Archive for the ‘John Williams’ Category

Soundtrack Collection: Fantastic Voyage to Father of the Bride

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage (Leonard Rosenman, 1966): Leonard Rosenman provides a moody and often dissonant, but also sometimes melodic and thematic, score for the popular science fiction adventure about a team of miniaturized scientists exploring he innards of the human body.  It is an unusual and experimental score, but also distinctive and effective.

The melodic aspects of the scores are primarily built around a haunting and evocative central theme.  The theme is fairly short, primarily characterized by a short fanfare-type motif, although its statement usually leads to fairly dissonant and, at times, atonal material.  The score finally goes fully-melodic, and becomes recognizably Rosenman’s style, during the dramatic finale cue, entitled “Optic Nerve/End Cast”.

The soundtrack CD opens very strangely, with a minute and a half “Main Title Sound Effects Suite”, which is exactly what the title suggests.  It includes a variety of beeps, buzzes, clicks, and electronic hums with no melody involved.  The early part of the film (up until the scientists first enter the body) was left unscored, so this sound effects suite is representative of the opening of the film.

Film Score Monthly released a CD of the score back in 1998, the first release separate from the film.  This is a complete presentation with a running time of a little over 45 minutes.  The CD is out-of-print and is now a bit expensive, but not difficult, to locate.

Far and Away

Far and Away (John Williams, 1992): While the film was not a big hit and the score isn’t extremely well-known to the mainstream public, John Williams’ music to Ron Howard’s 70mm epic Far and Away has become a favorite of film music enthusiasts and is frequently featured at Williams’ live concerts. The epic scope of the film provided Williams with an opportunity to showcase a wide range of highly-thematic material, including Irish/Celtic flavored melodies, western-tinged Americana, and rousing action cues.  The result is one Williams’ richest and most diverse scores.

The film’s focus on the relationship (and romance) between Irish immigrants played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman made the use of Irish-influenced melodies an obvious choice that Williams certainly embraced.  The first cue on the soundtrack, “County Galway, June 1892” establishes the main theme, which incorporates bagpipes along with the orchestra and is both distinctly ethnic and also an example of Williams’ strong gift for rich, thematic melody.  As the film transitions into American settings, the more ethnic elements of the theme are pushed more into the background in favor of a distinctively Americana orchestral flavor.

The strength of the main theme from Far and Away, which isn’t fully dependent on the Irish arrangements, led to a very effective violin arrangement of the theme that Williams arranged for the “Cinematic Serenade” album that he did with Yo Yo Ma, and which is now a frequent showcase for the lead violin player at some of Williams’ live concerts.

The ethnic components of the score are further strengthened through the participation of the popular Irish band The Chieftains on several of the scores cues.  On the soundtrack, these are the cues “The Fighting Donellys”, “Fighting for Dough” and portions of the end credits suite.  Their energetic strings and percussion are expertly blended with the orchestra. 

Williams provides some exuberant, orchestral action music in such cues as the rich, string-centered “Blowing Off Steam”, “Fighting for Dough”, and “The Big Match”.  Williams sticks with grand, very melodic material for the action segments of the score, eventually culminating in the absolutely thrilling 5 minute cue “The Land Race”, which is one of the score’s highlights. 

The score also features richly dramatic components, including the cue “Am I Beautiful”, which is highlighted by an especially effective piano rendition of the score’s central theme.  Another distinctive, quietly dramatic cue is “Inside the Mansion”, where Williams mixes tender strings with bell-like piano to create an almost dreamlike quality to the music, eventually leading into another tender piano rendition of the theme.  This cue then transitions into the more darkly-dramatic “Shannon is Shot”.

In addition to Williams’ music, the soundtrack album also contains the song “Book of Days”, written for the film and performed by Enya.  I admit that I tend to find that Enya’s songs all sound fairly interchangeable to me, although I generally find them pleasant enough.  I do like this song and it blends in fairly well with the score.  The song’s presentation on the album is between the film’s finale music and Williams’ end credits suite, but it doesn’t really feel out of place.

The soundtrack album to Far and Away isn’t a complete presentation of the score and isn’t entirely chronological, but it perhaps one of the best arguments out there in favor of an album arrangement over a complete and chronological release.  The listening experience on the album (which runs just under an hour and ten minutes) is simply superb, with expertly edited cues and transitions. While I would likely purchase an expanded release, I am also pretty sure that I would both retain and still frequently play the original album.

