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Has chameleon Elfman finally stopped channelling Herrmann?
Last post Mon, Jul 04 2022 by Macker, 21 replies.
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Posted on Mon, Jun 20 2022 16:35
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 597

[Edited 21/6]

Have a listen to Elfman's trailer theme for Dr Strange 2 (play pointer is preset to start at 20:42).

 YouTube - Dr Strange 2 - Trailer

Hear any Herrmann? Me neither. What a relief!

This is by no means to cast any aspersions on Bernard Herrmann's legendary works. It's simply that Elfman isn't Herrmann. That said, "tribute acts" have always been around in the commercial arts, and I suppose we shouldn't try to judge all film scoring as if it belongs to the fine arts.

It seems Elfman is now trying to aim the appeal mostly at Zoomer gamer mentality, largely by channelling HZ, JXL, Mussorgsky (Bald Mountain) and Richard Strauss (Zarathustra), among other resources.

Well actually, this Boomer quite likes this trailer, score and all. That's partly because Elfman seems to wear the mantle of today's pseudo-visceral bish-bash-bosh style of hybrid scoring for Zoomer gaming-addicts quite well; and partly because I enjoy the work of lead actor Mr Cucumber Patch (as my better half calls him).

Perhaps those who've already seen the film and have a musical ear will tell me, "nah - he's still sucking Herrmann's blood". Ah well, c'est la vie. In any case I'd be interested to hear what you made of it - trailer or full movie score.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Fri, Jun 24 2022 00:34
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110

Actually, I have respect for Elfman as a composer. His Herrmannian influences are there to be discerned, but no more than in other first rate film composers (ex. Goldenthal), and not to any degree that they compete with his own style and voice - a Herrmann with humour perhaps. I should say voices, actually. From Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands, but then to Good Will Hunting and Big Fish, and Midnight Run and Dolores Claiborne in between. The man has range, he is seldom boring, so many of his themes somehow stick to your head it cannot be a coincidence (The Simpsons, Men in Black, Batman, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Scrooged, the above and many others).

Although an A-lister Hollywood composer told me that "Danny gets a lot of help" - which I believe, for you cannot get to where he is from Boingo-Boingo without it - I know enough music myself to recognise a genuine composer with his own ideas (i.e. one that doesn't need layered "inspiration" patches from today's libraries) when I hear him. One of the ways you can 'tell' it's a Composer you're listening to is that his music flows (without ostinati). The ideas and moments follow one another naturally, effortlessly, Williams-like, Herrmann-like. And since I mentioned him, it takes a Composer to become an influence to Williams, and Harry Potter series would have sounded very different if Elfman did not exist.

I don't know whether you have seen this film, but if you had to score Good Will Hunting - and I am not privy to the director's brief - how would you go about it? How do you score for a supernatural genius character? Left to my own devices, I would probably create a massive fugal construct, at least for the appropriate moments, reflecting the intricacies of the depicted massive, manifold brain. Elfman takes a very different, minimal approach, throwing some Irish elements into his mix too (I think), but listen to what he does at the moment of recognition of Hunting's genius by the faculty (thereby confirming this attribute for us). He hangs that confusion dissonance in the air while the professor and his lackey are trying to wrap their brains around the mystery mathematician being a janitor. Hear how beautifully Elfman resolves -or blends- this dissonance to the tutti as the film cuts to Hunting on the bus. That is the moment where the brain is scored for the first time in "full glory". You may think it was understated, but that was the litmus test for me and I think it took genuine musical sensitivity. It's different to what he is usually associated with, which is good too, a lot of the time. Finally, I got a CD with his violin concerto. Not too impressed. I liked the piano quartet enough though...

P.S.: I admit I have no idea how he's scoring these days. You can tell my examples are all from the distant past...

