A Concert experience is I think a very personal one, so it is sometimes difficult to say things about a performance because some one else at the same concert will probably have a different take on it and its performance and content. However, I fail to see how anyone would have been able to give a negative response or review of the Andrea Morricone concert dedicated to the life and the music of his Father the great Maestro Ennio Morricone.

The music as always was sublime, those little black dots on paper put there by a genius to shape and form beautifully haunting musical phrases and passages that would enhance and give greater life to already alluring and mesmerizing stories that were transformed into flickering images and movies on screen to the delight of so many. Phrases, sounds, and themes that will in my opinion live on forever, and in time will become even more iconic than they are already. The music by the Maestro was probably one of the reasons for me starting to write about film music, as his themes, and colourful originality inspired me on so many occasions to share my passion for it. I think I was so fortunate to have been born when I was. Because for me and also for the people of the same generation were privileged to witness and take in so many sights and more importantly sounds, I saw Ennio Morricone’s popularity grow and also was lucky enough to be able to be able to buy LP s of his soundtracks, his influence on music in general has been immense and it still continues today with new fans and new musicians falling under the Morricone spell. He was also the reason I started my blog/website Movie Music International, which was initially christened Movie music Italiano.

The concert on November 28th at the O2 Arena in London,  was not just a wonderful listening experience but also a feast for the eyes with sections of various Morricone scored movies being screened as the orchestra performed, the concert was curated in such a way that whilst listening to the music and watching the images being projected on the big screen it allowed the audience to either re-live the movie that they may have watched originally years ago or discover the moments for the very first time. This was certainly Musica Per Gli Occhi (music for the eyes), as it went hand in hand with images creating a unique concert experience. The O2 was not full, which was an unusual sight for a Morricone concert, but the warmth and the atmosphere in the hall was noticeable as we were treated to footage of the Maestro talking about certain cues and his relationships with filmmakers, and also filmmakers talking of their experiences with the Maestro.

Some footage was from the amazingly emotional and interesting documentary Ennio, but there were sections I do not think I have seen before. Most recollections from the filmmakers went down the same road as in they said Ennio was a genius, and the experience of working was a profound and rewarding one. All also admitting that he was right, and they could have been wrong when it came to the music, which as we all know is so true.

I have listened to Morricone since I was ten years old,(1965) which is now quite a time ago, and I have never tired of his style, his sound, and his inventive and innovative musical creations. Yes, as with all composers there are a handful of scores that I will say are not or were not on the top of my favourites list when I first heard them, but as I have matured so has my taste and with a better understanding now as opposed to back in the dim and distant past I do appreciate them and their beautiful, dramatic, and emotive content much more. But such is life and one cannot possibly like everything. But with Morricone it is probably 99-99 percent in favour for me. The concert opened with a short piece of film with images of the Maestro and then the screen went black as conductor Andrea Morricone raised his baton and the title The Untouchables came onto the screen.

This section began with Strength of the Righteous, the driving and pulsating composition ringing out around the hall, whilst on screen we saw scenes from the movie, underlined and perfectly punctuated by the relentless music. As the piece drew to its close the suite segued into Victorious from the score, with the stirring theme came images of  Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his untouchables on horseback riding to apprehend Capone’s henchmen aided by the Canadian mountain police, on the border between the USA and Canada, this was for me the first highlight of the evening (Yes just 5 maybe 10 minutes in), this was followed by The Death Theme, with scenes of Malone (Sean Connery) breathing his last and also of Untouchable Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) being left dead in a lift with Touchable written in his blood on the elevator walls.  For a film that Morricone did not really want to work on the score was and remains amazing, vibrant, stirring, totally consuming and affecting. I am probably the world’s worst to remember the running order of a concert without a programme, and in this case, there is no exception. I remember every single cue, every performance, and each note and how I was affected and how I felt on hearing it, but what order it came in I am not so good. So, forgive me if I in the words of some British Politicians I have mis-remembered. (is that really a word)?

As far as I recollect Once Upon a Time in America came next, with Ennio on screen explaining that Deborah’s theme was originally destined for the 1981 movie Endless Love, but director Franco Zefferelli decided that where Morricone had decided to place the music was going to be underlined by a song instead, Morricone disagreed and because of this the composer withdrew from the ecame what we know as Deborah’s Theme, and I am so glad that Zefferelli chose Diana Ross over Morricone on this occasion.

Because Once Upon a In America is certainly a superior production and the music has gone down in film music history as being one of the best and also probably the most ignored film scores written, it’s a score that should have garnered Morricone an Oscar, but was sadly not even entered, which is criminal. The performance included Deborah’s theme, Poverty, and the Main Title, played over the stunning and haunting images created by another Maestro, the filmmaker Sergio Leone. The images and the music combining brought back so many memories. As the music from Once Upon A Time in America faded the delicate sound of a harp began introducing the section dedicated to 1900 the Legend of the Pianist, a film directed by the wonderfully talented director Giuseppe Tornatore, who’s images on screen seem to just go hand in hand with Morricone’s music on the films that they have collaborated on.

From delicate and poignant beginnings, the cue entitled The Legend Of The Pianist, builds slowly gathering momentum as the instrumentation is expanded upon the strings gradually becoming the dominant feature as the vibrant theme builds and develops until it literally soars and lifts the entire audience as if they have taken off and are themselves flying on a sweeping and highly romantic wave of glorious music. Again, another highpoint of the concert.