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Soundtrack Collection: F/X to Fantastic 4

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

F/X

F/X (Bill Conti, 1986): I remember really liking this mid-80s thriller about a special effects artist that gets caught up in real life intrigue, but I also admit that I don’t really remember very much about it.  While Varese Sarabande released a soundtrack LP at the time of the film’s release, I never bought it and the score didn’t particularly stick with me after seeing the film.  As a result, I ended up essentially re-discovering this score with the 2007 Varese Sarabande CD Club release.

Bill Conti provides a moody, vaguely noir-inspired mixed orchestral and electronic score with several melodic main themes as well as fair amount of suspenseful, string-dominated music.  The "Main Title" cue actually opens with a bit of suspense-driven piano and string music before shifting into a brassy, percussive fanfare.  About a minute and a half in, it then transitions into the score’s main theme, which features a string melody overlaid with a repetitive piano motif.

The more melodic aspect of the score first comes into play in the cue "Rollie’s Diversion", which is primarily a piano-driven version of the main theme, although with some strings joining in towards the latter half of the cue.  The theme continues to provide a melodic line throughout the score, although the darker, more-suspenseful music tends to dominate the soundtrack.  Conti does occasionally provide some of the brassy, fanfare type music that is often his trademark.  In addition to the brief fanfare during the main title, the cue "No Loose Ends" also is a very brassy, action-oriented cue and is very recognizably Conti.  Horns are used more sparingly here than in most of Conti’s scores, but that just tends to make them a bit more impacting when they do appear.

The score is primarily orchestral, but Conti does make sparing use of electronics, such as in the cue "The Wrong Hit".  The electronic elements are typically used to ratchet up the suspense a bit.  Another change of pace comes with an extended militaristic drum solo during the late cue "Lipton’s Last Ride".

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (Bernard Herrmann, 1966): The CD that I have of this classic Bernard Herrmann score is not actually the original soundtrack recording.  Instead, it is an excellent re-recording of the score by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William Stromberg.  This re-recording was released by Tribute Film Classics in late 2007 and also includes music from Herrman’s score to the "Twilight Zone" TV episode entitled "Walking Distance".  The music from Fahrenheit 451 runs a little over an hour in length and is billed as being complete.

Herrmann’s score uses an interesting mix of fairly light-touch, vaguely fantasy-inspired melodies along with some darker, fairly oppressive music.  The lighter portions are dominated by piano as well as frequent use of xylophone and harp.  The darker material features aggressive, lower-register strings as well as some slower, vaguely-sad melodies.  The two styles of music are often presented side-by-side, reflecting Ray Bradbury’s story’s depiction of a society that is characterized by a surface happiness masking an underlying oppression.

There are some faster paced, action-oriented cues as well.  Herrmann makes especially effective use of very fast paced violins in these segments of the score.  Really good examples of this aspect of the score can be found in the cues "Fire Alarm" and "The Hose".  Occasional bits of xylophone and harp overlaying the strings add an especially appealing bit of color to these cues.  Herrmann also includes some emotional, melodic material, particularly in the later part of the score.  "The Reading" is a particularly emotional cue.

The score is presented as 47, generally very short cues.  The longest cues run a little over 3 minutes while many are well below a minute in length.  Despite this, the score does not seem choppy or disjointed.  The music is arranged so that the cues typically flow cleanly into one another, making for a very effective listening experience.  The large number of cues mainly makes it very easy to connect each bit of music directly to the appropriate part of the film.

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Soundtrack Collection: The Egyptian to Enchanted

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

The Egyptian

The Egyptian (Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, 1954): The Egyptian is one of the most important scores of its era.  The score was a collaboration between two of the true giants of Golden Age film scoring, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann, working together on a large-scale historical epic.  The score was a true collaboration with each composer composing key segments of the score, but with shared themes and effective blending of both composers’ styles.

While a few re-recordings were available, the original recordings were long thought to be destroyed, until Film Score Monthly obtained access to preserved stereo tapes in 2001, allowing them to release a 72 minute limited edition CD (still available) containing all the surviving portion of the score.  It isn’t complete, but it is does cover the most important portions of the score.

As you would expect, this is a true epic score with dynamic action music, intimate romantic themes, and pretty much everything in-between.  The score features a full orchestra and chorus, giving it a fittingly large scale.  For the most part, the composers tend to handle the parts of the score that are most appropriate to their styles.  Herrmann was often most comfortable with darker, more brooding music and that is on display here in cues such as “The House of the Dead/The Burial”.  His talent for thrilling, fast paced action scoring is present as well, particularly in the exciting “The Chariot Ride/Pursuit” and the frantically stark cue “The Homecoming”.