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 Fri, Jun 24 2022 12:47
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 597

I accepted  - and failed - the 'assignment' you set for me, Errikos. Just now watched Good Will Hunting for the first time. Jesus H .... how in God's name did I miss that film?!? About half way through, when Damon's and Williams' characters were just beginning to connect for real, I was thinking - "this screenplay and Williams' acting are totally top notch, I'd give both an Oscar"; then paused the film while I looked up its awards and was gratified to find myself in tune with the Academy Awards nominations and voting back then (unlike today). The cue you mentioned: Elfman nailed it superbly; no way around that. And I'm happy to hand it to him. But now having heard his answers to that and several other cues in this film, I wouldn't even want to try to compete with those (and yes I know that's me copping out in a very amateur way; but hey, I'm not a pro composer and have zero aspirations in that direction).

Even so, much more generally, I can't say Elfman's works are anywhere near being my cup of tea. Maybe they're just too U.S. for this Brit; maybe the majority of the films he's scored put me off him because they're just not up my alley. I don't know. Of course that's just me; I truly hope you don't feel the slightest need to defend your feelings and tastes vis-à-vis his work - different folks, different strokes, as always. I'm ok being the odd one out by not feeling drawn at all to many of the hugely popular movies you've mentioned. Pro composers, like lawyers, must of course commit their fealty to their clients and, to a large extent, to the 'industry' in which they work - another reason I'm happy not to be in that game. (I'm glad to be done with prostituting my soul since the Cold War ended).

In the realm of commercial art, yes indeed there can be no doubt Elfman has been prolific and very successful. I'm probably stupid (and I dare say a bit snobbish also) in too often having focused only on the criteria (including originality) by which the great composers have been judged, in the very different realm of the fine arts. No doubt that has something to do with me growing up in a household where music everyday came almost always from the BBC Third Programme (their classical music channel).

Just another word on this particular film: I probably related to it more deeply than many because I was born and raised in Cambridge - the original one. And although the film focused on Damon's character's very working class cultural environment and its influences on him, I was intrigued to see so many recognisable aspects of the manifiold disparities between "town and gown". A great film, and thank you so much, Errikos - you've made a most welcome addition to my list of all-time fav films.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Fri, Jun 24 2022 23:47
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110

I spent about a month at Cambridge University assisting my sister with her final post-graduate dissertation. I had a uniquely magnificent time exploring the grounds, the colleges, the bookshops, the music shops, and the lady students! I even went to see Dr. Holloway, armed with some scores, and while he suggested that I did my Masters there, the expense was prohibitive...

I am happy you don't feel you wasted your time with Good Will Hunting (cheesy title considering...). As far as the screenplay is concerned, I do believe some of the gossip that William Goldman ghostwrote the thing, or a big chunk of it. Somehow I doubt Affleck and Damon came up with lines, such as "A mathematical proof is like a symphony", at age 27 or so, among other things. And as for the films that Elfman has worked on, I mostly agree with your position, although I suggest you might also enjoy Big Fish (with "your own" Ewan McGregor in the starring role) or Dolores Clairborne, a fine, non-preternatural Stephen King crime fiction, and starring the great Kathy Bates.

There are a lot of movies with superlative soundtracks that it would be impossible for me to sit through from beginning to end, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas, E.T.Superman, Gremlins(!), Evil Dead(!!), or series like The Simpsons, of which I have not watched one complete episode. I tend to disunite the scores from the films. It comes naturally to me as a musician. In that respect, I listen to quite a number of soundtracks happily away from the silliness they enveloped. I also grew up in a family with similar musical tastes to your own. I do not call this snobbishness at all. Snobbishness would be to deny someone their deserved artistic merit due to an irrelevant factor, social status for example. You certainly have not done that.

I also would never compare Elfman to Williams or Herrmann. The latter have/had an enormous arsenal wherefrom they mine/d their astounding musical resources. It seems to me that Elfman is one of the very few exceptions of people who so transcended their academic indigence and inadequacies, as to be doubtlessly recognised as talented. I wish I could say the same about a band keyboard player that has been so revered during the past few decades in Hollywood (it seems I can't post in a thread anymore without mentioning him. It's an obsession!)

