slumdog vs. underdog

It’s Friday, or ‘filmscore Friday‘, as I called the show this morning. Oscars are the buzz it offered a great excuse (as if any was needed) to play some film score music before the weekend. No lack of material there,  just wish I had longer than two hours to play all of it!

Not too long after the show was over a friend sent me this thought:

“I know it’s a classical station and for a lot of people film scores are perceived as the bastard step child of classical music and frowned on by many, but I think they have their place from time to time in a venue like VPR. I can’t believe that classical composers would have turned their noses up at the chance to score a film. Thanks again.”

He makes a great point, ‘film music’ and scores are usually not thought of as ‘classical’ music in the strictest sense. But why?  

Well for one thing, many scores (and individual pieces written as part of scores) aren’t self-sustaining pieces without the extra-programmatic visual or narrative support they’re given in the context of the film. They’re not created to be. The stitched-together ‘preludes’, ‘interludes’ and ‘themes’ that often comprise a total score are frequently a much better sum (and audio summary of the film) than are those individual, orphan parts.

There are some great examples of fully conceived, individual stand-out pieces from broader movie scores, with enough musical structure, melody, and self-contained integrity to enjoy a life of their own. ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ from Morricone’s The Mission score fits that description. Or, for some real goosebumps, how about ‘Non nobis, domine’ from Patrick Doyle’s 1989 Henry V score? When you think of that movie, you think of that single piece. That’s powerful.

And, ‘legit’ classical music also offers arias or single moments from theatrical or operatic scores that stand as well alone as they do in context. Think: the Sicilienne from Fauré’s “Pelleas et Melisande”, or the Meditation from Massenet’s “Thaïs”. And lots of others you could suggest. Superb, complete moments, where everything else around them is a bonus for the listening experience.    

But, one-offs aside, to that original point: “…film scores are perceived as the bastard step child of classical music” Why? Surely any classical music lover would agree that the greater Western classical repertoire would be a much bleaker landscape without Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Mendelssohn’s (or Britten’s!) Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Grieg’s Peer Gynt. All acknowleged musical masterpieces; all 18th and 19th c. corollaries to today’s populist film (and film score) experience. That takes care of the question of whether classical composers would really turn up their noses at a chance to score a film…they scored what were the equivalents of films, in their own time.

If (big “IF”) a piece of film music meets the same standards we use to judge the integrity of other concert and orchestral music, and we know that some can (Copland, anyone?), why is film music categorically dismissed from the possibility of being included in an otherwise ‘classical’ lineup? How is it any different from the revered operatic, balletic, and incidental music of ages past that now defines that same hallowed classical canon?

Does anyone really wonder if Mozart might be involved in writing film scores, if he lived in our world today? He just didn’t make it that far! And they woulda been GRAND. Just think of that.

Cheers to the weekend. And the Oscars. I have no TV to watch them but I enjoy the thought that folks will be taking that long stroll down the Kodak Theatre red carpet outside(!) in February(!) in strapless gowns, with bare legs(!!). (I’ve lived in LA. I’ll still take VT in February any day…) And that someone, at the end of the night, will walk away with a gold statue for their hard work in trying to create just the right musical framework to express all that their movie was trying to convey.

Odds are on ‘Slumdog’, a critical favorite on most Oscar fronts. My friends (who all seem to see a lot more movies than me) are pulling for the underdog  ‘Wall-E’.

I’m just happy as long as there are new musical scores to enjoy – of whatever kind!

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