Tag Archives: Michael J. Lewis


For any lover of thematic and melodic music the name of Michael J Lewis is one that will be familiar, his film scores and television works are for me personally some of the greatest scores ever written. I am so grateful to have discovered his eloquent and affecting music when I did which was back in the early 1970’s. I am also thankful that the composer took time out from a busy working schedule to answer my questions. 


mJ Lewis montage vers light


MJL. Hello John. Thank you so much for allowing me the pleasure of talking about my music.


MMI. I know that you are involved in more than just film music these days, but when you began your career was it film music that you wanted to write mainly?

All I wanted to do, from the day I was born, was compose – and that’s all I have ever done – except buy land. I was a choir boy at 6, school pianist at 9 and church organist at 10. Naturally, my early compositions were choral. After my enlightenment at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, I taught at two blackboard jungle schools in Tottenham, North London for just two years. I had zero hope of introducing the natives to Bach or eighth species counterpoint, so I let them take me over and educate me in the ways of John, George, Paul and Ringo. A whole new world of melody opened up. I was re-educated by the kids. At about the same time I became a fan of the Bond films. The scores and sounds were mesmerizing. I was hooked. I walked out of teaching and lived in a garret, being fed by Welsh girls who learnt the benefits of being good cooks. Then ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ came along. Suddenly I had orchestras filled with the best of the best, playing my music to the images of Katherine Hepburn, Charlton Heston, Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins etc. Dreams do come true. 100s of tracks for commercials followed, then Broadway, an exploration of my Welsh music heritage, more choral music and now gospel in the Deep South.


You released a lot of your soundtracks as promo discs, a while ago, why were these scores not given a release by record labels, as they certainly warrant it, because they are superb all of them?
Simple answer. Not one single company regarded them as worthy of release!! The only reason that ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ was released as an album was that I knocked on the wrong door. During the 1969 Warner Bros Jamboree in the Bahamas (The Wild Bunch, The Damned, The Rain People, Madwoman of Chaillot premieres) I had a date with a gorgeous Swedish blonde. She gave me her room # but I screwed it up and knocked on the wrong door. A guy answered. He asked me who I was. I said “Michael J Lewis, composer.” He threw his arms around me and said that I was a master. Naturally, I asked him who he was. He introduced himself as, “Kenneth Hyman. Head of Warner Bros.” He invited me in for a drink. He told me my music for ‘Chaillot’ was terrific and that he would like to talk to me for longer, but he was expecting Visconti at any moment.

He asked me if he could do anything for me. I told him that Warner’s didn’t want to release ‘Chaillot’ as an album – which they didn’t. Visconti knocked on the door; Ken Hyman shook my hand, told me to go find the blonde and that when I got back to London to call Warner Records and tell them to give me the money for the album. The score won me an Ivor Novello Award for my first picture. It wasn’t until I recorded and produced my Double CD in 1994, in Berlin and Los Angeles, that my music had any widespread distribution. Thankfully the reviews were exceptional.




Do you think that film music has evolved for the better or maybe has lost some of its appeal to collectors or cinema audiences because of the lack of themes in scores these days, do you think that the use of the soundscape or drone effects as opposed to actual thematic content has maybe cheapened the art of film scoring?

Now John, you are stirring the pot. To anyone who reads what I have to say, please understand that I am giving my opinion and that it is in no way critical of others. Film music has certainly changed over the last 30 years. Many things have changed in the digital age. Pro-Tools is amazing. Altiverb is amazing. Sampled sounds are amazing. I enjoy them all. However, I think the great turning point came, mid 70’s ish, when producers realized that they could demand to hear a ‘virtual’ score before it was recorded and consequently for the first time had real control over music. Up until this time, composers were highly trained musicians with their feet firmly planted in the European Romantic tradition. The first time a score was heard was at the session. Suddenly anyone could record a score in their suburban back bedroom and present it to a non-musician producer who had no knowledge of the past, and who was primarily concerned with imitating the rock guys with whom he identified. Changes could be made, scores diluted. It was all the action of the moment and to hell with subtlety. As for emotional melody – that belonged in the unenlightened Dark Ages populated by those over 39. Icons like Spielberg upheld traditional scoring but the majority has not. I truly believe that many who hold the purse strings today wouldn’t know a great tune if they heard one. I devote most of Christmas and New Year to reviewing the past years ‘product’ up for Academy consideration. I wait, in vain, to hear someone come up with a great ‘movie theme’. Some of what I hear is ‘clever’ but in no way memorable. A lot of what I hear is simply – baffling.