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 Sun, Jun 26 2022 01:50
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

Elfman is an excellent composer and has done really great scores for various films.  I know very little about today's film  composers because I've found so many to be so bad they are like non- musicians. and painful to listen to.  But they are doing "music."  For films.  And you have to have your ears tortured by the godawful shit they produce, based upon total ignorance of all aspects of composition, similar symphonic/orchestral music, AND the entire history of film music -  which despite what many snobbish classical musicians might think -  is actually very respectable, with geniuses like Korngold - who was the superior of every concert composer in his time - Max Steiner, a brilliant immigrant composer to America, and Herrmann, probably the greatest of all, creating works that are - to be blunt - the best music produced in their time.  

There is no composer of concert music who did anything superior to Herrmann's Death Hunt from On Dangerous Ground in his time  Or even comparable. It has the total mastery of all elements of composition and orchestration that Tchaikovksy showed in the famed Scherzo to his Sixth Symphony.  Just listen to that composition if you don't believe me. It is so far beyond the requirements for the film that it's funny! Or listen to the Main Title to North by Northwest. Nobody composed anything better at that time.    Or like his Obsession score - music that is so far beyond the film a critic said "Herrmann's music would make blank film compelling."    

Elfman has created some truly memorable music for a large number of films, starting with his wonderfully atmospheric "Beetlejuice" score.  He is influenced by Herrmann, but he does not imitate him. He has his own style and is instantly recognizable. That is the most important thing - does one know who wrote this music when it starts?  In the case of Elfman, John Williams, Herrmann - one knows instantly  That is something unique and very difficult to achieve.  Another like that - Miklos Rosza. You know it couldn't be anyone else.  Or Morricone. Or Rota.  They are truly original composers and show how the real essence of composition in the 20th century shifted away from concert music to film scoring.  But now?  It's garbage, almost all of it.  Though to be a little Pollyanna, that is probably true of almost any time.   When one is in the time...

Posted on Sun, Jun 26 2022 13:19
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 597

Errikos, I'll certainly give Big Fish a look - I watched and very much enjoyed Dolores Claireborne some years back. Very happy to hear you've some pleasant experiences of my home town; growing up there has located me very positively in a historical continuum, such that 'past' and 'future' aren't as jarringly at odds to think about as some 'Hegelians' would have me believe.

I too tend to prefer the "flowing" aspect of composition that you mentioned. I think I was about 14 when I bought my first classical LP: Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (but followed not long after by Bach's Toccata and Fugue). I'm somewhat averse to obtrusive ostinati in film music wherever it seems to me to be an instruction to march along with the metanarrative, "Simon Says" style. Perhaps my 1960s rebellious streak has never really gone away! Lol.

I agree with your comments about the strong probablity that Elfman, Damon & Afleck benefited from some serious help in the coming to prominence of their artistic endeavours. Indeed Wikipedia reports that Elfman had "orchestration" help from Oingo Boingo's guitarist and arranger, Steve Bartek, in the scoring of Pee-wee's Big Adventure. (Barf.) In the commercial arts, especially film and popular music, who knows how much crucial and pivotal "help" has never been credited or even spoken about? I'm guessing it's actually an awful lot. Some people need public accolades and adulation; others don't. Nevertheless I'm convinced there's plentiful evidence that Elfman has been a creative powerhouse in his own right. I still say, however, there's an unusually strong 'chameleon' aspect to his creative output. For my money, I've no idea who he really is or where he's really coming from. Of course that's just my three Ha'pence worth.

William, the whole of your first paragraph speaks for me also. I'd love to add some expletives of my own but I don't want to upset the Moderator, Lol.

One of my top fav Hermann compositions is Scene D'Amour from Vertigo. For me it's so very Herrmann.

Williams conducts Herrmann's Scene D'Amour (Vertigo)

But we could go on forever about superb examples of Herrmann's works.

I should perhaps point out, my use of the word "channelling" in the title of this thread doesn't quite mean "imitating." The Oxford Dictionary in my iMac defines the usage I intended pretty nicely: [verb, 2 (ii)]:- "emulate or seem to be inspired by: [e.g.] Meg Ryan plays Avery as if she's channelling Nicole Kidman." Listening to Elfman's concert suite Senerada Schizoprana, I simply couldn't escape the feeling that several of the pieces are very clear and very strong tributes to Herrmann - so much so that the word "channelling" might not be adequate, but I've chosen to use that word. Anyway, Elfman isn't shy about naming Herrmann at the top of his list of musical influences.