But you will see that there are many of those throughout the performance. I think just as much as the music if not more in certain cases the images of the Maestro speaking were heartrending and emotional. To think that this man, this composer, this genius has been a part of so many people’s live’s on this planet is remarkable. The music from Sergio Leone western movies was also included in a section, that included The Good the Bad and The Ugly, Giu la Testa (Duck you Sucker) and Once Upon a Time in the West.  It began with The Man with the Harmonica, the harmonica performance being flawless, the theme is probably alongside The Good the Bad and the Ugly one of Morricone’s most famous or well-known western themes. It was, I thought, quite a faithful rendition of the cue, apart from a slight variation with the percussive section, that was a little more upbeat than the film version. But this did not in anyway spoil the experience although was noticeable. Jills theme from the same movie came next, with a beautiful soprano performance, that I thought was closer to the original Edda vocal than others I have heard. Sad to say I cannot find out the Soprano’s name. The main theme from Leone’s third Dollar movie The Good the Bad and the Ugly came next, the choir and orchestra combining in a powerful and driving performance of this iconic piece of music. This led into Giu La Testa, with the Sean, Sean theme again a superb performance from the Soprano and the choir, with the romantic and lush strings leading and underlining, this was merely a warmup for The Ecstasy of Gold, this is a classic piece of film scoring and a composition that ranks high as a favourite Morricone on so many lists.

In the film it was performed by Edda Dell Orso, a legend in her own right as a supreme soprano, who worked on so many Italian film scores and not just exclusively for Morricone. It is also a cue that is always much anticipated at a Morricone concert, and under the baton of Andrea Morricone the audience were not in any way shape or form disappointed, it was powerful, commanding, and exciting. Like I explained I am not sure I am getting these performances in the order that they were played but I am just relaying to you my thoughts on the evening its effects and the atmosphere that the images and the music generated.

There was after the intermission an exclusive track performed, it was Theme for Ennio which was written by Andrea in memory of his Father and performed on screen by the renowned cellist Hauser with the piano part being performed live. Within this we could hear phrases from Morricone scores, but also it had a original style that was woven into it, one felt one knew the music but then realized it was something new, something wonderful and something that was a fitting tribute to Il Maestro. Other pieces performed on this special evening of music and memories included, The Battle of Algiers, Queimada, (Burn), Working Class go to Heaven, Malena, the track Chi Mai from The Professional and Maddalena, A Citizen Above Suspicion, The Hateful Eight.

The latter title being interesting because the track from the score Last Stage Coach to Red Rock  was performed by the orchestra on stage with Andrea conducting, whilst on screen we saw the recording sessions conducted by Ennio Morricone,  watching the images on the screen and then watching Andrea conducting live was stunning as he mirrored his Fathers technique most of the time, a stunning performance of a cue that I have always thought to be a complex one, again the power of Morricone’s music evident and driving, with an uncomfortable atmosphere being  purveyed by low woods and strings that are struck and plucked, it is classic Morricone, with brass and voices being added as it builds and progresses.

Other main highlights included The Sicilian Clan with Morricone explaining beforehand on screen the importance of the four notes he used regularly, four notes that he said he used in both The Sicilian Clan and Metti Una Sera a Cena the same four notes but not in the same order, which he said was something he borrowed from Bach. And yes, they also performed Metti Una Sera a Cena, or Hurry to Me as it was called in the UK when the movie was released as Love Circle. I remember getting the soundtrack LP in the UK on the blue CBS label and being slightly disappointed as they had added vocals to some of the tracks, the track Sauna for example was a syrupy sounding song performed by the Mike Samme Singers, the original was the best trust me. The performance of both of these classics was superb.

Cinema Paradiso was also included with three cues from the score being played. With the director of the film telling the story about how Morricone wrote a cue and it did not work, so he wrote it again in ten minutes whilst the orchestra was on a break, and with just 10 minutes remaining recorded the track not once but twice even though the director was happy with the first track, the director laughing saying that we used the first version. The Mission I think was the most emotional section, with the film’s director Roland Joffe, explaining how Morricone was moved to tears after watching it for the first time. And how he initially turned down the project as he felt the film was so good it needed no music, and he could not do it justice. And then how Morricone called the director saying I have a little idea. Which then turned into the score for The Mission.

The music accompanied scenes from the movie, which brought the memories flooding back and made one realize that the film would have been good without the music, but with the score it was great. After a wonderful night of music, memories and emotions, the Maestro Andrea Morricone, did three encores, which were On Heaven as it is On Earth, (The Mission), Here’s to You (Sacco and Vanzetti) and bringing the concert to a close with a hall vibrating The Ecstasy of Gold.  The audience loved it and were on their feet every time the conductor tried to leave the stage. I am so pleased that the sounds of the Maestro’s compositions were for the most part kept as we know them, yes a few little orchestration changes and tempo alterations, but overall this was a magnificent and affecting night of music and also images from so many movies, with comments from directors, and a heartfelt statement from actor Jeremy Irons, a totally absorbing night and one I will not forget ever.


Amongst the soundtrack releases this month is the music from the re- telling of the story of Prancer, which is a new movie that will be released for the Christmas holidays, the original movie was on our screens back in the 1980’s and just as I thought I was recovering from that emotional experience what do they do yes, they go and make another. The score this time is the work of one of the most talented composers in the business, Mark McKenzie. He has fashioned a score that just melts you as soon as you hear it and that’s without even seeing the movie. Mark is such a brilliant composer, he has the ability to create consistently wonderfully thematic and melodic pieces, that underline, punctuate and enhance each project, adding depth, atmosphere, melancholy, and that little bit of magic that we often find in film music. The score, which is available on digital platforms, is already becoming one of my favourites, and as the festive season edges ever closer music such as this is most welcome.

