The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Music, Movies, and Me

I
chanced upon an essay by Jeff Britting, “Romantic Music:
Dead or Alive?” on the American Renaissance weblog and was slightly
astounded to learn that it was written in the same year as my Social Critic
essay, “Why
the Music Died
,” penned in the summer of 1997, and republished on Rule
of Reason in 2006. Part of my astonishment was that Britting, whom I do not
know and did not know in 1997, had reached the same independent conclusions I
had, one of which is that our culture is not conducive to inspiring the
composition of what is commonly referred to as “classical” or
“Romantic” music, except occasionally as film scores.

And
because our culture is in the process of being “deconstructed,” that
is why such music, if it is being composed, will remain on the far fringes of
contemporary culture, unknown, unacknowledged, and derogated or banished from
an irrational culture by its bizarre “philosopher-king-guardians” in
especially academia.

The
home I grew up in throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s was not friendly
towards “classical” or “Romantic” music (in fact, was wholly
ignorant of it), and if music was to be heard, it was popular music. My only
introduction to Romantic music was in the TV programs I watched. The theme or
incidental music of these programs contributed in no little way to the
formation of my musical esthetics, while the programs themselves helped me to
form my literary esthetics. I feel fortunate that I grew up in that period,
because children today do not have that advantage. As Ayn Rand has remarked,
the possibilities of conveying Romanticism in television (and in movies) were
developed in the twilight of Romanticism. I do not envy today’s children; in
fact, I pity them.

Britting
writes:

The chief reason
Romantic music can persist and even thrive in today’s context is the fact of
storytelling.

It
is the storytelling element that is crucial here, because I am primarily a
novelist, and while the TV programs did not teach me how to write, they
imparted an appreciation for plotted stories of suspense, adventure, and
heroism, and I began to associate the best of those programs with the best of
the music they were connected to. Music, after all, can evoke an image of some thing, it can help to objectify an idea
or an emotion, even if it differs from what inspired a composer.

In
terms of my writing career, music has played as crucial role as a point of
inspiration as have stories and novels for which there is no musical connection.
Early on, as a child, I associated my favorite movies and TV programs with
their scores or theme music. Even today, I cannot hear Emil
Řezníček’s  Donna Diana” without
thinking of “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” or  Gioachino Antonio Rossini’s “William Tell
Overture” without
thinking of “The Lone Ranger.”

Not
all memorable Romantic music, however, was written in the 19th
century. Representative of the theme and incidental scores for programs I
watched as a child are Albert Glasser’s theme for “The Cisco Kid,” Walter Schumann’s
attention-getting intro for “Dragnet,” and
Leon Klatzkin’s “Superman” theme. I
could cite a dozen more, including Fred Steiner’s intro to “Perry Mason,” and the
intro to “Captain Gallant
of the Foreign Legion” (whose orchestration of “Le Boudin” gave
me a taste for martial music, as well). Later, the opening credits and
incidental music, written by
Ron Grainer, Robert Farnon, and Albert Elms for “The Prisoner” will
always be thrilling, no matter how often I hear it (Ron Grainer’s name,
however, is I think the only one that appears in the credits). I would regret
ending this partial list of my favorite programs without mentioning Laurie
Johnson’s score for “The
Avengers
” (and my first movie star crush, Diana Rigg, as Mrs. Emma
Peel).

Westerns? Of course. There was “Paladin,” sung by
Johnny Western, and Zorro’s
theme, written by William Lava. There were a score of other Westerns, but these
mentions will suffice. I will mention that I was not a fan of Roy Rogers or
Hopalong Cassidy.  

“Music Appreciation Course 202” for me occurred
when I graduated from television to the “big screen.”  The first movies I saw in a movie palace were
of my own choice, to hear Russell Garcia’s score to George Pal’s “The Time Machine
and Bernard Hermann’s wild, sometimes discordant fandango for Alfred
Hitchcock’s “North by
Northwest
.” Later, I was enthralled by Maurice Jarre’s score for
Lawrence of Arabia,”
and learned how to wed a score and spoken narrative in the opening of one of
the last great memorable epics to be shot by Hollywood, “Khartoum,” the music
by Frank Cordell and
narrated by Leo Genn.

Britting makes a very important point about the
importance of the integration of film music with its subject:

Whether
narrative or documentary, film utilizes dramatic development, conflict and
resolution. When music rises to the level of a successful Romantic film, and
vice versa, the result is not only a seamlessly integrated work of art but also
a score that frequently can stand alone and be appreciated for its own Romantic
quality….

Technically, the
challenge to the film composer is to underscore and suggest an emotional
subtext, whatever it may be, rather than striking false or melodramatic notes
out of balance with the action. The music must be adapted to the film; it must
be functional, and only secondarily can it be considered as art in its own
right. However, the element of greatest interest to listeners and the most
intriguing possibility in film composition is what composers refer to as “the
big tune.” Certain films allow and even demand the use of long, very defined
musical lines….