But to get back to the question I posed as the title of this thread. Yes, perhaps I over-egged the possible implication that Elfman has always and only channelled Herrmann - which clearly is not the case. But my point is, what's Elfman up to now, with this - for him - very uncharacteristic style in this trailer? My guess is, he's recognised that the HZ/JXL bish-bash-bosh droney hybrid bandwaggon is where the big money is these days, and he's definitely up for a bit of that.

If we're to be fair, we know we shouldn't try to typecast actors or writers or directors or composers. And yet isn't there always that nagging question - is so-and-so really suited to this, really capable of this?

In the case of Elfman, as I said in my OP, I quite like what he's done for this trailer ... but then again, I'm wondering - "well yes but it's just a trailer; what about the whole film"? Is Elfman really going to convince the Zoomers, for example, that he can speak their lingo, tune into their attitudes, lead them emotionally? Like Elfman, I'm a Boomer; also, I like to think Boomers have something pretty major in common with Zoomers (i.e. people younger than 25 today): both these generations have grown up feeling somewhat alienated from - or by - the rest of society, albeit for different reasons. Maybe that'll work in Elfman's favour for this film; we'll have to wait and see.

I recall many lame, grotesque or laughable attempts by film composers back in the '60s and '70s to engage Boomers with what was painfully obviously supposed to resonate with our own musical vernaculars. Oh dear God! Talk about cynical (or just desperate) speciousness! And I could mention a certain ex pop-band synth-player working as a 'film composer' today who seems to be up to the same kind of tricks as I've just mentioned - but I've no wish to risk perturbing Errikos' peace of mind, Lol. But I digress.

Well, maybe this film will be Elfman's gateway into the future; or not. Only time will tell.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words."
~ Franz Liszt
Posted on Mon, Jun 27 2022 02:11
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

To me what matters is having an original style. Elfman really does.

And John Williams - who was a while ago criticized by pseudo-intellectual morons for "stealing" when in reality all his own themes are his own very distinctive sound - absorbs the many influences he is acutely aware of, being a vastly knowledgeable musician and supremely talented conductor as well as a great composer.  But they are all part of his own scores - unlike James Horner who deliberately, calculatingly and cynically stole completely and blatantly entire sections of music from classical works, including even the orchestration of such thefts. He was a shameless plagiarist, and an extremely mediocre composer who obviously needed to steal because he couldn't come up with anything of his own worth shit.  If you'd like a demonstration of that - listen to Star Trek by Goldsmith - one of the all-time great masterpieces of film music - and then the godawful trite garbage Horner wrote for Star Trek 2.  Endless augmented triad arpeggios that make one want to puke and a truly insipid, uninspired main theme.  Then more stealing from anything he could get his grubby mitts on.   A great film marred by a stupid score by a hack.  BTW his major (and expected) plagiarism in that particular film is Prokofieff's FILM SCORE (!) to Alexander Nevsky.  That is the Khan theme. Just check out both if you don 't believe it. 

John Williams is poles apart from that sort of low-life plagiarist, and is within the same area as other great composers who can't help being deeply influenced by the wonderful music they are profoundly aware of.   Williams loves the music he conducted regularly and yet his own is a new contribution that has his own signature style. 

Uh-oh - this turned into a rant about film score plagiarism!  How'd that happen?   

Posted on Tue, Jun 28 2022 21:06
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110

Macker: The ostinati are not so much a 'Simon says' effect. It is really very simple. Those provide the substratum upon which the orchestral ignorami can build a track. They all come from the rock/pop music world, where the drums and bass provide that substratum, and they know not any different. A constant beat or a pattern has to be there for their music (sic) to stand on (I think it was Debney who compared Hans' strings treatment to a rhythm guitar). They have no clue how one builds a proper orchestral score linearly.

