ROZSA – THE SOUNDTRACK ARTIST
Relatively few of life’s transitory joys can equal the exhilaration of witnessing firsthand the maturation and growing expertise of a great
artist refining his skills. Like Picasso in the winter of his lifetime or Sir Alfred Hitchcock in his later years, an unexpected cache of treasures had
been discovered and their renewed individuality, flowering in richly expressive textures, had illuminated and enhanced the supposedly barren
culture of the ageless. Such an artist, such a legend, is Miklos Rozsa, composing music for motion pictures since 1937, in his forty-second year of endeavor, creating one of the most memorable and endearing scores for Nicholas Meyer’s wondrous fantasy, Time After Time.
With Time After Time, Rozsa has created a rapturous moment of incomparable beaury, an exquisite rhapsody that is matchless in its grandeur. Director Nicholas Meyer wisely allowed the composer to follow
his own inclinations. Among these was Rozsa’s decision to begin the picture with Max Steiner’s traditional Warner Bros, fanfare, a loving salute
to the man who gave the studio its musical identity. Time After Time is in
no sense a modern film. It is a delightful throwback to a more innocent period of our culture when Steiner’s familiar prelude heralded the appearance of each new film from the brothers Warner. Thus, its inclusion. What follows is in no way inconsistent with the spirit or flavor of the familiar fanfare, for Rozsa has written a majestic main title for the film that is both stirring and provocative.
For the time-travel sequence in which H. G. Wells is transported abruptly into the twentieth century, Rozsa has created a wonderful accompaniment filled with a sense of wonder almost childlike in its structure since we, like Wells in his machine, are children innocently entering a new world. It is appropriate then that this sequence is somewhat reminiscent of an earlier journey, a similar adventure in which a child/man took the reigns of a flying
horse and flew off beyond the clouds in Rozsa’s The Thief of Bagdad.
“The Ripper; Pursuit” is brilliantly conceived and executed, as is a later chase sequence entitled “Dangerous Drive.” In both selections Wells
chases the Ripper through the streets of San Francisco, first on foot and
then behind the wheel of an automobile. Rozsa’s music in these scenes is quite marvelous, a thrilling musical pursuit, escalating to a near frenzy of agitation and suspense as the chase is frustrated again and again.
For the lovers’ first date in a revolving rooftop cafe high above the city, the composer has written the lovely “Time Machine Waltz,” a soft and charming piano solo that gently glimpses a deeper affection yet to be shared. Itself worthy of a full sym phonic orchestration, Rozsa deliberately withholds a more deserving interpretation of the piece. In lesser hands this might have served rather effectively as a primary romantic theme. For Rozsa, however, there is a second love theme awaiting its introduction in the wings. This is
certainly the piece de resistance of the score. The music is heard first
amongst the “Redwoods” where Wells and Amy come to realize their feelings for one another. It is soft, never overstated, yet clearly poignant
and sensitive to the growing tender ness of a shared and special moment.
It isn’t until “Journey’s End & Finale,” however, that the enormous power and potential of this music can be experienced properly. It is here, as the lovers prepare their farewell, that the consummate artist ry of Miklos Rozsa reaches its zenith. It is an electrifying moment, the culmination of the composer’s finest Him score in seventeen years and the awesome intensity of one of the most exquisite love themes in his long and vibrant artistic career. The score has been preserved on Entr’acte Records in a beautiful performance conduct ed by Miklos Rozsa with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This music is to be loved, to be cherished, for its like may never pass our way again.
Of considerably less importance is John Barry’s score for the Disney Studio’s failed epic. The Mack Hole. Barry, a competent, occasionally
gifted composer, is continually disregarding his obvious limitations and
getting in over his head with film assignments he cannot hope to master. The musical score for The Black Hole is hopelessly dull and unimaginative, an ill-advised and ill-conceived attempt to emulate Star Wars that, in the final analysis, is barely passable as tenth-rate John Williams. The sad but apparent truth of the matter is that John Barry’s abilities do not lend themselves to spectacle, failed or otherwise. The Buena Vista album is being advertised as a digital recording, but you’ll probably have to take their word for it. The pressing has been manufactured so sloppily that it’s difficult to hear the music through the pops, crackles, and distortions.