cover montage1

Three years ago, there was an outstanding movie that should have won Best Picture. If it had had an epic score, I’ve no doubt that it would have. To me the score for that great film was incomprehensible – and the price was paid. Please don’t ask me to name names. As I said, this is just my own, humble, unadulterated opinion! However, occasionally a film song appears (a song is not a score) that blows me away. This year’s ‘Stand Up’ from ‘Harriet’ thrilled me. Everything, just everything, about it was outstanding. The writing, the performance, the arrangement, the mixing – fabulous. We live in hope of more real music to come.

Can I ask you about two scores of yours, THEATRE OF BLOOD and also JULIUS CAESAR. The latter is a triumph of a soundtrack, and it just adds so much to the movie, what size orchestra did you have for this particular assignment, and were you given any specific instructions by the director of the movie as to what type of music was required and why is there no full soundtrack released of this score on promo or commercial release? To, THEATRE OF BLOOD this is such a beautiful score, the central theme is so haunting, we all know that it is essentially a horror film, so why did you choose to score it with a romantic and rather lovely melody, of course the film is a little tongue in cheek, but the music being so poignant I think makes the black comedy work even better, was this also your thinking behind scoring in this way?


Many great questions herein. First, Julius Caesar. I had met the producers on ‘Chaillot’ and had an excellent relationship with them. They trusted me. The director was a theatre man with very little experience in film. Consequently, there were a few problems. I was thrilled to be doing an historical epic. I had been in awe of the great epics of my youth. Exodus, (what a tune), Gone with the Wind, (melodic perfection) and later Lawrence of Arabia and Zhivago – master scores. I wanted JC to have a great theme. I persuaded the producers to have an overture like Lawrence. I recorded a demo (high quality demos always pay off if they are high quality!) and played it to the director. He was horrified. It sounded like a cinema epic. The producers loved it and off we went to CTS in Bayswater. Orchestra was about 78. The ‘Overture’ and ‘Caesar’s Entry into Rome’ remain some of my all-time favourite tracks. Big, melodic, vibrant, cinematic. Scoring and mixing finished I went for some R&R in Italy (where else?) A few weeks after my return, JC opened in Leicester Square in 70mm stereo.
I sat through the Overture and was thrilled. And then, reel by reel, horror transpired. They had re-cut the film after scoring and the scenes I was looking at did not relate to the score. I have never seen the film since.
When I relocated from UK to US in 1984, some of my recordings never completed the trip. ‘Julius Caesar’ was one of them and ‘The Legacy’ was another. Thank God, most made it.


Theatre of Blood was another great experience. The late, great Douglas Hickox was the perfect director to work with. He was a commercials director essentially and knew his craft. He also had a great sense of humour – what an asset. We spent hours at my house near Ally Pally in North London with that great hunk called a Moviola. (If you’ve never lived with a Moviola, you have never lived.)
We ran different tracks of mine against the film until we found the right feel. After that, Dougie trusted me and left me alone to do as I saw (heard) fit. My approach was to avoid horror/black comedy clichés. I wanted the score to work as a counterpoint to the film. When Arthur Lowe was having his head sawed off, the strings soared romantically like one of the TV medical series of the time. The opening needed a tune. All movies need a tune, good ones grab the emotion, hook the audience. The film was Shakespearian, so it called out for harpsichords and recorders and a poignant theme which would recur throughout the movie, organically, as a leit motif. That’s how movie scores are meant to be written – organically, not fragmented. The trampoline sequence was a hoot to write as a fugato. My years at the Guildhall paid off.

