Tag Archives: PAUL CHIHARA.

“A STEPPE IS A STEPPE”. an article by composer PAUL CHIHARA.

Commissioned and originally published by the Orel Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the music of the Holocaust, condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate.”

Reprinted with the permission of the Author, Composer Paul Chihara.

“A Steppe is a Steppe”:
How Hitler Helped to Create Hollywood Music
By Paul Chihara


Most critics and historians of film music consider Max Steiner’s soundtrack for King Kong to have been the first great Hollywood film score. The movie was released in 1933, the same year in which Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Thanks to one of the many ironies of history, politics and art, the “Golden Age” of film music was almost exactly coextensive with the sordid human tragedy known as the Third Reich (1933-1945). During those years, the fledgling movie industry in Hollywood attracted the genius of Old-World musicians from Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Budapest and elsewhere – composers at the height of their creative powers, versed in the classical and romantic musical tradition – to participate in this new form of mass entertainment. They were neither students nor pioneers, but rather established, active European composers, among the best of their generation. And they created what many consider to be the finest scores ever written for the film industry.


In addition to Steiner, this early group of émigré composers included Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Dimitri Tiomkin and Miklós Rózsa. Born and educated in Central and Eastern Europe, they were already prominent musicians, eminently successful in the world of classical music and opera. All of them escaped the Holocaust – several just barely – and made their way, often precariously, to a new world and a new industry. They brought with them the music of their old world, just as that world was beginning to destroy itself.

King Kong (1933) 13


Both Korngold and his friend Steiner were considered Wunderkinder in early twentieth-century Vienna: Korngold was so designated by Mahler, and Steiner by Richard Strauss, who was his godfather. Steiner studied piano with Brahms, and Korngold studied composition with Alexander Zemlinsky.

NEGATIV_Korngold am Klavier, ca. 1940


Dimitri Tiomkin studied composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Alexander Glazunov, who also taught Prokofiev and Shostakovich. And perhaps the most significant influence on the music of the new industry in Hollywood was a composer who left Berlin just as Hitler was coming to power and who never wrote a complete film score, but who immigrated to Los Angeles and taught at UCLA: Arnold Schoenberg. Without his teaching and influence on such composers as Bernard Herrmann, David Raksin, Alfred Newman and Leonard Rosenman the music of film noir would have developed very differently than it did. It would never have become a successful marriage of expressionism with jazz – arguably the most original and profound of musical styles to emerge from Hollywood films.

Arnold Schoenberg

Korngold made no attempt to make his score for Robin Hood–still considered by many to be the greatest film score ever–sound particularly English. Other than a passing reference to “Sumer is icumen in,” there are no British folk tunes in the score, no parallel progressions of chords in first inversion, no kitsch diaphanous, modal string textures, no pipes or viols or simple pastoral percussion. What we hear is not pastoral chamber music but a full symphony orchestra in all its glory. The voluptuous score is closer to the romantic world of Der Rosenkavalier than to Sherwood Forest. (What a blessing for a young Japanese-American like myself, growing up in a relocation camp during the Second World War, in Minidoka, Idaho, and later in Seattle–far from the opera houses or concert halls of Vienna or of New York–to hear such magical music, married to equally magical images. That’s entertainment – and a lot more!)

In 1920, at the age of 23, Erich Korngold had composed a successful opera, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), which became a worldwide success, with performances throughout Germany as well as at the Staatsoper in Vienna and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This was among the works banned by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933. Korngold first came to Los Angeles in 1934, at the invitation of director Max Reinhardt, also a Viennese Jew, to adapt Mendelssohn’s music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a film version of the Shakespeare play, with Mickey Rooney as Puck and choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. He then returned to Vienna, where he was conducting opera and teaching at the State Academy when, in 1938, Warner Brothers invited him back to Hollywood to score the music for a lavish, swashbuckling movie, The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn.


KORNGOLD.                                THE SEA HAWK.

