These days I wonder who is right. Is Kozzin right telling us that the
situation with classical music is great? Somehow I am left to wonder
when our newspaper rarely ever mentions classical music, and with the
exception of one writer, the commentary seems written for the musically
uninformed...I know...they are supposed to sell papers...and what was
our classical radio station is now classical wall paper...I know, they
have to sell memberships...and our local NPR station no longer broadcasts
classical music...I know, they need to raise money (and when I was a kid
living in the New York area we had 6 stations that would play classical
music---and at least two of them were commercial stations)...and we have
only one local record store that sells any classical music...I know,
there isn't much of a market for it...and most of our local arts
organizations don't program much of anything written after 1920...I know,
they need to sell tickets...but even that isn't helping... So how come
Kozzin thinks we are doing just fine?
And then, what is considered classical music these days..."Bond?"
With those thoughts in mind, I leave you with the article below...
The death of memorable movie music
By Scott Eyman <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Palm Beach Post Books Editor
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Let's not even talk about Psycho or Gone With the Wind or The
Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Star Wars - the epochal scores
full of splendid thunder and daring musical choices that defined
film music for widely varying generations. Composers like Max
Steiner and Bernard Herrmann aren't coming back anytime soon.
More to the point, where are the Young Turks who can replace
Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, or, for that
matter, John "He-can't-last-forever-it-just-seems-that-way"
Admittedly, music is the most subjective art; people can argue
about the worth of a painter, but everybody agrees that the base
line of quality is whether an artist can actually draw. With
music, the process is more ambiguous, because a score that can
work splendidly in a movie - Herrmann's score for Psycho, for
instance - might not stand alone as program music.
Some scores are both: Everyone always has reflexively genuflected
toward Sergei Prokofiev's scores, and maybe Aaron Copland's, but
that's rank concert hall snobbery; I'd put Herrmann's The Ghost
and Mrs. Muir, Bernstein's To Kill a Mockingbird and Alex North's
A Streetcar Named Desire up against any of them.
The field isn't completely bare, but there aren't many big trees
standing. Every once in a while, Randy Newman will write a score
of beautiful Americana that skates perilously close to Copland
parody and carries no relation whatsoever to his snarky songs;
Patrick Doyle continues to do good work, from Kenneth Branagh's
Shakespeare films to Harry Potter, even if there aren't a lot
of good movies that call for it; Danny Elfman only seems to work
for Tim Burton, but he almost always writes good scores, even
if he has only produced one with the density of a masterpiece:
What so many modern movies feature as music is a tuneless, thin,
watercolor wash - musical doodling. It's wallpaper music, music
without a profile. I defy anybody to whistle a theme from any
of the Lord of the Rings movies, which is precisely the kind of
moviemaking that demands a great score. Even the occasional
modern movie that summons some primal force, such as the recent
King Kong, labors beneath a James Newton Howard score that's
thin gruel - not terrible, not inappropriate, but pallid compared
to the force of the images. It's not worth comparing it to
Steiner's original; it can't even be compared to John Barry's
score for the execrable 1976 remake. (It's entirely possible,
of course, that director Peter Jackson just has a tin ear for
What's missing in modern movies isn't art direction, sound
effects, or, God knows, special effects. It's emotion, which
often comes from the musical score providing a second voice,
telling you something that the writers and actors often can't...
There's an apposite story told by David Arnold, the English
composer for the past couple of James Bond films, among many
others. He was scoring Godzilla and was told, "Oh, we'll need
music here." Arnold was confused. "Wait a minute," he said,
"we're in the streets of New York, its raining, we've got
Godzilla's footsteps, his breathing, there are screams from the
people below, the sound of cars crashing, explosions - he's
crushing cars and pushing over buildings, being attacked by
helicopters, so we've got rotors, missiles, bullets as well as
small-arms and tanks rumbling in from the street. ... What on
earth is the music supposed to do?"
