There have been many filmmakers that have written, produced, and directed movies and have also acted as the composer of the musical score too. There have also been filmmakers that have tracked their movies with music that is already known by various artists placed previously composed and at times established themes onto their production. Quentin Tarantino comes to mind in more recent times, for using music from other movies within his, in effect acting as a music supervisor. Stanley Kubrick with 2001 A SPACE ODDYSEY must be top of the list for utilizing already written pieces and using them effectively in his masterpiece. These talented individuals are few and far between, but I am pleased to announce that we have one amongst us right now who composes the music for his movies, so for me he is a step above the directors who track music onto their productions.
Thomas Clay is a composer, Director, film editor and writer. He has been working on this film project for some time and at last his efforts have come to fruition in the form of the feature film, FANNY LYE DELIVER’D, for which he has written the original score. I say original because it fits squarely into that category, the atmospheric and absorbing soundtrack has an affecting presence as soon as one begins to listen to it. I will say to those of you who maybe are a little cautious of director/composers, don’t worry, give this a chance, ok, it is on first listen somewhat difficult to grasp, but stay with it because once you begin to delve deeper and listen more intensely it is a soundtrack that I know you will adore. I began to listen and after the first three cues I got to thinking that the instrumentation sounds faithful for the period in which the movie is set, which is the mid-17th Century. But, the way in which the instruments are purveying the music initially seems somewhat strange, however it is a sound and an overall style of composition and performance of these compositions that soon begins to come together and make perfect musical sense to any listener. I say any listener, but I mean this listener.
The music is in a word superb, it is a score that I will say right here and now I would love to see become nominated and hopefully win the OSCAR, BAFTA and GOLDEN GLOBE for best original score, because it is spilling over with originality and brimming with an inventive and innovative style. Although this is a soundtrack fashioned and created in 2020, it has within it sounds, phrases, motifs and nuances that are straight out of the Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry and Ennio Morricone book of how to score a movie, and score a movie well. The music is polished and wonderfully melodic and contains a quality that I have to say I have not heard in a long while.
The opening cue OLD SOLDIERS evokes the style of Ennio Morricone, the composer utilising to great effect, choir and strings that act as support to a beautifully flawless trombone performance by Joergen Van Rijan, this is a simple and slightly understated opening which reminded me somewhat of the DESERT OF THE TARTARS, its trombone lead being unusual but also at the same time sounding perfect, the composer adding subtle use of percussion that has a martial style as the cue reaches its conclusion. DRESSING UP, (track number 2) is a lighter piece, which contains two delightful performances by Swedish lutenist Jakob Lindberg and British recorder player Piers Adams, who is also a member of the baroque group Red Priest.
These performances blend and compliment each other whilst being supported and given a tempo or beat using tambourine with a fleeting trumpet solo adding depth to the piece with subdued but brief employment of underlining strings. It is a tantalising and haunting composition, that has an air of joyfulness to it.
The score for me was a delight to listen to, we have here a new movie, set in the mid-17th Century, that boasts a score that is arguably one of the finest I have ever heard for an independent movie production. I say it is an original work because it is, but at the same time I hear influences from a number of composers, but this at the same time does not make it less than innovative or weaker in its inventiveness. Every composer in the world has been influenced by someone or something, even a half heard sound that trickles into the subconscious and lodges there can emerge years later, with film music it is what the composers does with it, as in how they present it, arrange it and more importantly how they place it. Thomas Clay has simply got it right on this score, he fashions pleasing and dramatic themes, melancholy interludes and tense driving pieces that all combine and interweave to create a score that is richly entertaining. Its style and sound are a combination of spaghetti western, romantic drama, thriller, Horror and adventure. It also features several soloists and a chorale group.
Which is why this score is such a wonderfully diverse and attractive work. Cornetto player Andrea Inghisciano collaborates with singers I Fagiolini on the cue, THE TRUTH (track number 8), strident strings and timpani introduce the piece, the timpani fading and the strings becoming more mysterious as the Cornetto solo commences, both strings and cornetto fusing and rising to create a haunting almost ghostly sound, voices are then introduced, which again create an air of mystery these are supported by a short tremolo effect on the strings that also underline the closure of the track. Andrea Inghisciano also collaborates with trombonist Joergen Van Rijen on track number 6, SECOND MORNING which is a subdued but beautiful composition, with trombone taking the lead enhanced by strings, the composer also bringing into the equation brass that builds with the strings to create a triumphant sounding crescendo of sorts that certainly hits the correct emotional spots.
APPROACH OF THE SHERIFF (track number 7) is I think one of the more robust and action led pieces on the soundtrack, oozing with an urgent and driving musical persona that is purveyed by brass and percussive elements and struck strings, that when combined create a striking and tense sound. The track THE TRUTH (Track number 8) also has to it an urgent style, which is performed by Andrea Inghisciano and I Fagiolini. There is such a wealth of variation within this score that it is difficult at times to comprehend that it is all from the same work.
Having seen the movie, I was impressed how the music heightened the tension and added a greater depth and atmosphere to the proceedings. Within the score there are references to the spaghetti western scores of the 1960’s, and this is a style that is also present within the movie, with close ups of eyes, faces etc, the way in which the film is scored in my opinion is also similar to that of many Italian made westerns, with the music becoming part of the action and the storyline, plus adding a near operatic feel to the proceedings. But what I was struck by more than anything was the way that the composer utilised real instruments and vocalists and fashioned themes and developed them throughout, underlining, punctuating, caressing and at times ingratiating the movie with these. The music is filled with a plethora of colours and textures, one moment being brooding and dark and then altering its stance and style to purvey a more romantic or melancholy mood. The film for me personally evoked memories of WITCHFINDER GENERAL and A FIELD IN ENGLAND.
The cinematography is stunning, with misty landscapes of the English countryside captured beautifully by Giorgos Arvanitis, who is known for his work on O VALTOS in the early 1970’s and other movies such as SUCH A LONG ABSENCE and more recently BLIND SUN in 2015. The cast too are impressive in their roles, Maine Peake and Charles Dance being the most striking.
The story opens in 1657, and the storyline focuses upon an isolated farm in the county of Shropshire. Where a family has made their home, Fanny (Maxine Peake) is the dutiful downtrodden wife who is married to an ex-Captain John (Charles Dance) who fought in the English Civil War against the King. They have a young son Arthur and as a family follow the strict lives of Puritans.
However, when a young couple played by Freddie Fox and Tanya Reynolds arrive and take shelter in the barn one day whilst the family are at worship, the Lye’s commitment to the Puritan faith and lifestyle is challenged and begins to falter because of the new and extreme ideas that are brought into their world by the two visitors. The couple are being pursued by a sadistic and unforgiving Sherriff and his odious henchman, who track them to the Lye’s family home. For a movie that takes place in one location and only having a handful of key characters the director gifts us a story that is intense and raw but at the same time thought provoking violent and intimate.
The ending is superbly done, but I will not spoil it for you, I urge you to seek this movie out, but more importantly for Movie Music International followers, please check out Thomas Clay’s richly vibrant and wonderfully inventive score. The end titles music is also something to savour and enjoy, MARCH TO JOY is a new take on ODE TO JOY but given a totally new rendition, Beethoven meets spaghetti western, now that has got you curious.
If I was to be asked to name one film studio that I thought had shaped the minds and also captured the hearts of a nation I think it must be honest and say Ealing studios and the films they produced throughout the 1930’s through to the 1950’s. But let us also not forget the other film studios that were active in Gt Britain during the 1930’s right through until the 1970.s. There are within this collection of motion pictures many titles that are now regarded as classics, and for me anyway they became essential weekend afternoon viewing on the television making empty Saturday afternoons and late Saturdays nights that extended into Sunday more bearable. When I was younger and right up to the 1980,s I would say, there was at least one British made black and white film production being shown on the television every week, whether it was on the BBC or the Independent channels in the UK. Stars (I mean real stars) such as Alec Guinness, Alistair Simms, Hugh Griffith, Stanley Holloway, Thora Hird, Benny Hill, Peggy Cummings and David Niven all featured. And via these and other convincing performances by so many iconic actors we as a movie going audience started to build up an affection with not only the films, but the ever familiar faces that we saw on screen, and I think this is an affection that continues to this day and has been passed down to younger generations.