Shortly thereafter, the Anschluss occurred that linked Germany and Austria together–the first major step in Hitler’s master plan to create the New World Order. Korngold was lucky to have escaped when he did. Robin Hood won him an Academy Award for Best Original Score, and Korngold said later that this movie had saved his life. It was appropriate that his first international success as a movie composer should have been in his own romantic operatic style of composition, an “opera without singing,” as he himself described his scores. (This is an approach to film scoring that was mastered two generations later by John Williams, another genius trained in classical music–and in his case also jazz–who studied at UCLA and at Juilliard.)

RICHARD STRAUSS.                                   MAHLER.


Korngold himself commented on his style of film composition in these wonderful words, which for me, as a composer of film and concert music, are an expression of honest and modest integrity: “Never have I differentiated between my music for the films and that for the operas and concert pieces. Just as I do for the operatic stage, I try to give the motion pictures dramatically melodious music, sonic development, and variation of the themes.”

In all, Korngold would compose eighteen film scores, all of them excellent, as well as adaptations of music by Mendelssohn and Wagner. Although the number of his movies is modest in comparison with that of others of his generation and background, those relatively few scores were hugely influential and left an indelible impression on all the film composers who followed him.

Korngold’s friend and fellow Austrian Jew Max Steiner was working in London in 1914 when the First World War broke out. He was declared an enemy alien by the British government but was allowed to leave for New York. He worked on Broadway for eleven years, with George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert, among others, and moved to Hollywood in 1929, soon to be joined by his friend Korngold. Among the movies that Steiner scored are many of the most beloved masterpieces of cinema: Gone With the Wind, King Kong, Casablanca, The Gay Divorcee (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), Now, Voyager, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Searchers. The number of his scores is staggering (300 films are credited to him, although he was supported by a staff of excellent composers and orchestrators), and the great variety of musical genres and styles is equally impressive.


Perhaps the most astonishing element in his work is its consistently high quality, whether in fantasy, musicals, adventure, romance, historical drama or comedy–there was nothing he could not do, and his work was characterized by outstanding technique, panache and emotional lyricism.
He was an old-school composer who wrote from the heart with little concern for academic theory or adventurism. The same could be said of Korngold and for almost all the other expatriate composers who migrated to Hollywood from Western Europe.
When complimented on having helped to create Hollywood music, Steiner replied, “Nonsense. The idea originated with Richard Wagner. Listen to the incidental scoring behind the recitatives in his operas. If Wagner had lived in this century, he would have been the Number One film composer.”

Richard Wagner, despite his well-known and often-declared anti-Semitism, remained Steiner’s musical model from King Kong to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from Casablanca to The Searchers. How ironic that the very people who were hounded, defiled and persecuted mercilessly by the Nazis would remain steadfastly loyal to Germany’s musical traditions! When some of these expatriate composers returned to their native countries after the war, they discovered to their dismay that the shell-shocked survivors were no longer receptive to the romantic vocabulary of the nineteenth century, which they and other Hollywood composers still employed. The great musical tradition they had nurtured during the darkest years of Fascism had been replaced by a contemporary musical language that scorned the music of their “old-fashioned” German predecessors. Korngold, among many others, felt rejected and ignored by his own countrymen and former colleagues.


Franz Waxman, born in Silesia (now Poland) in 1906, began his film compositional career in Germany (orchestrating the classic film The Blue Angel (1930), starring Marlene Dietrich) and after 1933 in France with Friz Lang. He arrived in Hollywood in 1935, and composed the score for what what would become a cult classic Bride of Frankenstein, his first American film. Shortly thereafter he began his association with Alfred Hitchcock with haunting scores for four immortal films (Rebecca, Suspicion, The Paradine Case, and Rear Window). Perhaps his greatest score is also his greatest film A Place in the Sun (1951), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff. This won an Oscar, as did his previous score for the legendary Sunset Boulevard (1950). Like other Jewish composers arriving in Hollywood, Waxman had a sublime lyric gift: he was perhaps one of the greatest melodists of them all.