There is a warmth and a feeling of goodness that radiates from the composers score, it is a soundtrack that not only works incredibly well with the images and the storyline but also has the ability to entertain and be affecting when listened to on its own as music. But this is true of so many of the composer’s works for TV and film.

Please take a listen to this bright, beautiful, delicate, and poignant work, that is not only superbly written and performed, but is overflowing with fragility and mesmerizing affecting tone poems, that are haunting and truly heart breaking as well as soul warming.  Highly recommended.

Movie Score media have released two very different scores this month, The Estate by Will Bates and The Pay Day by Daisy Coole, Tom Nettleship and Two Twenty-Two. The latter movie is a crime thriller which focuses upon a broke and frustrated IT technician (Kyla Frye) who decides to embark on a one-woman heist to steal valuable data worth millions on the black market.

Like most good heist/crime thrillers, it’s more about the individual characters who feel neglected in society. Frye’s character is being evicted, and she feels that the whole world is against her and maybe owes her a living? When the opportunity to steal data comes her way she sees it as a chance for her to make it big. When a suave conman (Sam Benjamin) interrupts her mission to steal the loot for himself, matters begin to get ever more complicated. It’s good to see Simon Callow in the cast, and the score moves things along nicely as the plot opens up and proceeds. It’s a jazzy, and funky score for the most part, contemporary sounding and gives nods to the likes of Lalo Schifrin (Bullit, Dirty Harry), Don Ellis (French Connection), Sid Ramin (Stiletto) or maybe Quincy Jones, (The Heist).

There are a handful of more subdued moments which have affiliations to a style that Michel Legrand employed back in the 1960’s. But in the main this is a soundtrack that could easily be for a 1970’s Blaxplotation movie such as Cleopatra Jones or even one of the Shaft spin offs. If you like your music jazz influenced and laced with funky vibes but at the same time dramatic and slightly romantic, then this is one for you. Available via MSM on digital platforms.

The Estate is also a score that has its fair share of upbeat moments as composer Will Bates scores the comedic goings on that involve two sisters as they attempt to win over their terminally ill, difficult-to-please Aunt in hopes of becoming the beneficiaries of her wealthy estate, only to find the rest of their greedy family members have the same idea.

The score is a fusion of styles, jazz influences filtering through as the composer creates a collection of interesting and inventive compositions which at times sound like big band and at others slip into that easy listening lounge Italian giallo sounding jazz that we know and love so much. The composer at times fielding a samba type percussive sound, to great effect in tracks such as Front Porch Punch Up. I really enjoyed this score, it’s a work that one can pop on and get so much out of. Again, on digital platforms, give it a spin.

Two New York Times reporters break one of the most important stories in a generation – a story that helped ignite a movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood. She Said is I think a brave movie, and one that everyone should see, directed by Maria Schrader and written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on the 2019 book by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.

The film stars Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as Twohey and Kantor, respectively, and follows the New York Times investigation that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, and Samantha Morton co-star, with Ashley Judd appearing as herself.

The film is sensitively scored by composer Nicholas Britell, who’s music although present never gets in the way, never overpowers but accentuates and gives support when and where it is needed. Nicholas Britell is known for his critically acclaimed scores on feature films with Academy Award winning writer-directors Barry Jenkins and Adam McKay. In 2016, Britell was responsible for the world-renowned score for Best Picture winner Moonlight, written and directed by Jenkins. Britell received his first Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice nominations for Moonlight as well as the 2016 Hollywood Music in Media Award for Best Original Score (Dramatic Feature).

The year prior, he wrote the score for McKay’s much-nominated The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’s best-selling book. In 2018, Britell wrote the highly acclaimed score for Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk. Britell received his second Academy Award nomination as well as BAFTA and Critics’ Choice nominations for the Beale Street score and was awarded Best Original Score by numerous critics’ groups, including LA, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC Film Critics Associations, New York Film Critics Online, and the Online Film Critics Association. In 2018, he also wrote the score for McKay’s Vice, starring Christian Bale, which went on to receive eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Britell’s more recent film work include writing the score and co-writing and producing two original songs for McKay’s Netflix comedy Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.

He has also recently worked on the TV series Andor for Disney and created an atmospheric and infectious soundtrack for another Disney production Cruella. If by chance you have not yet experienced the music of Nicholas Britell go to a digital platform right now type in his name and be amazed.

Presence is a new horror movie, the plot concentrates upon two young business partners who are invited on a week-long yachting voyage with a potential investor. At night, one of the girls Jennifer begins to have vivid dreams that start to filter into reality. As the others on the voyage start to realize that Jennifer may have unknowingly brought something sinister and malevolent on-board things take an horrific turn. The visceral and at times Herrmann-esque sounding score is by Andrew Morgan Smith who establishes a harrowing and unsettling musical persona within the movie, via electronic instrumentation chilling strings and sinister and foreboding sounds.

The dark and brooding style becomes the order of the day, elevating the already tense and jumpy tale. The score although being largely atonal is still melodic in places which is something the composer also did on his soundtracks for Jeepers Creepers 3 and You Might be the Killer, check those out too on the likes of Spotify along with Presence, go on have an Andrew Morgan Smith fest if you dare.

