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James Horner vs. Bernard Herrmann
Last post Sat, Mar 03 2018 by William, 101 replies.
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Posted on Mon, Feb 12 2018 09:16
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 162

No prob William, I can understand passion - so much better than any other alternative. like I say, we actually agree musically about the topic in hand apart from me not being appalled by HZ and actually admiring him for his achievments.  Is your knowledge of classical music as erudite as your soundtrack knowledge?

EDIT.

Sorry, I just read your last post and it would seem the answer to my last question is in the affirmative. V.Williams' symphonies are to die for aren't they. It is interesting that you cite English composers, do you have a penchant for this sceptred Isles composers? I love exploring American composers and am getting to grips with Christopher Rouse at present, brilliant.  So much music, so little time...

Annand,

Cant' argue with you much there, but you still got a little subjective in a sentence advocating objectivity  - I mean, does more musical technical manouvering enhance a film? Some might say so, others maybe not. Remember, I am on your side here though, I'm just being picky and harking back to the previous posts. I'm not the internets objective/subjective Police and people will write what they want and quite right within reason, it is just fun to point these things out occassionally.

The accusation that HZ does the same thing over and over is perhaps reasonable, but here's a thought. He is hired by producers and directors and if they keep asking him, well you get what you are prepared to pay for. His style is recognised and pigeon-holed just like everybody else and available for hire. Although I'm pretty sure he appraoaches every project with a fresh outlook because he would have to, he may well rely on previous successful technicalities in cueing to get him through now and again. That is only natural, one writes according to ones' strengths (and what is expected of one too) and so I will pose a question and then dive for cover with my hard hat - is it valid to criticise natural inclinations as a weakness, especially when we are talking about a highly successful man?  (answers on a postcard please....)

Errikos,

Well I guess you just read above. You beat me to the one trick pony thing, quite right though in my view too. I never put together JWs' HP and Elfmans ES, but yeah, why not. I remember the advertising industry - being as creatively parasitical as it tends to be -wanting nothing other than Scissorhand rip-offs for years after the release of the film.

You know, just the mention of Daphnis and Chloe sends me into  a scherzando of helpless inadequacies, so please can we all refrain from citing one of the greatest works in our art please............I thank you.

Posted on Mon, Feb 12 2018 10:55
by JamesPDX
Joined on Fri, May 01 2015, USA, Posts 24

The Herrmann tie-in to Ravel's Daphnis Et Chloé was an editing mistake on my part. My post was too long and I cut it down without moving a comma. Sorry about that. And yes, Herrmann's tie to Wagner for Vertigo was deliberate but it was done with such brevity and skill to make it all fit into a five-minute window that it's astonishing.

For the rest, I'd agree that too much minor-third dih-dih-dah-dah-dih-dih-dah-dah-dih-dih-dah-dah becomes noticeable when you "ostinato it" across an entire series. In Vertigo, Herrmann makes it work with a single repeating harp note in "Scotty Tails Madeleine" –it works because there's music under it that matches the scene. It's one of my favorite cues.

And what's great about JW is that his scores are only in our faces when he wants them to be. I think the CDs to the original trilogy of Star Wars movies are great because I realize, "Oh, I don't remember hearing that, wow..." –It's Holst's Mars and Neptune and Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony, but JW's doing something original with those composers, and I can hear that he's making a lot of music. Also, the exit music for Empire is so gorgeous that at I must have just given him a pass at some point. Maybe it was an amalgam of all his works, including the heartbreak-score of Schindler's List (getting Itzhak Perlman to play the top melody can't hurt, either.)

Anyway, I love this discussion. This is what makes the internet great, my friends.

Has anyone heard Anatoly Lyadov's The Enchanted Lake ? -This guy was one of "The Might Handful" ...

James Long
Posted on Mon, Feb 12 2018 11:19
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 162

Dang James, you said the 'D&C' words again.

More erudition on show I see, I'd better start brushing up a bit. BTW what the hell is wrong with a minor 3rd ostinato, I mean it's all the rage these days , surley hundreds of thousands of composers computers can't be wrong............

