As my last blog post I not only find it appropriate to return to John Williams because of his impact on the world of film music, but because of his influence on my own musical ventures. One piece of music that I did not mention in my first post about Williams is somewhat of a curiosity. I say that because it is not as often that works written film easily cross over into a concert setting either easily (due to the size or demands of an ensemble) or without the baggage associated with the film. Perhaps the greatest exception to this rule would be the music of Erich Korngold, another master of the golden era of film, as his themes for films often found their way into his concerti.
But in regards to Williams, the one work that I am thinking of that contains these properties is the piece “Hogwarts Forever!” Taken as purely a concert work, its complex harmonic and rhythmic structures separate it from the often times caricatured grandiose themes associated with film. However, within the film it acts as a subtle underscore that is, quite frankly, mostly overlooked. This could lead into a discussion of music’s intention, questions relating to scoring, and other considerations, but instead, let’s just listen and enjoy the horn quartet that is “Hogwarts Forever!” from the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was a German born neoclassical composer who wrote numerous works for orchestra, band, opera, chamber, and solo instruments. His career as a film composer was quite succinct, but in 1928 he wrote the score for Hans Richter’s film Ghosts Before Breakfast. Unfortunately, this score was lost/destroyed, as the Nazis considered the sound in film “degenerate.”
The concert work we are looking at today is:
Sonata for Four Horns
This piece was written in 1952 for the Salzburg Hornists. The piece is in three movements, and features a lot of dialogue amongst horns, passing melodic lines around the ensemble. The final movement is based off of a tune entitled “I Sound My Horn,” which is quite appropriate if you ask me. Here is a recording of the piece:
Max Steiner (1888-1971) was an Austrian born composer, arranger, and conductor whose contributions to film scoring made him one of the most well known and respected composers of the craft. He was primarily active during what is now known as the golden era of film, and is perhaps best known for his work in the films King Kong, Casablanca, and Gone With The Wind. Interestingly enough, he was trained by Johannes Brahms, Robert Fuchs, and Gustav Mahler, and his godfather was Richard Strauss. If that isn’t an impressive musical lineage I’m not sure what is! Steiner’s work was so influential that “Max” was a nickname given to John Williams by Steven Spielberg. One story, in regards to the scoring of Schindler’s List recalls Williams saying to Spielberg “you need a better composer than I am for this” with Steven responding “I know, but they are all dead.” This quote undeniably refers to the work (and absence) of Max Steiner.
The brass piece we are going to look at today is yet another arrangement, this time from Steiner’s score to Gone With The Wind. Well, unfortunately we aren’t going to be able to listen or look, because I wasn’t able to find a recording, but regardless I wanted to mention the arrangement done by Jeff Sultanof for brass quintet. And mostly I wanted to have a post about Steiner, since in the world of film music, he is one of, if not the, king.
For something, here is a tiny clip of the Warner Bros. fanfare that Steiner wrote. As you can hear, there are brass being used. Close enough?
I know what you are thinking: this is a blog about film composers! Why is Shostakovich here? Well, Shostakovich (1906-1975) was in fact quite a prolific film composer, writing the scores to over 30 films. He otherwise needs little introduction, as his symphonic, concerto, and chamber works are a staple of the orchestral and otherwise instrumental repertoire.
However, in all of his instrumental writing, Shostakovich never wrote for brass alone. He did, however, write music that works very well in brass instruments, such as the “Festive Overture.” Here is a performance of an arrangement performed by the German Brass:
So, is this an effective arrangement? I think it is an incredibly effective arrangement, but also exceedingly difficult, when performed at that tempo. The string/woodwind run passages provide a unique challenge for brass, but a professional group like the German Brass does the piece justice. If this piques your interest, many of Shostakovich’s other works have been transcribed for brass.
Ennio Morricone (b. 1928) is an incredibly prolific Italian composer, orchestrator, and conductor. He has composed the scores for over 500 films and has also contributed much to the concert repertoire. He has not, however, written concert music for brass alone. However, his rich wealth of filmic material has served as an excellent source from which to arrange. One of Morricone’s best known works, from the movie The Mission, is the piece “Gabriel’s Oboe.” Normally scored for (you guessed it) the oboe, this exceedingly beautiful melody has understandably been “stolen” by other instruments, such as brass band. In fact, when researching the extent of the piece, a version exists for pretty much every combination of brass instruments.
