Nobody, presumably, goes to the movies to listen to music. Yet that hasn’t prevented the movie-music industry from becoming one of the most productive and profitable in the entire range of modern artistic endeavor. From the “Tara Theme” of Gone With the Wind, which helped start the whole business in 1939, to the “Lara Theme” of Doctor d?hivago, which has sold 2 million LPs for MGM Records since 1966, movie sound tracks have performed the happy service of keeping record companies solvent and composers nourished without in the least disturbing the audiences who pay their way in to see the films.
This felicitous situation was dramatized a few weeks ago by the appearance in the United States of a British composer named Richard Rodney Bennett. At thirty-one, Mr. Bennett obviously is a young man of importance on the musical scene. He came to this country to attend, on successive nights, two premieres of major works he had written, a symphony and an opera. The former, his Symphony No. 2, was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic as part of its onehundred-and-twenty-fifth-anniversary celebration, and received its world premiere at the hands of Leonard Bernstein at Philharmonic Hall. The opera, a full-length three-act work entitled The Alines of Sulphur, commissioned in 1965 by Sadler’s Wells in England, was given its American premiere by the Juilliard Opera Theater in New York. Just before departing for America, Mr. Bennett had attended the London premiere of his ballet Jazz Calendar, with Rudolf Nureyev and Frederick Ashton of the Royal Ballet; and after leaving New York he headed for Munich, Germany, which was preparing to unveil another opera of his entitled A Penny for a Song, a lighthearted work about an English family in 1804 confusedly awaiting a cross-Channel invasion by Napoleon. If any further attestation of Mr. Bennett’s status as a serious composer is needed, RCA Victor will shortly release a recording of Ins Symphony No. 1 played by the Royal Philharmonic, this to be added to the three other entries he already has in the Schwann catalogue.
With all this output, most of the people who have heard Mr. Bennett’s music don’t even know he exists, for this young Englishman makes his living by writing movie music. At the same time he was taking bows from the first tier at Philharmonic Hall, two of “his” movies were playing at theaters a few blocks south on Broadway, Far From the Madding Crowd and Billion Dollar Brain. Both have subsequently been released as sound track records, on the MGM and United Artists labels respectively.
Mr. Bennett, a tall, lanky, altogether affable young man, seemed unperturbed that so much of his music is being played for people who don’t listen to it.
“Until recently I haven’t been able to earn a living by writing serious music,” he explained over a luncheon after a Philharmonic rehearsal of his symphony. “In America, it’s different. Composers are able to live by receiving various grants, which is an admirable situation, though I think it a little unreal. Doing commercial work, having to write, is more real, more what a composer ought to be doing. I have always wanted to earn my living by writing music and nothing else, and since I love movies, it’s a pleasure to be working in the field and still composing. And of course, through movies one gets royalties —a minute sum every time the film is shown. This enables one to write one’s own music. I seem to be talking a lot about money. But I believe above all in being a professional, and if no one will pay you, you’re not a professional.”
Mr. Bennett doesn’t write the same kind of music for the movies that he does for the concert hall. His score for Far From the Madding Crowd, as befits its Thomas HardyWcssex background, has an English folk song flavor; his Billion Dollar Brain music has the rat-tat-tat nervous tension appropriate to a thriller about a computer-directed invasion of Soviet Russia. Both sound tracks are couched in an essentially conservative idiom not likely to startle the average moviegoer or music lover. His opera and symphony, on the other hand, arc avant-garde atonal works utilizing serial techniques which few movie directors, not to mention audiences, would tolerate.
“The creative impulse is quite different,” he acknowledged. “Film music must be totally committed to the film, and quite subordinate. Serial music has to be heard in a detailed way, and behind the dialogue of a sound track it wouldn’t be heard at all. Tonal, melodic music fits in much better. And while writing movie music, which must be done in split-second timing, can be mentally exhausting, it still exerts less creative pressure than a symphony. Writing a symphony is a great strain. If a composer completes ten symphonies in a lifetime, it’s a lot, whereas I myself have written thirty movie scores in ten years. With a movie, it’s all there. You don’t have to imagine a structure. The irony is that the best movie music can’t be taken out of context. The most effective things are often the very simplest. For instance, in Billion Dollar Brain at one point there is nothing going on musically but an ostinato, a rhythmic pulse which integrates itself into the film without having a great thematic personality of its own. You can find aesthetic satisfaction from something like this. Yet only about 10 percent of a movie score is viable away from the film. Even that may be a high estimate.”