Their style and mostly their humour transcended into later productions and influenced films such as THOSE MAGNIFICENT MENT IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, MONTE CARLO OR BUST and to a degree films such as THE OBLONG BOX and TV shows like HERES HARRY, HANCOCKS HALF HOUR and BOOTSIE AND SNUDGE and even maybe went a little further in 1970’s sit coms such as ON THE BUSES, BLESS THIS HOUSE and GEORGE AND MILDRED. The same can be said for dramas thrillers and horrors they were produced during this furtive period and certainly the war movies such as REACH FOR THE SKY, THE CRUEL SEA and I WAS MONTYS DOUBLE to name three had a lasting influence on later productions such as WHERE EAGLES DARE, 633 SQUADRON and their like.
To pick out one or even two films and mark them as superior or as favourites I think is almost impossible, the quality and inventiveness of the productions being second to none, whether they be comedies, dramas or of any subject matter. Only the other night Talking pictures the TV channel, screened GUNS IN THE DARKNESS(1962) which was a great movie, starring Leslie Caron, David Niven and the wonderful James Robinson Justice, a lesser known example of British film drama but one that was well acted, wonderfully directed and scored by Benjamin Frankel. The film was directed by Anthony Asquith, and produced by Associated British Pictures, and Cavalcade films.
The British studios that were active in the aforementioned decades commissioned many great composers to score the movies that they released, Sir William Walton for example and George Auric, John Addison, Ernest Irving, Eric Rogers are all names that featured on the credits of many of these movies, and later as the 1950’s unfolded composers such as James Bernard, Richard Rodney Bennet, Malcolm Williamson, Clifton Parker, etc began to also feature in films produced by the likes of Hammer Pictures who were re-inventing many of what were seen as classic horror tales as produced originally by Universal in the U.S.A.
So, I thought it might be interesting to look at these studios and also investigate the films and the musical heritage left by them. A heritage that was created by so many talented composers, who were in certain cases at the early stages of their careers and some accidentally at times stumbling into film music composition because of their ties with so called serious music. Mention Ealing, British lion, Renown etc and people straight away think of the many comedies that they released, but it was not all about comedy, one movie that has lodged in my memory is WENT THE DAY WELL? A war movie with a difference, and one I am certain inspired the author Jack Higgins to write his novel THEEAGLE HAS LANDED.
Released in May 1942 whilst the second world war was still being fought, the movie was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, based upon a story by Graham Greene, with a score composed by Sir William Walton. It Focuses upon a small English village, BRAMBLEY END where the war seems to be almost put on a back burner, until that is it is taken over by German Paratroopers, who arrive in the village disguised as typical British tommy’s, the movie was a semi unofficial propaganda film, produced by Michael Balcon and displayed the real fear that many British people felt at the time of a German invasion, although by the time the film was released these concerns had somewhat dissipated, because the Battle of Britain had been fought in the skies some two years previous and any real threat of invasion had been averted. Nonetheless WENT THE DAY WELL? Was a masterful and a gripping piece of cinema.
The score by Walton was quite sparse, in that there was not a great deal of music in the movie, but Walton was known at times to write short scores and use his music sparingly not swamping the movie he was working on with music, allowing the actors and the storyline to grow, and the audience to absorb the films ongoing story. In Hollywood however the style was the opposite for many productions, with many American composers doing the opposite and almost smothering films with music, at times the score running continuously, like a musical wallpaper, that did not support or enhance, but was just in effect there.
The style that Walton employed on many movies from this period would eventually deal him a great blow in the late 1960’s when because of the composers meticulous and precise way of writing which was time consuming and also for producing a score of a short running time led to his work for THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN being rejected by the film’s producers, with only one cue remaining on the finished print which was BATTLE IN THE AIR, the remainder of the score being written by composer Ron Goodwin. In later years, many aficionados of movie music agreed that the Walton score was a worthy addition to the composers already impressive canon. With the DVD of the film being released containing both the Goodwin and Walton scores available for the viewer to listen to and reach their own conclusion, the rejection and replacing of the score was done so quickly that a number of prints of the movie were released into British cinemas crediting Walton for the score that was conducted by Malcolm Arnold.
British studios produced so many movies that I think we have to agree are classics, they are films that are iconic and also important within the history of cinema, many being simple romps that were a slice of escapism, with other examples at times being based upon true events and were seen as not only entertaining and informative but thought provoking. Then there were other examples such as the Ealing picture DEAD OF NIGHT, released in 1945, this is a horror anthology, which included four different stories, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton and Robert Hamer, four filmmakers that figured large in the Ealing studios output.
The movie had a strong cast that included, Googie Withers, Sally Ann Howes, Michael Redgrave and Mervyn Jones. The film is still today hailed as a remarkable and unsettling piece of cinema, the concluding section of the movie, which features an evil ventriloquists dummy being the most memorable and harrowing. It is true to say that DEAD OF NIGHT was the inspiration for the handful of horror anthologies that were produced in later years by the likes of Hammer, Tyburn and Amicus films as in VAULT OF HORROR.The last story in the quartet of films also it is said served as inspiration for later movies such as MAGIC, which starred Anthony Hopkins.
During the war years films that were of the Horror variety were banned from being produced, so Ealing were treading on unfamiliar ground with DEAD OF NIGHT, but it was a gamble that paid off as the film is probably one of the most successful British films from the 1940’s. Although the movie was essentially a horror picture, it did contain elements of comedy, which is what Ealing became more remembered for.
The music for DEAD OF NIGHT was the work of French born composer George Auric, who also became a music critic, he scored a number of movies for Ealing studios, many of them such as PASSPORT TO PIMLICO, HUE AND CRY, THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT, becoming firm favourites of cinema audiences. But he was not under contract to score just films produced by British studios, the composer wrote the soundtracks for a wide variety of movies and worked in France on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and wrote a suitably majestic and romantic soundtrack for CAESER AND CLEOPATRA in 1945, as well as scoring MOULIN ROGUE for John Huston and in 1961 produced a superb score for THE INNOCENTS a screenplay adapted from the story THE TURN OF THE SCREW and directed by Jack Clayton, it starred Deborah Kerr. I was always attracted to the music of Auric, I remember that he utilised solo trumpet a great deal within his scores as well as strings.
The composer had a style which I considered to be rather like that of Walton, but at times when required he could adapt and alter his style and the sound achieved became a little more flamboyant.
He displayed a great versatility in his work and specifically within his film scores and excelled when writing for comedies in particular, the composer seemed to be able to purvey the correct amount of comedic tone but also had the ability to incorporate more romantic and melancholy sounding themes into his soundtracks. PASSPORT TO PIMLICO is probably one of his better known Ealing comedies, the composer fashioning a not only highly enhancing work but an entertaining one, that in later years when sections were re-recorded took on a life all of their own away from the images on screen, but re-kindled fond memories of the movie and its stars. George Auric was born in Lodeve Herault in France on February 15th 1899, he was associated and considered to be one of Les Six which was a group of artists who worked with and were mentored by Erike Satie and Jean Cocteau. Auric was a prolific composer and also an arranger and orchestrater. Before the composer had reached his twenties, he had already orchestrated and composed music for ballets and stage productions. Which would stand him in good stead when he began to write for the motion picture industry. His involvement with music began at an early age, he would perform piano recitals when he was twelve years of age and several of his songs were performed as he reached his teens at The Societe Nationale de Musique.
Auric also studied at the Paris Conservatory and was schooled in composition by Vincent D’Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum de Paris. Auric was a recognised child prodigy and because of his abundant talent became the protégé of Erik Satie, from 1910 through to 1920, he contributed many pieces to the world of Avant-garde music in the French capital. It was in the 1930.s that the composer began to write for film, scoring the movie A NOUS LA LIBERTE in 1931, the movie itself was criticised heavily for its communist themes, but the score that Auric penned was well received. In 1931 he composed a piano sonata which was It seemed at one point that although the composer’s music for films was being applauded his music for the concert hall was entering a period of stagnation, his 1931 piano sonata received very little recognition and this led the composer to enter into a five year period where he wrote very little apart from three film scores. The composer’s friendship with Cocteau continued during this period and Auric penned the score for his LE SANG D’UN POETE. But by 1935 had decided to write for what he called a younger audience and began to compose music that he thought would reach a more general audience rather than the elitist few he had been previously associated with. He also began to attempt to express his own political views via the way he wrote music, and between 1935 and 1945 worked on a variety of pictures all of which were French language productions, these included.
THE MYSTERIES OF PARIS (1935), THE MESSENGER, THE ALIBI, THE RED DANCER, (all 1937), THE LAFARGE CASE (1938), BEAUTIFUL ADVENTURE (1942) AND FRANCOIS VILLON (1945). It was also in 1945 that he began to score British pictures his first being DEAD OF NIGHT for Ealing studios. The rest as they say is history. Auric died on the 23rd July 1983.
