BY John Williams, (c)2020.
As someone who has listened to more film music than he cares to remember and written more words on the subject than is probably healthy, certain thoughts and opinions seem to surface very quickly. Now I know my opinion is certainly not any more worthy than yours, and music being the very being it is, a subjective art, one piece of music heard by say, one hundred people will have one hundred different reactions. That is the way it is.
But conversely having listened to so such music, and as to borrow from Stanley Myers memorable and masterly OTLEY score, ” The Good, The Bad and the Simply Disgusting”, certain, shall we say priorities , certainly comes to mind. There are composers who’s, own musical personality shines through whatever they do. That doesn’t mean they don’t do what they set out to do and are more often than not, well paid for, it is just that is the way they write and that is it. You may say that John Barry falls into that category, and it is true, he has a distinctive musical voice, but he has been known to vary it every now and then. I was thinking of Bernard Herrmann and Maurice Jarre, Two more widely diverse composers you couldn’t think of, Herrmann, a superb composer no-one could deny, yet wasn’t it Lionel Newman who once said, “Herrmann, he always sounds the same to me and he can’t write a tune!” somewhat harsh but containing a grain of truth. Maurice Jarre, multiple Oscar Winner, most composers would love to have half his awards and honours, but you can tell his music a mile off, even before his name comes up on the credits. They score the film well, of course they do, but to me they score it from the outside; they bring their undeniable talents to the movie, but what you hear is what you get.
The other side of the coin is the composer who subjugates his style, personality, his musical traits, to serve the film first, write as much or as little music they feel it needs. No musical wallpaper here. To these elite band of composers, serving the film is paramount above all, even it means, at the end, if you asked someone watching the film, what did you think of the music, they might say what music?. That is not to say they can’t write good themes, memorable themes, but that is a secondary consideration. These, to me are the true artists in the undeniable art of film music.
I don’t know enough to comment on the current crop of composers here and the Stats. From the little I have heard; some can’t even write music. though I have heard some good music from France, and believe it not, Russia and the Eastern Europe, but in the UK. Film and Television music has vanished.
More so then to savour the composers that serve us well, and composers who put the needs of the film first. I think with genuine admiration of the music of Nic Bicat, who’s collaborations with Clive Donner and Philip Ridley come to mind, but, to me there is only one who epitomises all what I have been trying to say, and that composer is Richard Hartley.
I may be totally wrong here but I think the first film I saw scored by Richard was one of Rank’s attempts in the late 70s to enter the world of film production once more, a remake of THE LADY VANISHES but this time in wide screen and in colour. The principal theme used over the credits was composed by the wonderful Les Reed, and the theme was used a musical device later in the film, but, I am getting ahead of myself here. The obvious question most interviewers ask Film Composers , and I am no exception, for after all, unless you are like Jerry Goldsmith and born in LA , most composers , don’t start their career writing for the Cinema, so how did it all start?
” In the early 1960s there was a film review programme on the radio and they played clips from new films, s one would hear dialogue but they were often underscored, that was my first introduction to the art of film music. I started piano lessons at the age of 5 and studied music theory then later orchestration and composition when I lived in Paris in 1966. My first film was a documentary about Gerard Manley Hopkins followed by one about Achille Island, they were both student films directed by a friend of mine. In the early 1970s I did orchestrations for Chappell’s the publishers and overdubbed strings on Reggae Records for Trojan then met Jim Sharman who hired me to write music for a play written by Sam Shepard that he was directing at the Royal Court. He also directed “The Rocky Horror Show” and that is how it all began.”
I would have the thought the main breakthrough came with Joe Losey, though I suspect he had very firm ideas on the use of music in his films?