Somewhat better and far less pretentious is Barry’s score for the Italian-made Star Crash, a juvenile but appealing satire based upon that country’s popular comic strip The Adventures of Stella Star. Barry’s music is simplistic, yet entertaining. A soundtrack album is available on Durium Records in Milano, Italy. Barry does have talent. Certainly his score Tor Zulu is compelling and at times spectacular. He has provided a wealth of offbeat and interesting scores for such films as The Ipcress File, The Whisperers, The Chase, Monty Walsh, The Day of the Locust, Mary-Queen of Scots, and, particularly, the lovely score for television’s superb production of Eleanor and Franklin. hopefully, Mr. Barry will confine himself to projects suited to his unique style of composition and not allow ambition to stand in the way of common sense.
If John Barry’s The Black Hole is a disappointment, Laurence Rosenthal’s
Meteor is an embarrassment. In referring to Meteor as a disaster film, its producers have unintentionally handed critics a perfectly lethal response, for Meteor is an unmitigated disaster. Not only is Meteor the worst major film of the year, its soundtrack provided listeners with the most incompetent and ludicrous musical accompaniment of the era. Extraterrestrial rocks weren’t alone in their menacing crash toward the Earth. The film and its music were both crashing bores. The score is an absurd pastiche of every insipid musical cliché in the proverbial book. Charity forbids further discussion of this unfortunate endeavor.
On a decidedly higher plane is Elmer Bernstein’s Zulu Dawn, a prequel to the aforementioned Zulu. Cy Endficld’s screenplay recounts the true story of the massive battle that preceded the frightening con frontation iivthe earlier film. Elmer Bernstein, a composer misused in recent years, is in top form conduct ing the Royal Philharmonic for the soundtrack of his exuberant score. While not on the traditional Filinusic Collection label, this new release on California’s Cerberus Records appears to be a new if tentative lease on life for the celebrated Bernstein Society. It is obvious from this score that Elmer Bernstein still has a great deal to offer as an artist. His absence from the motion picture soundstages, whether by personal choice or studio bigotry, is a sad spectacle of neglect. His infrequent forays into composition in recent years have included such undistinguished musical events as National Lampoon’s Animal House, a
brilliant comedy but hardly a challenge to the man who composed The
Ten Commandments, Summer and Smoke,The Man with the Golden Arm, and The Magnificent Seven..
With the score for Zulu Dawn, Elmer Bernstein portrays in music a valiant life-and-death struggle between the British and the legendary Zulu warriors. “The Overture,” or “River, Crossing,” states perfectly the intention of the musical substance to come. It is a vibrant and exciting composition by a composer whose enormous talents have been sadly ill-used for too many years. It must be hoped that Zulu Dawn will signal the return of one of our finest modern composers to projects worthy of his abilities.
Few will argue that the vast assortment of film scores committed to records over the last ten years is due largely to the efforts of a single man. Prior to 1972, serious recording of film scores was rare. The vogue seemed to be rock-oriented treatments of motion picture music, a double-edged sword that acknowledged the existence of an audience for film themes but refused to take a chance by performing the music as it was written. It was during this unfortunate period that musicians such as Leroy Holmes prospered despite one-dimensional abilities and cowardly recordings that pandered to the lowest common audience denominator.