The ever-industrious Netflix will in December begin to stream filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s dark re-imagining of Pinocchio, which has a score by French Maestro Alexandre Desplat.  A three-track single has been released on digital platforms and from what I have heard on that single I cannot wait for the entire soundtrack to get a release (hopefully on CD). The three tracks one of which is a charming song entitled Cio Papa performed by Gregory Mann are all a wonderfully enchanting listen and I know the remainder of the composers score will be just as rich and melodic.

In the last soundtrack supplement I spoke about The Land of Dreams which had a score and also lyrics by the highly talented Fabrizio Mancinelli, the compose has another score out right now from Plaza Mayor publishing which is from the movie Jailbird,(La Lunga Corsa) now this is something totally different from The Land of Dreams, but is also brilliantly conceived and written, the music which is made up of choral performances and instrumental compositions is quite stunning, and listening to this and then recalling The Land of Dreams it shows off the versatility and also the originality of this composer.

Jailbird is a film that tells the story of Giacinto who is a young man that was born in jail:and he lives through his childhood there with his mother. Prison is where he learns how to walk, or rather run. When he gets “released” due to a law, a jail guard called Jack who is grumpy but has a kind heart walks him out. A young, energetic and patient priest, Father Aldo, welcomes Giacinto to a foster home, where he feels he just doesn’t belong and begins to be bullied. The young man decides that prison is probably the best place for him or at least it is the environment that he is more comfortable in as he can always run and hide away from any dangers or things that are bothering him. Whenever he can, he rushes to his mother… until that is she is no longer there to run to.  He goes back to prison when he is an adult but not as an inmate but as a prison guard, he is surprised but pleased to see that Jack is still there, so Giacinto gets to know him well. The developing friendship unearths both the positive and negative sides of Jack’s personality.

However, Giacinto’s friendliness towards the inmates at the prison lands him in trouble. And how can he run in a true marathon when he’s on house arrest in the jail’s lodgings? This is an interesting movie which is assisted greatly by its wonderful score, the soundtrack is available now on digital platforms, it maybe quite a brief musical encounter with a duration of just over eight minutes but it is certainly a rewarding one, recommended.

Anne Nikitin is featuring regularly now in soundtrack supplements, and rightly so as her music for me is probably the most alluring and effective at this moment in time, her latest assignment is for the Netflix series Our Universe, which is a six part series that follows different aspects of the natural world, from an expansive look into the origin of the Universe, to life on planet Earth and how its oceans function. Narrated by the actor Morgan Freeman.The music is wonderfully thematic and oozes a sophistication and also a quality that it is hard to come across these days in music for film and TV. The accomplished score is the work of both Anne Nikitin and Jessica Jones and it is filled with so many rich and vibrant compositions, that are haunting affecting and innovative.

The composers create a varied selection of themes and employ a plethora of styles throughout, these include delicate and emotive pieces such as Elephant Waltz, and cues that are ethnically laced as in A Long Time Ago, and the superbly affecting The Earth Spins with melancholy sounding cello and piano opening the proceedings to which lush sounding strings are added, to create a special moment musically (for me anyway).

This is a beautiful score and one that you must listen to, available now on digital platforms. Another score by one of the composers of Our Universe is Red Rose which has music by Jessica Jones, this is for the BBC TV series which has been on BBC four and also on the BBC I player and has proved popular amongst horror fans and others.

Jones has co-written the dark and brooding score with Tim Morrish, and together they have fashioned an effective and particularly unsettling soundtrack for a series that is equally unnerving and harrowing. Set over a long hot summer following high school, a group of teens friendships are infiltrated by the Red Rose app, which blooms on their smartphones, threatening them with dangerous consequences if they don’t meet its demands.

The app exposes the group to a seemingly supernatural entity and the seductive power of the dark web. It is I have to say quite a disturbing watch. The score is available on Spotify (of course other digital platforms are available try and avoid the apps though), and although this is a largely atonal work, I found it an interesting listening experience, with the multi styled and experimental sounds that the composers have brought to fruition via synths and samples.

A short while ago I mentioned Glass Onion A Knives out Mystery, as the theme for the movie had been released on digital platforms, I pleased to say that the score is now also available and the music by Nathan Johnson, is like the opening theme filled with mystery and intrigue, but also has to it a mischievous slightly comedic side to it, let’s put it this way if you liked Knives Out well you are going to go into raptures over this, it is a supremely mesmerizing work, the composer creating a landslide of themes and employing a diverse array of styles, making it I think one of the must have soundtracks of 2022. It’s a fusion of Herrmann, Williams, Barry, and Goldsmith, so its good then? Please check this out A.S.A.P.

A score that I have been waiting for is Wednesday from the Netflix TV series, the story is from the mind of Tim Burton, but the music is from the genus that is Danny Elfman who on this occasion is assisted by Chris Bacon.

Right from the opening bars of the Main Title I was hooked by the dark and mischievous sounds that Elfman has created for this Addams Family spin off. There is a nod to the original sound of the Addams family as created many years ago by composer Vic Mizzy, Elman utilising a flourish of harpsichord but also adding his own unique sounds and quirky style to the proceedings, the harpsichord is just a flicker of four maybe five notes but it is enough for the listener to hear that snappy and rhythmic song from the 1960’s. Saying that the score for the series is not just an entertaining one, but a rewarding work for the listener, as it is quite relentless (not in a frenzied way) but more in the inclusion of so many cheeky and affecting themes to latch onto and enjoy. Fully symphonic as far as I can hear overflowing with dramatics and teaming with lush and spidery sounding tones, it is just great.

