About the Music of the Movies at our "Cinema Sounds" Concert
For better or worse, films have shaped the way we think about the world, and so has its music. This evening’s concert is a celebration of movie music, focusing on selections from Hollywood blockbusters from 1939 to the present that include older favorites and at least one series of books that became a movie franchise.
Hollywood composer Alex North (Spartacus; Dr. Strangelove) was originally tapped to do the theme music for Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However, during post-production Kubrick decided to scrap North’s score in favor of classical music pieces that he used as “guide marks” during the film’s pre-production phase.
German composer Richard Strauss’ (1864-1949) tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, inspired by the work of 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, was Kubrick’s first choice for the film’s opening music. Strauss’ profoundly moving piece was recorded the film’s original soundtrack by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan. To quote Nietzsche: “Life without music would be a mistake.”
From Jaws (1975) to Star Wars (1977) to the music featured in the Harry Potter franchise films, John Williams has composed some of the most popular and recognizable film scores in cinematic history. With a career spanning over six decades, Williams has won five Academy Awards (nominated for 50—second only to Walt Disney), four Golden Globe Awards, and twenty-three Grammys. His collaborations with box office juggernaut directors Steven Spielberg (he composed all but two of his feature films) and George Lucas has cemented his place in Hollywood history, having scored eight of the top twenty highest grossing films of all time. He recently received the AFI Life Time Achievement Award (2016) and continues to serve as the Boston Pops Orchestra’s laureate conductor (he was principle conductor from 1980 to 1993).
Following the success of Jaws,, Williams 1977 score for Lucas’ Star Wars would later be preserved in 2004 by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Not surprisingly, the American Film Institute named it the “great American film score of all-time.”
In 1978, director Richard Donner hired Williams to score Superman. Williams’ “Superman Theme” consists of three musical parts: a fanfare, a march, and a love theme. Like the theme from Star Wars, here Williams is able to capture the protagonist’s features musically: his unstoppable power, triumphant heroism, stabilizing presence, and capacity for romance are on full display in the score’s optimistic tone.
After filming Empire Strikes Back, Williams teamed up with Spielberg again. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial debuted in the summer of 1982. Based on the imaginary friend the Spielberg created when his parents divorced, E.T. was an especially personal film for the director. Williams found it particularly difficult to compose music that would generate a connection between the audience and the odd-looking alien. Ultimately, Williams’ theme combined the harp, piano, celesta, and percussion to highlight the creature’s childlike sensibility and his other worldly “machine.” It is said that Spielberg liked the music during the chase sequence so much that he edited his film to the music!
In 1993, Spielberg asked Williams to score what would be one of the most heartbreaking musical themes in cinematic history. When Williams first saw the footage of the film about a German man who saved the lives of hundreds of Polish-Jewish refugees, he turned his friend down and told him that it would be too difficult to score. “You need a better composer than I am!” he told his friend. Spielberg responded, “I know. But they’re all dead!” Renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman was brought in to play the theme. Williams won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on Schindler’s List.
Williams was chosen by director Chris Columbus to score the first film in the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (he composed the first three). On penning the score for the film, Williams said, I wanted to capture the world of weightlessness and flight and sleight of hand and happy surprise. This caused the music to be a little more theatrical than most film scores would be. It sounds like music that you would hear in the theater rather than the film.” The theme featured prominently in trailers and promotional material prior to the film's release and has become the iconic tune for the franchise.
American composer, conductor, and arranger, Henry Mancini, composed the theme for The Pink Panther series in1963. Mancini’s now familiar composition accompanied the animated Pink Panther character drawn by Friz Freleng and David DePatie and was created for the animated credit sequence of the film. Most of the films were directed and co-written by Blake Edwards. The score was nominated for an Academy Award and won three Grammys.
Victor Fleming’s 1939 masterpiece Wizard of Oz is notable in film history for its use of Technicolor, fantasy story telling, and its musical score. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost out to Gone with the Wind. The film did win two Academy Awards that year—one for Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow” and the other for Best Original Score by Herbert Stothart. The American Film Institute also ranked "Over the Rainbow" the greatest movie song of all time on the list of "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.”
Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) is the first animated motion picture to be nominated in the Best Picture category. The film contains a number of popular songs written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid). Stylistically, Ashman and Menken drew creative influence from several musical styles and genres, including French, classical and Broadway music, using them as reference and inspiration when composing the film's songs. When it came time to write the film's large-scale "scintillating" musical number "Be Our Guest,” Menken originally composed and provided Ashman with a simple melody that was initially intended to allow his co-writer to start developing the song's lyrics. He labeled the rough composition "the dummy". However, Menken eventually gave up on his attempt to improve upon the melody, and it ultimately became the film’s hit. Menken described "Be Our Guest" as a song that is both "simple and tuneful" that "let[s] the lyric shine.”
Monty Norman has been credited with writing "The James Bond Theme,” and has received royalties since 1962. “The James Bond Theme” has been used in every Bond film since Dr. No (1962). Though "The James Bond Theme" is identified with John Barry's jazz arrangement, parts of it are heard throughout Norman's score for Dr. No in non-jazzy guises. The "James Bond Theme" was recorded on June 21, 1962, using five saxophones, nine brass instruments, a solo guitar and a rhythm section The guitar riff was played by Vic Flick on a 1939 instrument plugged into a Fender amplifier. Flick was paid a one-time fee of £6 for recording the famous theme. After 1962, “The James Bond Theme” has been played in the opening credit sequence in different variations depending on who was playing Bond.

