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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
Listening to the Movies
February 17, 2007

It’s nearly Oscar time, and attention is lavished on the stars, the directors, and the films. But who pays attention to the music? Tonight we will.

Even prior to the coming of sound to movies, music has served an important, if not essential part of the film experience. In the days of the silents, a pianist or organist would improvise music to fit the mood or the action, but as technology developed to integrate sound into films, the creation of the musical score became an art in itself. While much film music is written specifically for use in a particular picture, often music already in existence is incorporated, and, depending on the situation, an entire score may be compiled of existing music (such as for the films Amadeus and 2001: A Space Odyssey). Often the use of favorite or even little known pieces of concert music will become overnight “hits” because of their use in film. Tonight’s concert offers a sampling of a number of types of music used in movie scores: original music for a particular film, pieces of concert music used in a least one film, and music written for other performance mediums such as ballets and musicals.

The surprise 1981 Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire introduced not only the story of two British runners who ran for reasons beyond winning races, but also brought the Greek film composer Vangelis (Evangelos Papathanassiou) and his symphony of synthesizers to the attention of the film world. His evocative use of electronic sounds creatively contrasting with the source music (church services and Gilbert & Sullivan performances) earned him an Oscar for best musical score and a successful career in film scoring. The opening theme with its driving rhythm and solo electronic piano melody effectively set the stage for this inspiring film.

Thanks to the medium of television and film, countless audiences are able to view performances from the wonderful word of ballet. While many complete films of Swan Lake have been made over the years, portions of it have also been used in films, including Ed Wood and Anna Karenina. In the 1997 film adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel, Anna attends the ballet Swan Lake and portions of Tchaikovsky’s music are heard.

While not a “biopic,” the 1984 film Amadeus, Milos Forman’s setting of Peter Shaffer’s play about Salieri and Mozart, probably has done more to bring classical music to the masses than any other endeavor. The music–essentially all Mozart’s (with some Salieri and some others as appropriate)–was chosen and conducted, in all new recordings, by Sir Neville Marriner. The music was such a dominating force in the making of the film that Forman and Shaffer conceded that it took the role of the third main character (along with Mozart and Salieri). The movement heard tonight from Symphony No. 25 in G minor accompanies Salieri confronting his anger in the asylum in the opening scene.

The third part of Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy on organized crime The Godfather, appropriately blends his story of the Corleone family saga with another Sicilian drama, Pietro Mascagni’s opera Cavaliera Rusticana. The Intermezzo from this opera was also used in Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film, Raging Bull.

Throughout his life Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev produced a large number of film scores. While not originally a film, his highly successful piece written to introduce the various instruments of the orchestra, Peter and the Wolf, has been filmed numerous times, in many languages, and is a favorite of children of all ages. Many American children grew up with the 1969 Disney version. John Curry created a popular version on skates, and along with recent animated versions, a new rendition was released in 2006. The portion that we hear tonight consists of Peter’s theme and the final triumphal march after the wolf has been captured. Who can forget Peter’s cocky theme on the strings, the wolf portrayed by the sinister French horns, the hunters with their drums, the nervous flute bird, the crafty clarinet cat, and the mournful oboe sound of the swallowed duck?

Australian composer David Hirschfelder created a rich choral/orchestral score for Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 larger-than-life portrayal of the rise of Elizabeth I as played by fellow Australian Cate Blanchette. He drew on Renaissance music as well as newly composed material to support the portrayal of the basic theme of the film–the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The elegance yet nobility of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations, underlies one of darkest moments of the film when Elizabeth must repudiate her lover and send many to their deaths in order to save the kingdom.

Arranged for five-part string orchestra by the composer from his String Quartet, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings has become a kind of unofficial national funeral piece, having been played either following radio announcements of deaths or being played at the funerals of such prominent persons as Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Princess Grace of Monaco, Senator Robert A. Taft, John F. Kennedy, and more recently at numerous 9/11 memorials. The piece has been used in a number of films, but perhaps most memorably in Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam film, Platoon, where only music can express some of the horror of what the eyes see and the conscience feels.

The music of French composer Erik Satie has found its way into a surprising number of films. The first of his Three Gymnopedies, a simple atmospheric bon bon in 3/4 time has particularly become popular and has been used in films such as My Dinner with André, Corrina, Corrina, and The Royal Tenenbaums. The version we hear tonight is from Debussy’s set of orchestrations of two of the Gymnopedies. (Satie’s No. 1 became Debussy’s No. 2).

Director Stanley Kubrick commissioned Alex North to write an original score for his 1968 science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. But in the end, the director became quite attached to his temp score (a composite collection of pieces that he had selected to work with during filming and editing) leaving North’s score unused until a recording of the music was made in 1993. In Kubrick’s score the music of two Strausses became attached to this film. The opening of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, became known to the general population as the theme of 2001. In a rather anachronous move, Kubrick used Johann Strauss’s familiar waltz On the Beautiful Blue Danube to emphasize the space vehicle’s weightless grace.

Arranger, composer, conductor, and pianist Henry Mancini worked for Universal in the studio system of the 1950s, but when most of the studio’s staff was let go, he was hired by director Blake Edwards to do the music for the TV show Peter Gunn. This collaboration proved to be extraordinarily productive, yielding more than two dozen films over the next 30 years. The light-hearted 1961 romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s features the song, Moon River, first heard simply played on a harmonica (quasi-country-style) as Audrey Hepburn munches her breakfast outside the Tiffany display windows just after dawn. Various transformations of the tune provide a unifying element throughout the score for which Mancini was awarded two Oscars–best song (with Johnny Mercer) and best score. During the final editing process Hepburn eloquently sums up the work of the film composer in a letter to Mancini:

“Dear Henry, I have just seen our picture Breakfast at Tiffany’s–this time with your score. A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty. You are the hippest of cats - and the most sensitive of composers!”

Equally at home as a pianist, conductor, arranger, and composer–in the concert hall, in the jazz band, or in the studio–hardly a year has passed since the late 1960s that John Williams has not been on the Oscar roster of nominations. Tonight we will hear music from three films for which he was honored. His first Oscar was for “Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score” for Norman Jewison’s 1971 film of the beloved Bock/Harnick musical about Jewish life in Russia, Fiddler on the Roof. Adapting a musical to film requires taking pre-existing music, sometimes rearranging, reorchestrating, extending, abbreviating, and most of all developing underscoring (background music not used on stage). The songs included in tonight’s medley are: Fiddler on the Roof, Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man, Sunrise, Sunset, Wedding Dance, To Life, and Tradition.

1993 yielded two wildly contrasting products from the phenomenally successful team of Spielberg/Williams – Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Oscars for best picture and best score went to the latter. Williams’ spare, understated but heartfelt music lends a dignified but resigned air to the horrific story of the Holocaust. The influence of Hebrew themes and klezmer style are felt throughout, but it is his use of the solo violin in the main theme (heard tonight) as well as elsewhere in the film that deepens the emotional appeal, perhaps evoking the cantor and congregation in synagogue, or the long tradition of fine Jewish violinists.

Advertisements for the 1978 film of comic book hero Superman blared, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” John Williams’ Oscar-nominated, Grammy winning symphonic score helped us believe it. The concert version of the opening theme heard tonight includes the brassy heroic Superman march theme and romantic love theme, Can You Read My Mind.


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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2007.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts