Now here is a problem, I have recently listened to three scores, all of which were by different composers but all for the same movie! Yes three scores for one film, the film is The 1925 silent version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which starred Lon Chaney in the title role. I think many of us are aware of the magnificent score as composed by Roy Budd, and also the score which was also written by Carl Davis. The third entry into the re scoring area on this movie is by American composer Craig Safan. Now, personally I did not see the need for Mr Davis or Mr Safan to get involved as Roy Budd as far as I could work out had it covered. But, it’s the film industry, its showbiz as they say, and theres no business like it apparently. So why have one great score when you can have three scores.(Hollywood logic).
Lets go back to the Carl Davis score, now I really do not know the history here or indeed how the composer got involved on the film, but I am positive that Roy had already written his music and it was because of Roy’s passing that Davis was commissioned, but don’t quote me on that. Any way after a little bit of digging I could see that the Carl Davis score was released on CD by Silva screen records in 1997. I interviewed Roy in 1993 just before his untimely death and he told me about the score for Phantom then, so Davis composed his score four years later. (confused?). So now in 2019 we get another score this time from American film music composer Craig Safan (LAST STARFIGHTER, SON OF MORNING STAR).
Its difficult because all three composers are respected and have had many years of experience in film music. Roy I think being the better known in the UK via his scores for films such as GET CARTER, SOLDIER BLUE, CATLOW and WILD GEESE, but Carl Davis also has an impressive CV with music for so many silent movies such as NAPOLEON and BEN HUR. Davis of course is also known for his music to films such as CHAMPIONS, THE SNOW GOOSE, THE RAINBOW and TV series such as THE WORLD AT WAR etc. So examining or just listening to all three scores and seeing how each composer approached the same film is to say the least interesting, I am not looking or listening to say this score is better than that score etc, but just out of interest take a scene and see what the composer in question did musically for it.
So lets start with the score I am more familiar with which is by Roy Budd, Track number 1, BACK STAGE AT THE OPERA is a chilling and also melancholy sounding piece that after its organ introduction segues into a suitable grandiose and sweeping central theme with strings again being the mainstay of the performance enhanced by brass and woods and further supported by subdued percussive elements and piano that together create a proud and epic sounding piece which could be the work of either Steiner or Rozsa with commanding brass supported by percussion bringing the cue to a triumphant sounding conclusion. It is in the introduction of this cue that we hear for the first time THE PHANTOM THEME, which although unnerving is also filled with sadness and evokes an atmosphere of loneliness. The theme returns throughout the score and makes its second appearance in a more expanded version in track number 2, BALLERINAS/THE PHANTOM THEME, which begins in a slightly restrained fashion but soon builds with the composer relaying not only drama and romance in his music but hints at comedy and further conveys an air of charm and warmth, lulling the listener into a falsehood of wellbeing and serenity before introducing the dark and sinister mood for the Phantom. Budd expresses his emotions wonderfully with his romantic and opulent score, and underlines and punctuates perfectly the picture with its driving and dramatic passages that are complimented and aided by the composers equal amount of less chilling and adventurous material that possess a luxurious and sumptuous sound which is comparable with the film music of the Golden age and evokes not just Steiner and Rozsa but Erich Korngold, Hugo Freidhofer and at times the melodic and lush sound achieved by composer Victor Young. Track number 3, GENITRIX, is the first time we hear the harpsichord within the score; it is a gentle and simple melody which is purveyed upon the instrument, but one that nonetheless grabs the listener’s attention and holds it for its relatively short running time of just over a minute. The harpsichord returns to repeat its performance in track number 6, THE MASKED BALL, on this occasion it acts as the introduction to an elegant and wistful waltz. Budd also acts an arranger within his own score when he arranges and adapts Charles Gounod’s ‘FAUST’ which plays a major role in the film’s storyline giving it new life and vitality and also integrating it wonderfully into the fabric of his original score. One of the highlights of the score for me personally is ON THE ROOF OF THE OPERA, which opens at first in a subdued manner but erupts with grand sounding fanfares of brass and percussion that are supported by strings and flyaway winds again shades of Korngold, this cue seems to have everything, grandeur, drama and also romanticism that is laced with melancholy that seems to cry out in despair at times underlining the Phantom’s obsessive craving for the object of his desire Christine. Surging strings, plaintive woodwinds, fierce growling brass and also low key but highly emotive strings work together to create a wealth of melody and a highly atmospheric piece. As the compact disc progress so does the urgency in the composers music, THE STRANGLERS WORK for example opens with shady sounding low strings, but soon these segue into a more melodic and calm musical persona, strings and woodwinds combine to fashion a haunting and tender sounding composition, this however alters with rising brass supported by percussion and driving strings bringing a sense of danger and foreboding to the proceedings, fierce brass stabs are embellished by pounding percussion and menacing horns, the strings then enter into the equation adding even more of a sinister mood to the composition. This dark atmosphere fades and all is well again as understated woods are given subdued but affecting support by low key strings which bring the cue to its conclusion.
