Peter Schickele is an American composer, musical educator, and parodist, best known for comedy albums featuring his music, but which he presents as being composed by the fictional P. D. Q. Bach. He also hosted a long-running weekly radio program called Schickele Mix. The composer has had a handful of forays into the world of film music, his most well-known film soundtrack being from the 1972 sci-fi post-apocalyptic environmentally themed SILENT RUNNING, which is now a cult movie and is regarded as an iconic film score.
Can I start by asking you how did you become involved on the scoring of SILENT RUNNING?
I had worked on a few movies, including John Korty’s “Crazy Quilt” in 1966, and I was eager to do more film scoring. One day when I was home in Brooklyn, the phone rang and it was literally Hollywood calling: a young director named, Doug Trumbull asked me if I wanted to do the score for a new sci fi film he was directing. I said yes immediately.
I think I am correct when I say that you have not scored many movies, would you like to do more?
I’m a real movie buff, and as a composer, I really enjoy the challenge of working within the parameters that come with scoring a movie, so yes, I’ve always been open to doing more projects.
What size orchestra did you use for SILENT RUNNING I ask because it sounds really grandiose in places and did Douglas Trumbull have any specific ideas about what kind of music he wanted for the movie?
We used different sized ensembles for different cues. Doug didn’t want the music to be weird in the way that space music often was in films. It’s one of the things that drew me to the project. He thought space could be represented on screen as beautiful, not scary, and he wanted the music to communicate that.
At what stage of production did you become involved on the film?
I believe that when I came on, they had shot some but not all of the footage. Doug called me in May or June of 1971, and I spent the summer in Malibu working on the score. I went back out a few times to make changes to accommodate changes they made in editing.
How much music did you write for SILENT RUNNING and was all of it included in the movie and the soundtrack release?
I think all, or virtually all of the music I wrote ended up being included. Music I did for a few cues wasn’t included; I had to write new music for the opening sequence after they added the voice over explaining the premise of the movie. I’m not sure if we ended up using the original opening music elsewhere in the film.
What was your routine if you can call it that when you were working on the movie?
I used to watch scenes on a moviola I had in the house I rented in Malibu and I’d play the piano as I watched each scene and notate the score and then drive back into LA and get another batch of film.
You worked with Joan Baez before SILENT RUNNING, was it your idea to have songs on the score and did you have her in mind to perform these and did she contribute to the lyrics?
Doug liked the albums that Joan Baez and I had done together so he very much wanted her to do the vocals. I was very pleased when she said yes, I always enjoyed working with her. She didn’t write the lyrics, I did those with Diane Lampert.
You work on many types of music, is there ever a time that music comes to you easily?
Writing satirical music is just as hard as writing film score or any other kind of music, and vice versa.
How do you work out your musical ideas, piano, or by other means?
A little of both. I like to drive around and get musical ideas and then jot them down.
What composers or artistes would you say that you admired or maybe have been inspired by?
So many! I’d guess I’d say I have been greatly inspired by Mozart and Hadyn on the classical end of things, and the two composers I studied with most closely — Roy Harris and Vincent Persichetti — were major influences when I was a young composer. In terms of film scores, I love George Delerue’s work in “Shoot the Piano Player.”
What musical education did you receive?
I studied at Juilliard.
Do you consider orchestration to be as important as the actual composition of music?
Certainly, orchestration impacts how a musical idea comes across, but it isn’t always the first thing I think about. Sometimes an idea kicks around for a while before I figure out the orchestration.
You have been writing your memoirs recently, how is this going and when can we expect to see the book?
We don’t have a publication date yet, but I’m having a great time working on it and I’m looking forward to sharing it.