My Ten Favorites
By Steven A. Kennedy
In honor of the 10 th anniversary of FMR, I thought I would share which of the many scores recommended here on FMR that I tend to still return to, trying to narrow it down to just ten.
[Arranged by the year of release or review]
1998: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN -- music by John Williams
Though I predicted that Stephen Warbeck’s score for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE would go on to Oscar glory, it is this score by John Williams which is one of the composer’s late 1990s masterpieces. While the disc itself may sometimes seem a bit too subdued, you really had to experience this score in the theater with the film. The cathartic “Hymn to the Fallen” end credit roll was a perfect way to help sum up this powerful war film which left many folks a generation older than me sobbing in the theater, giving them enough time to regain their composure before heading back out into reality. What other score can you think of that has done that so well?
1999: THE RED VIOLIN -- music by John Corigliano
John Corigliano made a fascinating return to film scoring with this beautiful work following the life history of a violin through many centuries and cultures. The classical-themed film no doubt appealed to the composer who was able to write in larger gestures than is common these days. It is obviously a work that continues to haunt the composer as he has taken the “Chaconne” as a solo concert piece and recently enlarged it into a full violin concerto. A chamber version of music from the film has also recently appeared.
2000: CHICKEN RUN -- music by Harry Gregson-Williams & John Powell
Not a huge fan of Media Ventures work, but this little effort by two composers who would soon break out on their own continues to be a favorite score of mine. I love all the humorous nods to Bernstein’s THE GREAT ESCAPE that are peppered throughout this score. And the kazoo choir just really makes this one of the true guilty pleasures of the year.
2001: THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING -- music by Howard Shore
Shore’s music for this amazing film trilogy kicked off with this first glimpse of the composer’s work. Some of the most interesting integrated score writing that any film could have hoped for as Shore’s style wove so much into every single note and expression that it was soon obvious a complete presentation of the score was necessary. That would happen with a multi-disc set of each of the this trilogy’s scores. I think this was also one of those rare times Roger and I disagreed about a score. I was not much of a Shore convert before this, and I think these three scores are his masterpiece for film music (though I did like THE DEPARTED).
2002: SILVER STREAK -- music by Henry Mancini
One of my favorite 1970s films finally got a real score release from Intrada. Yes, reviewers buy CDs too, and this was an easy score to shell out money for with a great theme from Mancini and a host of wonderful scoring segments. Intrada included additional cues and some of the more album cues that continue to make this one of my favorite Mancini score releases. It boggles the mind why the composer is so underrepresented by score releases.
2003: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD -- music by
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
John Morgan and William Stromberg continue to turn out some of the best re-recordings of classic film music [Note: SHE just released recently]. This recording of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is one of their finest and a definitive document of one of the great scores from Hollywood’s Golden Age. If you waited, you can now pick it up on the new reduced price Naxos series.
2004: THE INCREDIBLES -- music by Michael Giacchino
Even with a very Barry-esque style, this score by Michael Giacchino continues to find its way into my player with a great main theme and wonderful orchestrations. Discussing one of his video game scores here on FMR, I noted that the composer was one to watch—something which is continually proven with scores like RATATOUILLE (another favorite from 2007) and many others that let the composer continue to explore and develop his voice.
2005: MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA -- music by John Williams
This is one of those scores that does grow on you with repeated hearing. I had a chance to see Williams conduct some of this music live and what struck me was how much of the orchestra is subtly being used throughout the score in fascinating orchestration. While it is reminiscent of Tan Dun’s film music, the score has such an intimate quality unlike much of what we associate with Williams that it makes this score stand out all the more. Of the many subdued dramatic scores by Williams, this one combines his brilliant thematic writing with his concert hall sensibilities the most.
2006: GREAT FILM FANTASIES -- Telarc Compilation
One of the many great Erich Kunzel film score compilation discs, this one features music from STAR WARS, HARRY POTTER, and the LORD OF THE RINGS so it puts some of my favorite film music together in one CD that does a great job of satisfying the need to hear this music again.