“My first film with Joe was Brecht’s “Galileo” which Joe had directed on Broadway with Charles Laughton. It was part of a series of plays that were filmed for The American Film Theatre, I ‘d recently returned from Sydney where I had been the Musical Director for a production of The Threepenny Opera in the opening season at the Sydney Opera House. I orchestrated Han’s Eisler’s songs and wrote the incidental music. Joe was very happy with my work and hired me for his next film “The Romantic Englishwoman”. He told me the story of “The Go-Between”! Joe hated the way Hollywood films were scored but mostly left the spotting and discussions about the music to me and his long time editor. Reggie Beck”
I think we must be near THE LADY VANISHES now. I personally enjoyed it far more than Hitchcock’s somewhat over-rated movie, and this had the advantages of a all star cast, and filmed on location. The only thing that spoilt it for me was Cybill Shepherds well over the top heroine, but it is a flaw I can well overlook. I wondered if there was ever a soundtrack LP envisaged, as one did appear for Ed Welch’s THE 39 STEPS.?
“My music contractor worked with Philip Martell on many Hammer films and he made the introduction. The Les Reed music was already in place but I fitted it to the film and Bob Stewart and I orchestrated it. A soundtrack was mentioned but never materialized”
There was feeling around that time that you didn’t do many movies, am I right?
” Yes that is right. I was producing records for a while and also a Musical at the Royal Court (Theatre) which I am afraid wasn’t a success. During that period I scored THE LADY VANISHES for Hammer and the next film was BAD TIMING for Nic Roeg. I knew Jeremy Thomas (the Producer) from years ago, when he was a Editor. Nic always paid the most unbelievable attention to detail, even for the smallest things. He had heard a particular piece of music in a cutting room somewhere and asked me if I knew what it was. Funnily enough, I knew it was a French Bass player called Francois Rabat, who has a unusual style of playing the Double Bass, anyway we found him, recorded this piece that Nic had heard, and then it had to be remixed, etc. and eventually what had started out as a two-day job went on for months!
I think Nic was the first Director I worked with who really loved music and so was Bernardo Bertolucci. They both held the view that it was part of the fabric of Cinema” On BAD TIMING, the brief was to re-record the Pachelbel Canon and a Beethoven Overture, but it didn’t end there and there and three months later I was still working on the film. I think we re-recorded one short cue 3 times before Nic was happy. On STEALING BEAUTY, there was contemporary soundtrack but Bernardo also wanted a composed film score so that was a much easier to film to work on.
Then I did a film called BAD BLOOD. It was originally intended for the Cinema and partly financed by Southern TV. SHOCK TREATMENT at the time was going to be a sequel to THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. but it really ended up a mess! The script was continually being changed and we had to adapt the songs to the new script as we went along. The original was a total Hammer horror sequel, with Frankenstein rising from the grave and that sort of thing! I don’t think Fox fully realized what movie genre it basically was. I think they wanted something else – something different”
I am not sure if we are in sequence here, but it doesn’t really matter. Then there was SHEENA!
“Ah yes SHEENA ! I had been in France doing a film with Joe Losey – in fact, I had done two with him- one was DON GIOVANNI and I went to help him mix the music. It really needed a lot of technical work to sort it out and in fact I spent some three months on it. Joe then did a film that didn’t come out here called LA TRUITE and the Producer was doing this SHEENA film with John Guillermin The main theme for SHEENA was a demo I had written in the late 1970s for a music library company but they rejected it, then it was to be the B side of Torvill and Dean’s BOLERO single.
John Guillermin wanted to hear some of my music , so I gave him a cassette, but for some reason or other I had left on this Torvill and Dean B side. They just loved it and got Columbia to buy it, and then John got me to do the rest. First they flew me out to Kenya to play tunes on a piano, and then to Guinea to record Ballet African. I very nearly ended up in jail as I had no visa – I just bluffed my way in – The film had to be finished by a certain date so they would dub two reels, I’d write the music and it went on like that. Sometimes I’d have only have 3 minutes of music and we would have a orchestra booked in all day! There were long sequences, ten-minute cues, travelogues long shots of flamingoes – no plot! I remember John sending me the script and saying, “You won’t understand it – this is being made for American audiences. The record sold well though! SHEENA, has endured because I think it’s referenced in the Best of the Worst Film category. It was my first film using synthesizers. On some cues we had 23tracks of synths and 23 tracks of orchestra synched up using smpte code……. often a precarious venture”.
