Sunday, July 10, 2011

Classical music scores

Tonight's TCM Silent Sunday Nights selection is Don Juan, airing at 12:15 AM. Whenever I think of the movie, I can't help but think the tone poem by Richard Strauss would have made a good starting point for scoring the film. However, the movie was one of the first made with Warner Bros.' then-new Vitaphone process, which had synchronized sound, and would of course later have synchronized talking and singing. As such, they had a score of their own, by William Axt.

I also can't help but think that stealing classical music would have made for a cheap score for silent pictures back in the day. As I understand it, Alfred Hitchcock's original plans for The Lodger included using various famous pieces of classic music in the score.

Classical music has gone on to show up quite a bit in the movies, though. In many cases, it's because the subject of the movie is music in general, or classical musician biopics in particular. Think Johann Strauss and The Great Waltz, Mozart and Amadeus, George Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue, or Beethoven and Immortal Beloved for the composer biopics; The Great Caruso or Interrupted Melody for musician biopics; and One Hundred Men and a Girl for fictional stories about classical musicians.

There are also movies which have ready-made scores for them. Mendelssohn wrote music inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the early 19th century, and when Warner Bros. made a movie version of the Shakespeare play in 1935, it made sense for them to use this wonderful music.

And then there are the movies where classic music was selected for reasons that are a bit of a mystery, even when the music works. I've mentioned the wonderful Debussy arabesque the opens the movie Portrait of Jennie; another example would by the Chopin polonaise that can be heard over the opening credits of the Carole Lombard version of To Be or Not To Be. At least there, it makes perfect sense to have something by a Polish composer.

Nowadays, it's sometimes said that film scores are the latter-day classical music, and to be honest, I've heard my local classical music radio station play stuff by Nino Rota (who did a lot of Fellini's movies) as well as Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music from The Adventures of Robin Hood.

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