Posted on Mon, Feb 12 2018 15:36
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

That is funny you mentioned not only Vertigo my favorite film score but also Enchanted Lake - that is such a great piece I had to order a copy of the score.  It is a fantastic piece of Impressionism before the Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel was famous.  It is a piece of music that creates a quiet mysterious state of mind rather than a conflict that has to be resolved like 99% of the other music at the time.  Liadov didn't seem to have a large output but that is a unique work.    

Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 00:13
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

Lyadov was actually very gifted but notorious for lazyness. In fact, he was Diaghilev's pick for The Firebird, but the entrepreneur got tired of waiting through so many postponements and then somebody mentioned the Fireworks to him (bless his soul).

Mike: Same recognizable commercial style is one thing, same music exactly is another. Yes, I credit Elfman for the entire jingly-tingly-percussion/celeste for the main themes/impish rhythms school of soundtracks.

Bill: I happily purchased a heavily discounted EMI 'Complete Vaughn-Williams symphomies' about 15 years ago, and enjoy them on the odd occasion. Great composer, although I think his influence on soundtracks outside of the UK is based on influences he adopted during his European sojourn. I would pick Walton as wielding a bigger international influence in soundtracks respect, although I don't pretend to be an expert in this regard. As to VW, have a listen to a beautiful but less known work - Flos Campi, curiously written for solo viola, choir and orchestra. The second movement of his piano concerto is also a favourite haunt of mine.

 

I also believe that we lean a little too much on John Williams for his (admittedly true) influences. He is his own composer - except where Spielberg was too fond of the temp tracks - one of the few directors who know music (Holst's ghost is prevalent for this reason), but his natural pulses and rhythms are better than Holst's as well as the obvious American influences (Copland, Bernstein, etc.). I find that he imitates Mahler a lot more often than Rachmaninov (at least from the mid-'70s onwards), as Williams and the Russian are vastly different people. One is full of positivity, the other clangs death knells with every work; one is a supreme melodist, the other composed the main theme to Schindler's List... Like day and night in fact.

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 02:00
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

Now wait a minute Errikos - Rachmaninoff wrote Isle fo the Dead and was obsessed with Dies Irae.  

Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 03:07
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

Also he is about as gloomy and dark a Russian Romantic as you could find.  So who is the sunny one? JW with Schindler's List or Rachmaninoff.  I don't get that last statement...

Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 03:20
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

Obviously Rachmaninov is the gloomy one (I played around with the order there a little); Williams composed Schindler's List on very specific instructions and went against his Indiana Jones grain, but as a consummate professional he did a great job.

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 04:44
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 299

Dont you think JW drew a lot from Prokofiev? Somehow I think of JW more when I hear Prokofiev than when I hear Holst.

But again as you say, Williams is his own composer despite borrowing from a range of classical composers. His positivism is quite clear. Even it was the most melancholic score like Schindlers list there is a tinge of hope somewhere. As I heard him say in an interview...he likes movies that 'dont take themselves too seriously'.

Anand Kumar
Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 06:44
by JamesPDX
Joined on Fri, May 01 2015, USA, Posts 24

Originally Posted by: mh-7635 Go to Quoted Post

Dang James, you said the 'D&C' words again.

More erudition on show I see, I'd better start brushing up a bit. BTW what the hell is wrong with a minor 3rd ostinato, I mean it's all the rage these days , surley hundreds of thousands of composers computers can't be wrong............

Ha ha, sorry!  I've just been collecting and listening for a really long time. It comes and hopefully stays as you get older. I'd trade all that knowledge in a second to be able to sight-read well.

I'm not the biggest Ravel fan, but the (piano version) of Sonatine: III. Animé is just so gorgeous as is three very specific parts of D & C: Scene 1: Parts 1, 2, and 11.

Nah, minor third ostinatos are fine! Just don't use the same one at the same tempo on every film you land.

That being said, I don't begrudge anyone that can break-in and make a living in the industry. But I do expect to hear music that is objectively better than that written by anyone who's on the outside. It's Hollywood mixed with the music biz.

Here's the best ostinato I've ever heard. It's in fives. It was written in 1909: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5S3pZ87h-FI  There's so much in this piece that I think the world of film scoring would sound different completely different had it not been written when it was. IMHO.