Richard has worked on many Films and Series for Television so it is difficult to know where to start, but how about the Mini Series KENNEDY with Martin Sheen and Blair Brown.
“I had a great time doing that. It was the first film I had worked with Jim Goddard. There were a number of gospel songs in the script and there were a lot of violent scenes in the fil , so instead of violins etc, we decided to play against it and we recorded Gospel Singers. It was too expensive to use Mahalia Jackson, but I had seen this Gospel picture called SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY and there was this woman in it with a absolutely incredible voice , not well known but we tracked her down. – she was a school teacher! We went to this Baptist Church and in one weekend we recorded everything we required. I like doing things like that which need a lot of source music” We also recorded the U.S. Marine Band playing Sousa Marches. KENNEDY was a joy and I worked on it for several months”
In 1985, Richard scored the Screen Two movie THE MACGUFFIN, obviously a tribute to Hitchcock, and as well as Charles Dance, there were marvellous cameos from Anna Massey and Ann Todd, both from earlier Hitchcock movies. The principal theme I have never forgotten after all these years, and I am very curious about this one.
“I borrowed from everybody for that one! Jerry Goldsmith at the beginning with a bit of CHINATOWN and a bit of THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY in the middle. The Director was a Hitchcock devotee and there was a scene in a park with a dog, and there was a kind of comedy – thriller music that Herrmann was very good at writing. I am sure it wasn’t tongue in cheek but that was the way it came out, so that was the way he wanted it to come out. Instead of borrowing the scene entirely, I took notes from it, and we had the sound of the dog as well. I think we mixed it down so it didn’t sound too obvious, we had the two notes and the dog barking in the gap.. There was a bit of Rossini in the middle as well, and the Director also liked Pino Donaggio, a sort of over – the – top – Herrmann, so I think we had a bit of everyone in the film” “There was one thing about THE MACGUFFIN when it was being dubbed. The Producer thought it was too loud, too long, too over the top. It was very popular, especially with younger people .It had that fast, almost American approach to film making”
Marvellous, marvellous movie which can still be viewed on You-tube. Richard also worked for the same director again for HIGH TIDE. this time going even further down the Hitchcock – and Herrmann route. Ian McShane comes out of Jail and travels down to the West Country to find out more about the people that got him into prison in the first place. Here he encounters John Bird and Kika Markham. Very much a West Country noir! If there was any downside, it was just the narration, just when all you wanted to hear was the music.
“Colin Bucksey (the Director) is a big fan of Hitchcock and I of Herrmann. We even recorded the score at Denham with Eric Tomlinson who had recorded several films with Herrmann. This was a piece of total self-indulgence but it worked with the film. I think Colin would have shot it in black and white if he had been allowed……….. and there was a lot of music”.
Back tracking somewhat, Richard worked on a major BBC series in the late 1970s that was extremely popular, so much so in fact that it is still available to watch on DVD, and that is PENMARRIC.
” I wrote the music for the first 4 episodes but had previous commitments, so I suggested Bob Stewart to the Producers, and he expanded my themes for the other episodes. The music budget was OK as it was the big Autumn costume drama for 1979. Given the time I would orchestrate myself but often that’s not possible.. I do however make very comprehensive sketches…… Bob Stewart in the early days and then John Bell, sadly both no longer with us”.
There was also Patricia Hodge in JEMIMA SHORE INVESTIGATES somewhat later.
” I scored all the JEMINA SHORE episodes with al little re-imagining of Vivaldi for the Title music at the suggestion of producer Verity Lambert”
There was another Screen Two movie – amongst many – entitled THE IMPOSSIBLE SPY.