Alan Rawsthorne was a composer who was prolific in the writing of music for British films, his scores for THE CAPTIVE HEART, WEST OF ZANZIBAR, WHERE NO VULTRES FLY and THE CRUEL SEA being classics in every sense of the word. The composer scored a handful of films for the Ealing studios, THE CRUEL SEA and WHERE NO VULTRES FLY to name but two, his style was grand and dramatic, often with emphasise upon rasping or exciting brass, that was accompanied by strident and melodious strings underlined and punctuated by percussion and timpani. In many ways his film music resembled both William Walton and William Alwyn in style and sound, it had to it a patriotic and proud aura, which was perfect for the type of movies he worked upon. Alan Rawsthorne was born in Haslingden, in the county of Lancashire on May 2nd, 1905. He studied at the Royal college of music from 1926 through to 1930 and then in Berlin from 1930 to 1931, where he was tutored by Egon Petri.
As well as his film music Rawsthorne composed for chamber orchestra and the concert hall. He died on July 24th 1971, in Cambridge England.
From films scored in the 1930’s and 1940’s.to a film that was made in 1951 and contained a score by British composer Richard Addinsell. SCROOGE starring Alistair Sim, was in my opinion the quintessential cinematic version of the classic story A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. Released by Renown pictures and produced and directed Brian Desmond Hurst, this is a film that never ages, it entertains and keeps giving even after all these years. The score too by Addinsell, is an accomplished one, a large symphonic work that is overflowing with melodies and filled with an air of festive cheer and apprehension. The composer underlining both the miserly and miserable persona of Scrooge, whilst at the same time providing a light and airy sense of carefree thematic material for the likes of Tiny Tim and his long-suffering Father and employee of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit.
It is without a doubt a musical work that deserves the label classic, and one of the best scores from that period in British cinema. Richard Addinsell, was born in London on the 13th of January 1904, one of his many popular compositions was from the movie DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, for which the composer penned the dramatic, haunting and now classic piece called The Warsaw Concerto, which was brought to greater life by the wonderful orchestration of Roy Douglas. The film’s producers had told Addinsell that they wanted something in a similar style to Rachmaninov and Addinsell obliged them with The Warsaw Concerto, the music became an instant success and was recorded by numerous artists and has to date sold well over five million copies, the piece was released on many recordings and appealed to three sets of fans, the classical market, the popular market and also admirers of film music and it is still to this day performed regularly as a standard concert/film music piece. Addinsell studied at Oxford University and then later at The Royal College of Music in London. The composer began his career by writing songs for revues and providing stage productions with incidental music. In 1928 he wrote the incidental score for ADAMS OPERA which was by writer Clemence Dante, and this was the beginning of a collaborative partnership that was to endure until Dante,s death. Addinsell also on many occasions wrote music for and accompanied singer Joyce Grenfell, who became a close friend. During the early 1930, s the composer travelled to the United States and there began to write music for a few Hollywood motion pictures.
The composers first major film score was to be GOODBYE MR CHIPS in 1939, but his greatest success however was to be his music for the film Dangerous Moonlight, which included the Warsaw Concerto for piano and orchestra. On the actual film score the concerto was performed by Louis Kentner with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the great Muir Mathieson.
Addinsell’s film scores included, Amateur Gentleman (1936 for Alexandre Korda), Fire Over England (1937), South Riding (1937), Goodbye Mr Chips (1939), Gaslight (1940), The Lion Has Wings (1940), Men of the Lightship (1940), Love on the Dole (1941), Suicide Squadron (1941), The Avengers (1942), Blithe Spirit (1945), A Diary for Timothy (1945), Passionate Friends (1949), Under Capricorn (1949), The Black Rose (1950), A Christmas Carol (1950-aka SCROOGE) ,Highly Dangerous (1951), Tom Brown’s School Days (1951), Encore (1952), Sea Devils (1953), Beau Brummel (1954), Out of the Clouds (1957), The Admirable Crichton (1957) for which he received no credit, The :Prince and the Showgirl (1957), A Tale of Two Cities (1958), Loss of Innocence (1961), Macbeth (1961), The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961), Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), and Life at the Top which was the composers last film score in 1965. He passed away on November 14th 1977.
For the next film and score we stay with the writings of Charles Dickens, and to probably his most well-known tale OLIVER TWIST, directed by David Lean in 1948, the musical score was by The Master of the Kings Music no less, Sir Arnold Bax. The score is as windswept, jolly and as desperately heartrending as the tale of the orphan who runs away to the streets of London to find fame and fortune, but all he finds is? Well you know the story.
The score does much to add a greater sense of drama to the proceedings and makes a good movie a classic one. Again, there is a sense of pride and also an air of the regal within the score, strings play a major part within the work, supported by ample use of the brass section and thundering and ominous sounding percussion. Bax was born on November 8th 1883, in Streatham London, his family was wealthy and he was always encouraged to pursue a career in music. Because he was already wealthy it meant that he could follow the career path that he wanted to and write music that he wanted to also. Whilst still studying at the Royal College of Music Bax became fascinated to the point of obsessed by the Ireland and the Celtic culture. During the years leading up to the First World War he lived in Ireland and whilst there became a member of the Dublin literary circle, writing fiction and verse under the alias of Dermot O’ Byrne, later he developed a keen interest in Nordic culture and this interest remain till well after the end of WW l.
In 1942, Bax was appointed the Master of the Kings Music, but it is ironic that he wrote very little music whilst in the position, during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s many regarded his music as being old fashioned, and it was rarely heard in concert, but after his death in Ireland from heart failure in 1953, it seemed to enjoy a resurgence in popularity. Bax, was not that active or prolific when it came to writing music for film, and his two other scores MALTA G.C. and JOURNEY INTO HISTORY are both for short films.
Sir Arthur Bliss is another composer who is linked with cinema in Britain. His most well-known score being for the Alexander Korda movie THINGS TO COME from 1936. The film focuses upon a period of war that has lasted for many years and the story of one forward thinking and coherent State that decides to rebuild the infrastructure and the ethics of civilization whilst eventually making strident steps to attempt space travel. The score for THINGS TO COME, is itself a ground-breaking work. Bliss was a composer associated with the composition of symphonies, choral works and Ballets as opposed to the writing of musical scores for films, but in the 1930’s many producers of movies sought out established names within the classical or serious music arena maybe to bring sort of credibility to film music in those early days of both sound pictures and music as in original scores for motion pictures.
Bliss trained under Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, and began his career writing Avant garde pieces, however as his career progressed and the 1940’s began the composer turned to a more conservative or conventional fashion of composition. In 1950, the composer was Knighted and three years later in 1953, he was invited to become the Master of the Queens music. Like Sir Arnold Bax, Bliss concentrated more upon music for the concert hall, and only occasionally ventured into the world of writing scores for film. Bliss was born in London on August 2nd 1891, his film credits include, THINGS TO COME (1936), SEVEN WAVES AWAY (1957) and AN AGE OF KINGS (1960). He died on March 28th, 1975 in London England. The composers music for THINGS TO COME was something of contentious subject with the author of the story H.G.Wells. Wells, admitted himself that he had no real understanding of the way music worked in the context of film, but despite this expressed specific ideas as to how he thought that the score should be utilised within the movie. Wells, insisted that Bliss write the score, a work which he had completed in the early part of 1935, and then sent copies of it to Sir Henry Wood who started to work on arranging it into a seven movement work.
One section of the score entitled IDYLL was not used in the film which was due to the sequence being dropped from the production as Korda was experiencing financial difficulties, eventually because of the financial limitations and a looming deadline Korda decided to called in another arranger Lionel Slater and also asked Muir Mathieson to conduct the score. When the movie was released it received a very mixed reaction, but the music was applauded. Some of the score which had been recorded onto discs sold well, which was a first for music from a film.
Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner, Frankie Howerd, Katie Johnson and Philip Stainton. An impressive cast list would you not agree? Yes, nowadays this would be called an all-star cast, but in 1955, this was normal for a cast in an Ealing production. THE LADYKILLERS is one of the most watched and discussed comedy thrillers to come out of a British studio during that period. The music for this iconic movie was the work of Tristram Cary, Born in Oxford England on May 14th, 1925, Tristram Ogilvie Cary was the third child of the novelist Joyce Cary and Gertrude Margaret Cary (nee Ogilvie). He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and Westminster School, London. He served in the Royal Navy between 1943 and 1946, which interrupted his education, whilst in the Navy; Cary developed independently the idea that was to eventually become tape music.
Upon his demob from the service, Cary took a BA at Oxford and then headed for London, where he studied composition, piano, horn, conducting and viola. The composer died in 2008, aged 82. I was fortunate enough to talk to the composer some years ago whilst interviewing composers who had scored Hammer films, I also asked the composer how he became involved with THE LADYKILLERS as it was the composers first foray into scoring a feature film.
“I had by this time already done some work for the BBC, the director of THE LADYKILLERS, Sandy Mackendrick had been listening to some of my music for BBC plays etc, consequently, he thought that my style of writing would be well suited to the black comedy that was THE LADYKILLERS. I went to Ealing and had some discussions, pretending that I was very experienced in the art of scoring movies, (which of course was not the case), and they knew that. Any way, they asked me to submit a couple of test sections, which I did. These two sections were recorded at the end of another recording session which turned out to be a John Addison score. Anyway, they laid these tracks to the film and they seemed to like them, because the very next day, they offered me the job. I was good friends with Sandy afterwards, and I last saw him a few years before his death in Los Angeles”.
Cary went on to score numerous British movies, plus he also worked on TV shows such as DR.WHO for the BBC. As his career progressed, he moved more into the world of electronic music, and was one of the pioneers who was responsible for creating and perfecting this type of musical content in movies. He started an association with Hammer films in the 1960’s as he recalled.
“I did Quatermass and the Pit in 1967, and then in 1972 I returned to Hammer to work on the music for Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. I cannot remember how I got involved with Hammer, 1967 was a frantically busy year for me, I am sure that it was Phil Martell who called me asking me to write the score for Quatermass. I have to be honest and say that I was not keen on the idea of doing the score, there was a lot of work to do, they wanted masses of electronic music plus a great deal of orchestral music also, but I had three kids to feed all of whom were in fee-paying schools and I needed every penny I could get, so of course I said yes”.
A composer who was active in the scoring of British movies during the 1950.s was John Veale. Born John Douglas Louis Veale in Bromley Kent on June 15th,1922, composer John Veale, is again one of the driving and original forces within British concert hall and film music that is at times sadly overlooked. Veale attended the Dragon School in Oxford from 1930 through to 1936, and then later went to Repton school which was in Derbyshire from 1936 up until 1940. After this Veale attended The Corpus Christi College in Oxford until 1942 where he studied History. Even when he was a young child Veale took a keen interest in music, which was something of a surprise as none of his family as in his parents or siblings were musically inclined, although his Father did like to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan. It was the arrival of his new music teacher in 1939, John Gardener who opened the young composers mind to other composers and widened his appreciation of the classical music world, in the form of Sibelius and Shostakovich that really fired up Veale’s interest in composition. It was Gardener who also introduced Veale to the work of William Walton via a performance of Walton’s first symphony.
Veale also became interested in the music of Bartok, Bax, Ravel, Vaughn Williams, Rawsthorne and Barber. All of which made a lasting impression upon him and shaped the way in which he fashioned his own music in the following years. During the second world war, Veale spent his war service in the Education Corps, and during this time he continued to study music unofficially with Egon Wellesz and had lessons from Sir Thomas Armstrong in harmony and counterpoint. After the war he began to write incidental music for the theatre, and it was a piece of music from one such production LOVES LABOURS LOST (1947) that began Veale’s involvement in writing for films, the composer sent a copy of his score for the production to Muir Mathieson, who after seeing it asked Veale to write music for The Crown Film Unit, it was via this assignment that Veale met conductor John Hollingsworth, who was assistant to Sir Malcolm Sargent. Veale then became friends and moved in musical circles with many of the most respected composers of that period, Elizabeth Lutyens, William Walton, Humphrey Searle, Constant Lambert, Alan Rawsthorne plus poets and writers such as Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis.
It was around 1954 that Veale returned to writing music for film, John Hollingsworth attended a performance of the composer’s clarinet concerto and had heard that Muir Mathieson was looking for a composer to write the score for THE PURPLE PLAIN which was a movie that starred American actor Gregory Peck. After hearing Veale’s clarinet concerto Hollingsworth spoke with Mathieson, who agreed that Veale would be right for the film. The score was a great success for the composer and this led to other film scoring assignments that included, WAR IN THE AIR which was a documentary for television and the feature films, PORTRAIT OF ALISON-aka POSTMARK FOR DANGER (1955) and THE SPANISH GARDENER(1956) which starred the then British heart throb Dirk Bogarde. John Veale may not have written the scores to that many movies, but the few he did write were impressive and filled with rich thematic material. He battled prostate cancer for many years and had to leave Oxford and return to Bromley where he resided in a care home, he died on November 16th, 2006.
Edwin Astley is a composer that we normally associate with Television themes and scores, but he also wrote for the cinema, one movie that stands out probably because it was such an oddball comedy is THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (1959). Edwin Thomas Astley was born in Warrington in 1922. His father was a manual worker mostly working on building sites. Astley left school before he was sixteen and started work at the age of 14 working in an office where ovens were made. He was always attracted to music and took a keen interest in all things musical. He was given a violin by a relative and decided that he wanted to make music a career. He joined the R.A.S.C. band when he was still a teenager and took up the clarinet and saxophone, by the time he had reached his 18th birthday Astley was not only performing music but was arranging it for the band. In 1945 he won a cash prize for a song that he had co-written and was lucky enough to have it recorded by Dame Vera Lynn no less. It was also at this time that he met and married Hazel Balbirnie. After leaving the army Astley joined the Peter Pease dance band and soon had become accomplished enough to lead his own band, he re-located to London and was given a job at the music publishers Francis, Day and Hunter where he acted as an arranger for various vocalists. During the late 1950, s Astley moved into writing music for television, one of his first being ROBIN HOOD which became a popular series with adults and children alike. Another early TV series that he worked on was THEBUCCANEERS which led to him becoming involved on THE SAINT and DANGER MAN. In later years he worked on RANDALL AND HOPKIRK DECEASED and also provided some of the scores for THE PERSUADERS. He also worked on movies from as early as 1959, the aforementioned THE MOUSE THAT ROARED for example and in 1962, composed the score for Hammer films version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which included an original operatic composition and in 1973 wrote a serviceable soundtrack for DIGBY:THE BIGGEST DOG IN THE WORLD.
During the late 1970,s Astley went into semi-retirement, and moved to the countryside, but even there he could not stay away from music, he constructed a recording studio at his home and installed a number of synthesisers and started to work on building a music library. He died in Goring, Oxfordshire on May 19th, 1998.
The Boulting Brothers also contributed much to pre war and post war British cinema, one film I remember is SEVEN DAYS TO NOON, the score was the debut work of composer John Addison, released in 1950, it starred Barry Jones and was directed by John Boulting and produced by his Brother Roy. It is a tense thriller, that interestingly was written by Paul Dehn and James Bernard, yes, the same James Bernard who would later compose the ominous sounding DRACULA theme for Hammer films. He recalled his involvement with this in interview with me back in the 1990’s.
“Basically, Paul and I concocted this story and Paul wrote it down,” recalled the composer, “We then sold it to Boulting Brothers, and to our surprise got Oscars for our trouble. The ceremony that we had was quite different from all the glittering razzmatazz that we see nowadays, in fact it was not a ceremony at all. We did not get to go and receive our awards in America; we found out that we had won via an article in one of the London evening papers. A few weeks later a representative from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences arrived at our home in Chelsea, with him he had a cardboard box, which contained our Oscars. It was a case of one quick drink, a handshake and, well, that was it really, no fanfares and certainly no lengthy acceptance speeches”.
A composer who contributed much to British cinema productions and is very rarely mentioned is Francis Chagrin. Born Alexander Paucker on November 15th 1905 in Bucharest Romania Chagrin’s Jewish parents insisted that he should pursue a career in Engineering, so whilst studying for a degree in engineering Chagrin unbeknown to his parents was also studying music at The Zurich music conservatory. He graduated from the conservatory in 1928, but soon left home and moved to Paris because his family refused to support him in his musical career. It is at this time he changed his name so that it sounded more French. Whilst in the French capital the young musician earned a living and further funded his musical ambitions by performing in some of the many nightclubs and cafes, and also turning his hand to composing songs that became popular. He was also doing further studies at this time with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger, in 1936 Chagrin decided to leave France and relocate to England, where he settled. In 1940 and throughout the war years he was appointed the composer in charge of music for the French service and in particular the programme, Les Francais Parlent Aux Francais. He scored his first movie in 1939, which was a British production entitled THE SILENT BATTLE which starred Rex Harrison.