Despite this supposed inseparability of sound and sight, movie sound track recordings exist by the hundreds. A sound track LP of a new movie is in the shops the day the movie opens, and record companies have begun to prospect in the musical gold mines of Hollywood almost as enthusiastically as they scout new Broadway musical shows. The most lucrative of all sound tracks are the movie versions of hit musicals such as My Fair Lady and West Side Story, both of which have made a mint for Columbia, and The Sound of Music, which according to RCA Victor has sold more copies than any other record of any kind — 10 million. But even the “incidental” or “background” type of instrumental sound track, which constitutes the bulk of the industry’s output, can make a success for the producer and a fortune for a skilled and prolific composer.
Record companies are understandably chary of divulging the details of royalty arrangements with composers, which vary considerably from case to case. But the average fee before royalties to a composer for a top-ranked Hollywood film is a minimum of $10,000 and in some instances much higher. Henry Mancini, whose oeuvre includes Breakfastat Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, Charade, and Pink Panther, reportedly gets $50,000 a film. Mancini, who operates his own music publishing company, is said by industry sources to earn around $150,000 annually from his movie output.
Most sound track records establish their popularity on the basis of perhaps five or ten minutes of music, known in the trade as the Main Title or simply the Theme. “If there’s one great theme, the whole album takes off,” says an RCA Victor executive. Max Steiner’s “Tara Theme” in Gone With the Wind, which has just been reissued in a nostalgic album by MOM (S1E-10ST), was one of the earliest to demonstrate the potential; in recent years there have been such hardy cinematic (and television) products as Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” (RCA Victor LSP-1956), Ernest Gold’s “Exodus Theme” (RCA Victor LSO-1058), and Maurice Jarre’s “Lara Theme” from Doctor fjiivago (MGM 81E6ST). All of these established a certain identity of their own, but too often the durability of a film score depends almost entirely upon the fate of the movie in question. Although Mr. Bennett’s Main Title (the music played during the screen credits at the start) for Billion Dollar Brain has a great deal of rhythmic and melodic vivacity, the sound track album is likely to languish simply because the movie was so indifferently received. The generally tepid reviews accorded to Far From the Madding Crowd won’t help sales of that album either. On the other hand, sound track sales for James Bond movies, whatever their musical qualities, are invariably reported as substantial.
Aspiring movie composers can find a great deal of practical information in a book called Music in Modern Media (G. Scl firmer, Incorporated, $4.95), written by Robert Emmett Dolan, himself a motion picture and theater composer. It won’t guarantee results, but it does take up such arcane but essential matters as translating feet of film into seconds of time, and the problem of composing music with a stopwatch on the desk.
That movies can make important contributions to the music of our time was demonstrated long ago by composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland, or even by Serge Prokofiev, whose Alexander Nevsky music was originally composed for an Eiscnstein film. Leonard Bernstein’s On the Waterfront has a musical life of its own; such films as l m hr el’las of Cherbourg and Black Orpheus linger in the memory for their musical as well as their pictorial quality.
But for all the appositeness and inventiveness of such scores, the fact remains that movie composers have as yet been unable to produce works of the quality achieved by their theatrical counterparts of a century ago — scores of the value of the incidental music written by Bizet for Alphonse Daudet’s play VArlesienne or by Mendelssohn for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Part of the answer may be that there are no Bizets or Mendelssohns around today, but part of it may lie in the limited needs of the medium itself, which inevitably relegates music to the role of filling in the vacant moments or underlining an existing mood or situation. “Music in the cinema doesn’t have the same authority as music in the theater,” admits Mr. Bennett. “It’s more or less the ugly duckling of the industry. I suppose the only way that can be remedied is by more and more people writing good scores.”
That day may come yet. In the meanwhile, help seems to be arriving from an unexpected source. Elvira Madigan, a current Swedish film about a bittersweet romance between a runaway circus girl and a deserting soldier, has one of the loveliest film scores ever written. It consists of the main theme of the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, played by Geza Anda, an ethereally beautiful melody which ideally suits the dreamy quality of the film. Deutsche Grammophon originally released Anda’s recording of this music in 1966 as part of a complete Mozart concerto series he is doing (DGG-138783). When the movie became a hit, some merchandising genius hit on the idea of affixing a sticker to each record jacket reading: “Contains Theme from Elvira Madigan.” The result is that MGM Records, which distributes DGG in this country, reports that more copies of the concerto have been sold in the last two months than in the preceding two years. The growing appreciation of the greatness of Mozart has surely been one of the most welcome musical developments of our time, but it would be ironic if he now went down in history as the composer of the “Elvira Madigan Theme.”
Glazounov: The Seasons
Ernest Anserrnet conducting V Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; London CS-6509
Glazounov’s ballet suite needs an affectionate as well as a skilled conductor, for it represents a kind of romantic, expansive music that has largely gone out of vogue. Ernest Anserrnet, who still wields a sharp baton at the age of eightyfive, brings almost a youthful verve and enthusiasm to the music, and it shines forth most brilliantly as a result. Included on the record for good measure are two Glazounov concert waltzes. It all adds up to an amiable hour, with the excellent stereo quality adding extra enjoyment.