” It was a very good film and very popular, winning the American Cable Award. It told the true story of a man who spied for Israel and at the same time was a member of the Syrian Cabinet. Another film I did THE GOOD FATHER won the Italia Prize. There was no money on that one at all and we did it with just two guitars and a piano. That was with Mike Newell. Most of the films were low budget and on one I even subsidised the recording, but generally he lets me get on with it, play a few ideas, then finesse them in the studio…….if there was time! . On GREAT EXPECTATIONS, there was a reasonable budget but the Producers wanted to see/hear the score with the film so I had to supply orchestral simulations. I think he only asked me to change one cue”
TUMBLEDOWN with Colin Firth got Richard a nomination for his score,
” Richard Eyre is another director who loves music. He had used a piece of stirring music by William Walton over the titles to slightly ‘ape’ the war movies of the 1950s, two guys thrilled at the thought of going into battle, the film contrasts the brutalities of war with the equally callous treatment of British Solider’s who are injured serving their country and the way Robert Lawrence adjusted to his new disability. We couldn’t use the Walton music. Again, Richard wasn’t afraid of using music and we had a large orchestra by BBC standards”
If TUMBLEDOWN needed a English approach, so did CONSUMING PASSIONS and THE RECTOR’S WIFE.
“It was laid up with Holst. I love working with orchestras and on CONSUMING PASSIONS we had a very large orchestra. Both very English with quotations from Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Finzi. but all in the best possible taste!
It is only recently I came across a film Richard scored entitled VICTORY (1996) with William Defoe and based on a novel by Joseph Conrad. I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but stuck with it for obvious reasons, and was well rewarded with an excellent film that passed me by all those years ago. The score works so well, but not in an outwardly spectacular way.
” This was a Miramax co-production so the heavy hand of Harvey Weinstein and his ‘interest’ in music meant I was the third composer for the film. We recorded over 60 minutes of fairly complicated orchestral music in 4 sessions thanks to brilliant musicians and impeccable engineering by Chris Dibble at CTS in Wembley. Every single cue had to be tempted up using synthesisers, then mixed with the film and sent to Miramax before they would sign off on the score, we received final approval on the Saturday before we recorded on the following Monday. It was an intense 5 weeks working fourteen hour days but I was very happy with the score and consider it to be amongst the best I have written”
Towards the end of the 1990s, you would have seen Richard’s name on a number of film from the Hallmark Organisation, mainly remakes of classic stories, DON QUIXOTE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and THE LION IN WINTER. It is a tribute to Richard’s scoring of the latter, that I never thought of the famed score for the earlier movie with the same name! I wondered how these projects came about?
“They came through Dyson Lovell who approached me to score ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I’d never worked for him before but he said he’d looked at my credits and seen I had worked with many directors several times so he assumed I wouldn’t be a difficult person to work with! Initially I had reservations about ALICE so they showed me around the Jim Henson workshop with all the different special effects they’d been working on, both Chris Thompson and Dyson were very committed to the project so I accepted”
DON QUIXOTE is just a wonderful film and score, and the middle of a very wet winter, it seems even more of a joy to watch. and whilst I have never been to Spain, just close your eyes and listen to the music and you would think you were there!
” The Philharmonia Orchestra, Abbey Road Studio1 and a generous budget….. I was in heaven. Peter Yates the director pretty much left the music up to me, in fact he was on holiday when we recorded but his son was the Editor and the only change we made was a triangle for a cymbal crash towards the end. Dyson Lovell was the producer and he trusted me, and I received an Emmy nominatio. It was a huge canvas to work with and a chance to compose a neo-romantic score”
Sadly a lot of BBC SCREEN TWO and BBC 1 equivalent remains unseen since their first showing, and many before the advent of VHS recorders. Thankfully there are many movies that Richard scored easily available on DVD and on occasion Blu Ray. TALKING TO A STRANGER, HITLERS S.S. ARMADILLO– the latter worth a look very strange and quirky later BBC production, the afore mentioned JEMINA SHORE, DON QUIXOTE, LION IN WINTER and superb USA Blu Ray of SHEENA which is a excellent print. Another wonderful score can be heard in THE SECRET RAPTURE. A very moving movie and the cast is just superb. The music is beyond belief.