The composer worked on wide variety of movies from 1939 through to 1963, with titles such as THE COLDITZ STORY, THE BEACHCOMBER, SIMBA, LAW AND DISORDER, THE INTRUDER and GREYFRIARS BOBBY being his better known works, the composer also worked for Hammer films in 1958, providing the score for THE SNORKEL. In 1959 he composed the stirring theme and the dramatic background scores for the TV series FOUR JUST MEN, which starred Dan Daley, Vittorio De Sica, Jack Hawkins and Richard Conte. He died on November 10th 1972. His rich melodies and vibrant dramatic compositions served each project well and the composer left a luxurious sounding musical legacy which should be cherished and applauded.
A common link between many of the scores for British films was the musical director that studios often looked to for securing the services of composers that were suitable for each picture. The names of Muir Mathieson, John Hollingsworth, Phillip Martell etc are often displayed on the credits for movies, and it is true to say that without these MD.s or conductors, musical supervisors, many scores for British movies would have probably sounded very different.
They encouraged new talent and enlisted the help of established concert hall/classical composers such as Walton, Vaughn Williams, Richard Rodney Bennet, James Bernard and their like, and in essence they helped to shape and create a sound and a style that is now synonymous with the golden age of British cinema which for me was from the mid 1930’s through to the late 1950’s. Paving the way for the composers of the 1960’s to build upon the strong foundations that had been put in place. There are so many UNSUNG heroes of British film music, whos music also established the style that is now associated with British productions, Douglas Gamley, John Ireland, Brian Easdale, Charles Williams, Bruce Montgomery and Temple Abady. Then there were the composers who were active in the 1950.s and continued to work through to the 1970’s and beyond. John Addison, Stanley Myers, Malcolm Arnold etc.
Associated British Picture Corporation, Ealing Studios, Renown Films, British Lion, Hammer Films, Tigon, London Film are all names that are synonymous with British cinema and if I have omitted to mention any others I apologise. Each had their own role in contributing to the great British cinema, each were different but all of them produced films that had entertaining storylines, convincing acting performances and polished direction, cinematography, and production. They also boasted some of the most inspiring and memorable film music scores that have been written for Cinema.
What would you say were your earliest memories of any kind of music and were your family musically inclined?
One of my strongest memory is of an audio tape my parents used to listen in the car. It was a music sampler including Apache by the Shadows, Good vibrations by The Beach boys and an excerpt from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Belles (an album I would rediscover many years later and still adore now). I just loved to listen to these songs. My parents like music, they listen to Jazz and French pop but that’s about it. There is no known musician in the family.
A lot of your music is realized via syhnths etc, but the sound you achieve sounds like it is being performed by conventional instruments with live performances, what software etc do you use, and what percentage of the scores are performed by live players?
I have not had the opportunity to work with live players yet on documentaries projects. I use synths and sound samples libraries: Vienna libraries, Native Instruments, East West softwares, Cine-samples softwares… I use a lot of these, and some are really wonderful.
You wrote the score for a documentary on Hammer films, did you do a great deal of research before starting work on the score?
I didn’t need to do much research: I was already familiar with the works of James Bernard, Harry Robinson etc… I particularly love Twins of Evil by Robinson (wonderful main title!). I also had seen many of those movies and knew the kind of sound they used.
I loved the score for PEPLUM, the sound you managed to create was in many ways so much like the original scores for many of these movies, were you familiar with the genre and its music before you were asked to write the score?
Oh yes, I had seen a lot of Peplum’s and loved their scores (Alfred Newman’s The Robe is one of my favourites, as well as many Rozsa…) and of course I knew the more recent of them (Gladiator, Troy…) The classic peplum genre has such a distinctive sound, brassy, masculine and thematic. I love it. And at the same time, PEPLUM was an opportunity to give it a synthy spin, mating it with 70’s and 80’s electronica – A shared taste with director and long time collaborator and friend Jérôme Korkikian.
When you are asked to write the music for a project, what is your starting point, do you look at a script or do you spot the film with the director and then decide what musical route you will follow?
The starting point is always to discuss the film with the director, to get as much information as possible about his point of view, his needs and how he sees the film. Often, at this stage, the film is not edited at all and I get to see some rushes to have a first feel of the story. Then I compose while the film is being edited, working on ideas and specific scenes the director mentioned. After that, when some sequences are edited, I get to work on them more specifically. But the bulk of the work is done during the editing.
You did a series of documentary films about NAPOLEON, great music, how did you become involved on these scores?
Director and producer Jean-Louis Molho contacted me after having heard and liked some of my work. I did some demo and easily got the job – a dream job: Napoleon’s life gave me the opportunity to score exciting elements: battles, romance, more battles, victory… and defeats! The score blends traditional orchestral elements, world music and electronics. It was a real pleasure as I love to work with these elements!
What musical education did you receive?
I’m musically self-taught: I learned slowly but always with pleasure. A great deal of my musical education consisted in listening to music, all kind of music, but more importantly soundtracks. I’m a big collector of soundtracks and, as they are themselves linked to all kinds of musical genres, it made me discover many kinds of music.
Do you think that it is still important for a film score to have thematic direction and a central theme that the audience can identify with?
Yes, I love thematic scoring. It represents and help identify and empathize with characters or situations. But all scores don’t have to be necessarily thematic, depending on the movie or the intent of the director. A main theme is the identity of the film and, when done well, it summarize the intents of the film, its heart. It’s an anchor for the audience.
On average how long does it take to work on a score and record it, maybe use PEPLUM as an example?
It varies, as I work in parallel with the editing. If they have some time to edit, I have the same time to compose. Of course, at this point I rarely have all the elements of the film, and sometime must wait to have the sequences to score them. I must keep a global feeling of the film while working on it in disorder. For Peplum, I think the all process took one month. The rare times were I had all the film already edited and completed (for the documentaries AU NOM DU FILS and BEN LADEN, LES RATES D’UNE TRAQUE), it took me two weeks to do the score.
Working on documentaries, I would imagine requires that you write a lot of music, probably a lot more than a feature film, do you get much input from producers or directors, or maybe requests that you compose something that sounds like Morricone, Goldsmith or Williams?
You are right, I compose sometimes way more music than is needed in the film. It’s because of the process of working during editing: first you submit many tracks to the director, and some of them are not used. Then, as the sequences get re edited, you have to re-score or adapt your material. And end up with many versions of the same music. Sometimes, the director gives me references of music he wants the score to sound like. It’s merely indication and is often useful to find the right tone he desires. Temp tracking happens, for certain sequences, but not that often as I work during editing.
You released a series of recordings which contained some wonderful music entitled THE SILENT MOVIE COLLECTION, could you tell us what this is?
In 2003, I was asked to rescore silent movies as part of a collection for French DVD reissue. Once more a very exciting project. Yet I had very few time to score them: one week for the 60 – 70 minutes ones (THE SHOCK, SHADOWS, BLIND HUSBANDS), two weeks for the 100 minutes WAY DOWN EAST and, thankfully, four weeks for my favourite: 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS. This one I recall more fondly as I had a very great time scoring it.
Do you score a movie in any set way, as in main titles through to end credits, or is every project different?
Every project is different. In the rare occasion when the film is already entirely completed, I like to work from beginning to end: it helps the music to grow and develop as the story goes. But when working while editing, I usually begin with main themes for the different aspects of the story. Then the sequences and ideas the director needs first. It’s impossible in these conditions to work chronologically.
What artists or composers have been your inspiration?
There are obviously movie music composers: James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Christopher Young, Basil Poledouris, Alan Silvestri, John Carpenter, Hans Zimmer, Graeme Revell, James Bernard, Miklos Rozsa, to quote but a few….Outside of the soundtrack genre, I am inspired by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Shultz, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Mike Oldfield… amongst others!!
Photo Ghislain VIDAL
What for you is the purpose of music in film?
Film music should enhance the movie, tell the audience what the others mediums don’t: the emotions, the feelings, the unsaid thoughts of the characters. It can also be a commentary on the film, the thoughts and ideas of the filmmakers.
What is next for you?
I just finished the score for a feature length film, HAPPY NIGHT, directed by Mustapha Ozgun that should be released in 2021. It’s a crime story and a drama that demanded a synthetic score. I really enjoyed scoring it!I am now working on a historical documentary for French TV about the Vicking Rollo, directed by Alban Vian. An extremely exciting project, once more!
I would like to thank Ed for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions, jm.
You are what I would call a multi-talented composer, performer and musician, when did you begin to take an interest in music, and was it something that ran in the family and as a child was there a lot of music played at home?