2007: ALIEN -- music by Jerry Goldsmith
It is still a little early to determine which of the many scores released in 2007 I return to the most. It was a great year for re-recordings and the fruit of the musician’s union negations for re-use fees made it possible for a great many scores to see the light of day in larger presentations. This was most finally true for a complete 2-disc release of music from ALIEN. Perhaps we all missed Goldsmith so much that this was like a long lost friend coming back to visit us, but Intrada’s release is so superb sonically that all previous versions are worthless. The chance to hear Goldsmith’s vision for this score finally made its appearance here and it is one of the best chances to listen as the composer moves back and forth from tonal to atonal writing. A real masterpiece worth adding to any music collection and an engaging listen that demands and deserves its careful attention.
Return to top of page
Playing Favorites: Ten for the Tenth
By Steve Vertlieb
When Roger asked me to put together a list of my ten greatest, favorite, or most influential film scores, for the the tenth anniversary of Film Music Review I realized, perhaps for the first time, what a daunting, nearly impossible task such lists have become. How does one differentiate between the importance of such scores as Korngold’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, Max Steiner’s THE BIG SLEEP, Miklos Rozsa’s THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, John Green’s RAINTREE COUNTY, Hugo Friedhofer’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, or Franz Waxman’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, without turning such limiting competitions into a mere popularity contest?
How does one eliminate or somehow negate the contributions of such composers as Erich Korngold, Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman, Victor Young, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams, while extolling the virtues of their contemporaries and equals? Any such listing must, then, become subject to the ear of the beholder and, hence, a list of personal favorites which leaves any legitimate objectivity uncomfortably behind. Having then set up these illegitimate parameters of excellence, one must painfuly eliminate even personal favorites that cannot be consigned to a top ten list.
However, in conforming to such confining restrictions, I have attempted to put together a short list of some of the scores that have meant the most to me personally and, most certainly, emotionally…in the hope that other nearly included composers and scores will not needlessly suffer in admittedly awkward comparison..
[Arranged, with a recommended CD, in the order of their preference]
1. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (20 th Century Fox, 1947) -- Bernard Herrmann’s ethereal score eloquently paints the haunting landscape of a rapturous, yet fragile romance between a lonely widow and the spirit of a decidedly masculine sea captain who is haunting her newly acquired cottage by the ocean. Few scores have ever captured the tenderness of heart, or love’s sensual passion expressed between a man and a woman as romantically as this exquisite symphonic tapestry. The “bridge” to the finale, an impassioned montage observing the passage of time as the torrid sea crashes upon the ravaged shore, is as remarkable a tone poem as any work by Debussy or Delius.
Recommended CD: THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR -- Original Soundtrack composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann – Varese Sarabande – VSD 5850.
2. LOST HORIZON (Columbia, 1937) -- Frank Capra’s unforgettable visualization of James Hilton’s fantasy classic about a gentle land hidden among the massive Himalayas, a utopian Shangri La lost in time. Dimitri Tiomkin’s glorious rhapsody caresses Hilton’s idealistic fable with powerful musical themes, elevating the wondrous drama to magical vistas and inspired plateaus. Mankind’s eternal quest for timeless love, and eternal youth have rarely aspired to, or been captured by, such richly poetic music.
Recommended CD: LOST HORIZON -- Original Soundtrack composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, Conducted by Max Steiner – Brigham Young University Film Music Archives – FMA/DT103.
3. BEN-HUR (MGM, 1959) -- Miklos Rozsa’s towering, Oscar winning score is a monumental orchestral testament to the power and passion of love, friendship, and spirituality. There has seldom occurred as inspired and incomparable a motion picture score as Rozsa’s triumphant and utterly spectacular work. It is the artistic apex of, perhaps, filmdom’s greatest musical career. Rozsa’s inspiring finale encompassing the healing of the lepers, and the death of Jesus is magnificently realized and sublimely beautiful, while the sheer grandeur and majesty of this unparalleled work is a rare, unforgettable exultation to the enduring legacy of human faith.
Recommended CD: BEN-HUR -- Original Soundtrack composed and conducted by Miklos Rozsa – Rhino Movie Music/Turner Classic Movies - R2 72197.