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 Wed, Jun 29 2022 00:17
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

This is in sharp distinction to the old-fashioned composers of yesteryear.  Many of them like Korngold were immigrants from Europe to America during World War Two and were basically classical composers who adapted what they did to film music. Max Steiner was another.  There is a basic structure to their music that was modeled upon the complex contrapuntal orchestral approach of Wagner.  

Nowadays the currently popular composers of film music don't even know what that is.  Not John Williams - he knows intimately the great composers.  But people like the current crop don't need to, because producers are equally clueless.   I'm sure some of the members of this Forum will say I am a pretentious pseudointellectual but it is undeniable that everything is being dumbed down to the lowest possible level.  

Posted on Wed, Jun 29 2022 00:55
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

I have to continue with my rant about James Horner.  These are plagiarisms I noticed NOT because I read about them on the internet, but noticed WATCHING THE FILMS.  i was just trying to watch some movie and bam!  wait a minute, that music sounds familiar!  Yeah, it's not only familiar it's an exact copy!  

Shostakovich, 5th Symphony, Adagio, Flute and Harp soli.  Stolen with the same exact orchestration and uncredited, for the really bad fantasy film The Sorceresses. 

Charles Ives, The Unanswered Question .  Stolen for the Main Title (!) of the also bad film C.H.U.D. a low grade horror film Horner scored.

Robert Schumann, 3rd Symphony First Movement, main theme. Stolen for the film Willow. Horner took everything from this theme and just added some fanfares  in the brass.  

He regularly lifted stuff for his scores, and all of it uncredited.  Why? Because it's classical music, which meant to him - it is free to steal.  

I have no idea of how many other things he stole - probably many.  These are only a few I  noticed because I was watching the films.  

Posted on Wed, Jun 29 2022 22:12
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 440

Originally Posted by: William Go to Quoted Post

I have to continue with my rant about James Horner.  These are plagiarisms I noticed NOT because I read about them on the internet, but noticed WATCHING THE FILMS.  i was just trying to watch some movie and bam!  wait a minute, that music sounds familiar!  Yeah, it's not only familiar it's an exact copy!  

Shostakovich, 5th Symphony, Adagio, Flute and Harp soli.  Stolen with the same exact orchestration and uncredited, for the really bad fantasy film The Sorceresses. 

Charles Ives, The Unanswered Question .  Stolen for the Main Title (!) of the also bad film C.H.U.D. a low grade horror film Horner scored.

Robert Schumann, 3rd Symphony First Movement, main theme. Stolen for the film Willow. Horner took everything from this theme and just added some fanfares  in the brass.  

He regularly lifted stuff for his scores, and all of it uncredited.  Why? Because it's classical music, which meant to him - it is free to steal.  

I have no idea of how many other things he stole - probably many.  These are only a few I  noticed because I was watching the films.  

Wow. this list adds to my already existing aversion to Horner. 

I couldn't agree with you more William. I think Horner is the most shameless plagiarist 'composer' at a professional level (and one who made a lot of money at that) that ever existed. 

Ive also noticed his copycat reproduction of other music with shock, and often cringed at how shameless this man was.

As to John Williams,  I like this quote from wikipedia...

Norwegian composer Marcus Paus argues that Williams's "satisfying way of embodying dissonance and avant-garde techniques within a larger tonal framework" makes him "one of the great composers of any century".

Yes I agree...one of the greatest composers of any century!I 

What I like about this quote is that it emphasizes what most people dont talk about...the complexity of JWs tonal language. 

The only drawback with JWilliams is the limited number of longer form works...he hasn't written as many concert works as a classical musician would. But I heard thats exactly what he plans to do following retirement next year...to write concert pieces. I cant wait for his first Symphony!!!

Anand Kumar
Posted on Thu, Jun 30 2022 00:04
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110

agitato: There is a symphony, and tons of concerti for almost every instrument, the most recent of which was a violin concerto (his 2nd) for Anne Sophie Mutter. However, prepare yourself for their not being anything like Star Wars or Harry Potter.

