Christopher Tookey regrets that film scores do not receive the attention they deserveby Christopher Tookey / May 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in May 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Who can now remember who won the music awards at this year’s Oscars? Music critics are much more likely to review a concert or opera heard by a few hundred than a film score heard by millions.
Almost 50 years ago, music critic Hans Keller wrote: “Film music is ripe, not to say sufficiently putrid, for widespread criticism.” Yet lack of space, or confidence, means that even today few critics evaluate a composer’s contribution to a movie.
In their defence, critics might point out that few leading 20th century composers have written for film. There are exceptions: Sergei Prokofiev, whose scores included Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible; and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who came to the genre at the age of 69 but wrote scores for 49th Parallel and Scott of the Antarctic.
Composing for film was once a lowly handmaiden to the movie business. Early practitioners in Hollywood were seen as hacks and plagiarists. Even in the late 1930s, it was not uncommon for a studio’s music department to compose, orchestrate and record a score in a week.
Composers were rightly upset when studio executives told them that the best film music was unnoticeable, or when they heard their music being swamped by dialogue, re-orchestrated without their permission (the “Rite of Spring” sequence in Fantasia ended any interest which Stravinsky had in going to Hollywood), or simply replaced.