The ‘Variety’ review thought the score displayed “major talent.” Those who want to know more should pick up John Llewellyn Probert’s splendid book ‘Theatre of Blood’ which is devoted to the film. It has a fairly comprehensive ten page Q & A regarding the score, to which I contributed


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


The sound on your scores is always wonderfully clear and balanced, did you record at one studio or maybe did you have the same recording engineer for all of them?


My sound was born at the original CTS Studios in Bayswater, London – an old theatre. I had first visited CTS in about 1967 at the invitation of John Barry who was scoring Bryan Forbes’s ‘The Whisperers.’ I trembled at what I heard. The sound was utterly enthralling, magical, captivating. Lot of reverb, close mics, awesome musicians, great score. All John Barry’s scores are text book examples of what film music should be. All his English works were scored at CTS, as were Henry Mancini’s – who I met at that session – when he was in London. Jane Birkin was at the same session – what a beauty. A year or so later when I landed ‘Chaillot,’ I did not hesitate to record at CTS. The engineer was John Richards and he did an outstanding job. The score still sounds great. I adopted the CTS sound and have taken it with me wherever I have recorded. It’s all in the reverb, guys. Originally it was plates, now it’s (for me) Altiverb. I know an outstanding recording facility in the USA Deep South, where I currently hang, that has the latest Neve, a fine room for 60/70 and they have no idea what to do with reverb. I stay clear. I love recording. I love recording studios. I love mixing. It is all magic and has been since I first visited CTS way back in 1967.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You divide your time these days between the UK and the US, where you produce, record and also continue to compose, what are you working on currently?


Juicy question. In December last I read of an 8-part TV show going into production that interested me greatly, due to its subject matter. I recorded a demo and wrote to the UK and US producers on the Friday before Christmas. No reply, not even a thank you, or a goodbye. So, I thought to myself, “Screw you.” The subject is historical and hence public domain. I pondered how I might involve myself in the same period but with a whole different approach, and with a contemporary connection, for the cinema. Now five months later it has developed into an all involving project that demands every hour of every day – with the exception of this very enjoyable Sunday afternoon answering your Q and A in divine Mississippi – the birthplace of America’s music. So far so good. I am writing the script and the score simultaneously. The score is totally organic. It’s part of the story. One of the characters. A highly melodic character. Stay tuned.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.






Michael J Lewis, is one of those composers who we as film music collectors adore and adulate, why? Because he writes such brilliant music that is why. Music that not only supports the cinematic and television projects it is written for, but also because it is just such great music as a whole and because it stands alone as entertaining and inspiring pieces of thematic and melodious music, that are absorbing, affecting and memorable. I was a little shocked in recent days to discover that there were a lot of collectors that have been fans of film music for years that had never heard this composers music, I made it my mission if you like to remedy this, pointing them in the direction of places such as you tube etc to go and sample it and also showing them where they could get the now quite scarce compact discs that the composer had produced as promos a few years ago.




I still remember his epic sounding score for JULIUS CAESAR (1969) after seeing the movie, a film that I have to say I felt lacked in many areas, the score is a monumental soundtrack, which had to it a sound and style that although was richly epic was also somewhat contemporary for a Shakespearean drama, thus appealing to two very different schools of soundtrack connoisseurs who were lucky enough to experience it. It added much to the movie, lifting it, adding depth and I think making it more enjoyable for some members of the audience. I think I am correct when I say that JULIUS CAESAR is one score that has not received a full soundtrack release, with just three sections from the score being represented on the first compact disc of a two compact disc set entitled FILM MUSIC 1969-1994 which the composer released as a promo, and is probably one of the best ways to become acquainted with the music of Michael J Lewis for anyone who has not had that privilege. But I warn you once you hear this collection you will undoubtedly want more and I promise you it will send you on a quest to find more of the composers works.


The three cues that represent the composers imposing and powerful work for JULIUS CAESAR on the double disc set are. OVERTURE, CAESAR’S TRIUMPH and PORTIA’S THEME. The OVERTURE opens with a brief fanfare on trumpets, in some ways it is a subdued fanfare compared to say the one’s we had experienced from Rosza back in the day, but still it grabs one’s attention and leads into a rich and eloquent theme performed by strings in the main, underlined by subtle use of harp and delicate placing of woods, the strings then begin to stir as the composer hands them the core theme, they build and grow stronger, but do not intensify until approx. One minute and forty-five seconds into the piece, at which point they surge and purvey a sense of passion, romance, pomp and grandeur.