James Long
Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 06:54
by JamesPDX
Joined on Fri, May 01 2015, USA, Posts 24

The trick in drawing the family tree of composing influence is in the date that the composer wrote/published the piece. Here's an exercise in determining the true origin of two pieces that are very similar and even share the same key. They were pals and were around each other in the music biz way back when:

Q: Which came first?

1. Chopin: Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2

2. Liszt: Consolation No. 3 in D flat

James Long
Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 14:34
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

Even though the Third Piano Concerto is usually thought of as Rachmaninoff's masterpiece, Isle of the Dead is so great - and purely orchestral, no pianistic writing at all - that it may actually be.  There is an amazing range of expression throughout and such brilliant orchestration.  (That youtube should have Boecklin's painting. )

This brings up my favorite (well some of it) film music - Roy Webb's scores for Val Lewton's films, including appropriately Isle of the Dead and Seventh Victim and probably the best of all, I Walked with a Zombie.   He wrote more than 300 film scores of all kinds, but his work on these atmospheric black and white mystery/horror films of the 1940s  is probably his best and has a wonderful subtle impressionistic quality, never bombastic like most horror film scoring, and adds hugely to the quality of the scenes.  A CD was released of the scores that were reconstructed with incredible accuracy from the three staff original and no separate tracks by John Morgan - 

Roy Webb SCores

Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 20:09
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 299

Sorry James, 'Isle of the dead' doesnt work for me without looking at the painting which inspired the music (or so I heard). That YT video has some other painting. Here is the correct one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbbtmskCRUY

This ostinato is no HZ kind. Its real music!

Anand Kumar
Posted on Tue, Feb 13 2018 21:01
by JamesPDX
Joined on Fri, May 01 2015, USA, Posts 24

Ha ha! I know, but I needed Askenazy's version of Isle of the Dead. Of course, the photo of the Bocklin painting would need to be in black and white -if you want to be as picky as Sergei.

James Long
Posted on Wed, Feb 14 2018 02:41
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

One thing that is less noticed   is that Herrmann is the originator of  minimal film scoring common today and was the first to avoid using the leitmotif style - starting with  Citizen Kane - and instead simply score straightforwardly for the scene.  He later developed an approach of extreme simplicity using motifs rather than full blown themes, often even only a few bars. Herrmann used an elegant  musical alternation of simple motifs because this was perfectly suited to scoring the scene.  Max Steiner with his Wagnerian leitmotif style was the standard prior to Herrmann.  While Steiner did create some truly great scores, he also shows how the leitmotif is essentially irrelevant - though a good crutch - for film scoring.  Howard Shore used this approach in LOTR though, to very good effect. 

Posted on Wed, Feb 14 2018 02:46
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

... to stray from the OT! 

Posted on Wed, Feb 14 2018 07:39
by JamesPDX
Joined on Fri, May 01 2015, USA, Posts 24

Either we've exhausted the topic, or we've gone too far afield. My apologies to OP/OT if either is the case.

James Long
Posted on Fri, Mar 02 2018 03:57
by Jan1981
Joined on Wed, Mar 16 2011, Posts 18

I think, that James Horner was just quite pragmatic. Producers needed big amounts of music fast and he did offer them that. There are so many examples of him taking complete passages from classical works. The 3rd of Schumann in the Willow-Theme is certainly one of the most obvious.

And I think, it is all about expectations here. If you want a filmscore to be absolutly innovative, then Horner could cause headaches. Personally, I liked some of his melodies so much, that I was just happy to hear them in other soundtracks, too. Although always slightly changed (e.g. Star Trek II and Aliens). Over the decades, he invented some own themes and repeated those, too. And I did not mind, as long as there was something new to each soundtrack. Especially in the 90's there were some of those (e.g. The perfect storm, Deep Impact), where there was not much innovation. They were mostly boring. But I can absolutly forgive the parallels between Titanic, Braveheart, The devils own, Legends of the fall, Avatar etc. Especially the Titanic-Suite has some awesome moments, that sound like absolute classic Hollywood.