Another artist from Central Europe was the brilliant pianist, folklorist and composer Miklós Rózsa, destined to become one of Hollywood’s most beloved and successful composers and the winner of three Oscars. He was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, converted to Lutheranism and studied music at Leipzig. But in 1934, as the Nazis’ power was increasing, he moved to Paris, and five years later he came to Hollywood with the famous director Alexander Korda, another Hungarian Jew, to work on The Thief of Bagdad. His score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound is a classic–the ever-popular version of it as a piano concerto appears frequently on pops concerts–and so is his music for the biblical epic Ben Hur and the uplifting Christian dramas Quo Vadis and King of Kings, which are accompanied by appropriately religious music.


Rozsa’s passion for the folk music of his native Hungary colors his melodies, his orchestration and the drama of his music, which is closer to the world of early Bartók than to that of Richard Strauss. His music is different from the German romanticism of Korngold and Steiner, closer to the harmonic world of German Expressionism in film noir, as, for instance, in his influential scores for Double Indemnity, Lost Weekend and The Killers, whose melody was later used as the main theme for the popular TV show Dragnet.

HERRMANN.                                   RAKSIN.

Though Rozsa was not fond of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system of composition, he excelled in writing film noir scores, as did Schoenberg’s principal Hollywood students Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Vertigo) and David Raksin (Laura, The Bad and the Beautiful). The three of them were among the principal creators of the music for film noir, which remains one of Hollywood’s unique achievements.



Is there anything more American than the cowboy? And is not the Western the quintessential movie form of the rugged individual that we Americans honour as an idealized role model, and whose music we most associate with such paragons of male Americana as John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster? But the composer most often credited with having created the musical style for the American western is Dimitri Tiomkin, who was born in the Ukraine to a scholarly and musical Jewish family. He was educated in St. Petersburg and was recognized as an accomplished pianist and composer even before his graduation. More than any other composer, Tiomkin created the grand themes so often associated with the Big Sky of the American West–as with the steppes of Central Asia. He once said, comparing the vast expanses of Asiatic Russia to the American West: “A steppe is a steppe.”



He composed the memorable scores for High Noon, Giant, Rio Bravo, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Friendly Persuasion and Duel in the Sun, among many other glorious Western soundtracks.



In his orchestration, melodic style, harmony, and grandeur we hear echoes of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, although one must also acknowledge the significant influence of Aaron Copland, whose lyric grace and impressionistic loneliness, learned in Paris from Nadia Boulanger, also became the voice of the American Southwest. Tiomkin left Russia shortly after the Revolution, traveling to Berlin and then Paris (1922-1925) before immigrating to New York (1929) and eventually moving to Hollywood, where he scored his first major triumph, Alice in Wonderland, in the fateful year 1933. The theme of his most famous film song, “Do Not Forsake Me,” from High Noon, has been described by several Russian film historians and Jewish music scholars (primarily Jack Gottlieb in his authoritative

Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish) as an adaptation of a Yiddish song, “Dem milners trern,” by the Ukrainian entertainer Mark Warshavsky.
Arnold Schoenberg, who, more than any other composer, changed the course of twentieth-century music, predicted that his twelve-tone system would “ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years.” And indeed, after the war his system and the music of his famous disciples Berg and Webern inspired the new music of Western Europe. To the younger generation of German composers, Korngold, Rozsa and other film composers had become unpleasant reminders of the romantic music of the ‘thirties and ‘forties that they now associated with the Nazi era.
Schoenberg himself made several forays into film composition: his haunting concert piece Begleitungmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene (Accompaniment for a Film Scene) and his unfinished sketches for the Paramount adventure film Souls at Sea (1937) and the Pearl Buck feature The Good Earth. He wrote: “I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year [1933], and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely a human being (at least the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me) but I am a Jew.”