Today we will look at a version for brass band with tuba solo. While I think the large range and relative variety of timbres in a brass band can work well on a piece like this, I question the use of tuba as the solo voice. To be sure, solo tuba is a nice sound, but simply does not have the dexterity of a woodwind for the ornamental flourishes. Also, in this particular arrangement, the solo voice tends to get lost in the accompaniment. Listen for yourself and see what you think – this is the Appalachian Brass Orchestra with Oystein Baadsvik as tuba soloist:
Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) is one of the veritable masters of the film score, and his scores for Hitchcock’s films in particular still resound today. Perhaps his most well known sonic contribution is the violin “screech” from the shower scene in the movie Psycho. This cue is today almost a cliche, and most people do not know that film also contains beautifully haunting additional music by Herrmann.
Herrmann did in fact write many concert pieces, but none featuring brass alone. His music has been transcribed and arrangement for many different types of ensembles, including brass. The piece we will look at in this post is an arrangement of the prelude from Psycho. This music accompanies the tense opening scene and subsequent driving moments. This particular arrangement was done by Brad Rouillier and performed by The Aveley and Newham Band conducted by Nigel Taken.
For the next few posts we will once again look at film composers whose music has been arranged for brass ensemble, most commonly brass quintet or brass band. The work we will be looking at in this post of course breaks that mold, as it is of a large horn ensemble. But first, more about the composer.
Alan Silvestri (b. 1950), is a composer of film and television who is perhaps best known for his scores to Band to the Future and Forrest Gump. He is an Academy Award nominee, but not winner, and has contributed to the musical scores of over 100 films. The particular piece of music we are looking at today is Back to the Future, arranged by Alexander Wagendristel and performed by the Vienna Horns.
So, how does this stand up to the original? Does it work? I think it mostly does, with the sole reason that the original score heavily features the horns as carriers of the melodic lines. Silvestri’s use of the horn is easily transferable to an arrangement, and does not drastically effect the overall timbre. However, from a practical standpoint, this particular arrangement is exceedingly difficult and would take a cast of all professional players to perform.
Leonard Rosenman (1924-2008) was a composer for television and film. He is perhaps best known for his Academy Award winning work in Barry Lyndon and Bound for Glory, and I especially enjoyed his contributions to the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Rosenman studied composition at the University of California Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg, amongst others, and throughout his life also composed several concert works, including pieces for piano and strings. His only brass alone piece that I could find is the simply titled:
I could not find any information about this work, less its recording on an album by the Los Angeles Brass Society and the LA Phil. The album seemed to suggest that Lester Remsen, the conductor of the ensemble, commissioned a number of fanfares in 1969 by top Hollywood composers.
I just want to briefly share my experience with composing for brass ensemble, as it is not only the world I live in, but also something that is truly enjoyable, and something that I am constantly learning more about. As a horn player, most of my compositions up to this point have been for horn. This just makes sense – I know it the best, and I have ways to both play and get the music played. However, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The first piece I wrote for any brass instrument was a little brass quintet called Could Live. Here is a rough recording from back in 2005:
Something about the versatility and color possibilities of the brass ensemble has always intrigued me. This post is actually rather timely, since my second brass ensemble piece, one that I just completed this past year, will be premiered in two days (from this post). That piece is called Starboard, and was written for James Jenkins and the University of Florida Symphonic Brass. The piece features frequent meter changes, rhythmic interplay, and many smaller musical motifs that make up the larger whole. The narrative of the piece is one of sailing into the unknown. Here is an excerpt from the score:
Perhaps the biggest help and influence for writing this piece has been simply listening to as much brass ensemble music as possible, such as the music on this blog. If you have any interest in composition, I implore you to do the same. Learn from the masters!
p.s. To make sure I’m not breaking my own rules for this blog, I should state that I also am a film composer, having written original scores to two short films and two internet commercials. Those can all be found at JamesNaigus.com
As I mentioned in my previous post about Jerry Goldsmith, one additional composer that we are going to explore is Miklós Rózsa. Rózsa (1907-1995) was a Hungarian-born composer who was best known for his film scores, including three Academy Awards for movies such as Spellbound and Ben Hur. As a composer of concert works, Rózsa was quite prolific, including the sole brass piece:
Festive Flourish for Brass and Percussion
Festive Flourish was written for the bicentennial anniversary of American independence. It is a concise work, clocking in at only a minute long, but those familiar with Rózsa’s film scores can easily recognize his compositional style and harmony in this tonal and very accessible work.