American musical theater writing partners Richard Rodgers (composer) and Oscar Hammerstein (lyricist –dramatist) were responsible for a string of Broadway musical hits in the 1940s and 1950s that were eventually adapted into films including Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. During the course of their partnership they won thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, two Grammys, and the Pulitzer Prize.


Carousel, adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s play Liliom, was one of the first musicals with a dark plot centering on an antihero. Carousel is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical not to have an overture; both the stage and film versions begin with the “Carousel Waltz.” Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones (also the leads in the film version of Oklahoma!) played the leads and sang the hit musical numbers "If I Loved You,” "June Is Bustin' Out All Over,” and "You'll Never Walk Alone” in the 1956 film version. Both Rodgers and Hammerstein publically stated that Carousel was their best work.


The Sound of Music was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last work together (Hammerstein died nine months after the Broadway debut). Based on the memoir by Maria Von Trapp, the musical’s songs have become standards. The original Broadway cast included Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain con Trapp. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer played the roles in the film adaptation. Rodgers wrote two new songs for Andrews to sing in the film—“I Have Confidence” and “Something Good.” The Sound of Music won the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Academy Award for Best Picture.


The Lone Ranger originally debuted as a radio program in 1933 and was later adapted into a television program and film. Composed by Gioachino Rossini for his 1829 opera William Tell, the finale of the overture is famously used as the theme music in The Lone Ranger to denote galloping horses. (Fun Fact: there are no horses or cavalry charge in the opera!). Rossini’s piece has been used in other popular films including Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Princess Diaries.


Originally composed for the 1966 hit television series Mission: Impossible, Lalo Schifrin’s theme music is considered one of greatest theme tunes in television and film history. The Argentinian composer was hired to write an intro for the new spy series that had “a fuse, a match and then, boom!” After being told by creator Bruce Gellar to write something exciting that would capture the idea, the sound, of impossible mission, Schifrin supposedly wrote the theme in 3 minutes in a 5/4 short-form signature. The catchy tune has subsequently been used in each of the franchise films starring Tom Cruise as well the video game series.


Composer Klaus Badelt and producer Hans Zimmer created the music for the film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Since the schedule was very tight and the music was needed for the film in three weeks, seven other composers were asked to help orchestrate the music and write additional cues. The resulting score was recorded with credited the Hollywood Studio Symphony, over the course of four days. When the film was released, several critics noted that the score was over the top and did not have any connection to the swashbuckling genre. Audiences did not agree. Many felt that a film based on a popular theme park ride starring Johnny Depp (channeling a crazed Keith Richards) in the lead role deserved nothing short of an over the top score!


These wonderful program notes are provided by Dr. Mary Samuelson, Chair of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the New York Film Academy, She teaches film history at UCLA and did research at the Max Steiner institute in Vienna.

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Dr. Sylvia Lee Mann, Music Director & Conductor

Live Symphonic Music for our communityDr Mann

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