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Paul Chihara is a Professor of Music at UCLA and the Chair of Visual Media (film music). He received his doctorate from Cornell University and studied with the renowned pedagogue Nadia Boulanger in Paris, Ernst Pepping in Berlin, and with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood. He has received many commissions from major symphony orchestras and won numerous awards, including Composer of the Year by the Classical Recording Foundation in New York in 2008. He has composed more than 100 motion picture and television scores.

The Schoenberg Family has recently given Mr Chihara the sketches for Arnold Schoenberg’s unfinished film score The Good Earth, with permission to examine the sketches and decide if it might be possible “to create a film composition based on those sketches” and, if so, to proceed.
Article revised: October 19, 2011.


Re printed with kind permission of the Author. MMI March 23rd 2018.




At what age would you say that you first started to become aware of music of any type?

I was in a Japanese-American wartime relocation camp from early 1942 to 1945 in Minidoka, Idaho. I was almost four years old when first brought to the camp with my family (except for my father, who was arrested shortly after Dec. 7, 1941, and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Texas). I was in this camp until our family’s release in 1945, just before War’s end, by which time I was seven years old. It was during this three years period that I became involved with music making. On Saturday evenings in Minidoka, in our Block 14, the inmates held informal musical entertainments for each other. Some people performed on their Japanese instruments which they had brought with them, others sang or danced in traditional Japanese kimono, and some performed western song and dances. I sang songs solo, sometimes popular Japanese songs of the period (such as the very popular “Shino no yoru” or “China Nights”) or Hit Parade songs of the era (“Blues in the Night”). Unfortunately, these impromptu performances were not preserved by film or recording. But I remember well the thrill of hearing people applauding me after each song, and the rush of being appreciated. I am sure my love of attention and performance was born during those early formative years! I had no teacher or mentor, but I had an audience — a captive audience! And I had no shame — an ingredient indispensable to my subsequent career in show business and the concert stage!

I listened to songs (so it seems in my memory) all day long, with my older brother Ted, who was a teenager at the time, with his young friends, mostly the great big band tunes of the era: Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington — and the immortal singers of the wartime, such as Jo Stafford, Dick Haymes, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, etc. And I also spent a great deal of time with my young mother and her friends, hearing Japanese recordings of the pre-war time (mostly Enca, or sad love songs) whose sentimental melodies and aching lyrics are embedded in my subconscious to this day.

I did not begin formal music lessons until after the War, when we finally returned to Seattle, Washington in 1945. I was enrolled in Catholic education, where I asked the good nuns at the Immaculate Conception parochial school for private lessons. My first teacher Sister Virginia Marie taught me piano, and violin. I was seven years old, and for the first time encountered “classical music” — or very simplified versions of pieces that are the pillars of our Western musical culture. And though I was completely smitten by this “new music,”

I was already hopelessly formed and enamoured with the music of entertainment. Shortly thereafter, around 1951, my sister Catherine (a pianist and church organist) and I joined a USO troupe, and entertained American soldiers bound for the Korean War. We performed pop music and easy classics in the boot camps and army staging areas, such as Fort Lewis, Fort Lawton, and several naval bases near Seattle.

My first “serious” musical experience was playing in the Seattle Youth Symphony of the Pacific Northwest in 1951. It was Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony in G Major, and it was
a white light experience. Like St. Paul on the road to Tarsus, I was knocked off my horse and totally converted to classical music. I eventually became concert master of this
youth orchestra and performed in concert the first movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto, and the finale of the Mozart Fifth (A Major) Concerto.




You write for film, TV, Theatre and the concert hall and I am told have a love of the popular music from the 1930’s and 1940’s, how do you fit all these styles of music into your schedule?


I write very quickly and can work deeply for long hours. I have always felt that finishing a work is as important as beginning one. On Broadway or in Hollywood, getting the project in on time is sometimes as important as getting it done well. My great mentor Nadia Boulanger expected us to bring her substantial new work every week, and as long as I was with her, I did write a movement or a new composition every week. Some of these fugitive pieces have blossomed into my best work in later years. I resist the urge to overlay (especially addictive because of the computer!) my original thoughts with too many additional layers.

