Movies Without Music? Food Without Taste?
In my earliest days that I can remember, my father was already helping me see the power and energy that was captured in music. He was a fan of many types of music and a very crucial influence behind developing my perception of music, even at the ages of three or four years old. Classical music was one of his favorites and he quickly got me hooked on Ludwig Von Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as well as George Frideric Handel’s “Fireworks Music”, more formally titled as “Music for the Royal Fireworks”. However, among some of the greatest composers and musical minds humanity has yet to encounter, he also included the likes of movie composers. To start, I now almost feel disrespectful or unappreciative when calling them movie composers because I feel that movies are the medium for modern classical music, at least most well known. The two that topped his list, and rightfully so? John Williams (1952-Present) and John Barry (1933-2011).
John Williams is possibly one of the first, along with John Barry, that really helped movie composition be taken seriously. For sixty three years, and counting, writing hugely symphonic scores to timeless classics including their iconic themes. To name a few:
- Jaws (1975)
- Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983)
- Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
- E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
- JFK (1991)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
- …and many, many more
In a career that has, according to IMDb span from 1952 with the “Today” TV series to his composing of Jurassic World (trailer) coming out this year, that’s a 63 year career that hasn’t even slowed down as of the time of this posting. I remember in 2008, I was seeing the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra for a family concert where they were showcasing movie themes. The conductor signaled for Darth Vader, yes…Darth Vader, to enter the stage. The conductor then proceeded to embark into a demonstration as a welcome to the audience. The walk of Darth Vader from Star Wars is more than well known, even for those not fans of Star Wars like myself. When Mr. Vader had originally entered the stage, he had his theme playing along with him of course. So, the conductor requested that the audience remember that moment and the power and the energy that they felt as he entered. He then demonstrated how much the music adds to the presence of the Darth Vader villain. He instructed Mr. Vader to then walk to the side of the large stage slowly and in the exact same manner and then return to the center of the stage. At this time, the “Imperial March” was not played along with him, no music was played. Nearly everyone in the audience agreed that there didn’t seem to be any emotion, atmosphere, or energy to his walk even though the actor in the Dark Side uniform was doing exactly what he was before. The conductor then smiled and shook his finger saying “ahhhh, yes”. Darth Vader then exited the stage, this time with the “Imperial March” proudly playing behind him.
John Williams has put his stamp in our hearts in more times I believe than even my personal favorite, Hans Zimmer. When we, or at least my generation, hears the galloping horns and then the strong trumpet of Indiana Jones’ theme, it’s hard to not want to leap out of our chairs and feel like we’re going to save the day…in our living room. However, I also don’t want to disrespect or undermine other works that are less known and just as impacting. 2012’s Lincoln, played brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis in my opinion, has some of the most insightful compositions that, along with Lewis’ acting, bring a depth to Abraham Lincoln that was unlike any textbook could touch, other than hard facts of course. It brought a sorrow to him as he watched his beloved country tear itself apart. Emotionally driven and partially shaped by John Williams’ beautiful score in such pieces as “The Blue and Grey”. There is far more to his career than I could ever cover here without filling page after page. If interested in browsing his achievements, scores, and more: IMDb : John Williams.
One of John Barry’s most loved themes is the “John Dunbar Theme” from Dances With Wolves(1990), to which he also composed the entire score. He also notably composed:
- many of the James Bond films
- Born Free (1966)
- The Chase (with Marlin Brando, 1966)
- High Road To China
- Out of Africa
- …many others
Many of his major motion picture film credits, at least under composition, come somewhat before John Williams with the majority in the 1960s and 1970s. His scores span from 1960’s Never Let Go to 2001’s Enigma. John Barry passed away September 30th, 2011 from a heart attack according to Biography.com. For more on John Barry: IMDb : John Barry or his Biography.com biography.
I remember first seeing James Horner’s name when I was a kid and first seeing the UFO comedy *batteries not included with Jessica Tandy. He is, of course, another of the most well known movie composers and scored one of my favorite films, Deep Impact. Other films include:
- Apollo 13 (1995)
- Legends of the Fall (1994)
- Titanic (1997)
- Braveheart (1995)
- Glory (1989)
- The Land Before Time (1988)
- Troy (2004)
- Avatar (2009)
- The Amazing Spiderman (2012)
- …many others
The Los Angeles native began in 1978 with The Watcher and continues to compose. His most recent completed work is contained in the film Wolf Totem coming this year (2015).
There are, quite honestly, many other composers that I would like to detail. So, in light of that, I did decide to make this topic a series. Upfront, very honorary mentions include (but not limited to):
- Michael Kamen
- Hans Zimmer (recently won a Lifetime Achievement Award on October 3rd, 2014 at the Zurich Film Festival)
- Danny Elfman
- Howard Shore
- Klaus Badelt
- Thomas Newman
- Clint Mansell
- James Newton Howard (who also teamed up with Hans Zimmer for A Dark Knight and Batman Begins)
We pay the extra money to sit in a sticky movie theater to not only see a film early and on a gigantic screen, but also for the sound and that rumble of the bass. I’m sure music composition was a major factor on the creation of home surround sound, if even subconscious. After all, much like the demonstration by Darth Vader and the Fargo Moorhead Symphony, there is a good amount of the time when we are being entertained by films or even television series that we don’t even realize how much the background music is adding to the feeling of the scene. Imagine Batman, The Dark Knight, himself just cruising into the action scene without any entrance music whatsoever. However, with Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard’s “A Dark Knight” theme in various forms inserted, there is a sudden intensity to the scenes where depth is on a completely different level.
The Masterpiece Concert Tour performing “The Dark Knight”
The Masterpiece Experience performing “The Dark Knight”. Composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
As time goes on, this blog continues to evolve and grow more limbs. While having featured artists and, eventually, album reviews is great, I also wanted something that was more broad and personal and somewhat of a conversation starter. Comments, stories are welcome but please be clean. On “Viewpoints”, this is a new section of the site I didn’t want to follow the more standard “Opinions” because music is far to subjective. To me at least, viewpoints even by definition point toward observations. My hope is that is that readers would see it as more relaxed and not opinionated or pushing of conclusions.
Thomas Wardwell (1945-2009)
Without this man, I may have never come to appreciate music even close to the rightful level that I do today. He suffered through dragging me back and forth in the winter to Red River Boy Choir practice for seven years, even in the winters, but also had the biggest smile the day I played Hans Zimmer for him when I was in my 20s and realized that I was listening all those years. This one’s for you, Pop!