have a big experience with TV series, but you know in each story there is something that happens spontaneously, hopefully a composer has a great power of doing different tempos, this makes a different music. Recently I was at a gathering where five composers did a Q and A session with fans of music from the movies, I was wondering how do you see the role of a film music composer, do you think that writing music for films is an art or a craft or maybe a combination of the two and in your opinion what is the purpose of music in film?I was telling before about heart necessary for music, and that you generally need to be inspired to do something good and know how to find this inspiration. For me it is a combination of those two and first of all it is about ability of having very quickly a distance to what you wrote a moment ago and an ability of understanding a film director’s way of story telling
You use female voice on a number of your scores to great effect, I was reminded when listening to the music contained on THE WELTS compact disc of a number of composers, Morricone, Preisner and also Komeda, when you write a score and decide that a voice will be used do you write with a particular performer or soloist in mind?
Yes, I am most of the time thinking about particular voice or vocalist, I like female voices, voices are special kind of instruments for me.
Do you have a set way of working when scoring a movie, by this I mean do you like to write and develop a central theme and then base the remainder of the score upon it, or do you compose various themes and then develop the central theme from these, additionally do you start with the larger cues first and then when these are written concentrate on the smaller sections of the score?
It is difficult to say, each score is a big adventure, this is why I like it so much. No rules here. But there is something in it that usually some small scenes make so big impact on me that I treat them as a starting point. And what is maybe very mine I love giving my musical fragment titles myself, like Windmills and Holy Figures or Cooking of Hallucinogenic Herbs – and I usually need only a few seconds to invent titles based on a story that I am scoring. It helps me being creative. Maybe because poetry and literature song is so important for me…
Have you ever given any concerts or performances of your film music?
Sometimes but I think I should do much more. I improvise playing to silent movies with my ensemble SemiInvented Trio.
Is there any genre of film that you feel more comfortable working in, or do you adapt easily to most genres?
I adapt early to most genres but people put thoughts into drawers – although I am constantly getting psychological dramas I am dreaming about a crime story now. I would not feel comfortable with hip-hop music.
Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
Now I am recording some Christmas Songs to a Polish poetry, which I am going to release on a CD – very artistic and non-commercial work. Apart from that I am writing some orchestral music to lyrics of a famous Polish lyricist Jacek Cygan. But my dream is to write a film musical. and music for a crime series – but for someone who does not need green daffodils and trust me. I am also open to help young directors with their debuts. Listen to my music – thanks to Caldera Records – I would like more people and film and theatre directors discover my work. And my melodies.