When I first began writing movies (in 1975 with “Death Race 2000″), I noticed that my “concert” pieces began to develop into very serious and academic contemporary explorations — as if I were proving to myself and the world that I was still a member of the sixties avant-garde. I soon recognized that this direction was false and untenable, and returned to being myself whether in film or concert work. I am who I am and try to write in the same spirit and style whether for Carnegie Hall or Walt Disney. As for the music of the 30’s and 40’s, it is still my personal favourite music, and it is somehow an intrinsic part of my musical imagination and creative DNA.



What was your first scoring assignment for either TV or Film, and how did you begin to work within the industry?

The year was 1974 and I was 36 years old and a popular tenured Professor of Music at UCLA. And hating it. Though I was the composer-in-residence at the time with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under the immortal Sir Neville Mariner (who had been my lifelong friend ever since), I longed for a more creative and adventurous life. And so, I resigned my position at the university (though not with the Orchestra)— even though I had no alternative career waiting for me. I just knew I had to find something more personally fulfilling and challenging. One day I was at UCLA completing some teaching obligations left over from my professorial days, when the phone rang. It was the famous producer Roger Corman who asked if I was the teacher of electronic music at UCLA. I said that I was, and he asked me if I had a talented graduate student who could provide some electronic music cues for a science fiction movie he was producing and just in the process of shooting in Simi Valley. I said that I would send him my best student, and promptly jumped into my car and drove the 20 minutes up Sunset Blvd. to the offices of New World Pictures. I think he knew that I was the professor  and not a graduate student, because when I told him that I could produce the entire score and not just the special effects, he promptly agreed. He gave me a $1,000 which I thought was my fee, but which turned out to be my entire budge, and I got to work. This tiny budget feature starred a totally unknown Sylvester Stallone and John Landis, was written by Robert Towne, and had Tak Fujimoto as its Director of Photography. He later gave me more money to produce the score, which turned out to be one of my most imaginative works, because I wrote from the heart without the slightest idea what I was doing. I was fortunate that the director of the film was the equally immortal Paul Bartel, both a genius and a lunatic (it seemed to me!) who used my music in ways that taught me a great deal about the possibilities of music and action working together. He was my sole education and training in film scoring, and I learned a great deal from him and his inspired madness!

Roger Corman not only gave me my first movie assignment. He trusted me and gave me a career. And I thank, Almighty God for his place in my life!






What musical education did you receive and what music did you focus upon?


My first music teacher was a Catholic nun (Sister Virginia Marie) at the Immaculate Conception parochial school in Seattle in 1947, when I was nine.
She gave me lessons in piano and violin. Other violin teachers included Francis Aranyi (who gave also gave me my first counterpoint lessons) and Emmanuel Zetlin at the University of Washington. I began composing music without any teachers while still in high school, and eventually received more formal composition lessons from John Verrall. But for the most part, I began composing without teachers, and have always considered myself basically self-taught. I majored in English Literature, History, and Classic Studies in college, and won a scholarship to Cornel University in 1960 in the English Department, where I completed my Master’s Degree majoring in Old English. My MA thesis was a linguistic study of the grammar in the original Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.

While at Cornell as an English Major in 1961, studying composition privately with Robert Palmer, the visiting teacher (the legendary Nadia Boulanger) invited me to study with her in Paris. While there (in 1961-2) I received the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award for my orchestral work “Four Pieces for Orchestra,” which was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1963 by the National Orchestral Association.

In 1965, I completed my Doctorate in Music at Cornell University, then attended the Tanglewood Music Festival on a choral singing and conducting scholarship.
In September 1965, I travelled to Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship where I studied composition with Ernst Pepping at the Hochschule für Musik (1965-6).
I studied on Fellowships at Tanglewood in 1966 and 1968 with Gunther Schuller.

I was hired by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1966, where I taught until 1971, when I resigned (just after receiving tenure) to begin my career as a free-lance composer. In 1971, I was hired by the newly founded Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to be their first composer-in-residence, under the conductor Neville Marriner.

