I’ve been loving the comments coming back to me with regards to recent posts, especially the one about new music.
One of the big issues surrounding all of this is the claim that modern composers have not found that connection with modern audiences, that there is yet to be a type of music that really reaches out to the masses.
I beg to disagree, but you will only agree with me if you consider film music to be part of the direct line of western classical tradition. The fact is, the early film composers, like Wolfgang Korngold (who did the scores to so many Errol Flynn films), were up-and-coming composers in Europe before being displaced to America, even winning accolades from the likes of Mahler and Strauss (for those reading my blog who aren’t totally up to scratch on Western classical history, these two gentlemen were leading figures in composition).
Bernard Herrmann created some of the most original music to ever come out of Hollywood, with a career that spanned much of the century. Some of my favourite music of his includes the score to Psycho:
He also did the score to one of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane, directed by the larger-than-life Orson Welles. Welles ended up being a huge figure in musical life in the early 20th century, who understood that this music could either heighten emotion or bring out subtle undercurrents that were not present on stage/film (he was an opera buff). Simply watch the opening scene to that movie, and you’ll understand what I mean.
Not mainstream enough, you say? Well, you knew this was coming – along comes John Williams. Williams started in jazz, like so many composers of recent memory, and his scores have never lost that rhythm. Comfortable in almost any style, Williams is able to take different influences and still produce music that is uniquely his (Mozart did exactly the same thing). His melodies are memorable for a reason, and he supposedly takes a great deal of time thinking out which group of simple notes will have the maximum impact. When Star Wars came out, the records flew off the shelves at a record pace that any composer would be envious of (well, any composer that actually WISHES to have their music heard).
Instead of one of his larger-than-life scores, here is a track called ‘Going to School’ from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, with Yo-Yo Ma on cello.
Finally, to illustrate the type of talent that movie music attracts, we have Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and recent Academy Award winner, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. Greenwood was recently in a New York Times article about the rocker’s recent move to use large orchestras in concerts, and also about his extremely effective score to There will be Blood, about a turn-of-the-century oil tycoon who epitomizes pure evil and greed. If you don’t believe me, here is the track entitled ‘Henry Plainview’
You can just picture the tortured soul underneath. He may not have come up with these modern performance techniques, but the fact that he got a larger audience talking about them and appreciating them is indicative enough of mass appeal. Finally, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are creating some incredible new sounds for movie soundtracks using guitars and sound-altering machines, and they were rewarded for their work on The Social Network. Here is one of the funkier tracks from the new David Fincher film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:
Is this all considered high art? Quite frankly, I don’t care, that phrase has too many negative connotations for the general public when it comes to 20th century composition. Perhaps it’s time to employ some of this music in the concert halls (and not just the pops concerts), or perhaps it’s more successful because it is not the concert hall. To continue to deny the obvious talent here is part of the current disconnect facing the industry.