This is a marvelously entertaining work, and the series too is certainly worth watching. Elfman and Bacon’s score enhances, punctuates and adds much to the on-screen goings on, supporting and also becoming part of the action, as the composers underline and give depth and a greater atmospheric to the proceedings.

The score is available on all digital platforms and has a running time of nearly ninety minutes, a welcomed release that is filled with the familiar Elman irreverent but effective little nuances and quirks. Probably one of his best scores in recent years. Highly recommended.  

Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman is a composer who works steadily in Hollywood scoring a wide variety of movies, his most recent is the Disney animated film Strange World, Jackman has provided the movie with a fun sounding score, and for the most part it is a symphonic work,.

Jackman fashions Indiana Jones like themes and purveys a sense of mystery whilst at the same time underling the storyline with adventurous and sweeping themes. His pulsating and driving soundtrack is available now on the likes of Apple and Spotify, so what more could you want a Disney animated feature with a score that has as many twists and turns as the storyline, so go find it and enjoy.

Netflix are streaming Robbing Mussolini, which is an entertaining tale that involves a Milanese wartime entrepreneur forming a band of misfits and rogues to stage an elaborate heist of a legendary treasure belonging to Benito Mussolini. The music is by electronic musician David Holmes, now normally I would probably side-step his work as I am not really into artistes that I remember for doing re-mixes etc for bands such as Primal Scream.

But wait a minute I thought, let’s not be too blinkered here, so I took a listen, and I was pleasantly surprised, the music although created electronically or at least I think it is, has to it a definite Morricone sound, and I found myself appreciating the composers nod to the Maestro’s Citta Violenta, or including a section that could easily be the work of Italian composer by Bruno Nicolai? And before I knew it the score had finished and I really loved it, it’s probably not that original as in many of the sounds and the way in which they are utilised are familiar or at least forms of them, but in the entertainment depart its fantastic. Check this out on digital platforms, also take a listen to Holmes’s music for This England.

Also available this month on CD is Deathcember, music from the anthology of twenty-four films that look at the dark side of the festive season. Twenty-four international directors with the most diverse ideas and styles; linked by short-animated segments that deal with the Advent calendar itself. The film features the work of several composers with The Deathcember Main Theme” and “Suite” written by award-winning composer Andrew Scott Bell, performed by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra with Péter Illényi conducting, featuring oboe soloist Judit Borzsonyi, and clarinet soloist Gyorgy Ree.

The melodic and sweeping opening theme adds the perfect sense of enchantment and wonder for the advent season. In addition, Andrew Scott Bell composes the transition suites. The individual segment scores are a brilliant mix of amazing international talent from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Serbia, UK, and USA. among others, showcasing the talents of composers, Stephan Nicolas, Nemanja Mosurovic, Jeffrey Peter Mayhew, The NightStalker, Michael Kaufmann, Eduardo Daniel Victoria, Steffen Britzke, Dag Lerner, Nikola Nikita Jeremic, Medhat Hanbali, Erik Lutz, Peter Litvin, Dirk Steffan Buro, and Michael Kohlbecker. Available and shipping now.

Well, that’s it for now,

Soundtrack Supplement Seventy Three just before Christmas…


Well, they are here the first flurries of Christmas movies, and so too are the scores from them. Spirited which stars Will Ferrel, and Ryan Reynolds and has an incredible score by composer Dominic Lewis. There has been much hype going on about this movie which is now streaming on Apple TV. And the score to has been much anticipated.

It is a musical version of the classic Christmas story by Charles Dickens. A miserly man who treats everyone around him with terrible selfishness finds himself on a fantastical adventure into the three phases of time: past, present, and future, in order to discover how he ended up so miserable and alone.

I am pleased to say that it’s been worth the wait, as it is one of the best Christmas themed scores I have heard in a while. The film is filled with enjoyable musical number’s, but it is the fully symphonic (well mostly) score that I was more interested in but saying that the songs too are pretty good. It is a sweeping and luscious musical sleigh ride into the world of magic, sparkle, and wonder that we all hope to experience at Yuletide.

All I can really say is that this is an uplifting and affecting work, filled to the brim with sweetness, melancholy, mischievous interludes, and grandiose luxurious pieces that make those hairs on your arms and the back of your neck stand up.

There is I think an Elfman/Williams like sound within the work with the composer utilizing to great effect choir, and strings to bring to fruition a sound that is both celebratory and somewhat dark at the same time. We are even treated to a big band sounding piece entitled Sugar and Spicy, but it’s the symphonic material that is the impressive part of the score, with those windswept sounding strings driving the work along and brass flourishes popping up here and there underlined by percussion, we even get a really nice arrangement of We Wish you a Merry Christmas,

Overall, a wonderfully appealing and enchanting soundtrack and with track titles such as Elf Aware, Sleigh it aint So, Snow Place Like Home and Up to Snow Good how can you possibly resist.  Available now on digital platforms. Can’t, wait to hear his score for Violent Night out soon we are told.


In the aftermath of the American Civil War, a group of mercenaries travel to Mexico to fight in a bloody revolution for money. The former soldier and gentleman Benjamin Trane meets the gunman and killer Joe Erin and his men, and together they are hired by the Emperor Maximillian and the Marquis Henri de Labordere to escort the Countess Marie Duvarre to the harbour of Vera Cruz.

Ben and Erin find that the stagecoach in which the countess is travelling houses not just a human cargo but is also transporting three million U.S. dollars in gold hidden below the seats, the two men then join forces and scheme to steal it. Along their journey, betrayals and incidents happen which alter their original notions regarding the destination of the gold. That’s the basic plot or storyline to Vera Cruz which was released back in 1954. Although it sounds like a simple synopsis for a western the movie and its storyline directed by Robert Aldrich, have so much more to them.  