4. EL CID (Allied Artists, 1961) -- The rich historical legacy of Spain’s greatest, most noble hero provided the groundwork for what must be considered the artistic equal of BEN-HUR, an heroic master work sharing the distinction with his earlier triumph as Rozsa’s two most astounding and enduring achievements. The score for the story of Spain’s martyred warrior is a masterpiece of romantic composition, breathtaking in its grandeur, while painfully beautiful in its portrayal of the passion shared by its tragic lovers. The exquisitely rapturous love theme for Rodrigo and his beloved Chimene echoes throughout the decades as, perhaps, this iconic composer’s most haunting, unforgettable, delicately woven homage to the infinite wonder of love between a man and a woman. EL CID, together with BEN-HUR, comprise Miklos Rozsa’s most impassioned, brilliant work for the screen.
Recommended CD: EL CID -- Composed by Miklos Rozsa -- Original Soundtrack Composed and Conducucted by Miklos Rozsa - Sony Music Special Projects AK 47704 [Note: A new 3 CD set of the complete score is due out from Tadlow in September 2008]
5. VERTIGO (Paramount, 1958) -- Miklos Rozsa’s only equal in motion picture history is, undeniably, the deeply sensitive, yet volatile Bernard Herrmann whose mastery of expression and psychological turmoil, expressed musically, stands entirely alone in any reasonable or definitive list of film’s most significant composers. Hitchcock’s exploration of obsessive love and emotional collapse is not only his masterpiece, but Herrmann’s, as well. If the test of an enduring score is its ability to stand alone, beyond the flickering image of the film which inspired it, then Bernard Herrmann’s music for VERTIGO is a dazzling jewel in film’s cinematic crown. Broodingly reminiscent of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde," Herrmann’s VERTIGO is heart breaking in its inspired romantic intensity, an eloquent elegy to the exquisite pain of, and longing for, the haunting memory of lost, torturous love.
Recommended CD: VERTIGO -- Conducted by Joel McNeely with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – Varese Sarabande VSD-5600.
6. KING KONG (RKO, 1933) -- Arguably the first important symphonic motion picture music of the sound era, Max Steiner’s KING KONG remains one of the most powerful, influential scores in film history, a dramatic roller coaster journey through primeval malevolence, so powerful a force of nature that it resurfaced in all of its symphonic splendor seventy two years after its debut performance during the climax of Peter Jackson’s spectacular remake of the classic story. The sheer ferocity of Steiner’s monumental work bursts upon civilization with an over powering onslaught of raw energy uncannily ahead of its time, foreshadowing the heart pounding themes of John Williams in Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975).
Recommended CD: KING KONG -- Composed by Max Steiner – Conducted by William J. Stromberg with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra - Reconstructed by John W. Morgan – Marco Polo 8.223763.
7. ON THE WATERFRONT (Columbia, 1954) -- Leonard Bernstein’s explosive energy brought unbridled realism and post war anger to the motion screen in raging torrents of raw, musical energy and power. “West Side Story” was still several years away, but its roots were furiously gestating in Elia Kazan’s passion play, seething in volcanic symphonic rage and modernism. The composer found his voice within the dangerous tenements, imprisoned frustration, and unrestrained emotion of unrealized love and ambition. It is astonishing that Bernstein’s Rhapsody In Blue Collar remains his only original, dramatic motion picture score, for it is a landmark composition illustrating the inflammatory intellectual combustion that would implode in the frenzied chaos of the nineteen sixties a mere half dozen years later.
Recommended CD: ON THE WATERFRONT (Symphonic Suite) - Composed and Conducted by Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic – Sony SMK 47530.
8. MOBY DICK (Warner Bros., 1956) -- Like Leonard Bernstein two years earlier, respected classical composer Philip Sainton would write his only motion picture score for John Huston’s epic filming of Herman Melville’s allegory of the great white whale. Sainton’s grand, glorious paean to America’s most celebrated novel filled the sea with wall to wall brilliance, an enormous, hugely ambitious and thrilling symphony, electrifying in its scale and substance. In a remarkable decade of artistic supremacy upon the motion picture screen, Sainton’s exhilarating music remains a wondrous testament to the power and majesty of twentieth century film scoring.
Recommended CD: MOBY DICK -- Composed by Philip Sainton – Conducted by William J. Stromberg with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra – Reconstructed by John W. Morgan – Marco Polo 8.225050.
