My Favourite Scores – 1937

  • Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs
  • Frank Churchill / Leigh Harline / Paul J. Smith / Larry Morey
  • Walt Disney Records / 2001 / 73:50

I have to admit upfront that 1937 is a bit of lean year for me when it comes to film scores*. But listening to Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs it’s clear that the music composed for this groundbreaking animation os much more than just a few well-known songs. The songs (well some of them) are iconic: “Whistle While You Work”, “Heigh-Ho”, what more can you say. But there are cues in the orchestral score that are so dark that it’s difficult to believe that the music was composed for an animated film – e.g., “Have A Bite”. But, I do have to admit that the singing voice for Snow White (Adriana Caselotti?) is really annoying.

* Korngold’s The Prince and The Pauper, Tiomkin’s Lost Horizon and Britten’s Love From A Stranger are all scores that I have heard but I don’t particularly enjoy.

THE ASPERN PAPERS – Alexander Lasarenko

Original Review by Alan Rogers

A young American publisher heads off to the jungles of Venezuela in search of the manuscripts of poet Jeffery Aspern. He meets an old lover of Aspern’s who he believes holds the dead poet’s papers. Adapted from a novella by Henry James, The Aspern Papers marks the feature film debut of director Mariana Hellmund. A story that examines the issues raised when a biographer pries into the private life of their subject, Hellmund asks composer Alexander Lasarenko to compose a score that adds emotional depth to the story. Composed primarily for piano and acoustic guitar, and featuring additional colours from a small string ensemble and light percussion (hand drums), Lasarenko’s score is based around achingly beautiful melody that is heard in a number of variations throughout the score.

The album begins with “The Aspern Papers Theme” which states the score’s theme in full. We first we hear a piano establishing a repeating motif over which the theme proper is heard. This first statement of the theme has a sense of sadness and regret associated with it. This feeling is suggested partly by Lasarenko’s theme being played on solo strings and recorded as a piece of source music from the dilapidated Venezuelan hacienda where the majority of the film is set. As the cue progresses, the theme is taken over by a string ensemble and a percussion rhythm (establishing further the film’s location). Lasarenko uses the theme in various ways to suggest different key moments in the film: solo piano plays the theme against sustained string ensemble lines in “Juliana’s Deathbed” reflecting the life ebbing away from Juliana, Jeffery Aspern’s lover. And a halting statement of the theme on solo piano in the track “Juliana Bourdereau’s Gone” suggests the sadness of the loss of Juliana, perhaps the last link to Aspern (the person and his personal effects)?  [Read more…]

Ten Tracks Today – A John Williams Special #1 – 27th October 2011

01 – “Commando Raid” – Black Sunday

I have vague recollections of this film but had no memory of the score until I heard the clips once FSM had announced this for release. This is a great suspenseful score from Williams – as well as having some excellent action scoring. It’s quite different from his score to Star Wars and is a clear indication of how great Williams was/is as a film composer. This track is full of interesting suspense scoring. Less is definitely more here: lean orchestrations convey everything that needs to be said. Not as action-packed as the track’s title suggests!

02 – “Dracula’s Death” – Dracula

A great rendition of Williams’ theme for Dracula is the highlight of this track. The swirling and sweeping strings adds an emotional romanticism to the whole piece and it all builds to a rather subdued final few seconds.

03 – “Main Title / Approaching The Death Star” – Return of The Jedi

Goosebumps! The Star Wars main title theme is always one to savour when it’s heard. And it is interesting to hear how Williams gets out of this familiar theme and into the score proper. Quite similar to the beginning of Star Wars itself, it’s a quiet, suspenseful piece that I remember being quite disappointed with when I heard it the first time. This latter part of this score summarises a lot of the score as a whole – it is more snippets of themes strung together rather than sweeping passages. But it is a great track to hear variations on the Imperial March. [Read more…]

My Favourite Scores – 1936

  • Things To Come
  • Sir Arthur Bliss
  • Chandos / 2001 / 32:06

Reading the excellent liner notes of Chandos’ excellent release of the film music of Sir Arthur Bliss it is clear that the music for this film had a tortuous life even at birth. Having been assured by H.G. Wells himself that Bliss’ music would be an integral element of the film and not just “tacked on” at the end, Bliss prepared a suite of music from his score for a concert at the Proms in 1935. But Bliss’ music was severely modified for inclusion in the final film release in 1936. Bliss felt obliged to modify his music for the suite in order to give the film audiences what they had heard in the film. And there was more changes to come…

What Chandos has done with for this recording is to return Bliss’ music more to a state that was composed by Bliss – and it reinforces just how powerful Bliss’ music is. Bliss’ vision of the future is not a particularly happy one with tracks such as “The World In Ruins” and “Pestilence” that paint broad strokes, that focuses on providing emotional backdrops for the film and hinting at the hardship. I prefer the way the composer provides an emotional feel with the music rather than spelling out everything in music.

There’s a lot to discover with this score: not just in the tracks cited above. Lighter (it’s all relative) moments include “Ballet For Children” and there’s an almost patriotic feel to the concluding “Epilogue”.