After which the cue returns to its beginnings and becomes more subdued and emotively infused. CAESAR’S TRIUMPH is just that musically a triumph, filled with a fresh and robust air, brass, strings, wood wind and percussion all come together to create a brilliantly vibrant and inspiring piece. PORTIA’S THEME is for me personally one of the scores highpoints, it is a cue that totally consumes and engulfs the listener, the composer fashioning a mesmerizing composition that is exquisitely romantic and a sensitive and poignant tone poem. Melodious and delicate it purveys a sense of fragility but at the same time is filled with a passionate and haunting musical persona.
JULIUS CAESAR was directed by Stuart Burge and starred Jason Robards, Charlton Heston, Sir John Gielgud, Robert Vaughn, Diana Rigg, Richard Chamberlain and Jill Bennett. Despite the all-star cast the movie as I have already hinted at was met with a mixed reaction from critics and audiences alike, I am not sure if it was the abundance of American actors that made it a little harder to swallow, but maybe it is time to re-visit the production to see how it has fared over the years? The only saving grace for the picture I think was Michael J. Lewis’s outstanding musical score and it is a work that so deserves to be released in its entirety. It is a surging and emotive score, that is probably one of the composers best. Lewis returned to Roman history in 1976, when he scored George Bernard Shaw’s CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA which was produced for BBC television, a production that starred Sir Alec Guinness as Caesar who seemed a little akward in the role and a young Geneviève Bujold as Cleopatra. Directed by James Cellan Jones, the composers score was sparse, but supportive of the drama. The music has unfortunately not been released on any form of recording.



Michael John Lewis was born in Aberystwyth in Wales on January 11th, 1939. He received his musical education at the Guild Hall school of Music and Drama, He is mainly known for his work on writing film scores, he first came the notice of cinema audiences and critics alike with his debut score THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT which he wrote for director Bryan Forbes in 1969. The composer winning an Ivor Novello award for best film score for his work on the movie. At the premiere in the Bahamas in the June of 1969, Danny Kaye the actor who played the Ragpicker in the movie stood and shouted that the music was “Sensational” midway through the seven-minute opening sequence of the movie. Which contains the cue AURELIAS THEME, track one on the composer promo compact disc of the score.


The film had a cast of so many well-known actors, including, Yul Brynner, Paul Henreid, Richard Chamberlain, Donald Pleasance and Edith Evans contained screenplay that was based upon the play LA FOLLE DE CHAILLOT by Jean Giraudoux, and cinematography by Burnett Guffey and Claude Renoir who was the Grandson of the acclaimed painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The story centres on a plan to drill for oil in the centre of Paris. But Countess Aurelia (Katherine Hepburn) discovers the plans and decides that she will put a stop to them by announcing that she has in fact already discovered oil in Paris enlisting a group of friends to assist her.


The composers music is filled with a delicate and highly melodic air, utilising harpsichord, subtle guitar performances, accordion, solo violin and touches of mandolin in places, add to this a lush and sweeping employment of strings and up-tempo choral performances and we are treated to a vibrant and joyful sounding score that is attractive because it is simple and also because it has to it an alluring aura which is difficult not to become involved with.


In 1970 Lewis composed the score for the psychological thriller THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, although box office returns were disappointing mainly due the mismanagement of marketing and distribution on the movie it has during the years following its release attained the status of being something of a cult movie. THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF was directed by Basil Dearden and starred Roger Moore and Hidelgarde Neil. With supporting roles from Anton Rogers, Thorley Waters and Freddie Jones, a strong cast and a riveting storyline, which was based upon THE STRANGE CASE OF MR PELHAM by Anthony Armstrong. The films storyline being a contemporary twist on the DR JECKLE AND MR HYDE scenario. The production was one of the first to be given the go ahead by Bryan Forbes when he was the head of EMI films.