“It is a very sad story, originally a stage play. I worked very hard on this score , the music budget was minimal and the trumpet (the late great Derek Watkins)was recorded in the kitchen of my engineer friend Phil Chapman. There is a hint of the melodramatic scores of yester-year but underneath the orchestra are some very elaborate synthetic shapes. Thanks for the compliment”.
Oh yes, one more that I watched recently and shows so well how Richard merges his music into the, well, already mentioned the fabric of the film so it is almost another character. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS with a superb performance by Geoffrey Rush. I thought it might be a difficult film to score?
“It was although the Director had some firm ideas about what he wanted which always helps. The main difficulty was we were due to record in early January, I’d tempted up all the cues and they had been synched up with the film but the head of HBO was on Christmas Holiday and no one wanted to sign off on the score before he did , so I had Abbey Road studio 2 and a orchestra on hold………..! The score had one theme that is used in Seller’s relationship with his mother also quite a bit of ‘source music’ that I composed and as his performance and personality continually changes from film to film , so does the music.”
To conclude I asked Richard about scoring here and abroad, and the current state of movie music?
“I like the European approach to a picture, and I suppose Morricone was the prime example of this. Some of the music is totally incongruous and may have nothing to do with what you are watching, but because he had a clever harmonic structure, it never quite moves when you think it is going to. Jerry Goldsmith was one of the most consistent composers and he had a style all of his own.
Film music has evolved beyond recognition over the past 50 years. especially with the use of synthesizers and there is probably more music in films now than in the golden era of Hollywood. Some film composers are now deservedly celebrities and their scores are performed as concert pieces, there is a great interest in how they are composed and recorded and the list of musicians composing for film is ever expanding. When you think back to Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ a score which to my mind was the first serious use of orchestral sound design, Goldsmith’s only electronic aid was the echoplex (which he used to great effect in ‘Patton’) but his atonal orchestral textures combined with a vast array of ethnic instruments and percussion can now be easily simulated in minutes using samples and synthesizers.
It only takes a second to get a good idea……….. It’s just getting that idea! That good idea can take a while, I’d often sit at the piano and improvise.
sometimes that nugget would emerge. If not, try, try again!”
I felt I must go back to my observations that Richard doesn’t like to make the music draw attention to itself, unless it needs to, perhaps over the Main Titles. ” I’ve always tried to employ a minimalist approach to underscore even before it was fashionable and called ‘sound design’, some directors liked it, others wanted a more up front approach”
This then is Richard Hartley, a music man for all seasons. A composer who scores what he sees, and perhaps more importantly, what you don’t see!
I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this article, and I hope you will investigate Richard’s music by listening to some of his recordings. I most certainly recommend the following.
THE LION IN WINTER Varese Sarabande VSD-6571
ALICE IN WONDERLAND Varese Sarabande VSD-6021
AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE Filmtracks TRXCD 2001
PRINCESS CARABOO Varese Sarabande VSD-554.
A THOUSAND ACRES Varese Sarabande VSD-5870
DON QUIXOTE Varese Sarabande VSD-6142
GREAT EXPECTATIONS Metropolis 8781017
SHEENA Varese Sarabande Club VCL 1104. (very rare)
With thanks to Richard Hartley, for his time, courtesy, friendship and most importantly, his patience.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Peter Kent who passed away a few years back, and loved Richard’s music as much as I still do now. I hope he would have approved though I think he might have said it more eloquently
© 2020 John Williams.