The answer came promptly: "Make it exciting."
"I'm so sick of music where there's nothing to it," says George
Feltenstein, a Warner Bros. vice president. "What we're hearing
represents a continuing cultural wearing away of the arts in
society in general. This is a culture where Andrew Lloyd Webber
is taken seriously as a composer, so it shouldn't be any surprise
that we're gradually losing musical theater or good film scores."
The question is whether this is a top-down problem, or a bottom-up
problem; in other words, are we suffering from a paucity of
talent, or is the problem systemic, within the studios?
Lukas Kendall is the founder of Film Score Monthly and has
produced dozens of soundtrack CDs. He seems to come down on the
institutional side of the problem, as well as pointing out that
"some of this is like arguing about the best rock band ever. A
lot of it is a matter of taste, and some of it is beyond objective
qualities. That said, the old stuff is better."
Kendall points to the studio's habit of providing temporary
scores for films that are then handed off to composers. The temp
scores are basically mix tapes derived from existing scores -
Morricone's score for The Mission shows up all the time - which
the composer is subliminally expected to mimic. The tyranny of
the temp track naturally leads to faded copies of other people's
"In the studio era," says Kendall, "movies were not cut so
quickly, and their atmosphere was less explicit; there was a
different aesthetic. And they had composers whose skill set
involved how to write music, whereas today the skill set is a
need to be good with people, and be a good music producer, which
is different than being a composer."
Kendall points out that most modern composers spend most of their
time trying to get the job, and that social skills are at least
as important as musical skills. "They don't know how to write a
melody, and have to have someone else orchestrate. So it ends
up being well-produced hackwork by people who are charismatic
politicians as much as musicians."
Another issue is the wildly varied styles of movie music in use
today, which demands versatility. A composer has to be conversant
with techno, reggae, hip-hop, you name it. Before, it was always
a given that a score would be symphonic and basically derived
from a 19th-century model, so a composer could spend his life
getting deeper into that. Today, people don't know how to write
a 19th-century model.
From the point of view of a film and TV composer, these are
closer to the worst of times than they are the best of times.
Listen to Neil Brand, an English film and television composer:
"To begin with, the rise of the 'epic fantasy' film has led to
classy-sounding scores which contain no discernible themes,
except love themes, partially because action doesn't allow for
much thematic emphasis but also because writing tunes is hard.
It's much easier to find a fast-moving groove which allows you
to hit your cuts and, with a few orchestral colors changed here
and there, chunter on for the requisite 20 minutes or so. As
films have gotten longer, so have the challenges to the time-poor
composer become greater.
"Also, the technology has come on a lot. Computers have made
scoring a linear, timecode-driven process, where the very idea
of a composer working outside the box, or even - gasp! - without
the film running in front of them, is almost unthinkable. Erich
Wolfgang Korngold (The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk)
worked to picture initially but then he would go away and develop
an operatic soundtrack which, seemingly by chance, exactly matched
the to and fro of the film. If the composer starts with the
picture and never moves away from it during composing, his music
will never breathe more deeply than the film."
Finally, there's the time element, always a problem because the
composer is the last person to work on the film - James Newton Howard's
score for Peter Jackson's King Kong was written in the three weeks
before the film opened and, unfortunately, sounded like it.
"Post-production time is tighter than ever," says Neil Brand. "Most
current Hollywood directors don't want to spend time deep in conversation
with their composers - they just want it done on time, under budget
and to a standard that won't embarrass them." Kendall, for one, thinks
that the art will survive in spite of the barren nature of the recent
craft being displayed.
"There will be people who show up who are talented. Just as there's
no accounting for taste, there's no accounting for talent - it just
happens," Kendall says. "I remember one time in a film theory class
in college, we were watching something and looking at the cutting.
I raised my hand and asked if it wasn't true that modern movies had
too many close-ups. And the professor thought for a moment and said,
'That may be true, but I try not to beat up on historical change.' "