Newman’s contribution tends to focus more on the romantic side as well as the score’s sense of nobility.  While Herrmann’s segments often tended to emphasize brass and percussion, Newman’s is dominated by lush strings and gentle woodwinds.  This aspect of the score is particularly well represented in the lengthy (7 minutes plus) cue “Valley of the Kings”.  Newman’s portion of the scoring also tends to be the strongest contributor to giving the score a distinctively middle-eastern flavor.  Newman also provides a religious hymn (with Biblical lyrics) that is presented first in “Hymn to Aton” and later reprised in “Death of Merit”.

While the above comments almost sound like two separate scores, the two portions actually blend very well.  There is a fair amount of thematic overlap and there are quite a few places where music by one composer is designed to flow right into music by the other.  On the soundtrack CD, quite a few cues contain portions by both composers.  Even in most single-composer scores, there can be a fair amount of variation in style based on what is needed for individual scenes.  This is simply a prime example of two top composers splitting up the film in such a way that each is able to contribute to the parts that are the best fit to his style.

Eight Below

Eight Below (Mark Isham, 2006): Mark Isham’s score to Eight Below was one of the early cases of Disney’s recent trend toward download-only releases on soundtracks that are primarily score.  This title was released exclusively to iTunes and it continues to be only available from that service.  Unfortunately, this does mean that the music is only available in iTunes’ compressed AAC format and not as a lossless recording.  Unfortunately, this pretty good adventure score is marred somewhat by the less than stellar sound quality.

The album opens with an overture that provides a pretty good overview of the key themes.  The most prominent theme is a fairly simple, brassy fanfare.  It is effective, although its relatively spare use in the score is something of a surprise.  Isham tends to pull out the theme as sort of a periodic crescendo, while often tending towards more subtle scoring during much of the rest of the running time.

The score is largely orchestral with a definite emphasis on brass and percussion.  Guitar is also featured during many parts of the score, giving it a bit more of a contemporary sound without moving it substantially towards a modern rock/pop sound.  The main guitar riff becomes a key secondary theme for the score, particularly playing up the more playful aspects of the score.  The score’s more sensitive side is played up with solo piano melodies in a few cues, most notably “Southern Lights”.

Eloise at the Plaza

Eloise at the Plaza/Eloise at Christmastime (Bruce Broughton, 2003): In 2003, ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” series aired two made-for-TV movies, starring Julie Andrews,  based on the popular “Eloise” series of children’s books by Kay Thompson.  Both films were scored by Bruce Broughton and Intrada released a 1,200 copy limited edition (now out of print) 2-CD set, with one disc dedicated to each of the two scores.

Broughton establishes a charming and memorable main theme, which primarily features a solo saxophone.  It has a bit of an old-fashioned, Gershwin-inspired Americana style to it, which is a good fit for Broughton’s own sensibilities as well.  The theme debuts during the “Main Title/The Plaza” cue that opens the Eloise at the Plaza score and appears regularly throughout both of the scores, serving as a strong connecting tissue for a fairly wide variety of thematic material.  The rest of the musical material ranges from the charmingly manic to touchingly sensitive.  The latter is especially well represented by a gentle piano theme that serves as a core of the score’s more emotional components.

The score to Eloise at the Plaza tends to build on the style established in the main theme, maintaining a generally jazzy tone through much of the music.  Solo saxophone is used in quite a few variations that riff on the main theme.  Piano also tends to stand-out quite a bit, including some very dynamic playing in cues such as “Breaking the Boredom” and “Eloise’s Stuff”.  On the latter, there is some impressive violin counterpoint, an example of some interesting strings that also pop up periodically.  The result is a kind of upscale sophistication that reflects the film’s setting.

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Soundtrack Collection: E.T. to Edward Scissorhands

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 20th Anniversary

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (John Williams, 1982): E.T. is a film that is very special to me.  I was 12-years-old when the movie came out and I found it especially easy at that age to relate to the central character (Elliot) and the central story of friendship and the importance of home really connected.  Despite 3 huge preceding blockbusters, this was really the film that made Steven Spielberg a household name and, even now, it still feels like his most intimately personal film.

My first time seeing the film was also an especially memorable one.  We went to a sneak preview showing 2 weeks before the film’s general release.  There really hadn’t been a lot of buzz about the movie and we went solely on the basis of the ads that promoted it as coming from the same director as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  We really knew nothing about the story or what to expect.  The theater was completely full, to the extent that they had even over-sold and were offering free movie passes to people that would give up their seat (we didn’t).  Seeing the movie with so little advance knowledge was amazing and, to this day, it remains the only time that I have seen an audience give a film a spontaneous standing ovation at the end.