The film starred Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, probably two of the biggest Hollywood stars at that time, the cast also included Denise Darcel, Cesar Romero, Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine and George McCready, with an appearance by Charles Bronson.

It is in the true sense of the word a classic western, an iconic production that broke new ground and was arguably the pre cursor to films such as One Eyed Jacks, and Major Dundee, as well as being something that many of the Euro Westerns that would burst onto cinema screens a decade later based their storylines upon.

At times many refer to Vera Cruz as the first spaghetti western, or what was to be called a Zapata western which would feature amongst the hundreds of Italian made westerns that became a popular sub-genre in later years. These included movies such as Bullet for the General, A Professional Gun and Duck you Sucker.

Director Sergio Leone who is known as the Father of the Italian made western, was said to be heavily influenced by Aldrich’s movie. It was I suppose also one of the first political slanted westerns, as it dealt with the way in which an Imperial European power such as France dealt with and exploited a population that was forced to become its subjects, having no regard for their well-being or safety, very much in the same way as directors Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima did in many of their westerns some ten years later, which were penned by the likes of Damiani.

Vera Cruz was and I think remains an exciting and entertaining piece off cinema, and for a movie that was produced in the mid-fifties it contains many violent scenes. But we must remember it was set in the year of 1866 when Mexicans revolted against their French occupiers.

The country is firmly under the heel of The Emperor Napoleon lll puppet Maximillian, who treats the Mexican people like dirt. His soldiers control the country and anyone who disagrees with them is dispatched quickly and mercilessly. There soon emerges a rebel leader, Benito Juarez, to challenge the autocrat whose supporters the “Juaristas” begin to fight back against French tyranny.

Two American soldiers of fortune or Mercenaries initially find themselves facing off against each other “Benjamin Trane” (Gary Cooper) is the good guy and “Joe Erin” (Burt Lancaster) is the bad guy (or is he?) both however decide to serve the French overlords along with their band of cutthroats (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Lambert, Jack Elam, Charles Bronson). During a party held by Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero) they meet the Countess “Marie Duvarre” (Denise Darcel), the two men are told that they must protect her at all costs. But as they begin their journey, they discover that the coach she is travelling in contains more than just the Countess. In fact, it contains gold that both men decide that they want for themselves. Thus begins a perilous journey through rough and hostile country and an uneasy alliance between Trane and Erin, which at times comes to blows as each of them try to outwit each other. With Cooper’s character falling in love with a beautiful Mexican rebel played by Spanish actress Sara Montiel.

The movie was partly based on true events that took place during the turbulent times of the revolution. Maximilian being proclaimed Emperor of Mexico in the April of 1864, with the backing of Napoleon III and a group of monarchists who sought to revive Mexican Royalty. Many foreign governments, including that of the United States, refused to recognize the dictator’s administration which helped to ensure the success of republican forces led by Juárez.

Their victory over the oppressors resulted in the capture and execution of Maximilian in 1867. The movie is not only filled to overflowing with action but is also a highly charged and emotional tale. Lancaster is outstanding playing what is I suppose a stereotypical villain dressed all in black, his smiling, calculated and selfish character was to be the influence for many villainous individuals that would turn up in spaghetti westerns during the 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s.

The film also established the anti-hero character, which was something that was woven into many storylines in the later produced Italian westerns.  It was also the way the movie was photographed, filmed in Mexico amongst the arid and scorched earth locations as opposed to the norm for a Hollywood production which depicted the open plains and undulating grasslands.

It is certainly one of the most superior westerns to be brought to the screen in the 20th century. The screenplay by Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb is quite a simple formula, but with so much action there is at times very little time for words. But it does however fix one’s attention from the opening right the way through to the climactic battle at the end of the movie.  


The patriotic and driving score is the work of Hollywood stalwart Hugo Friedhofer, who’s driving and pulsating music punctuates and underlines every frame of the movie wonderfully, sadly the score has never been released, which is something that should be rectified.  

Born in San Francisco on May 3, 1908 Hugo Friedhofer was the son of German parents, his Father who was a cellist had studied in Dresden, Friedhofer followed in his Father’s footsteps and began to take lessons in cello from the age of 13 and after taking instructions in harmony and counterpoint at the University of California took up employment as a cellist with the Peoples Symphony orchestra. In the latter part of 1929 Friedhofer moved to Los Angeles and began to work in orchestras that were performing for Fox Studios. After a few years Friedhofer was employed as an orchestrator for Warner Brothers and whilst working for the studio he carried out orchestrating duties on over 50 motion picture scores.It was whilst he was at Warners that Friedhofer worked on orchestrations for Max Steiner and also because of his German background was also assigned to work with Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Max Steiner in particular relied heavily upon Friedhofer,s skills as an orchestrator to transform his musical sketches into full blown symphonic scores, Friedhofer’s skills as a composer and orchestrator became evident in Hollywood, but for some reason he remained in the background for a number of years his ability being overshadowed by the likes of Steiner and Korngold. in particular. In 1937 Friedhofer was given his first opportunity to score a film himself, which was The Adventures of Marco Polo and although he still remained busy as an orchestrator he began to gradually receive more and more assignments and commissions as a composer in his own right. It was in 1946 that the composer wrote a score that was to become a milestone in his career.