I appreciate the compliment. I believe most of my success is simply “hanging in there” and outlasting others! I have been at music for a long time. My mother was a psychologist, but also loved to play the violin. I did try the violin in 1st grade but was the only boy and gave up. My dad worked for the government, but he loved to play trombone. Therefore, I tried trumpet. That lasted for one lesson. Somehow, after that I found percussion. I did stay with the same teacher for seven years. That taught me persistence.
My family went to concerts a lot, especially the Chicago Symphony (Solti!) and Lyric Opera. Those were eye-opening experiences, for sure. We had a pretty good record collection, including a lot of musicals. Going to a big movie was a treat, and that is where I found movie scores. My high school in Evanston, had an extraordinary music department. One teacher, Don Owens, an amazing composer, and educator, started an electronic music department and an avant-guard ensemble (“Weird Group”) there. My definition of music broadened quite a bit. I also started my jazz experience at that time.
You studied music at Indiana University, whilst doing your studies did you focus upon one instrument or a specific area of music?
I received a Bachelor of Music in Percussion at IU. That school was off the charts in faculty at the time. Nearly every teacher was a famous musician. My training was focused on performance (typically classical/orchestral), and they did an interesting job of combining theory and history together. My percussion teacher, Richard Johnson, was African-American, and his story was compelling, as he wasn’t able to work in a symphony because of discrimination. He was a “Yoda” type of teacher. My exposure to classical music was seriously enhanced by his instruction. He put me in charge of the percussion section when the orchestra performed Berlioz’s Requiem. It required 10 timpani. Learning about the composer’s understanding of orchestration was mind-boggling. I did also continue electronic music. The department had the first “Moog” synthesizer (the size of a wall!). We also did early computer music using punch cards and huge reel to reel tapes! It took a day to get anything. I never took composition in college, but I did compose. For both my junior and senior recitals I performed original pieces. The percussion department wasn’t crazy about it, and had a major faculty composer on my jury. One of the pieces was cut from 20 to 7 minutes! Eek. That was the first of many cuts and edits to my music!
After college, I moved to Seattle. I had access to a harpsichord and developed an intense understanding of counterpoint on it. I started a composer’s series, Opus 1 that ran for a number of years. It featured six composers a month. Eventually, we had major composers (I premiered music by Alan Hovhaness!) along with faculty composers, students, jazz musicians, and nearly anyone on a truly open program in a nice theatre. I eventually wrote a 90-minute piece for orchestra that was premiered there. I had no budget, so it was rough, and got panned in the press! I did learn a lot about orchestration, though.
Your music has been heard in movies such as THE BLIND SIDE, THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY and the TV series LUCIFER, were these movies that you composed cues specifically for, or was the music that was utilised within these productions written beforehand and the production used it?
I wish I had done the scores for those films. Most of the tracks that I have had in major films and TV were from previously composed music for music libraries. A lot of that music is “diabetic” like music from a radio as part of the soundscape. “The Blind Side” features a marching band track, that was also used in other films. I am actually teaching music licensing, which is all about this process. Licensing came to me via a Christmas recording from 1992, “Marimbells of Christmas”. It is a tremendous recording, featuring all percussion instruments. (marimba, vibes, bells, etc.) Through a publisher, I landed a very nice deal with “Surviving Christmas” for the trailer and the film. I was inspired, and as recording became easier with digital devices, I started to compose a lot of music. It was licensing that got me back in the composing around 2001. I get requests from libraries for specific styles and genres, and occasionally some of those tracks get placements, although a lot of the time they don’t get the initial placement.
It does increase my catalogue, which has many hundreds of pieces. I do custom work more and more, and that can be synced music for an existing scene. About a year ago, I created a “Carmina Burana” style track for a web-series that the action was synced to. I was able to recreate it electronically in about two hours. BTW: I am on my 7th year of writing “Adventures in Music Licensing” if anyone wants to read about how to get your music in TV and film.
AS THE EARTH TURNS, is one of your more recent scores, it’s the 1930’s silent movie which you have scored. How did you become involved on the project?
“As the Earth Turns” is a 1938 silent sci-fi film that was never released (There is another “As the Earth Turns” from 1934, which is a talkie, and not related). This is a wild story of serendipity gone crazy. I have been teaching percussion for decades. One of my former student’s mom, contacted me in 2018 to take lessons, herself. She saw a track of mine on You-tube. I had created a Danny Elfman style track for licensing, and put it against a public domain Buster Keaton film, (“College”-https://youtu.be/osBEEpcCVHU). The mom, Kim Lyford Bishop, asked me if I would like to score a film by her great uncle, Richard Lyford who was twenty-years old when he made it in 1938. It had never been released, as it was an “amateur” film. (Lyford went on to work for Disney, and eventually direct and Academy-Award winning documentary.) She had recently taken over the film-estate of the director. I agreed to do it. It took about a month. We found additional footage, and I edited it back into the film. My role was expanding quickly. It came out pretty well, and we had it mixed at Clatter & Din in Seattle a leading post-production studio. It came out even better. We started to enter the film into festivals. I became producer, and my life was dramatically changed. The film has been in 121 festivals and won 135 awards/nominations, including 34 for best score. I have been to several festivals (you get to go if you are a “producer”!). I organized a 7-day Oscar-qualifying run in LA last fall, did a media blitz, and entered the film into the Oscars (to get more eyes on it). I can say that Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Scorsese should have copies of the film. I can only hope they watch it! I negotiated a premiere on Turner Classic Movies, and the film is in distribution with Indie Rights. It is on Amazon and other platforms. From this experience, I have learned a lot about my film clients, and what they have to do to get their projects out. I have also taken over the film-estate of the director, myself, and have created a documentary and am working on a screenplay for a biopic about the director. This all came from teaching a student. Astounding!
Would you say that it is less difficult scoring a silent movie, or maybe it is more involved as the music has to purvey so many emotions and is normally running constantly behind the images? When you score a modern film with dialogue, you are constantly dodging the dialogue, Foley, sound-effects, etc. A lot of your score really becomes subliminal and atmospheric. It also means that thematic development is pretty limited. There maybe no time in a scene to develop themes, especially with heavy dialogue. Epic action films tend to allow more (“Star Wars’ etc.). In a sense, those sequences can be similar to silent films. For my film, the entire soundtrack is the dialogue, atmosphere, emotion, sound-effects (I only used instruments for that to make it more “musical”), etc. There is also wall-to-wall music. This is pretty challenging. The composer can’t really let too much silence creep in. Silence is a tremendous part of music (as I learned studying Cage, in High School!) In a silent film, there is no sound whatsoever, including nature or city sounds. Dead silence is deadly in film. The audience can get very concerned, something has happened to the film! With digital, you don’t even have the click of the film through the projector to create ambience.
For this film, I was able to develop themes from the beginning. Because the director is deceased (died in 1985), I really didn’t know what he liked, although about half way into scoring, I found out that Richard Lyford had experimented in adding dual turntables synchronized to a 16mm projector! No one had ever done this before. (It’s why Disney was interested in him). He was in his teens, too. I did become concerned about my direction. As it turned out, after interviews with Lyford’s son, Chris (I have done a number of them), my choices were actually pretty right on. Lyford loved Stravinsky, Dvorak, Beethoven etc. All he could do was add existing classical music to the films. He did add Foley (live) and even some dialogue to some other films, although none of this has survived.
Because my executive producer Kim, has been so wonderful to work with, I was given a free hand to compose. It was an intense but very enjoyable experience. It was more like composing a symphony, or maybe a cantata. There were 23 cues, from 30 to 5 minutes in length. Most of the music is classical with some jazz. All of it was meant to be appropriate for the era.
I love experimental music, but for this film, I really wanted to make it something the director would have chosen himself. Working with a director can be challenging, of course. You never really know if you are close to their vision. I’ve scored the same scene for film many times. I’ve been replaced as composer (pretty typical out there!). The music has to service the image, in the end. The director and producer always have the last say on it. This is a great reason to be your own producer! 🙂
You basically have two music careers one as a performer and the composing side of things, do these run separately or do you combine them and bring in elements of each into the film scoring part?