John Williams’ Oscar winning score is, of course, widely considered to be one of the composer’s top-tier masterpieces.  The “Flying” theme is one of his most instantly recognizable and is a staple of compilation albums and film music concerts.  The score is thematically very rich and that familiar theme is only one of several very distinctive musical ideas that Williams weaves together into a truly magical and thrilling work that perfectly matches the film’s impressive range of emotions.

The score opens with what is effectively ambient noise over the opening credits.  As the credits fade away, the first of the film’s musical themes is introduced with a simple, plaintive 6-note melody played on the flute.  This simple theme both opens and closes the film, with the simple flute rendition replaced by a bold brass statement of the theme at the end.  The statements of the simple theme are typically expanded to include additional strings and deep brass.  This effectively serves as a primary theme for the titular character and the sense of wonderment connected with the presence of an alien visitor.

The famous “Flying” theme doesn’t actually appear until around the middle of the film and doesn’t get a full-blown performance until “The Magic of Halloween” when E.T. makes the bicycle fly for the first time.  One brief, earlier performance of the theme does make an impression.  During the cue “Frogs”, the theme receives a sweepingly romantic statement as Elliot (who is emotionally linked to E.T.) kisses a female classmate while E.T. is watching a observing a romantic movie on the television at home.

The third very distinctive and familiar theme from E.T. is “Over the Moon” (using the title of the concert arrangement on the original soundtrack release), which is typically featured prominently during the films chase sequences.  This is actually perhaps the most beautiful and uplifting of the themes in the score and Williams chose to use an impressive solo piano (eventually joined by full orchestra) arrangement over the end credits.  The theme makes its first strong impression in the cue “Searching for E.T.” and reappears during most of the subsequent action scenes.

Williams also provides the score with a bit of a darker side, primarily represented by a very deep, brassy theme that is used during the key sequences involving the government agents that are pursuing E.T.  This theme very effectively conveys the sense of menace surrounding those sequences.  This theme somewhat resembles the primary E.T. theme structurally, connecting it as kind of a darker analog to that main theme.

The score’s finale brings all of the themes together into one of the most impressive cues ever written for a film.  The piece, which is entitled “Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye” on the complete score album and was named “Adventures On Earth” for the original soundtrack LP, runs for just over 15 minutes.  Spielberg has mentioned in interviews before that Williams made the unusual choice not to record the piece directly to the film and that Spielberg ended up editing the film to fit it.  This complex piece is often played in full at Williams’ live concerts.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Original)

There have been 3 major releases of the score and, to be frank, any fan of this score needs to have 2 of them.  The original 1982 LP release (which was later released on CD in 1986) contains a re-recording of the score.  This album runs around 40 minutes in length and is especially notable for the excellent concert arrangements of “Flying” and “Over the Moon”.  In 1996, MCA Records released an expanded soundtrack containing the original film tracks, except for an alternate version of the end credits that was missing the “Over the Moon” theme.

Finally, a “20th Anniversary” edition was released in 2002.  It contains the complete score, including the previously unreleased “Main Titles” (as noted earlier, this is mainly ambient noise) and the film version of the “End Credits”.  It only added a little under 5 minutes of music that was missing from the 1996 release, but the difference in the end credits cue alone justifies it.

The “20th Anniversary” release is definitely the version to get if you want to limit yourself to a single release of the score, but I think that it is worthwhile to own the 1982 LP program as well, principally for the concert arrangements.  Both versions are easy to obtain at low prices (copies can be found for well under $10), so I see little reason not to have both of them.

Earthquake

Earthquake (John Williams, 1974): The disaster movie formula established in the 1970s is built around a mix of soap opera style personality-driven melodrama and fast paced, fighting-for-your-life action sequences.  John Williams proved to be a particularly good choice for scoring those films as the composer has proven to be equally adept with both styles of scoring.  His score for Earthquake demonstrates those skills pretty effectively, although the soundtrack album (which only runs a little over 30 minutes) tends to be dominated somewhat by the more melodramatic scoring.

The score features a distinctive main theme, which is first heard over the film’s main title and is given a concert arrangement in the cue entitled “City Theme”.  The theme is peppered throughout the soundtrack, although the composer holds it back enough that it never becomes tiresome.  The other dominant dramatic theme is a romantic theme that is heard during the cues “Love Scene” and in a concert arrangement in “Love Theme”.