I wrote my first movie score in 1975 “Death Race 2000.” Also, in 1975, Michael Smuin commissioned me to compose my first ballet score “Shinju” for the San Francisco Ballet, for which I was subsequently appointed their composer-in-residence. In 1979, Mercer Ellington (with the strong support of Gunther Schuller) hired me to orchestrate the music of his father (Duke Ellington) in the Broadway show “Sophisticated Ladies” which opened to great success at the Lunt Fontaine Theatre in 1980.






Back in 1981, you scored a movie entitled PRINCE OF THE CITY for director Sidney Lumet. What size orchestra did you use on this assignment?


The score for PRINCE OF THE CITY was recorded and produced in Paris, France, under the baton and supervision of the great French composer George Delerue. The symphonic orchestra was large (about 60 musicians) with a superb jazz saxophonist Pierre Gossez, who had often performed with major jazz greats, including Duke Ellington. Many of the musicians were from the Paris Opera Orchestra, who had just recorded the newly discovered Third Act of Alban Berg’s opera LULU under Pierre Boulez. I could not have asked for a better, ideal orchestra or conductor for my score.






I think I am right when I say very few of your scores are released onto disc. This is a shame. Do you retain the right to any of your film or TV scores, or do they remain the property of whatever film company is responsible for producing the projects?


Several of my earlier films were released as Video tapes, such as PRINCE OF THE CITY, and James Clavell’s NOBLE HOUSE. And more recently DVDs were released of Sidney Lumet’s THE MORNING AFTER (with Jane Fonda), CROSSING DELANCEY (with Amy Irving), John Turturro’s ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES, and the poplar series CHINA BEACH, which ran for four seasons on ABC TV. I do not own the music to any of these films and TV series.


Is orchestration an important part of the composition process, and do you always orchestrate all your work, or this not always possible?

Orchestration is composition, and I think in terms of instruments from the start, not just lines or theoretical melodies and shapes to be coloured later (by someone else!).
For the computer (digital) world of music, orchestration means synthestration, the art of using and mixing samples of real acoustic instruments. The music of Hans Zimmer, for example, is unthinkable without the intrinsic sound of the samples with which he presents his ideas. And yes, I orchestrate all my own music, whether for TV or features. And also for the concert world, or for Broadway and ballet.


Do you conduct all of your scores for TV and Cinema or can this be difficult because of the scheduling?

I conduct all my film and TV scores. Scheduling may be difficult or not, whether I am conducting or not!


What is your routine when you are offered a movie, do you spot the film with the director and decide together where music should be placed and what style of music it requires, or do you look at the movie and sketch out ideas for the director to hear and then take it from that point?

The working process varies with each project and each director. But I approach most of projects with the same mind set. First, I spend time with the movie itself, getting to know it as a dramatic presentation, and not as a music project. A film is not an accompaniment to a great score, nor is a motion picture created to enhance a musical presentation.
Sidney Lumet asked me to watch his director’s cut of PRINCE OF THE CITY and try to find a turning point in the movie. He asked me in which scene does the drama change and begin to move in a new direction? Is there one such moment, or are there several? Does the movie depend on a melody to establish a central emotional profile for the principal character? Is the principal musical idea a tune, or an unmistakeable rhythmic pattern (such as “heart beat”)? Should there be more than one theme, such as in a Wagner opera, with different motives for different characters? I have used different approaches, but I tend to favour having separate melodies for different characters or situations.
Usually, I formulate my stylistic plan on my own, and then share my ideas with the director before our first spotting session.


Is working in TV more demanding than writing for a feature film, by this I mean are the schedules tighter and the budgets lower?


