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Thread: The limited value of movie soundtracks?

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Default The limited value of movie soundtracks?

    I've been reading Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth (Vols 6-9) and, inevitably, watching the Jackson trilogy and listening to the Shore soundtracks.

    I became a convert to the LOTR story around 1998 (having previously disdained to have anything to do with it). Since then, I've been a bit of a fanatic, even annoying my family with a habit of slipping quotes into everyday conversation.

    Over the same period, I also set out to expand my understanding of classical, beginning with Beethoven's symphonies.

    What struck me in revisiting Shore's movie music is how...I can't think of the quite the right word, so this will have to do...simplistic it now seems. Now I have heard so much more orchestral music by some of the great symphonists, it underlines for me that the merits of film music is as cues to the visuals, and the constraints of the medium tend to enforce the simplistic. It's no wonder that people can be so dismissive of soundtracks. Comparing, for example, the Largo of Sibelius No 4 with The White Tree (I know that this might seem a pointless exercise) it's easy to see how the Sibelius is a richer, more nuanced journey. Both work to a clear and emotional climax, but the Shore has to get there much more swiftly, takes shortcuts, and seems a less satisfying experience.

    It's one reason why I own so few soundtracks - the separation of music from its movie should not be undertaken lightly.
    Last edited by MacLeod; Dec-06-2018 at 17:01.
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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Agree in general. If you're an LOTR fanatic try out the Ralph Bakshi version. The score by Leonard Rosenman works as stand alone music. He studied with Schoenberg and shared the bill with Babbitt before his film music reputation dogged him in his career.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member SalieriIsInnocent's Avatar
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    People don't bring Rosenman up quite enough. I believe the orchestral arrangement of Handel's Sarabande from his keyboard suite that was featured heavily in Barry Lyndon was Rosenman's work. He made several arrangements for different moments in the film. I'd like to think Handel would've been happy with the arrangement.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SalieriIsInnocent View Post
    People don't bring Rosenman up quite enough. I believe the orchestral arrangement of Handel's Sarabande from his keyboard suite that was featured heavily in Barry Lyndon was Rosenman's work. He made several arrangements for different moments in the film. I'd like to think Handel would've been happy with the arrangement.
    Yes, that was Rosenman's orchestral arrangement, according to this interview with Kubrick.

    http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/d...erview.bl.html
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member DeepR's Avatar
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    Getting into classical music changes perspective on all other music; film music is no exception. Apart from that, listening to a soundtrack as standalone music is usually disappointing.

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    Senior Member SalieriIsInnocent's Avatar
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    I don't know what effect it had on me. Classical was the beginning of my musical life. From as early as I can remember, Mozart and Beethoven were names as familiar to me as Mom and Dad. I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time at 6 or 7, and falling in love with the soundtracks, which I had to have. I listened to them right alongside Mozart and Beethoven, and I didn't put Williams any lower, or feel his music was less. It was different, but not less.

    There are soundtracks from guys like Herrmann, Morricone, and Barry that I feel stand with the "great" works. One has to simply see them for what they are though, and judging them as a standalone thing isn't quite fair, most of the time. It's like hearing an opera without the words or being able to see what is going on. It can still be beautiful, but you are only getting a fraction of the work.

    A lot of older soundtracks weren't designed to be listened to in an album form. A composer would compose and record a hundred little snippets of music, if it ever did get released on an album, you didn't get some of the smaller pieces, but major themes. More often than not, they wouldn't even be takes used in the film.

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    Some soundtrack may live much longer, than the movie itself. As for me.

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    It's probably unfair to compare film soundtracks to large scale classical works. The soundtrack is required to do the job of augmenting the film, and is therefore constrained and driven by considerations which are not purely musical. It could hardly be expected to have the depth and complexity of a symphony.

    Perhaps a fairer comparison would be between modern film scores and the incidental music written for theatre productions by the composers of yesteryear. There was probably a lot of fairly lightweight and forgettable music written in this way that has now been lost, with just a few instances where the music merited being compiled into a suite (e.g. Peer Gynt). It's perhaps a shame that there is no current tradition of compiling orchestral suites from film music - I think some of it is good enough.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Before being too dismissive of movie scores, let me throw out the names of a few composers of significant movie scores: Malcolm Arnold, William Alwyn, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alfred Schnittke, Peter Maxwell Davies, Aaron Copland ... need I go on?

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steerpike View Post
    It's probably unfair to compare film soundtracks to large scale classical works. The soundtrack is required to do the job of augmenting the film, and is therefore constrained and driven by considerations which are not purely musical. It could hardly be expected to have the depth and complexity of a symphony.
    It is unfair, you're quite right. Nevertheless, my OP was not a judgement of the merits or quality of one against the other, so much as a description of my differing emotional responses to each. That stands regardless.

    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    Before being too dismissive of movie scores, let me throw out the names of a few composers of significant movie scores: Malcolm Arnold, William Alwyn, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alfred Schnittke, Peter Maxwell Davies, Aaron Copland ... need I go on?
    No, but the name of the composer is not as relevant as the quality of the composition. Would you offer an example of a soundtrack by one of these luminaries for us to consider its worth?
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    No, but the name of the composer is not as relevant as the quality of the composition. Would you offer an example of a soundtrack by one of these luminaries for us to consider its worth?
    Alexander Nevsky - Prokofiev
    Ivan the Terrible - Prokofiev
    Scott of the Antarctic - RVW

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    Alexander Nevsky - Prokofiev
    Ivan the Terrible - Prokofiev
    Scott of the Antarctic - RVW
    Haven't seen Ivan or Alexander, but am fairly familiar with Scott. I like the film, and the soundtrack plays its part. I'm still not convinced that it stands on its own two feet against other "non-soundtrack" works.
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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Haven't seen Ivan or Alexander, but am fairly familiar with Scott. I like the film, and the soundtrack plays its part. I'm still not convinced that it stands on its own two feet against other "non-soundtrack" works.
    Apparently it stood enough for RVW to use it as the basis of his 7th symphony.

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  21. #14
    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    Apparently it stood enough for RVW to use it as the basis of his 7th symphony.
    ...but then it's a symphony, not a soundtrack!
    Last edited by MacLeod; Dec-29-2018 at 21:41.
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    Senior Member SalieriIsInnocent's Avatar
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    Well, Peer Gynt in a way is a soundtrack to Ibsen's play. You can easily find the full score of incidental music in various recordings. Pieces from that are considered true classics, and are held in high regard. Are those pieces somehow cheaper for being an intended companion to the play?

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