9. LUST FOR LIFE (MGM, 1956) -- Perhaps the most deeply passionate, painfully sensitive film score ever composed. Miklos Rozsa painted an unprecedented musical palette, a lush, tragic canvas for Vincente Minnelli’s crowning dramatic achievement. LUST FOR LIFE is the director’s ethereal love letter to the tortured soul of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. Brilliantly enacted by Kirk Douglas in his most searingly intense realization, and hauntingly caressed by the exquisite melodies of Miklos Rozsa, this unforgettable, tragic masterpiece is a heartbreaking homage to the nobility of artistic genius, the courage of human spirit, and to the selfless beauty and self sacrifice of Theo’s enduring love for his emotionally tortured brother. Rozsa must have felt the bitter loneliness and driven complexity of the artist’s confusion and inner longing very deeply, for this is most certainly the composer’s most personal, bitter sweet score.
Recommended CD: LUST FOR LIFE (Symphonic Suite) – Composed and Conducted by Miklos Rozsa with the Frankenland State Symphony Orchestra – Varese Sarabande VSD-5405.
10. ODD MAN OUT (The Rank Organization, 1947) -- Carol Reed’s classic tragedy of the Irish Rebellion, like LUST FOR LIFE, is a profoundly moving visualization in which hope and mortal desire are nobly sacrificed for the imagined greater good of humanity and the common man. James Mason’s Johnny McQueen is a martyred hero, the leader of “the organization,” who surrenders his soul to the idealism of the cause and, in so doing, abandons personal hope, dreams, and aspiration. Acclaimed British composer William Alwyn offers his greatest work for the screen. From its earliest moments as the opening “titles”appear, stark and unforgiving, to the unbearably somber and disturbing climax in which noble self sacrifice sentences two innocents to their fate, Alwyn’s dirge like romanticism tugs at the heart in unremittingly grim, yet gorgeous, attraction and thematic consistancy. Both visually and musically, ODD MAN OUT is a sobering, stunning artistic achievement.
Recommended CD: ODD MAN OUT -- Composed by William Alwyn – Conducted by Richard Hickox with the London Symphony Orchestra – Chandos 9243.
Return to top of page
Ten Years of Favorites
By Roger Hall
After much consideration, I have managed the extremely difficult task of choosing my favorite film scores that I have reviewed between 1998 and 2007. From the hundreds I have reviewed, there are many more soundtracks or compilations I could choose. But here are ten CD releases which I especially enjoyed, all of them on my Best Film Music of the Year list...
[CDs are arranged by the year of release or of the review]
1998: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND - The Collector's Edition Soundtrack - Arista CD 07822-19004-2 -- Most fans would probably pick STAR WARS as their favorite John Williams score, but for me, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is a far more innovative. When I spoke with Williams years ago and asked him to name his favorite film, he said it was usually the one he was working on, but then paused and said he probably preferred CLOSE ENCOUNTERS because it was such a great project to work on with Steven Spielberg. I agree and believe his memorable five note motif used for the aliens is a brilliant choice. Equally as good is his beautiful setting of "When You Wish Upon A Star" from Disney's animated film, PINOCCHIO. The final scenes have been compared to a religious experience and that feeling is mostly due to the sensitive scoring by Williams. Even though some of the dialogue is terrible and the family situations way over-the-top, this remains a magical film music excursion into a futuristic world of aliens that come to visit us. The Williams score makes it more hopeful that these "encounters"can be peaceful and positive rather than dark and destructrive, as in Spielberg's filming of WAR OF THE WORLDS.
1999: KING KONG (1933) - Rhino Movie Music R2 77597 -- This is the original soundtrack released for the first time and is a most welcome addition. It also includes the snappy dialogue from this landmark fantasy film classic, which is still perhaps the most economical script from any fantasy film. The music by Max Steiner perfectly matches the action and sentiment of this film. I remember sitting in awe watching KONG with its remarkable special effects for one full week in the mid-1950s when it had its TV premiere on "Million Dollar Movie" on WOR in New York. Listening to Steiner's superb score reminds me of that thrill every time I hear it.