The Best Years of our Lives, was directed by William Wyler,and Friedhofer was hired to write the music on the recommendation of fellow Hollywood music-smith Alfred Newman. The music that he composed earned Friedhofer an Oscar for best original score in 1947 being selected over soundtracks by Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, Sir William Walton and Franz Waxman. In later years Friedhofer was no stranger to Oscar nominations receiving recognition from the Academy for his work on films such as An Affair to Remember, The Young Lions, The Bishops Wife,Joan of Arc and Above and Beyond. He was greatly admired and respected within the film music composing fraternity. He passed away on May 17th 1981.

I mentioned already the photography being stunning, which was the work of Ernest Laszlo. Vera Cruz was the first motion picture to be made in the Super Scope process, giving the production a lush and luxurious appearance.

It was also one of the first Hollywood financed productions to be filmed in Mexico, which meant that because of film-making legislation in the country a local director had to be involved in the production in some capacity, although he wasn’t actually used. However, the Mexican authorities were appalled at the way their citizens were depicted in the film, so any subsequent Hollywood productions had to conform to some strict rules.

The project was financed by Burt Lancaster’s production company at a cost of $1.7 million, it went on to become a huge box office success, grossing over $11 million. It is said to be Robert Aldrich’s personal favourite.


A composer who I have always liked and thought was just so quick witted and talented is Alan Menken, but somehow I never got round to writing about him, there was a time I had an interview arranged at around the time when Pocahontas was released, but an editor of the publication that I was going to write the article for voiced his opinion saying that Menken was not a film music composer and the composers people pulled the interview. Well, the editor was right? Menken is not just a film score composer he is so much more and has given us and so many children and their children now they themselves are grown up and married so many wonderful melodies, and familiar songs both in film and for stage productions. The composer is such a talent, such a remarkable music-smith and creator of haunting and catchy themes and tunes.

And when you look beyond his most familiar and popular works for Disney, such as Aladdin, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame etc, well there is so much more in the way of actual film scores, symphonic works that are filled with drama and romance, overflowing with melancholy and brimming with inventive and innovative themes, nuances and interludes that support, enhance and ingratiate each and every frame of film. 

He is a purveyor of emotions via his varied and affecting compositions, a composer who laces and weaves his musical magic into the fabric of every movie he has scored so the music becomes an integral and important component of the filmmaking process. If you watch the sections of for example Pocahontas which are underscored by Menken, and I am talking about just score no vocals, he is a master of etching his own distinctive musical fingerprint into each scene or sequence, adding poignancy, conveying comedy, and bringing emotion and romance to the proceedings without overpowering or drowning out what is occurring on screen. His subtle approach at times just adding that touch of magic or underlining a moment of dramatic content and elevating them so that they are more impacting and effective.

So, when someone says to me Alan Menken is not a film music composer, I do remind them of the various scenes in movies that would not have been as affecting without his music. Yes, he writes wonderfully catchy tunes and underlines and punctuates the lyrics of the various lyricists he has collaborated with, but his is not just a composer of show tunes, he is a talented, chameleon like Maestro, who can turn his hand and his style of composition to any scenario, so let’s not Pidgeon hole him or categorize him because some seem to ignore his music.

There has always been a certain snobbery amongst film music collectors, as in they buy film music and refuse to even entertain TV scores or musicals and these include those popular Disney animated features that I have mentioned and many others too. All I am going to say to them is “You are Missing Out on so much”.  I still live in hope that one day Mr. Menken may agree to an interview, but until then let’s take a look at his great body of work shall we.

My first encounter with his music was when my daughter watched The Little Mermaid, which was way back in 1989 now.

But let’s not forget Little Shop of Horrors which hit the screens in 1986 and was a Broadway show four years before this in 1982, but I think it was the work he did on the Disney animated movies that brought Menken to the attention of the mainstream.

Yes, the songs in Little Mermaid were great but I as a film music collector paid attention to the score, yes there is a score and quite a lot of it too.  The film was based on the writings of Hans Christian Anderson, with Disney adding its own little touches along the way. A rebellious 16-year-old mermaid Ariel is fascinated with life on land. On one of her visits to the surface, which are forbidden by her controlling father, King Triton, she falls for a human prince. Determined to be with her new love, Ariel makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human for three days. But when things don’t go as planned for the star-crossed lovers, the King must make the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter.

Its an enjoyable romp and now dubbed as a Disney classic, which I must agree with. Menken’s score is brilliantly utilized within the movie and the lyrics of Howard Ashman are perfectly laced and supported by Menken’s poetic melodies.

So many hits from what a relatively short film is seems an impossible thing but, in this case, it’s true. But were they hits, not really when you think about it, they were familiar to many but big hits as in charting no, but they have gone down in and become a part of the Disney legacy, and I think will remain evergreen with all generations past and present. Menken’s musical score drives and underlines the storyline, adding weight to the more dramatic scenes, and subtly enhancing the romantic content of the film, with some nice but not too obvious what were often referred to as mickey mousing passages in the past for the comedic interludes.

The Little Mermaid is one of the Disney animated tales to receive a live action treatment and should be in cinemas soon, so Menken’s music will once again be on the minds of children of all ages.

Two years later in 1991 Menken and Ashman teamed up once again for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Having lived a life in selfishness, young Prince Adam is cursed by a mysterious enchantress to having the appearance of a monstrous beast. His only hope is to learn to love a young woman and earn her love in return to redeem himself. Ten years later, his chance to do this seems possible when a young maiden named Belle (Paige O’Hara) offers to take her ill father Maurice’s (Rex Everhart’s) place as his prisoner.