In the latter part of the sixties, however, enthusiasts began to notice a slight but hopeful trend in the noncommercial recordings of The Reader’s Digest, a series of subscription anthologies that featured the work of various unknown conductors performing mood and “easy listening” selections. Among the first of these grab-bag assortments were two anthologies entitled Great Music from the Movies and Mood Music from the Movies. Certain selections written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold began to appear on these recordings and it didn’t take a musical scholar to realize that there was a vast difference between the treatments of these recordings and the typical “Muzak” arrangements of the remaining offerings. The difference, it seemed, was due to the welcome inclusion of a young, serious conductor named Charles Gerhardt.
In 1972 Charles Gerhardt departed Reader’s Digest and sufficiently impressed RCA that they allowed him to conduct an album of serious film music with the National Phil harmonic Orchestra for their classical label, Red Seal. The album wasThe Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The album was magnificent, a smash hit that took the staid classical recording world by storm. Produced by George Korngold, the son of the late com poser, the series went on to produce twelve marvelous albums featuring the compositions of Erich Korngold, Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa, Franz Waxman, and Dimitri Tiomkin. Two later albums were issued as well, though not a part of the original series. One featured leftover cuts not included in the first albums, while the other seemed an attempt to begin a new series of contemporary film music, showcasing suites by John Williams for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and conducted by Gerhardt.
It was in fact Charles Gerhardt whose superb recordings throughout the seventies signaled a return in popularity to the classical or symphonic film score, and whose championing of the neglected form laid the effective groundwork that led to studio acceptance of John Williams, Star Wars, and the entire renaissance of the symphonic motion picture score.
Now, for the eighties, Charles Gerhardt has again taken to the podium for his first film-oriented recording in several years. Britain’s Chalfont Records has joined with Varese Sarabande Records in Los Angeles 10 take Maestro Gerhardt back to his beginnings–the full-length score of Kings Row by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Produced by George Korngold and recorded in magnificent digital sound by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, this superb production of Korngold’s classic Warner Bros, score is a milestone in full-length recording, a worthy companion to the Classic Film Score series, and a mandatory addition to any collection of record ed motion picture music.
Forever a champion themselves in the rescuing and preserving of lost and noteworthy film scores is Varese Sarabande Records, whose latest gem is Georges Delerue’s delightful Academy Award winning score for A Little Romance. Released to a small but thoroughly loyal following in the summer of 1979, George Roy Hill’s charming film based upon Patrick Cauvin’s novel, £=M/C2, Mon Amour, tells the wonderful story of two preteenagers who meet and fall in love against their parents’ wishes, and run away together with the aid of a romantic old con artist, Laurence Olivier. It’s hard to imagine a more charming or lovelier romantic comedy than A Little Romance, with simply magical performances by the enchanting Lord Olivier, delivering his finest performance in recent memory, and the ravishingly adorable Diane Lane and rakish Thelonious Bernard
as the young lovers.
Georges Delerue has composed one of the most tantalizing scores of his career, a joyous celebration of the innocence of first love that sparkles and comes radiantly to life, reflecting every subtlety and nuance of youth’s first delicious romantic yearnings. This is a gem.
It has generally been conceded that Jerry Goldsmith’s enormous work load over the past fifteen years has made him the most prolific American film composer in the industry, taking a backseat only to Italy’s Ennio Morricone for sheer numbers of scores composed and recorded. For his farewell 10 the seventies, the culmination of a decade of work. Goldsmith has written
perhaps the finest score of his long and varied career, the striking musical background for Star Trek, The Motion Picture. Goldsmith’s accompaniment is ‘me of the Paramount film’s most noteworthy contributions to the cinema scene despite the rather embarrassing fact that some executives at Paramount wanted to scrap the music entirely. Of course, when it comes to executive decision making, it must be remembered that executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer very nearly cut Harold Aden’s “Over the Rainbow” from the negative of The Wizard of Oz.
As usual. Goldsmith was given the assignment of scoring Star Trek very
late in the game and then expected to create miracles on a moment’s notice. As the deadline for completion of the long and complex score grew ever nearer, Goldsmith asked fellow composer and renowned musicologist
Fred Steiner to step in and assist with some of the orchestrations and even
compose a small section of the last sequence. Steiner had, of course, composed much of the finest music in the original television series and was happy lo step in to assist Goldsmith in the final stages of the project.