Track number 9 THE TORTURE CHAMBER is a tour de force of musical richness with strings and brass once again taking the lead and setting the scene and imparting upon the listener an almost impish sound in the first couple of minutes of the track, the cue soon changes direction and becomes a more subdued piece which although melodic still relays a sense of underlying unease. The final track on the disc is the powerful and highly volatile RACE OF RAGE, this is the longest cue on the compact disc and weighs in at a full twelve minutes, it contains many of the major themes and motifs from the score and sends us headlong towards a dazzling and exhilarating finale that will I know take your breath away. Budd brings all the elements of the orchestra together in a final and commanding end sequence that is filled with drama, tinged with romance and also filled with passion, danger and foreboding. So that is the Roy Budd score, let us now turn to the most recent attempt to support and give life via the soundtrack to the Phantom.
Craig Safan is no stranger to the film music arena, he has worked on numerous film scores and produced some of cinema’s and television most polished and memorable soundtracks. His landmark score for THE LAST STAR FIGHTER still stands out as being one of the composers best and ultimately is also one of his most popular amongst film music aficionados. But the Phantom in the depths of the Paris opera house is literally light years away from the sci=fi world of THE LAST STARFIGHTER. I was initially worried when I heard the news that Safan had scored Phantom, after all many of his more recent scores have been synthesised and the composer does utilise electronics within many of his scores, and Phantom being a classic I personally do not think would really be something that would be happy being scored in a contemporary fashion, after all look what happened with the British horror classic WITCFINDER GENERAL when they re-scored it taking off the quintessentially English sounding Green-sleeves sounding theme as penned by Paul Ferris and replacing it with a, how shall I put it lifeless and emotionless sounding partly synthetic work, by Kendall Schmidt, the electronic approach or the synthetic elements within the work did not gel with the movie and it sounded akward and out of place. So would Safan turn to the synthetics, no he composed a symphonic work, complete with creepy sounding organ and operatic arias being utilised throughout, which I must admit I found a little odd being a silent movie. The opening theme, I felt was a little over the top and cliched, but I suppose we have to remember that this is for a silent classic from 1925, I also thought that the opening ran too long and did not really compliment or support the scene that was unfolding. This can also be said for the remainder of the score, I like the music that has been composed, but there is just something lacking in the timing.
Maybe the mood that is created it just does not quite make it. But as I say to listen to the music on its own is entertaining, but in conjunction with the images I found myself either focuses on the music or the images never the two as a whole, Take the scene where the Phantom is unmasked, the Budd score was powerful yet still vaguely melodic, Safan scores the moment with quite frankly feeble percussion and horns, but the impact of the moment is not given greater shock nor is it given a more commanding atmosphere which is what occurs within the Budd score, instead the moment is rather tepid or at least the music is. Budd’s music for Phantom is exciting, dramatic and above all romantic, Safan’s is in my opinion short of the mark in many areas, So let us move to the Carl Davis score, this is a far more classical sounding work than both Safan and Budd, it has to it an aura that evokes the vintage days of the golden age of Hollywood, not that the Budd or Safan creations are any less symphonic, but I feel that maybe the Budd and certainly the Safan are a little more contemporary in their overall orchestration and sound. Davis like Safan turns to the use of operatic arias to support the scenarios taking place on screen and personally I do prefer the Budd approach utilising music solely with no vocal support.
The Davis score is a very English sounding effort, but this I think is just the style of Davis even if he is not English, he had by the time he worked on Phantom been scoring TV and film in the UK for several years, and a little bit of the established sound and approach may have influenced his own approach on the silent classic. So I suppose the question is which score suits the movie best, One Phantom three scores, I think it is probably best to say that each score has its own qualities, each supports and enhances, but all in very different ways, I will say however because of my connections with Roy Budd I still do favour his take on the score, the Safan work is certainly different in its style and also its actual approach, as Safan seems to favour the old style of employing a musical wallpaper, as in it is underscoring an action sequence and this alters to something less dramatic, but at times the music continues along in the same mode and pace, thus the film maybe suffers slightly.
With Budd he is very good at altering and segueing into scenes the music supporting the scenarios more and creating varying moods throughout and giving the film a distinct and individual musical persona. Carl Davis too seems to favour the same type of approach as Safan, with the score being slow to alter or shape to the film’s needs, don’t forget this a personal view.