William: As overly plagiaristic Horner was in a genre where it is even expected -you're right of course and I could add to your list (ex. Glory - Carmina Burana)- I would take him any day over the current frauds. At least he knew his music, and his Aliens soundtrack was powerful! Other scores of his I enjoyed as a teenager were those of Brainstorm and Cocoon, although I don't know how I would react to them today. I haven't listened to those vinyls for decades...

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 Thu, Jun 30 2022 00:41
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

Agitato, you are so right on that.  

Errikos, I also liked Brainstorm, before I heard the incredible list of total ripoffs Horner perpetrated. Not deliberately on my part, as I noted. Accidentally - just sitting innocently (relatively) in a theater.  But concerning Aliens - this was an incredible score! - yes!   

But not in quality - in shamelessness of ripping off.  At the climax, he actually steals from John Williams Star Wars. What? The sequence at the end where the Luke Skywalker is going into the Death Star. Same scoring.   Now that is shameless.  It's like, not only steal but steal from the most obvious source. So I guess he was encouraged by his reflection:  "They don't know all those classical composers! Hey! I wonder if I could steal from John Williams?  Ha-ha! Let's try!"  

Posted on Thu, Jun 30 2022 02:30
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 440

Originally Posted by: Errikos Go to Quoted Post

agitato: There is a symphony, and tons of concerti for almost every instrument, the most recent of which was a violin concerto (his 2nd) for Anne Sophie Mutter. However, prepare yourself for their not being anything like Star Wars or Harry Potter.

William: As overly plagiaristic Horner was in a genre where it is even expected -you're right of course and I could add to your list (ex. Glory - Carmina Burana)- I would take him any day over the current frauds. At least he knew his music, and his Aliens soundtrack was powerful! Other scores of his I enjoyed as a teenager were those of Brainstorm and Cocoon, although I don't know how I would react to them today. I haven't listened to those vinyls for decades...

Yes Ive heard his concertos....the Tuba one is just phenomenally playful.

And yes they are no Harry potter or Star Wars. I think his film scores are like a walk in the park while the concert pieces are what he really takes effort to do.

I meant that I wish his volume of output in this was even more.

About Horner I would have to disagree that he is better than todays frauds. I would even take Hans Zimmer over him. No content music is better than blatant plagiarized music, which makes the listener feel really stupid....since he seems to have assumed that no one would find out he just stole almost every score of his from someone else.

Anand Kumar
Posted on Thu, Jun 30 2022 11:21
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 440

Speaking of Elfman in the OP, you may be familiar with this famous response of his to a university professor who implied that Elfman relied entirely on others to make his scores:

https://www.filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=8458&forumID=1&archive=1

Anand Kumar
Posted on Thu, Jun 30 2022 20:49
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1110
agitato: Thanks for this.I was not aware of that exchange between Elfman and that professor. It is a contentious issue. There is an old video (in B&W) of the young Sondheim being featured/promoted on some talk show of that time, where some of his music was also presented. The conductor of the music was also called for comment, and he lamented the state of affairs on Broadway back then! Early'60s I think. The conductor derided those composers that regarded themselves as such, when they only whistled melodies to their pianists/arrangers, and ended up with the credits of whole shows. He was praising Sondheim (and Bernstein, if memory serves) for being scholastically trained in music et cetera.
After talent, the important thing in music composition, in my view, is whether onesomehowhas managed to acquirethe immense technical knowledge and necessary repertoire in order to write something I want to hear. Whether they went to university, conservatoire, or taught themselves is immaterial. After all, a minor composer - Wagner (Richard, if memory serves) was self taught. For the most part, so was Beethoven. Schoenberg prided himself for being so as well, citing the previously mentioned, placinghimself in their company.
Now, there are really countless composers with degrees out there, with more being added every year. Even if wesubtract the ones that serve the branches of the modernist schools, there are still many that wish to compose tonally and forge a career in film or musical theatre, as well as the concert industry. You would not want to hear music by the vast majority of them. The reason for this? They are untalented. Completely bereft of inspiration and originality.
However, they differ from the untrained non-entities of Hollywood in that their orchestral music will sound likeorchestral music. It won't be a collage of layers of patches and articulations. Because they have technique! And they have knowledge of music history and repertoire! They have studied scores of scores! Most of the time you will findthem workingas composers' assistants trying to make heads and tails ofthe crap handed to them by those others that haven't gone to college AND never bothered to self-study eeeeverything you learn in college. And Elfman says exactly that in his reply, when one reads it properly. It is due to his deficiencies in musical schooling that he had to workso very hardin order to be able to compose the soundtracks he has. And despite the hard work, he still has to entrust his sketches to his orchestrator, but that also has to do with the pitiless deadlines of the commercial film industry.
Having heard a lot of his music, believe me, I can tell he has done a lot of proper work (talent is granted), and remember that he made his marklong before the technology that allows for simian careers was available.
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 Fri, Jul 01 2022 01:57
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