2000: CAT PEOPLE: Classic Music for the Val Lewton Films - Marco Polo 8.225125 -- This collection of scores by the unjustly underrated Roy Webb is a revelation for those who enjoy these film noir horror films produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s. Webb manages to convey an enormous amount of mystery and magic for these RKO films with very limited budgets.
2001: THE FILM MUSIC OF JERRY GOLDSMITH - Telarc CD-80433 -- With music from twenty-three film scores for motion pictures and television, this compilation with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jerry Goldsmith is an excellent survey. It includes two extensive medleys from motion pictures (8 scores) and from television (6 scores) and is well performed and recorded in Digital Stream Digital.
2002: KING OF KINGS (1961) - Rhino M ovie Music R2 78348 (2 CD Set) -- Along with BEN-HUR and EL CID, these are the trinity of great historical epic scores by Miklos Rozsa. This set has an additional treat with a colorful 42 page booklet with the score highlights written by Rozsa himself. The music is glorious as performed by the M-G-M Studio Orchestra, conducted by Rozsa. Another outstanding production by George Feltenstein, who has done so much to preserve these great scores from the past, including many musicals from M-G-M and Warner Bros.
2003: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD - Marco Polo 8.225268 -- Another film I first watched on TV, but in grainy washed out color. When it was restored and released on video I was amazed at the clarity and richness of the colors and the impressive sound of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's great score. Though it has been remade, this version with Errol Flynn as Robin Hood remains by far the best. I believe this Korngold score is the best one written for a Hollywood adventure film.
2004: THE VILLAGE - Hollywood Records 2061-62464-2 -- I chose this rhapsodic score by James Newton Howard for a Sammy Award for Best Score of the Year. It's a pleasure to single out this excellent score for the film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan which received only lukewarm reviews from the critics and from many filmgoers who expected something much scarier. Unfortunately, studio publicity wrongly promoted THE VILLAGE as a horror film, instead of a love story, which is what Shyamalan said he intended it to be. The music adds just the right amount of suspense to the film. More importantly, it adds a beautiful pastoral tranquility as well. As a listening experience the soundtrack CD features ravishing violin solos by Hillary Hahn. The CD provides endless beauty and can be enjoyed without having seen the film. It's a masterful achievement.
2005: THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and TAKE THE HIGH GROUND -- Film Score Monthly --
When I was beginning my film music collection in the late 1950s, I never expected to see a soundtrack release for Dimitri Tiomkin's only sci-fi score and a milestone as well for its early use of otherworldly soundsscapes. But leave it to the enterprising Film Score Monthly label to finally release this landmark score, coupled with a highly enjoyable TAKE THE HIGH GROUND, with two enjoyable songs co-written by Tiomkin. It is about time that Dimitri Tiomkin gets his due. He was, after all, the most popular film composer of the 1950s, receiving four Oscars in that decade.
2006: TRUE GRIT and other scores by Elmer Bernstein (1969) - Tadlow 002-- When I wrote a memorial tribute to Elmer Bernstein for Film Score Monthly, I titled it: "Elmer's Magnificent Seven." It dealt with his scores composed during the 1960s and one of these was TRUE GRIT. For a CD, I listed the old Capitol recording which is definitely NOT the original soundtrack and NOT all that good either. I got lambasted for picking it by some fans, who never bothered to notice that it was also listed on the Official Elmer Bernstein web site. But at that time it was the only one which offered a portion of Elmer Bernstein exciting score. But then Tadlow decided to record the complete score, along with bonus tracks five other Bernstein scores from John Wayne western films. The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by James Fitzpatrick, who also produced this -- the definite recording of TRUE GRIT.
2007: FAHRENHEIT 451 and WALKING DISTANCE - Tribute Film Classics -- From a brand new CD label comes the first complete soundtrack of this magnificent score by Bernard Herrmann, with a superb restoration by John Morgan and excellent performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, brilliantly conducted by William Stromberg. This CD also includes the poignant score from one of the best TWILIGHT ZONE television episodes: "Walking Distance." Produced by Anna Bonn, John Morgan, and William Stromberg. One of the best restoration recordings of the year and chosen for a Sammy Award.
Related FMR links dealing with film music from the Golden Age and Silver Age:
100 Essential Film Scores of the 20th Century
Film Composer Tributes
Film Music Review (Home Page)