I haven’t been performing in the last few years because of my focus on composing. With the pandemic, this has actually worked out well for me. I do believe that all of the years of performing, especially jazz, world and improvised music, has taught me how to quickly create music. I am pretty good at improvising music (Early in my career I did a lot of work with an improv dance company) I work typically on keyboards, and then orchestrate it. It creates a pretty “organic” sound to it and is very “synced” to the action. Modern DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) have made the process a lot easier. I can work fast, and sync as I go. As a percussionist, I can perform complicated rhythmic music myself, when necessary. In one of the cues from the film, there is a 4:3 rhythm in the orchestra. That was satisfying that as complex as it is, it sounds quite natural. My mallet playing (vibes, marimba, xylophone) added a lot of “vintage” musical elements to the score, too. Most composers do have a “specialty” and that is what usually becomes their sound or brand. For me, I seem to be good at creating a variety of styles, but I have always been drawn to classical music, especially baroque influences. I have performed Bach on mallet instruments for years and composed quite a bit of music in that genre as well. It influences me to this day, especially regarding counterpoint.
The soundtrack recording of AS THE EARTH TURNS has been released, did you have a hand in selecting the music for this release?
Being the producer on this film, I am totally in charge of everything related to it! I not only picked the music, but edited the tracks (combined cues), did the artwork, and created distribution. I am pretty satisfied with it. Because the film is 45 minutes long, I’ve included the entire soundtrack in it, with some order changes. I hope the soundtrack works as a piece unto itself. If it does, that would confirm that my thematic writing has worked.
When you first look at a potential project, how do you approach it, do you watch it over many times before deciding where music should go or maybe should not in some cases, or do you look at it just a couple of times before you begin to figure out where music should be placed?
I generally dig in pretty fast. Shorts are easier to watch more. If I am working with a director, it is ideal to have a “spotting session” and go through the film in detail. Usually the director has an idea of where the music should be. Sometimes, “temp tracks” are put in to give the composer a sense of what the director wants. This can be good and bad. There is a real chance of “tempitus”, where the director falls in love with the temp track! Music seems to “bind” with image very quickly. It can be difficult to create something that is not too close to the temp. As a composer, you want to bring out your own sound and concepts, too. A film composer does need to wear very thick mental armour, because the music can be easily rejected. You have to be careful not to spend too much time working on a scene, until you know it is on the right music for it. I have created very complicated music, only to have it rejected. I have a sign in my studio I got from Goodwill. “You can. End of story.” I live by it!
What percentage of the score for AS THE EARTH TURNS is performed by live instruments as opposed to syhnths and samples?
(If you haven’t seen the film, please don’t read this!).
I have had many people ask me what orchestra recorded the score. It has been humbling and reaffirming to my craft. I have to admit, though the only real instruments are percussion. Everything else is samples done in my DAW. I believe one of the tricks to making an electronic score work, is not to try to make everything sound real, as much as thinking in a “impressionistic” mode. You have to work with the sounds and have them come together as organically as possible. Having the music mixed professionally did also help quite a bit. In the end, recorded music is the same whether it is coming from real or virtual instruments. It is simply a wave form. The more you realize that, the easier it is. I will say that all of my performance and composition with strings, especially, helped orchestrate the music. For example, I know what an open string is on a violin and know that it can’t have vibrato. That can be vital in reproducing it electronically. I would love to record the score with a real orchestra in the future, of course. That requires re-orchestrating it for live players.
What would you say is the job of music in film?
Music tends to add emotion, atmosphere, and overall support the dialogue in film. Film can be 50% visual and 50% aural for the audience. Music can create a deep and everlasting memory for a film. Even if a piece was not created for a film, it can forever be attached to it, like “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001 by Strauss. It can in fact, be the most lasting element of a film, after you watch it. “Koyaanisqatsi” was a film that combined music and cinematography equally starting from the same place (music by Phillip Glass). It’s experimental but demonstrates a pure marriage of visuals and music. I create my own videos where the visuals support the music, a la a “music video”. That can be deeply satisfying for a composer.
What composers or performers have inspired or influenced you?
My favourite question. Film composers: Herrmann, Williams, Mancini, Goldsmith, Barry, Ernest Gold (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”) Classical: Bach, Beethoven, Bernstein, Strauss (both), Cage and my personal favourite, Hector Berlioz! Jazz/World/Latin/Pop: Gershwin, Paul Winter, Buddy Rich, Gary Burton, Chuck Mangione, The Beatles, Elton John (just watched the movie!), Cal Tjader, and most of all my greatest respect for Frank Zappa ( who started out scoring films!). I have always had a very eclectic taste. Usually what I especially love are musicians that are truly skilled as performers and composers.
Pino Donaggio is a composer who had much success in the early days of his career, at one time being hailed as the new Bernard Herrmann, he scored predominantly horror movies and his name became synonymous with films such as CARRIE, TOURIST TRAP, THE HOWLING and PIRANHA. After which the composer seemed to fade away a little and began to focus upon Italian productions. Donaggio worked with Joe Dante in the States and because of his reluctance to move away from his homeland of Italy and set up in Hollywood he possibly missed out on scoring other Dante movies that came later such as GREMLINS and THE BURBS. The composer also scored many Brian De Palma movies. These included, DRESSED TO KILL, RAISING CAINE, PASSION, DOMINO, HOME MOVIES and BLOW OUT. He also wrote a score for SNAKE EYES but this was rejected.
I thought it might be an idea to go back to the start of the composer’s film music career and look at scores he composed in the early years. Beginning with the composer’s first foray into the world of scoring films which was the Nicholas Roeg movie DON’T LOOK NOW. I think this film had a profound effect upon me, it was a movie I saw after I had heard Donaggio’s music, and in effect it was the music that made me want to see the film, and also the art work on the Carosello original Italian import LP record. It’s a weird thing because although the music lent much to the movie and made it an even more compelling piece of cinema the composer never worked with Roeg again. Released in 1973 DON’T LOOK NOW or A VENEZIA…UN DICEMBRE ROSSO SHOCKING (IN VENICE A SHOCKING RED DECEMBER), Is a creepy thriller that was adapted for the screen from a short story by the author Daphne De Maurier that was written in 1971.
The movie starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, who are a married couple that suffer a tragic loss when their young daughter Christine is drowned in an accident. The couple travel to Venice where Sutherlands character has a commission to restore a church. Whilst there they meet two sisters, one of whom says she is a clairvoyant. She tells the couple that their daughter is trying to contact them and warn them that they are in danger. The husband dismisses her claims and refuses to have anything to with them, but he soon begins to experience strange occurrences and sightings. Although essentially a thriller, the director Roeg focuses more upon the grief of the parents and their sense of loss, and upon the psychology and the effect that death can have on people especially when it is a child that has died.
It is a polished and well-made film, with special attention being centred upon the way in which the loss of their daughter effects the couple’s relationship, the plot of the movie obviously features a strong supernatural element, but it is the concentration of the more personal aspects of the story that in my opinion make this a classic in every sense. The subject of grief being handled with great sensitivity throughout. The picture is also edited marvellously, the director making effective use of flashbacks, and flash forwards that are intercut and fused so that at times its like watching two different storylines, and this gives the watching audience a greater perspective of what is actually happening but also at times this approach can alter ones opinion and maybe confuse a the storyline a little. The music that Donaggio composed for the movie, added a chill to the proceedings, lifting the story at times, but mostly adding to it a greater sense of tragedy and apprehension.
It is in certain places a mysterious yet alluring work, the composer on certain occasions fashioning an almost Vivaldi musical persona. Donaggio,s lilting and haunting theme for John (children’s play) is simple but effective both in the movie and away from it, the solo piano performance sounding almost clumsy in a way, but this I think is its appeal and also why it is such an effectual piece of scoring. The cue CHRISTINE IS DEAD, is spine tingling, with icy strings opening the cue, which are replaced by a wolf like howling effect that is underscored by dark and ominous low string, this sound would become a musical trademark that became familiar in later Donaggio soundtracks, PIRANHA and THE HOWLING for example, the sound achieved is not only unsettling but purveys a sense of disbelief and great emotional pain. Johns theme is repeated throughout the score in varying arrangements and is featured within the Love Scene which at the time was a controversial section of the picture, but one that was vital to the rest of the storyline. Donaggio utilising piano as before but then adding, guitar and woodwind to the performance making it lighter and easy listening in it’s overall style. The cue STRANGE HAPPENINGS is where we see the more foreboding side of Donaggio, dark strings become taught and stressful, and the composer punctuates these with pizzicato commas and full stops, until the strings reach a tense crescendo, he then introduces more strings which build and create a even greater sense of uneasiness, these are as they build interspersed with frantic woodwind stabs that also add a greater sense of urgency. For a first score this was indeed a great achievement, especially as Donaggio had previous to this been predominantly a singer song writer. One can understand why he was being called the new Bernard Herrmann, with his inclusion of ominous and sombre strings that seemed to drag the audience down to a new and evil level, that was murky and gripping.