With so much working against him, then, it is truly amazing that Goldsmith was able to compose, with Rozsa’s eloquent Time After Time, one of the two finest motion picture scores of 1979. Star Trek is a great score, a monumental achievement from a consummate musician. From its opening strains, the main title of Star Trek commands attention. It is a solid, vibrant theme, proudly saluting the spectacle to come. And it does come, musically as well as visually. Instantly, the theme, courageous and valiant, segues into an equally strong statement of another kind, an aggressive symphonic attack dressed in the barbaric garb of Klingon savagery. This is powerful music, dominating the screen and the emotions of its audience.
While much of the score is forceful and deliberately masculine, Goldsmith’s versatility does not preclude the addition of a strangely sensitive and haunting love ballad entitled “Ilia’s Theme,” for the romance between Decker and the lovely visitor from another world. The poignancy and meaning of this tender sonnet reaches its true significance in the film’s lovely and poetic finale as Decker and Ilia join their souls together in a lasting affirmation of their love, to search the stars together … as one. Arthur Morton’s sublime orchestrations and Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliant score have combined to make Star Trek, The Motion Picture a superb listening experience.
Steven Spielberg’s 1941 for Columbia and Universal Pictures was intended as a wartime version of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, complete with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and the destruction of nearly everything in sight. The film, while somewhat overstated and lacking in commercial appeal, did offer one saving grace–a new score by John Williams. Using the same ideas of musical counterpoint that he utilized for Star Wars, romantic music against a visual backdrop of futuristic gimmickry, Williams, in this instance, employed a fairly serious dramatic score against a visual statement of complete and total comedic insanity. In effect, playing straight man to Spielberg’s clowning, Williams has written a straightforward and exceptionally entertaining soundtrack, highlighted by a full-blown military
march destined to become a standard across the football fields of America.
The most eagerly awaited event of the season is, without any doubt, John Williams’s return to the clouds in The Empire Strikes Back, or Star Wars Revisited. Again packaged in a handsome two-record set, this time by
Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records, The Empire Strikes Back continues the
popular Star Wars saga in a science fiction/fantasy masterpiece destined
to be counted among the epic visions of the durable genre. Williams utilizes many of the character themes from the original motion picture as well as reprising his most famous work, the Star Wars theme. It’s a virtual certainty that both Williams and producer George Lucas would have been skinned alive had they chosen to depart from tradition and use an entirely new main title.
There is, happily, a wealth of new music by this composer, of which two compositions are particularly noteworthy. “Yoda’s Theme” is a wonderful addition to the John Williams repertoire, a lovely and moving tribute to the newest of George Lucas’s mad, yet ingenious, creations. The music is filled with the dignity and sense of wonder befitting this strange, ageless guru whose supernatural wisdom may ultimately be the last force in the universe to stand between freedom for the Rebel Alliance and slavery to the wicked
The diamond among the composer’s new themes for the ongoing Star Wars series, however, is unquestionably “The Imperial March,” or “Darth Vader’s Theme.” From its opening notes, this is a majestic piece that assaults the senses with frighten ing power. This is obviously the musical identification of a being seduced by the dark side of the Force, an evil presence amongst the stars, a dastardly villain whose life-force has been warped and perverted into the service of the most terrible evil in the universe. Williams seems to relish the delicious wickedness of Lord Vader, and his artistic glee is matched by the superb playing of the London Symphony Orchestra. John Williams has become one of our greatest natural resources, a spectacular talent whose gifted visions have provided the screen with much of its most inspired musical imagery. Between his new and celebrated position as the leader of the Boston Pops Orchestra and his continuing commitment to the world of motion pictures, currently and brilliantly represented by The Empire Strikes Back, it would appear that John Williams is striking back as an artiste extraordinair