Mozart, Beethoven, Bach…Williams?
OK, first, right click here, open in a new tab, press play, and then read while you listen. I wanted to add the track myself but it was the wrong file type and I’m not clever enough to convert it. Hopefully they’ll appreciate the hits.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably have noticed that music is something of a big deal to me. When it comes to film scores, I’m becoming more and more convinced that composers like John Williams, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer are the new classical masters. Modern classical music (oxymoron?) tends to be the more contemporary Maxwell-Davies style, which is definitely not to everyones taste, while the great sweeping scores seem to be left more or less to the movie composers.
Movie scores are quite often beautiful and I would argue comparable to the greatest symphonies. (Before you start, I’m expecting to get shot down in flames for that, and I am fully aware that my classical knowledge is limited at best, but I do have some idea what I’m talking about).
Take Howard Shore for example. I’m a firm believer that a huge amount of the success of Lord of the Rings is owed to his breathtaking score. The orchestration mirrors the plot so perfectly that you could almost remove the dialogue and still understand what’s going on. Of course, it helps that he’s also got the stunning New Zealand backdrop to set it off. Shore’s The Breaking of the Fellowship the final “movement” of the Fellowship of the Ring (to which you are currently listening, I hope) is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and I know that it forms a big part of why I love that film.
In the case of someone more prolific, John Williams has penned some of the most famous themes in history. Not every man on the street will be able to hum Beethoven’s 9th or Mozart’s Requiem, but ask him to sing Star Wars or Indiana Jones and he’ll definitely know what you’re talking about.
*Random trivial aside* The Indiana Jones theme is actually part of the Star Wars theme played backwards, an in joke by Lucas and Williams, go ahead, try it.
Williams is responsible for most of my library of movie scores, from Jaws, Jurassic Park, and even Home Alone to Harry Potter (which I hate but still love the score of). He’s the most famous movie composer of all time, and deserves the respect he has. In fact, I think he deserves more. Why shouldn’t he sit with Beethoven as a modern classical master?
Other composers I urge you to look out for are Hans Zimmer, the man behind Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean (along with Klaus Badelt) who has a particular theme he re-uses in all of his movies as a kind of signature (once you’ve heard it you can’t miss it, its even in Rain Man!) and James Horner, the genius creator of the heart breakingly beautiful score to Braveheart. Coming second only to LOTR in my favourite scores of all time, he magically combines traditional Scottish themes (and pipes) with sweeping orchestration which undoubtedly plays a major role in the effect that film has on me (read: unecessary floods of tears)
And it’s not just the original scores that can transform a movie. As Watchmen showed, the re-use of modern or even classical music can be just as evocative. The moment in Equilibrium when Christian Bale hears the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th is a perfect example. Layer Cake also springs to mind, with a soundtrack that brilliantly reflects the action, especially the Ordinary World scene. Billy Elliot is also one of my favourite films for soundtrack, with songs like Town Called Malice and London Calling perfect reflections of the rioting and conflict on screen, not to mention the iconic opening to Apocalypse Now (This is the End), or the perfect settings of Philadelphia, Good Morning Vietnam, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate…
I could carry on like this for hours. Believe me. I guess the point of this post is to make you listen as well as look. I remember once remarking on the beautiful strings in the final scene of Pirates while watching it with a friend, and she was surprised I payed that close attention to the music. So this is me asking you to open your ears. The underscore of your favourite film will have already had a big effect on why you love it, you just might not have realised it yet.