The soundtrack did also feature a song, which is the first track on the soundtrack recording, with the composer presenting it as an instrumental on two further occasions within the recording. Donaggio’s music is perfect for the unsettling persona of the movie and is also a wonderful accompaniment to the location in which the movie was set. The Compact Disc was issued in the UK on the That’s Entertainment Records label.
From a thriller to a more openly horrific picture and score, but still a mystery. In 1976, the composer was assigned to write the music for a Brian de Palma film entitled CARRIE. De Palma had originally wanted composer Bernard Herrmann to work on the movie, but whilst negotiating with Herrmann the famed film music composer was taken ill and subsequently died after finishing work on Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER. This left De Palma without a composer, and an ever-looming completion deadline, De Palma and Herrmann had worked together on SISTERS and OBSESSION, so the director was obviously looking for something which was akin to the style of Herrmann. A friend of De Palma’s had been impressed with Donaggio’s music for DONT LOOK NOW and gave De Palma a copy of the soundtrack album. After listening to the recording the director was convinced that Donaggio was right for the movie, so Donaggio was sent a rough cut copy of CARRIE which had been temp tracked with selections of Herrmann’s classic PSYCHO soundtrack, this was to give Donaggio an idea of what was required, the rest as they say is history. CARRIE the movie went onto attain cult status and was acclaimed by all who saw it, and Donaggio’s atmospheric and darky unsettling score gained much attention and recognition and placed the composer firmly on the film music map.
The score was not all virulence and fearsome jagged cues, in fact for a horror movie it contained interludes that were very melodic and verging on the melancholy and becoming romantic at times. Although, the majority of the score was filled with a sense of impending doom with starkly dramatic cues that built upon the already tense and nervous content of the film. Donaggio employed icy and sharp sounding strings that could stop anyone in their tracks. The cue CONTEST WINNERS contains elements of a beautiful and haunting melody which opens and closes the composition. The track BUCKET OF BLOOD is ingenious scoring, as it lulls us all into a false sense of ITS GOING TO BE OK and then turns into a sinister and totally unsettling piece that says THERE IS NO ESCAPE, I AM GOING TO GET YOU, RUN! The movie quickly attained a cult following and is applauded by critics, audiences, and filmmakers, many of whom it has influenced in their own movies and TV productions. Donaggio’s tense score aids the storyline greatly and is the driving force behind many of the scenes. At times being full on and at other moments acting as a smouldering presence that warns that all is not well or good.
I think my favourite Donaggio score must be DRESSED TO KILL, there is just something about the sound he achieved in this that attracts me and totally mesmerises with its luxurious yet threatening persona. Working with De Palma must have inspired him to write in such a grand and opulent way, the track THE MUSEUM I think being one of his finest scoring moments within his entire career. It is a simmering and brooding piece, which is inspired I would think by Herrmann, the strings are gloriously dark but at the same time have a bitter- sweet aura about them. The film which was a thriller is filled with intrigue and has more twists, turns and ups and downs than a fairground rollercoaster ride.
And the music compliments, enhances and underlines all of these, the composer punctuating, supporting, and giving more depth to the film and its unfolding plot. Although Donaggio is associated with a great deal of thrillers and horror related pictures, his music at times is highly lyrical and emotive, the composer fashioning affecting, haunting, and delicate tone poems that ingratiate and give power to many of the scenes, making horrific scenarios even more shocking and adding substance and texture to any storyline and it is the way in which he fuses these quieter and calming moments with the more fearsome ones that makes him the masterful Maestro that he is.
In 1978 Donaggio scored the western, AMORE PIOMBO E FURORE (LOVE LEAD AND RAGE). Aka CHINA 9. LIBERTY 37. Donaggio has a co-writing credit for this movie with John Rubinstein, but essentially the score was Donaggio through and through. The movie which was an Italian/Spanish co-production starred Fabio Testi, Jenny Agutter and Warren Oates, with famed director Sam Peckinpah taking a small role. Directed by Monte Hellman this was probably one of the last Euro westerns that was released, coming after CALIFORNIA which is noted as being the last official Spaghetti western which was released in 1977. The western genre was a rare excursion for Donaggio in fact I think I am correct when I say he only scored two, the other being the comedy western BOTTE DI NATALE, CHRISTMAS BARREL aka- THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. (1994) which was an attempt to revive interest in the Italian western by Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.
The score for AMORE PIOMBO E FURORE was supportive of the movie, but was it a genuine spaghetti western score, in my opinion it contained some lilting and melodic themes, but it lacked the savagery of past scores by the likes of Morricone, Nicolai and De Masi, in fact it was more akin to the Western score as envisaged by Hollywood before the spaghetti western genre became popular. The composer utilising strings and harmonica to create his core theme for the score. Nevertheless, the music supported the action and was an entertaining listen for collectors away from the movie.
I do not think it’s possible to discuss Pino Donaggio without mentioning the scores for THE HOWLING and PIRANHA, both films directed by Joe Dante, and both being somewhat tongue in cheek parodies of past horror movies. The director infusing his own brand of black comedy into both. PIRAHNA was released in 1978, with THE HOWLING following three years later in 1981. Although neither movie can be taken totally seriously there are some great moments of horror in each of them. THE HOWLING in my opinion being the better of the two. Although saying this PIRAHNA had its moments both cinematically and musically. The opening theme for THE HOWLING is typical horror movie stuff, with a howling wolf leading into a great musical statement that crashes in and heralds the start of the proceedings, the composer kicking things off in a grand style off in a grand style, purveying, uncertainty and the unexpected, the track then alters and goes into a more sinister sounding piece which is somewhat of an anti-climax to the robust opening, but the music sets the scene perfectly for the film and as the story unfolds the composer develops a collection of unnerving and creepy sounding interludes that are overflowing with tense sinewy strings and jumpy breathy woodwind stabs with only little snippets of respite in the form of a romantic and delicate theme performed on solo piano and then later given a fuller rendition with the string section taking the lead.
Donaggio is a master at scoring horrors and has a commanding talent for underlining the horror without being over blown or too bombastic, his scores for both THE HOWLING and PIRANHA are superbly written and in PIRAHNA we hear a Vivaldi influence in the opening theme, which is strident and filled with to overflowing with an energetic musical persona. Both scores contain beautiful themes for the few quieter moments they allow us, again the composer making excellent use of the piano and strings combination, fashioning romantic and melancholy pieces, that although are essentially filled with a melodic romanticism, they too also possess an underlying sense of apprehension.
Both soundtracks were released on the Varese Sarabande label as LP records, with both releases boasting stunning cover art. Each has received compact disc re-issues; THE HOWLING being given an expanded release on LA LA LAND records a few years ago. PIRANHA being issued on the Varese Sarabande club label with same running time as the original LP record.
From two horror movies to something less taxing on the emotions, well at least something that won’t, jangle your nerves and send shivers up you back. It might however, make you laugh when you are not meant to and lose a little faith in cinema along the way that’s if you actually manages to stay in the cinema or in front of the video/DVD to watch it. HERCULES was released in 1983, and starred INCREDIBLE HULK star Lou Ferringo, let’s just say it will probably be better to focus on the music rather than even mention the film itself. This was a cheap looking, no storyline extravaganza, filled with bad acting, dodgy camera work and a lack of any type of direction whatsoever, and we wont mention those special effects, will we? (I said don’t mention the special effects).
Donaggio fashioned a suitably Majestic and rousing theme for the production, and the score itself was good, but it became lost in the debacle that was HERCULES, the thing is because Donaggio had found favour at around this time, a soundtrack LP was issued, ironic because during this period many good films with equally good soundtracks did not get their music issued onto a recording some only recently having a soundtrack issued. HERCULES is a score I have to admit I rarely as in never return to, the LP and also a CD of the score has sat on the shelf for years where it has gathered the proverbial dust of time, and on listening to it again recently for the purpose of this article I still found that the music brought back memories of the awful movie, with the failings of the production clouding my ability to get past track three.
The same can be said for a few scores that the composer produced at this time, THE BARBARIANS comes to mind, not that often but only on bad days. The score was a mixture of both symphonic and synthetic with the latter having the larger slice of the pie as it were, it was at times effective but more often than not the music did little to enhance or support, but with a film like this I think it must be very hard for a composer to become inspired into writing anything that is remotely appealing or in tune with the films storyline.
It is a great pity that Donaggio in my opinion made the wrong decision about re-locating to the United States, because if he had and also had worked on bigger production for De Palma, Dante etc you never know it might have been his name on the credits for THE UNTOUCHABLES etc.
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