Nothing is more demanding than working for a director who is not sure what he wants or changes his mind with each passing day of post-production.
Every composer has stories to tell of situations like that! (Though most of us would welcome that situation over not having any work at all!). TV can be more frantic than feature films in that the post-production schedule is often compromised (shortened) by delays in production. And series TV is like  a roller coaster ride with scary ups and downs in the time given to compose and record a segment. Budgets are usually lower for TV than independent features, though some feature producers sometimes offer a package deal so small that the composer must create the score entirely digitally or in Europe. In recent years,  the so-called “back-end” deal is becoming more common, where nothing is paid the composer up front for the creation of the score, though he is promised a certain  amount or percentage of profits when the picture is sold. This is the most precarious of situations for the composer, though with so many now looking for work and  willing to take risks, they are becoming more common.

Does a low budget for the music effect the amount or the style of music that a composer can create for a production?


Unless the low budget makes the composer hate his gig, it should not have any bearing on the style or quality of his work. A good composer writes his best music because he cares and loves music, regardless of the fee.  Having said that, it must be admitted that the size of the budget will certainly affect the size of the orchestra, or whether the score will be entirely digitally produced or not. In other words, the budget will affect the orchestration, or synthestration, as the case may be. Recent TV series, especially popular and influential shows such as “Game of Thrones” have popularized the use of acoustic piano with one solo instrument (such as the cello!) in long dramatic cues — a sound unthinkable in the network days
of TV.



Writing for film and for the concert hall must be very different. Is writing for the concert hall less constraining for the composer, as he or she does not have timings or sound effects to deal with?

Writing for the concert hall is infinitely more constraining for the composer than writing for movies or TV. Timings, dialogue and sound effects are easily
dealt with in composing a cue. It is simply a matter of experience and professionalism. But writing for the concert hall is a mine field of musical politics,
style mandates, and contemporary expectations. Writing a tonal piece when Post-Minimalism is in vogue, or in twelve tone when Spectral is ascendant,
or in a George Crumb inspired texture with instrumental exoticism when academic serialism is the regional norm, or a lyric serial composition when Pan-tonal music is the ruling model: these can lead to immediate rejection and scorn, when all the composer really wants is to be loved! And the most likely to be laughed
and ridiculed is a sincerely emotional piece (as in Mahler or Shostakovich), or dismissed outright as “Hollywood” and cheap imitation.


What do you think is the job of music in film?


Originally, the role of music was simply two-fold: (1) to mask or cover the noise of the projector, (2) To enhance the mood or give emotion to the images.  Music, whether rendered on piano or several instruments and liberally borrowed from the nineteenth century classics and popular music hall song and dances, could enhance romance, add terror to darkness, contribute jollity to slapstick, and warmth to intimacy. With the introduction of the electronic sound track, music in the early thirties became grand opera (as in Max Steiner’s King Kong, 1932) or psychological melodrama as in Alfred Hitchcock’s early British movies, with  symphonic resources giving weight, volume, colour, and power to the sound world of the movies. Film scores created a totally new experience, beyond simply sensation, novelty, and diversion. It could arouse as well as entertain or teach.



One day, a legendary director, normally indifferent to music and its purely utilitarian use in his movies, sat watching one of his pedestrian scenes in one of his
pedestrian movies, and accidentally having the score played back to him unusually loud, had a revelation. The music playing at a volume that was not realistic seemed to transform the images he had himself shot and edited. Something totally new and unscripted emerged before his eyes (and ears)! It was magic! The magic of music creating an experience beyond the script and the pictures so familiar to him. AS they say in Hollywood: that’s entertainment! And that’s the magic we all strive to capture in our scores.



When you are working on a long running series of multiple episodes, do you ever re-cycle any musical ideas from early episodes into later additions to the series? What method or methods do you use to work out your musical ideas, do you write straight to manuscript, or do you work out your ideas on piano, or use a computer?

I have had several TV series that have had more than one season. “China Beach” ran for four years, and I composed 58 of the episodes. I have never recycled any of my cues, but I did of course use the many principal themes and melodies over the years. The series “Whiz Kids” used the music of Mozart in its Main Title (from his 21st Piano Concerto, first movement), which I used in all the episodes in different variations. My music is tonal generally, bi-tonal occasionally, and serial in some instances (in both my concert and film work). I usually compose straight onto the orchestral score. I am not a very good pianist, so I seldom work at the keyboard.