Haydn: Symphonies No. 101 in l>, “Clock,” and No. 104 in I), “London”
Leslie Jones conducting Orchestra of London; Checkmate C-76008
Few encounters with a late Haydn symphony ever fail to leave a listener without a buoyant feeling, and these excellent performances certainly produce the expected effect. The Clock is a little idiosyncratic in some of its tempos, but the London is played to perfection, and what a masterpiece it is! Mr. Jones and his musicians are thoroughly at home in this music, and the sound is so lively it almost bounces.
Janacek: The Makropoulos Case
Bohumil Gregor conducting soloists, orchestra, and chorus of Prague National Theater; Epic B2S-167: two records
Alone among American cities, San Francisco has heard a staged performance of The Makropoulos Case; the rest of us will have to rely pretty much on this Czech-Ianguage recording to make the acquaintance of an opera with an imposing reputation but few performances. And a compelling work it turns out to be. The opera, first given in 1926, is based on a strongly dramatic work by Karel Capek about a threehundred-year-old woman whose discovery of a life-giving elixir adds to her years, but not to her understanding or happiness. I t’s a grim, grotesque story whose bizarreness is heightened by its modern setting, and Janacek has given it music that is terse, dramatic, and intensely lyrical. Probably its alien language and unsympathetic principal character arc going to keep it from becoming a repertory work in the United States, but it certainly is something to listen to in this idiomatic, pungent recording. A libretto is included.
Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding
Bob Dylan, vocalist, with Charles McCoy, bass; Kenny Buttrey, drums; and Pete Drake, steel guitar; Columbia CS9604
Bob Dylan’s anthology of songs about bad men, good men, and mediocre men strikes me as one of the best he has ever recorded, with a certain unity of theme his records don’t always have. The title song, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” “Drifter’s Escape,” “1 Am a Lonesome Hobo,” and most of the others all belong together. “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” bears a familial resemblance to “Joe Hill,” and the Dylan brand of rock-folklore works well throughout. But 1 could have done without the rhapsodic and (to me, at least) completely incomprehensible jacket notes.
Shakespearean Songs and Consort Music
Deller Consort, with Alfred Deller, countertenor; Desmond Dupre, lute; and others; RCA Victrola VICS-1266
Unlike Shakespearean music records which draw on the works of later composers, this one sticks to the Elizabethan period. Presumably this is the music that Shakespeare himself heard, including settings of his own verses such as “It Was a Lover and His Lass,” “Take, O Lake Those Lips Away,” and the Willow Song from Othello. Lovely music, most of it, by such composers as Morley, Weelkes, and the most prolific of all, Anon. Deller and his colleagues present both the vocal and instrumental pieces with style and affection.
Live recordings of songs and sayings from the Freedom Movement in the Deep South; ESP-1056
This record is devoted to the drama of the civil rights movement as it was enacted in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in 1963 and 1964. It makes no pretense of being dispassionate; in fact, it sticks mostly to the doings of SNGC, that most activist of Negro organizations. Through its songs and its interviews with Negroes telling of repression and attacks, it gives a graphic and gripping sound picture of what it’s like to experience and resist conditions in some Southern communities. And it also demonstrates how the civil rights protest is transmuted into songs like “Oh, Freedom” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody.” ESPDisk is a small but energetic record company, with headquarters at 156 Fifth Avenue, New York.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Is a Dirty Old Man
Vocal ensemble directed by Norman Luboff, with Igor Kipnis, harpsichord; Epic BC-1366
Everyone who has read Mozart’s correspondence knows that he and members of his family were fond of crude expressions and dirty jokes, and that he was not above setting these to music to amuse himself and his friends. Unlike Gibbon, who left all his “licentious passages ... in the decent obscurity of a learned language,” the good people at Epic decided to share the wealth by making Mozart’s “scatalogical canons and songs” (as they call them) available to all in English. Probably they sound better in their original German, or at least in smoother performances, than they do on this slapdash recording, which never rises above the rather giggly quality imparted by its title.
Jan Peeree Sing.s Songs From “Fiddler on the Roof” and Ten Classics of Jewish Folk Song
Jan Peeree, tenor, with orchestra conducted by Vladimir Golschman; Vanguard VSD-79258
Jan Peeree adds a new dimension to the seemingly inexhaustible Fiddler on the Roof by placing it in a context of Yiddish folk tunes carried over from the old country. 1 he Fiddler tunes like “Tradition ‘ and “If I Were a Rich Man” (here “When I’ll Be a Rothschild”) blend beautifully with the old numbers, demonstrating that composer Jerry Bock really caught the idiom in the show. Everything is sung in Yiddish, and Mr. Peeree is in fine fettle.