CRIMEFIGHTERS – Hayley Hutchinson & Sam Forrest

Original Review by Alan Rogers

CrimeFighters is a low budget (apparently the entire budget ran to about £7,000), independent film from 2010 made by a group of individuals with very little feature film experience. Writer/director Miles Watts – probably best known to some as part of the creative force behind the zombie horror/comedy web series Zomblogalypse – sets his film in York and follows a group of friends who are bored after deciding to keep off the drink for a month. To liven things up they don face masks and Spandex then set off to rid York’s streets of crime. Shot in black-and-white, the film is more Batman than Kick-Ass in style and has had mixed reviews since its release. Having produced a number of videos for rock band The Sorry Kisses (made up of duo singer-songwriter Hayley Hutchinson and Nine Black Alps singer/guitarist Sam Forrest), Watts asked Hutchinson and Forrest to create an original score for CrimeFighters. The duo composed, performed and recorded a (synth-based) orchestral score that’s full of urban-styled rough guitar riffs, tribal percussion and has a couple of themes worth hearing. However, this album shows that the score is as much a mixed bag as the film’s reviews.

The album begins with a 5-minute montage highlighting the main musical ideas of the score. What could be considered the “CrimeFighters’ theme” bookends the “Main Theme” and features a catchy percussion hook and a Peter Gunn-styled electric guitar riff. It’s a good start to the album, particularly when another theme – heard later in extended form in “Ella and Ethan” – is stated in the middle section of the track. The music for Ella and (ex-boyfriend policeman) Ethan is a highlight of the album. Beginning hesitantly on piano/keyboards, the addition of sparse wordless female vocals and a slow percussion beat, gives their theme quite a gloomy feel to it. Theirs is not a happy relationship it seems but the composers’ music adds a sense of longing and perhaps even a sense of a missed opportunity to their situation. It is where the score supports the chief protagonists of the film that is its strength. The thematic material for CrimeFighters Pip and Daisy (“Pip and Daisy”) has shades of romance about it, mostly down to the repeating acoustic guitar motif and it’s accompanying electric guitar. Both “Ella and Ethan” and “Pip and Daisy” offer up statements of the melodies with some variations in instrumentation rather than thematic variation but that’s not too much of a problem as the melodies are so pleasing on the ear.  [Read more…]

Ten Tracks Today – 23rd October 2011

01 – “The King’s Highway” – Bubba Ho-TepBrian Tyler

This is such a catchy tune that it brightens any playlist. I particularly enjoy the way that the guitar goes off and embellishes the melody. A great instrumental track. And quite different from Tyler’s orchestral scoring.

02 – “Neutralizer / Kelvan Theme / More Neutralizers / Broken Blocks” – Star Trek: By Any Other NameFred Steiner

There was such excellent music composed for these original Star Trek episodes. Sequence after sequence of recognisable music that seemed to be frequently used in various episodes. And because music from these tracks was cut-and-pasted into these shows hearing them (I assume) in their original settings, short passages stand out when heard here. And a great re-recording too.

03 – “Main Title” – Mountains of The MoonMichael Small

Quite an uplifting theme this one with some bright brass fanfares and full string playing, it’s quite unlike what I am used to with Small’s other works that I heard before hearing this (e.g., The China Syndrome, Klute, The Star Chamber). [Read more…]


Original Review by Alan Rogers

Stelvio Cipriani’s score for the 2001 Canada/Bulgaria/US co-production Death, Deceit and Destiny Aboard The Orient Express is difficult to praise but it is also difficult to criticise too harshly. Cipriani’s music for this apparent turkey of a film is a “by-the-numbers” effort: it’s functional without being too memorable. The film’s plot concerns a group of terrorists holding captive (on the Orient Express of all places) a number of very rich people for ransom. What follows is ninety minutes of clichéd set pieces, bad dialogue and hopeless acting in a movie that bears very little resemblance with Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express – just in case you were wondering.

South African-born director Mark Roper chose Italian-born composer Stelvio Cipriani (Tentacoli, La Polizia Sta a Guardare) to score the film and Cipriani gives Roper a much better score than the film deserves. The opening track “Destiny (Bolero)” is a six-minute piece that sails quite close to Ravel’s famous piece. As the track progresses it swells and fills out satisfyingly with the addition of various sections of the orchestra. But I am curious how this quite classical piece fits into the film (perhaps the formal rhythm somehow relates to the train that dominates the film). “Arrival At Destination” follows on from the first track and is notable for its lovely string and woodwind melody that’s got a definite European, romantic feel to it. What then follows is a series of tracks that are connected by their track titles. “Train Raid” contains action scoring that relies heavily on string ostinato and includes some quite dramatic and effective brass statements (e.g., “Train Raid (M36)”). This cue does suffer though from some very disjointed sequences that I assume reflects the disjointed on-screen action. It all sounds quite clumsy. And the appearance of a cartoon “stinger”-styled descending woodwind motif (that would be just as at home in a Tom and Jerry short) does seem quite out of place. Interspersed tracks entitled “Yearning” and “Mysteria” slow the pace down somewhat with some delicate flute writing that does have a slight John Barry feel to it (e.g., “Yearning (M07)”).  [Read more…]