However, concert
suites of film music, often to the accompaniment of actual film footage, are
heard with increasing frequency. Such arrangements tend to be from pictures
with a grand scale sense of the heroic or the tragic—further evidence of
Romanticism’s ongoing appeal.

“Lawrence”
and “Khartoum” are grand scale movies that demanded grand scale
scores. They are not the only ones I could cite, but they are in the forefront
of films I would recommend watching and listening to. (The fact that they are
fictionalized dramatizations of actual historic persons, and come under the
genre of Naturalism, is irrelevant. Their scores are virtually stand-alone
opuses.)

The
two Western movies whose scores made a deep impression on me were
“Shane” and “High Noon.” Victor Young wrote the score for
Shane” and
it is entirely orchestral. “High Noon,” however,
features a theme written by Dimitri Tiomkin, and sung by Tex Ritter (and it’s
the only song sung by Ritter that I can enjoy).

William
Walton’s score for the Olivier “Henry the Fifth” is
another example of a seamless integration of music with its subject matter.

Then
there is that penultimate British Western, “Zulu,” whose score
was written by the inimitable and prolific John Barry. In this link Barry
explains how he came to write the score. The mass tribal wedding scene in the beginning
of the film always reminds me of a totalitarian society reduced to a
non-technological state. This is where environmentalists want us to go.

I
have written seventeen novels (including the six-title Sparrowhawk series), and music is either mentioned in them or plays
a key role. For example, in The Head of
Athena
, a detective novel set in San Francisco in 1929, the hero detective
attends a concert featuring a ballet that incorporates the rondo from Frederick
Delius’s “Florida Suite” to dramatize the rescue of Proserpine from
Hell and Pluto’s clutches by Mercury. I don’t particularly like Delius’s opus,
but that portion of it suited my purposes because of the theme and plot of the
novel.

Like
me, all my heroes favor “classical” or Romantic music over
contemporary popular music. This is not snobbishness on their part. They are
all of a certain “elevated” level of thinking and acting. The Beatles
and Frankie Avalon just wouldn’t match their epistemology and metaphysics. I
did not much like the popular music favored my foster parents, and that was
when I could understand the lyrics. I was not a fan of the Beatles, even though
they wrote hummable melodies and repeatable lyrics (at least, early on they
did). Today, I have little truck with what passes for pop music. “Rap”
is not music, but a return to pre-music primitivism with its in-your-face
malevolence. Perhaps that is why younger Islamic jihadists are drawn to it. The
genre is nihilistic.

As
for popular music, I cannot stand Country and Western, or any kind of
“achy-breaky” music,  but there
is one exception. This is Iris Dement’s
soulful allegory on the retreat of the West, “Our Town.” I do not
know if Dement intended it as an allegory, but that is what I hear in her
lyrics. I listen to it only when I am in a severely pessimistic mood, and that
is not very often. Another exception is Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” or
Sail Away,”
which I remember for purely sentimental reasons. While crisscrossing the
country over the years in grim determination to write and finish Sparrowhawk, virtually every time I
stopped at a gas station, that was the piped music being played. It haunted me
for reasons I could not fathom.

Another
film score that ran through my head in those desperate years, while behind the
wheel, speeding east and west across the country, wondering how long it would
last under Bill Clinton, was a portion of Vangelis’s music for “Last of
the Mohicans.” The movie was awful – it turned the story and characters
upside-down for no good reason, but some of the scenes and music were
memorable. Listen to it here,
beginning at minute 1:45 and ending at 6:46.

When
I began researching and writing my magnum opus, Sparrowhawk, in late 1992, it entailed immersing myself in 18th
century culture and politics, and this caused me to develop a taste for much
but not all of its music, all of it pre-Romantic.

The
first instance of music that inspired me was Dave Roylance and Bob Galvin’s
“Tall Ships Suite,”
which I first heard on a Norfolk, Virginia classical station. I recorded it and
played it often to get back into my “Sparrowhawk
writing mood after a droll day at the office. I would also fantasize that
someday it would become the score for a film version of the series. The score
is not on YouTube, and this is the best link I could muster.

There
is so much music in Sparrowhawk that I can only highlight a few examples here.
The first major number is from Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus,” which Jack
Frake, the young hero, hears for the one and only time during a concert in a London
theater in the mid-1740’s, “See, the conquering hero
comes.” It isn’t the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is what I heard for
the first time, and what Jack heard may have been wanting in power. 

In
Book Five: Revolution of Sparrowhawk, I depict a concert given in
a private plantation home. Reverdy Brune, a lost romantic interest who has come
back into Hugh Kenrick’s life, serenades him with what sounds like a song
of love. The words are in Italian, which he does not understand, but Hugh has a
different response to it.