If you are looking for a soundtrack album to use to test out a subwoofer, this is a pretty good choice.  As you would expect from a film entitled Earthquake, the more action oriented part score has some segments with some pretty deep bass and the soundtrack CD even ends with a sound effects cue.   The soundtrack opens with some low percussion right at the start of the “Main Title” cue and the bass-heavy scoring especially dominates the cue “Cory in Jeopardy”.  In addition to expected percussion, Williams makes very effective use of some minor-key piano and deep strings.  The cue “Something for Remy” directly incorporates sound effects towards the middle of the cue.

The soundtrack includes a couple of disco/pop style instrumentals that do tend to date it a bit.  These are composed by Williams and are still recognizable as fitting with his usual approach to melody, but they definitely are very much of the era when the score was composed.  This aspect of the score is mainly heard in the cues “Miles on Wheels” and “Something for Rosa”.  Williams also includes some jazzy, saxophone dominated music, notably in the cue “Medley: Watching and Waiting/Miles’ Pool Hall/Sam’s Rescue”.

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Soundtrack Collection: Diamond Head to Die Another Day

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Diamond Head

Diamond Head (John Williams, 1963): Diamond Head was John Williams’ first feature film score to receive a soundtrack album release (some of his TV work was released earlier).  The LP was originally released on the Colpix Records label and is currently available on CD from Film Score Monthly, paired with Lalo Schifrin’s Gone With the Wave.  The Diamond Head album runs a little over half an hour and features a mix of Williams’ original score and various Williams-composed source cues.

In the 1960s, Williams most frequently scored comedies and most of his scores tended to have a light, pop/jazz style.  Diamond Head was a drama, though, and featuring a score that much more closely resembled Williams’ later highly thematic symphonic sound. Cues such as the “Main Title” cue as well as “Sloan Strolls” and “Sloan’s Dream” are very recognizably in line with Williams most recognizable style of music.

The inclusion of the source cues makes the album into something of a hybrid between Williams’ early and later approaches to scoring.  The source cues have more of a small ensemble, somewhat jazz-influenced sound to them with an emphasis on piano, horns, and underlying percussion.  The cue “Catamaran” is a particularly interesting hybrid, starting off with a lighter jazz piano melody before eventually seguing into a string-dominated orchestral conclusion.

The album opens with a title song written by Hugo Winterhalter and performed by James Darren, one of the film’s co-stars.  The song is a pretty typical pop song of that era, although with a bit of a Hawaiian tropical influence to fit the setting of the film.  Williams does occasionally incorporate Winterhalter’s melody into the score cues.

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (John Barry, 1972): Diamonds Are Forever was the 7th film (and the last to star Sean Connery) in Eon Productions’ James Bond series.  By this point, the musical style of the series was firmly established by John Barry, who had worked on all of the previous films and was the sole credited composer on all but the first.

As was often the case with the Bond scores, the central melody here comes from the title song, written by Barry with lyrics by Don Black and performed by Shirley Bassey over the opening title.  This was Bassey’s second Bond theme song after her famous performance of “Goldfinger”.  While she would only return to the series one more time (for “Moonraker”), her vocal style remains the one that is most associated with the Bond films.

The song itself is a textbook example of Barry’s James Bond sound, with his distinctive mix of strings, piano, and blasting horns.  The lyrics to the song are loaded with sexual innuendo, even a bit more so than usual for a James Bond theme.  The theme has a distinctive melody that Barry uses well throughout the rest of the score.  Of course, the classic James Bond theme is also incorporated into the score periodically, including an electric guitar rendition that played over the usual gun barrel opening and more orchestral versions in other parts of the score.

The score is very typical of Barry’s Bond scores, with a very melodic, but often boldly energetic approach.  As expected, it is dominated by lush strings and extremely active brass.  As is usual for Barry, there is a bit of an underlying jazz influence, particularly in the occasional saxophone riffs.  The score does have a few interesting variations, particularly the unusual female choral music featured in the cue “Slumber, Inc.”

The most complete and readily available soundtrack release is an expanded CD that was released by Capital/EMI records back in 2003.  This disc contains about 75 minutes of music from the film (including a number of alternate cues), definitely a dramatic expansion over the original 35 minute LP release.  The CD is rather oddly sequenced, though, with the music presented in a seemingly almost random order.  While the title song does at least open the CD, the gun barrel opening doesn’t appear until track 13!  Throughout the album, the music is way out of film sequence.

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