Harold Pelham (Moore) is a successful businessman and a director of a marine company, he is normally a creature of habit and has conservative tastes and ways. But Pelham undergoes something of a personality transformation and begins to do lots of things that would normally not be in character, such as driving recklessly, in which he is involved in a high-speed collision on the motorway. Rushed to hospital he undergoes emergency surgery but whilst being operated on dies but is soon revived, and at this point the surgical team notice that there seem to be two heartbeats. He recovers but soon begins to notice that not all is well, friends and colleagues tell him they have seen him in places that Pelham has no re-collection of being in. Thus, starts the tense and somewhat edgy storyline, with Pelham becoming obsessed with having a double. The musical score is an upbeat affair, with the composer creating a modern as in sixties/seventies sound to underline and support the film and it many twists and turns.

The main theme is an impressive one and for me sets the scene perfectly for the storyline and the period in which it is set. The composer utilising upbeat percussion, guitar and strings that are laced with brass and harpsichord flourishes, the opening is one of the most infectious and memorable themes I think from a Lewis score. The composer also provides a more easy listening arrangement of the central theme that is at times used as source music, for example when a record is seen playing in the movie it is Lewis’s pleasant and haunting composition that is heard, the cue entitled THAT RECORD AGAIN on the more recent edition of the score. This itself I think could have been a chart hit at the time of the pictures release, as during the 1970’s the music chart was much more varied than it is now and often included an instrumental or a film theme. The striking and instantly likeable central theme that we are introduced to within the main titles, is heard throughout the movie in varying arrangements and guises but is orchestrated in such a way that it remains fresh and vibrant on each manifestation. THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF is often the score that is thought of straight away when discussing the music of Michael J Lewis, it is after all an inventive work, with percussive elements, that are laced with brass, and semi atonal sounds being used in an innovative way to create maximum affect I also think it comes to mind simply because it was on so many collectors wish list.



THE MEDUSA TOUCH is another film that was not successful as it deserved to be. Directed by Jack Gold the movie was released in 1978, it starred Richard Burton, Lino Ventura and Lee Remick. So an impressive cast. Burton plays a novelist Jack Mortar he has the ability it seems to make deaths and disasters happen just by thinking of them. The film opens with Molar watching the news on TV and seeing that astronauts are trapped in orbit around the moon, suddenly he is attacked from behind being struck viciously with a figurine, we see his blood spattered over the TV screen and are led to believe he is dead. However, when the investigating police inspector Brunel (Ventura) arrives, he discovers that Morlar is still hanging onto life, he is rushed to hospital and placed on life support with one machine monitoring his brain activity. The inspector discovers that Molar has been under analysis by a Doctor Zonfeld (Remick) because from a child he has witnessed so many deaths and disasters that have befell others. Brunel finds Morlar’s diary and begins to read it, and whilst doing so begins to wonder if he is investigating a victim or indeed a murderer.



This is an unsettling yet at the same time a thought-provoking film that has certain affiliations with a Donald Pleasance movie entitled THE MAN WITH THE POWER, although the central character in that movie was more sympathetic even if he was still bringing about the deaths of certain people.
Burton is a cold and calculated character, with a complex personality. The film also included supporting performances from Harry Andrews and Gordon Jackson, which brought an even greater degree of credibility to the production. THE MEDUSA TOUCH has over the years been compared with films such as THE OMEN or other movies that had at their core the subject of demonic occurrences, in my opinion it has a far greater quality and also is a far classier and in depth look at the subject and also again in my opinion is far better structured than the OMEN or indeed it’s sequels. The musical score by Michael J Lewis is again an impressive one, dark and virulent, with a powerful and commanding style that at times is hypnotic as in the cue, GRAZIOSO, which combines low key organ with guitar and subdued strings, but the soundtrack as a whole is more often menacing and chilling and has to it an imposing and fearsome sound. The music plays an important part in the movie at times becoming more of an integral component than a background or musical wallpaper to the action on screen, the composer at times utilising church organ to create affecting and atmospheric moments within the score which is a masterful and effective piece of scoring by the composer at it instils in the watching audience a sense of reverence or maybe has the opposite effect and conjures up a more irreverent direction. Released on a composer promo, with twenty-three cues and a running time of just over fifty-one minutes, this is a superb soundtrack from Michael J Lewis, again no official release yet, but maybe one day?