With help from the castle’s enchanted staff, who have been turned into crockery, candlesticks and furniture Belle learns to appreciate her captor and immediately falls in love with him. Back in the village however, unscrupulous hunter Gaston (Richard White) has his own plans for Belle. And sets about discrediting her father in the hope that she will agree to be his bride. Again, the songs are the jewels within the film, but the score gives depth and adds moods and atmospherics to the storyline. The composer providing a suitably dramatic score with elements of the songs interwoven within his dramatic content.

The score is a mesmerizing one that surges and drives with strings, percussion and brass combining to create emotive and heart-breaking melodies and cheeky little flourishes that evoke Disney scores of the past such as Cinderella, Bambi, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Filled with expressive and thematic material the score seems as it is caught up and becomes a part of all the goings on in the story as it unfolds. With the composer adding a touch of triumph and joy as the film reaches its climax, which is a mix of emotions both sad and joyous.

After a battle in the castle, where Gaston and his followers are beaten back by the castle staff who are still in their non-human forms the beast fights with Gaston on the battlements, but after sparing Gaston the beast is stabbed and lies dying but at last the love Belle has for him shines through and as the Beast draws his last breath the curse is broken and he transforms back into Adam the man and the prince, and as with every great fairy tale they live happily ever after.

Accompanied by a glorious orchestral flourish which ends in a magnificent and glitteringly grandiose crescendo complete with choir, in keeping with the traditions of Hollywood and Disney. A tale as old as time that ends in a time-honoured way.

In 1992 Disney produced a live action movie Newsies which is a musical that has its storyline loosely based on and around the events of the New York City Newsboys’ Strike of 1899. The musical featured twelve original songs by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, and starred a young Christian Bale, with David Moscow, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall, and Ann-Margret. The film later inspired a Broadway show, which is unusual for that to happen, but Menken did begin his career in stage musicals, so I guess this was the way to go.

Sadly, the film was not one of Disney’s greatest successes and maybe was something that the studio had decided to do because of Menken’s previous work for them.

But in the same year they released Aladdin, which was a runaway success, and re-united Menken with lyricist Howard Ashman who sadly passed away in 1991 aged just forty. This I think is one of Menken and Ashman’s best collaborations, everything just seemed to fit and slot into place. And with the contribution of the multi-talented Robin Williams, it became a classic in weeks rather than years.

Again, the songs were centre stage but Menken’s vibrant score too augmented and gave life to the story. I think that Menken and Ashman were so successful because they worked on these Disney films as if they were big Broadway musicals, pulling out all the stops and infusing a sense of glamour and over the top lushness into the proceedings, thus making them appealing not just to the children but also the parents and grandparents.  

But hey what do I know that’s just my opinion for what its worth, all I know is it worked and worked extremely well. Menken’s score is superb and not only supports and punctuates but seems to be an extension of the film’s storyline. And with so many outstanding songs, Friend Like Me, Prince Ali, and A Whole new World what more could you ask for.

After the death of Howard Ashman, Menken turned to the lyricist Stephen Schwartz for Pocahontas which was released in 1995. Schwartz had found success writing musicals in the 1970’s with shows such as Godspell (1971) and Pippin (1972). And went on to pen Wicked in 2003. Pocahontas, features two hit records, Colours of the Wind which was performed by Vanessa Williams and the love theme from the movie If I Never Knew You, which was performed by John Secada, and Shanice.

The movie won the Oscar for Best Original Score and Best Original song (Colours of the Wind). The soundtrack also featured Just Around the River Bend, which became a firm favourite with cinema goers. Menken’s score boasted many themes and one stood out more than others which was Grandmother Willow, which had a rich and kindly style that was combined with a sense of the mystical and included native American sounds and styles.

As did the vocal Listen with your Heart. The score is an impressive one and the lyrics and vocal performances are flawless. Menken also scored the Disney animated feature Hercules in 1997, and in 2007 the music for Enchanted, and in 2010 worked on the Disney production Tangled,

Two years later he was the composer on Mirror Mirror, which was a slightly different take on Snow White. Menken providing the film with a magnificent score. There is so much more to Alan Menken than you think, talent oozes from him, music flows from his fingertips and he has I think been responsible for putting the melodies back into Disney productions.

Alan Menken was born July 22nd, 1949 at French Hospital in New York City, to young aspiring actress/playwright, Judy Menken and boogie-woogie piano-playing dentist, Norman Menken, DDS. He grew up in a home, filled with music and theatre (and comedy and drama) in New Rochelle, New York, along with his sisters, Faye, and Leah. Alan has always said that from an early age it was always a composer that he wanted to be and make music a career. Well, he certainly has done this and has thus far had a glittering career that has given the world so many wonderful pieces of music and so many memorable songs, that delight and enthrall audiences of all ages.

The composer shows no signs of slowing (and why should he), he has recently scored Disenchanted for Disney, which contains a stunning symphonic soundtrack, that is overflowing with glorious themes and contains hauntingly sweet and typical Disney like lyrics from Stephen Schwartz. It is in many ways a homage to the vintage and animation movies as produced by Disney, such as Sleeping Beauty, etc. The style employed is instantly recognizable as being Disney through and through, maybe a little too syrupy for hardened film score fans, but it works so well within the movie and has the added bonus of being entertaining away from the images and the storyline that is unfolding on screen. It also has that unique and welcome Menken style stamped firmly upon it and through it. The soundtrack is available NOW on digital platforms. and the movie is streaming on Disney plus. Check them out.