Concerning the comparisons between mainly orchestral composers (like Shore, Horner, Williams or Elfman) and the Remote-Control-Group around Hans Zimmer, I would say, that this is somehow like apples and oranges. The reason for me is the following: The orchestra has developed over hundreds of years now, so the fundamentals for the "orchestral composers", if you want to call them this, are set in terms of instrumentation. You can read about how to balance an orchestra in very old literature already. So the main point for those composers has to be melodies and rhythms and orchestral craftship. The HZ-Guys are more like trying to invent the wheel again. Not completely, but in certain aspects. If you take the Amazing-Spiderman2-Soundtrack for example, you hear so many different sounds involved. And they all have to be balanced well. The orchestra has 2 main settings: european or american (2nd vlns next to first vlns or next to DB). But when you mix synthesizers and orchestra, you always have to think about a new concept. Where do I put which instrument inside the room? And then all those sounds, they create there. This is not easy at all. The classical instruments were developed over such a long time. And the HZ-Guys invent new instruments the whole time. When you hear Horner or Williams scores with synth in them (Amazing Spiderman1, Star Wars), you realize, that they do not feel that comfortable with that. They know, how to balance an orchestra, but I am pretty sure, they don't know so much about Mixing as Zimmer and friends do.

Finally a video of The dark Zebra-Soundset here. I don't own Zebra2, but HIVE from U-He. And I know, there is still a long way to go, until I will be able to craft own usable instruments there, so I just take presets. I find this video so impressive, because here you can see, how much work there has been to do the DK-Soundtracks.

Posted on Fri, Mar 02 2018 04:14
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 4979

You're right about most of that - Horner was  commerical.  I should just post something positive about Herrmann rather than negative reactions. 

Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 08:45
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1005

jan1981: You are right in what you are posting. In fact, I consider Aliens a powerful soundtrack. However, I cannot think of one film composer off-hand that could rival Herrmann in terms of power. Orchestration? Probably. Harmony? Maybe. Melodies? Certainly. Power? I can't think of one. In any case, I consider the comparison between Herrmann and Horner specifically a little fruitless. It might as well have been "Herrmann vs. all the others".

The main reason I wanted to post was to make a point about orchestral composers like Williams, Shore, Horner, or even Elfman (that you mention), and Hans and imitators (Trevor, etc.). You make a point that to compare the former to the latter is like comparing apples and oranges, and in that I disagree. If both are using the orchestra for musical expression (or excretion), then they can be compared. If the latter are "good mixers", great, they are not composers, or their abilities as mixers are irrelevant (much as being an editor is irrelevant to Ottman composing soundtracks). As far as them "trying to re-invent the wheel", I'd say that's giving them more credit than it's due. I don't care if they are worthy of the Nobel prize for balancing acoustic and electronic sounds, that is engineering. When they write for orchestra, they immediately submit themselves for criticism as to how well they did that, period. Even if the writing for orchestra has to be considered concertante writing, i.e. in concert with electronics. 

There are so many works for orchestra with, say percussion, or amplified/electronic sounds. Bad writing for orchestra has never been excused, even in cases where orchestra and x have been well balanced. For example, the absense of any theme or harmonic progression worthy of a six year old in those soundtracks has nothing to do with whatever great engineering feat I am happy to concede. These soundtracks always make me think that someone desperately (and desultorily) tried to transform what was essentially an uninspired pop track to begin with, into an orchestral track. I would say it is exactly like providing me (who cannot draw my name in the sand) with the very same canvas, and the very same palette of colours with which Monet painted his Sunrise, and ask me to produce my own. The end result would speak for itself... I would have re-invented the wheel too, for I would also have added some lazer light to it. At least Horner knew his stuff.

People, if you use the orchestra and cannot write for orchestra, believe me, that fact will be as painfully obvious as my painting skillsA great composer and university professor told us all once, "You must try hard to make an orchestra sound bad". I think it was a very good thing to tell young aspirers, and I have never forgotten it. Thinking about this makes me responsible, lifts me out of my own little world, and places me and compares me with all the greats; for if you involve 80 or 90 professional people (let alone an audience) in your own fantasies, you must be respectful, and you must have good reason for doing so, other than the mere wish to express yourselves. Happily these days, that is what virtual instruments are for. Much like a locked room (from the outside), where I can blissfully express myself colouring its private walls with my 'Epic' trailer(park) subjects: didi-dada-didi-dada-didi-dada-didi-dada...

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
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