As he listened
to Reverdy sing in a flawless soprano voice, Hugh was suddenly overcome with
the sense that the music was about him. He could not understand the Italian
words that his wife sang, but they seemed nevertheless to beckon him to accept
the aria as his own, and to continue his enthralling, guiltless journey through
life. The words were irrelevant, he thought, yet words were necessary to
accompany the music to convey a joyous, untroubled serenity. The foreign,
unknown words seemed to invite him to substitute his own, yet he knew not what
words to put in their place. Those words celebrated his every conscious thought
and action, his own existence and that of the world. They had the sense of a
debut and an end at the same time, and evoked a vista that stretched behind him
– the one traveled – and another before him, yet to be traveled. It was an
anthem, he thought, one he wished he could somehow project and express. It was
as sacred and joyous as any great hymn he had heard in the cathedrals of his
past, yet it was somehow addressed to him, and to him alone. He wondered if Reverdy
knew this, if she understood him enough to have chosen this cantata for that
reason.

This
link to the performance,
beginning at minute 9:40 to the end, nearly recreates such a private concert in
colonial times, with a small ensemble, as big a group as a small town could
gather. For a full orchestral version, listen to this link, beginning at minute
7:45 to the end.

“Folk”
music also is employed in the Sparrowhawk
series. “Brian Boru’s
March
,” by anonymous, is played here on her harp by Carol Thompson.
During this aforementioned concert, Etáin on her harp redubs it “The March
to Caxton Pier,” when the townsmen of Caxton on the York River marched to
stop the hated tax stamps.

I hope
it is understood that my examples here of film and other music are only the tip
of my particular iceberg. Someday I may write a book on this subject, and this
short essay will be the basis of it.

I
will let Jeff Britting end this column with his advice and recommendations:

Despite its
enormous popularity, unless a voice is raised in its defense, the Romantic
style may well fade from film in the same way it disappeared from live
performances. On the other hand, with a return to the philosophy that made
Romanticism possible in the first place, the musical establishment might one
day rediscover emotional range, drama, melodic depth, and intellectual
seriousness—values readily available to us all over popcorn at the Saturday
matinee.

Well,
now that we can watch virtually any movie on the Internet, and have our
Saturday matinees any day of the week, we will not need to listen to someone
else’s munching popcorn and sipped sodas. Civilization, noted Ayn Rand, is
progress towards privacy.

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2 Comments

  1. revereridesagain

    I don't know how anyone gets through life without Romantic music. When I was a kid we would go to the Boston Pops concerts several times a year. The first half was "classical music" while the second was show tunes, movie scores, and pop. That was my first exposure to Romantic music. (To a 10-year-old Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnole" is just awesome.) But I doubt most kids now have access on a regular basis to anything like that.

  2. Pete

    This is a most intriguing column. Thank you, Ed. I had never noticed that so many of my own favorites in the art of music have been recruited from the art of motion pictures (going all the way back to my days of philosophical disorientation, when champions of nihilism such as Stanley Kubrick occupied my list of favorites in art). In spite of its irredeemable plot, I found a new window into the 18th century with the O.S.T of "Barry Lyndon". The fife and drums of "The British Grenadiers" and "Lilliburlero" radiate an outgoing, can-do enthusiasm that has accompanied me on countless occasions when walking (or marching) to work.

    The British Grenadiers:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NXFCDgyanA

    Liliburlero:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ewh29Cjw9NM

    From there I added "Yankee Doodle" (fife and drums) and "The Star-Spangled Banner" (by Merrill Miller, which is the best-sung version I've been able to find to this day).

    The Star-Spangled Banner:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8TaxcrYnuk

    I was glad to find more tunes that reflect the great tradition of English Liberty in the mediocre and low-budget movie adaptations of the "Sharpe" book-series.

    Hearts of Oak:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NXFCDgyanA

    Rule Britannia:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XPHL4Q86t4&list=FLRuXdOl4BGYYn8-QDDNGDOg&index=12

    Kubrick’s infamous horror show "A Clockwork Orange" turned into an invaluable introduction to the immortal Ludwig van Beethoven, who remains my favorite of all in music to this day.

    I recruited the most beautiful flute & harp piece from the movie Amadeus (loved your review of that one, Ed), which I recommend to complement with the beautiful paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema.

    Mozart Flute & Harp:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjAm_XEodAY

    Lawrence Alma Tadema:
    http://www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/11_Western-Art/23_Later-19th-Century-Romanticism/Alma-Tadema/Alma-Tadema_Sappho+Alcaeus_1881.jpg

    http://artmight.com/Artists/Lawrence-Alma-Tadema-1836-1912/Under-the-Roof-of-Blue-Ionian-Weather-15827p.html

    More recently I have enjoyed listening to Gene Krupa’s Drum Boogie (thanks to this Blog’s recommendation of Ball of Fire), as well as Maria Callas’ Habanera.

    Drum Boogie:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRjQzSwmEHw

    Carmen Overture, Maria Callas:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCj658xbwj0&list=FLRuXdOl4BGYYn8-QDDNGDOg&index=3

    I apologize for the lack of proper hyperlink formatting.

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