I read that exchange when it first came out years ago.  i was extremely annoyed by the professor, because he was so obviously assuming Elfman is just an ignoramus who can't possibly write good music due to never studying. That was right after the Batman score which is an all-time great film music score. 

The problem with that academic attitude is it's completely false, as having a real ability to conceive musical ideas that are interesting is the main thing in composition - NOT technical knowledge.  And Elfman's ideas are fantastically good.  His musical technique is something that is trivial and easy to learn, once someone like him has that talent.  

But all the snob professors, who are so great in their learning, can't even begin to write anything that anyone wants to hear after the one pathetic performance with their wretched little college orchestra.  Even though they know everything!  I was exposed to one of these professors. I even played at one of the those performances. He was bragging about how there were no mistakes in the player's parts.  But every time I went up to him at the University, naively trying to talk about composing, he made me feel like a bug. a nothing.  Because i didn't have all the academically approved knowledge he had.  But his music was completely dull and dead.

That is the exact same thing this twerp was trying to do with Elfman.  It is laughable now, as Elfman is world-famous as a film composer and this guy is - what?  

Posted on Fri, Jul 01 2022 03:10
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

Speaking of the Batman score, I thought a brilliant thing about that was how Elfman transformed the main motif - which is somewhat similar to Herrmann's motif from Journey to the Center of the Earth. He developed it completely differently, and all the rest of the music was different. But it was a marvelous effect with the minor key motif C-D-E flat-A flat-G, that at the end becomes a major key motif, heard instead of starting on the tonic, starting on the major third.  That was an example of a subtle development that was far beyond those bad academic criticisms Elfman was getting.   

Posted on Fri, Jul 01 2022 03:28
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 440

Excellent posts William and Errikos.

Elfman is a particularly interesting and useful case in point for the contrast between academic composers and pure talent. Because, as you say, Elfman has originality and definitely has some training, but not to the level of JW. But still with his relatively limited training he managed to produce pretty outstanding scores.

I am reminded of that quote from good will hunting: "at least I am not unoriginal!"

It is interesting William you mention being snubbed by a professor. I am not professional like you, but I had a similar experience which I will never forget. I took formal music lessons with a faculty from a reputed conservatory. He was quite knowledgeable about music and I did learn many things from him...although not entirely because of he wanted to teach me, but rather because they were bits and pieces he threw at me. Boy was he the most insecure composer I've personally come across! He would constantly keep reiterating that he has a doctorate in music (since I have doctorate in physics), and how he was friends with Samuel Adler, and how he knew this and that, and how perfect his score handwriting used to be....

He barely paid attention to me as a student who has his own passion for music....he made me feel absolutely worthless, and even said that there is no way I can take a serious course in music. He gave me the impression that he has no belief I could do anything serious in music. That might be true, but thats exactly the opposite of what a teacher is supposed to do!

What is funny is that I do not think his imagination was anything above the ordinary. Thats why hardly anyone knows about him!

I only wish he was less insecure and taught music for the joy that it was....he would have had more fun that way.

Anand

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sat, Jul 02 2022 02:53
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5724

That sounds like you had the same professor!  

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