THEATRE OF BLOOD is possibly my favourite Michael J Lewis score, and a film I enjoy immensely and never seem to tire of. Released in 1973, the movie directed by Douglas Hickcox, starred the brilliant Vincent Price, in a role that was made for him. Price takes on the role of actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, who is a favourite from matinee performances at the theatre and has acted in numerous Shakespearean plays during his career. He is a veteran actor and has been trained in the old ways and is beginning to find it difficult to master newer roles. After he is snubbed by critics and loses out on an award to a young up and coming actor who he is not impressed with, the actor decides that he will have his revenge on the critics who denied him the award and sets about ensuring their demise, but he does this in a very theatrical way, as you will see when you watch the movie. Price was as always marvellous, giving a wonderful and suitably hammy performance which is a joy to watch.


He was supported by an excellent cast of British actors, Diana Rigg who played his loyal daughter plus Ian Hendry, Arthur Lowe, Sir Michael Hordern, Robert Morley and Dennis Price. Essentially a horror movie, with touches of humour scattered throughout, the musical score is superb, the composer opting to score the production with a heartrending and melancholy theme performed in the main by the string section, which I suppose scores away from the horror element in the storyline, thus giving the scenes of murder etc more impact because the audience are taken by surprise and are not expecting it because the music is so full of romanticism and rich in melody. There are action cues within the soundtrack as in THE DUEL and DEATH IN THE THEATRE and these too are a brilliant touch by the composer adding excitement and pathos that evokes the music of the golden age of film music at times adding atmosphere and tension to the proceedings. The soundtrack was released initially on a composer promo of twenty-four tracks, but received an official commercial release in 2010 by La La Land records, which contained fifteen cues, but had the same duration as the composer promo, with many of the shorter cues being combined on the commercial release.




The composer also worked on several TV scores including CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA as already mentioned, THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, ROSE AND THE JACKAL, JESSIE, UPON THIS ROCK, SHE STOOD ALONE and KEAN. His score for THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE was released on a composer promo, it included thirty cues and had a running time of forty-eight minutes. The work is filled with a mysterious and magical aura and has touches of comedy, it is a highly thematic work, that is enchanting as well as being majestic. The film was awarded an Emmy for its excellence in animation.




Many of the titles mentioned have selections or cues featured on the double compact disc set, FILM MUSIC 1969 TO 1994, and it is as I have stated probably a good starting point if you have never experienced this composer’s music for the cinema and TV.

It is exceedingly rare that one finds a compilation of film music where every track is good or in this case beyond good. Opening with JULIUS CAESAR (3 tracks) and taking us through THE MEDUSA TOUCH (6 tracks), THEATRE OF BLOOD (5 tracks), THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT (3 tracks). THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1 track), NAKED FACE (1 track), THE PASSAGE (4 tracks), 92 IN THE SHADE (1 track), SPHINX (2 tracks), THE STICK UP (2 tracks), ROSE AND THE JACKAL (1 track), THE UNSEEN (2 tracks), NORTH SEA HIJACK (1 Track) and ending with 2 selections from UPON THIS ROCK. It is a comprehensive collection of outstanding music penned by Lewis that has a duration of nearly two hours.

cover montage1

Theatre of Blood

Theatre of Blood
Theatre of Blood

At last, an official commercial release of this wonderful score by Welsh born composer Michael J. Lewis. The composer himself issued a promotional compact disc of the music from this British comedy horror a few years ago. Which became deleted fairly swiftly and also became a rare and very hard to find item. Collectors will therefore welcome this release with open arms. I will say if you are one of the very few collectors of soundtracks that maybe have not heard this score, then you are in for a treat, and in a way I envy you for being about to discover this now classic work for the first time. As with the majority of Michael J. Lewis’s works for the cinema THEATER OF BLOOD contains not only highly dramatically passages that fit the events occurring up on the screen like the proverbial glove but it also contains some of the most alluring and elegant melodies Continue reading Theatre of Blood