What is your opinion of the use of the temp track by filmmakers, is it a useful tool and guide for composers or can it have a distracting effect?

Every filmmaker seems to use the temp track, often to cut picture to, or to give a sense of his intention to the composer. I remember being unsettled by this procedure back in the early eighties when I first began to encounter it. My friend Jerry Goldsmith flatly refused to work on a film that used temp tracks, as did some other established composers I knew. I no longer am surprised or bothered by this practice, as I have found my own way to interpret the temp track and be guided to my own ideas.
Film makers themselves seem to be more flexible these days in their use of them, and do not necessarily insist that the composer simply imitate it (or, as one prominent director once said to me “Rip this off!” — meaning, copy it as literally as possible!}. It is no longer a distraction.



Electronics, synthetics, samples etc, have established themselves more and more within film music in recent years, have you any opinions about the increased use of these and are you a fan of the DRONE sound in newer film scores, can it really be called music?

Johann Johannson and Hans Zimmer have used DRONES effectively in their recent dramatic pictures: in “Arrival” and “Dunkirk.” But these are not “Drones” created in simple analogue synthesis. These are examples of sophisticated and complex sounds created with samples and digital processes that often use the sounds of nature as musical instruments. The opening sequence in the Pilot to “The Handmaid’s Tale” uses the natural sounds of an automobile transformed through digital processing to create a haunting and scary Minimalist texture of falling triads D Major to D-flat Major. “Dunkirk” creates a memorable moment when the sounds of wind and aviation somehow morph into the Elgar “ Nimrod” (in E-flat) tune from the Enigma Variations. Johannson’s Drones seem to be created by the extra-terrestrials themselves from another reality altogether. One of the first and most effective examples of extended techniques in “sound design” (a term that Toru Takemitsu himself created to describe his own film music) was in “Women in the Dunes” (1964).

I definitely call this music, and very advanced music!

Sidney Lumet.

What composers or artists have influenced or inspired you and maybe have also had an influence over the way in which you approached a movie or TV assignment?
The greatest influences on my film work came not from other composers but primarily from two directors, both as different from each other as night to day:
Paul Bartel and Sidney Lumet.


Paul Bartel was a lovely man, and a lunatic genius film maker! He was the director of my first ever movie “Death Race 2000” — and his approach to making movies seemed as spontaneous as an inspired ride on a magic carpet. He loved all my cues, but almost never used them where I had intended them, and often in irony or sarcasm. I remember him using a sexy love theme that I had composed for David Carradine on soprano saxophone (performed by the great classical saxophone player Harvey Pittel) over a car chase scene. And it worked wonderfully! He resisted placing music “on the nose” for love scenes and action sequences. And Sidney Lumet was the ultimate dramatic director, who approached each film as a great play by Eugene O’Neill. He had me study scenes, use of camera movement, notice reaction shots and silences in dialogue, and the set designs of Tony Walton! He asked me where I felt the turning point to be in his great feature “Prince of the City.” Among film composers, two friends of mine were very helpful in showing me approaches to scoring: Jerry Goldsmith and Charles Fox. Goldsmith primarily by his absolutely impeccable melodic skill, and Charles for telling me that music in a film should also have a POV.

Charles Fox and Jerry Goldsmith.

Have you ever been hired for a film score and realized that it was not for you, or the director has had a totally different take on the movie from you where the music is concerned?

Yes, several times, and in each instance, I asked to leave the film. You really can’t do this in a TV assignment, because the deadlines are so tight.


What have you been working on recently?

I wrote the score for a charming indie feature last year (2016) called “Sensitivity Training.” And I have been working for the wonderful Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York for the past five years and loving it. I am presently completing a large symphonic work for speaker and orchestra called “A Matter of Honour” for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.