This month, amongst hundreds of new downloads available on TheClassicalShop.net, you will find some wonderful film music by Michael J. Lewis. Its quality makes one wonder why film music is still regarded, in certain quarters, as the Cinderella relation of classical music.
Yet who would be without the score by William Walton to Henry V, or the magnificent tune he wrote for Went the Day Well? If Walton was one of the greatest composers of film music – if not the greatest of them – there are all those giants in Hollywood. Korngold, for example, was a child prodigy, comparable to Mozart and Mendelssohn. At the age of twenty-three he was at the height of his fame as a composer of operas and orchestral music, yet his film music eclipsed all his stage and concert works. Conversely, the orchestral music of Miklós Rózsa is now beginning to eclipse his film music. And one has to mention Bernard Herrmann, whose musical voice is every bit as distinctive and easily recognisable as that of Tchaikovsky, Debussy, or Beethoven (Chandos will release his striking cantata Moby Dick later this year).
Later, more populist composers, such as the inimitable Henry Mancini (his Pink Panther theme must be one of the most recognised tunes the world over), and the even funkier Lalo Schifrin (his Bullet score makes one feel as cool as Steve McQueen), offer a wealth of fun and frolics at the lighter end of the scale. Today’s blockbuster scores by John Williams and Patrick Doyle and the like are hardly negligible and also have the advantage of exposing younger audiences to the sound of a symphony orchestra.
Perhaps film music is more susceptible to the changes of fashion and thus tends to date more quickly than ‘serious’, classical music (though the passage of time helps to diminish this effect). To ignore film music and be snobbish about it is to close your ears to some of the most imaginative and rewarding music written over the last century.
In the 1973 film Theatre of Blood (music by the aforementioned Michael J. Lewis), a hammy Shakespearian actor (wonderfully played by Vincent Price) takes revenge on all his unappreciative critics by dispatching them to their ghoulish deaths. Whilst we are unlikely to suffer such a fate for not fully appreciating film scores, we will undoubtedly be the poorer for not giving this rich genre our full attention.