Scoring Photo

Scoring Photo

Thursday, April 2, 2015

10 Best Scores Turning 20

Now here's something that will probably make you feel old.  Let's take a trip down nostalgia lane by looking at some of the Best Scores Turning 20 Years Old in 2015 - that's right, scores from 1995.  

Let's start the ranking!

10. (Jerry Goldsmith) Goldsmith's adventurous score for this Arthurian legend makes up for the lackluster film and wooden acting.  The strong themes stand out, as well the choral section at the climax.  The original album didn't do the score justice, but has remained one of the top epic Goldsmith scores.

9. (John Williams) While the film and score are generally forgotten, the elegant orchestral and jazz settings are worth the listen.  The sweeping and romantic theme paired with the piano solos make this score stand out.

8. (Alan Menken) Built on the foundation of the songs (also by Menken), the score also balances the line of comedic-animated score with the dramatic sections, later refined in his score to 'Hunchback'.   
7. (Alan Silvestri) Another example of a strong score for a weak film, Silvestri lays down the orchestra action throughout the score.  The theme is bold and exciting and stays a top Silvestri action score.  
6. (James Newton Howard) This bold action adventure score didn't save this film from sinking.  The main theme is heroic and the score is full rousing action material with interesting electronic effects.   
5. (Hans Zimmer) It's hard to separate the score from the film to this Bruckheimer blockbuster.  From the macho brass title theme to the synthesizers, percussion and choir, this is one of the scores that set the pace for many films to come.   
4. (John Debney) Arguably Debney's best score, and one of the best swashbuckling action scores since the Golden Age.  From the sweeping love theme to the main thematic material, it is an enjoyable listening experience from beginning to end.
3. (Randy Newman) Newman's style plus the animated slapstick style made an interesting mix, leading the musical style for Pixar's many projects.  Punctuated by his memorable song melodies, the jazz and western influenced score bounds with energy.
2.(James Horner) One of Horner's strongest efforts on film, the sweeping and romantic melodies make this score memorable.  With the mix of traditional orchestral music with the Irish/Scottish musical elements, this score remains extremely popular.  Not to mention, finale music is breathtaking.
1. (James Horner) One score that ratchets the real-life drama with the stirring trumpet solos leading the launch and splashdown.  Clearly a milestone year for Horner, the film wouldn't be the same without the emotional swells of this score.    

Any favorites of yours from 1995 that I left off?  Comment below!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Quick Review: Cinderella


Music composed by Patrick Doyle
Music conducted James Shearman
Music orchestrated by Patrick Doyle, James Shearman
Score performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Air Lyndhurst Studios
Album running time: 85 minutes
Available on Walt Disney Records

Never straying far from its fairy tale roots, Disney presents a live adaptation of the beloved Cinderella.  One of the top Disney animated classics, this version of 1950s Cinderella is a more straight-forward retelling, rather than story or character altering film.  I am not going to compare this score to the animated score by Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace, since they share no connection.  

Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, also marks the 11th collaboration with the Oscar-nominated Patrick Doyle.  Besides the beautiful costume and production design, the music creates a world for this story, between realism and fantasy.  Doyle weaves several musical themes throughout the story, as he is known to do.  The main themes include: Ella’s theme, a Love Theme, a lively childhood motif, a Stepmother’s motif, and a variation of the traditional tune Lavender’s Blue.

We begin the album with A Golden Childhood, representing Ella’s life with her father and mother.  It begins sweetly, with flute and string trills.  The music has a lush sound right away, giving the opening a very warm, magical feeling.  We also get hinted at the first reference to Lavender’s Blue, representing the song her mother sang to her.  The orchestra begins to swell before bringing the childhood motif on celeste and piano which gives way to a slower Lavender theme. 

The Great Secret begins almost hushed, with a lovely cello solo in the forefront as hints of later thematic material is used in this tender track.  A New Family presents a new light piano and string melody, while the low woodwinds and strings present the Stepmother’s motif.  Life and Laughter is a purely classically styled piece, one of the waltzes utilized in the score. 

The First Branch is a short, sweet track with an arpeggiated piano part.  Nice and Airy contains Ella’s theme – sneakily hidden among the harpsichord and playful pizzicato.  Orphaned is full of rich and dark string writing, before going into lighter territory.  A haunting cello solo opens The Stag, and transforms into a galloping and rising orchestral moment as Ella rides off.  The music reflects the Prince’s hunting party with a big orchestral grand statement.  As they meet, the music turns lyrical with a bookended cello solo as a horn and flute take over Ella’s theme.  The theme rises to its full sweeping statement.

Rich Beyond Reason begins like another charming waltz and ends with a childhood motif reprise.  Fairy Godmother begins with a melancholy adaptation of Lavender’s Blue, with some light choir and celeste added in for a magical sound.  Pumpkins and Mice continue the lighthearted style from the previous track which builds into an orchestral climax for Cinderella’s coach transformation.  A solo violin takes on the Lavender’s Blue tune, before going into a stunning Cinderella’s Theme complete with choir (I’m sure anyone who knows the story can guess that moment).  The theme continues into You Shall Go, letting it take over with varying orchestration. 

With Valse Royale, Doyle introduces the first of his royal ball “source” music.  Before you can ask “Where’s that beautiful Cinderella’s Theme?,” Who Is She provides the most shimmering and stunning cue of the film as she enters the ball.  Halfway through the track, Doyle adds a love-at-first-sight theme for Ella meeting the Prince before bringing out a full orchestral rendition of Lavender’s Blue. 

La Valse de L’Amour is the music for their first dance – based on their love theme.  La Valse Champagne is another source waltz.  La Polka Militaire, another source dance is based on the childhood motif heard at the beginning of the film (for you smart listeners).  La Polka de Paris continues the dance music throughout the lengthy ballroom sequence.  As Ella and the Prince slip away, they make their way to A Secret Garden.  Ella’s theme is paired down to its simplest of melody on harp and bells, before turning into the love theme.  As the chimes are heard, the rhythm picks up and the strings are let loose to the finish. 

La Polka de Minuit is another (and final) quick-paced dance source.  Choose That One starts some of the chase music, with chimes tolling.  Pumpkin Pursuit is the true action cue of the score – with the strings taking off in rapid patterns with the brass showing off.  The Slipper returns us to the tender strings (and cello solo) heard earlier in the score, and adding a shimmering orchestral sound in this short cue. 

Shattered Dreams is full of melancholy, with flute and English horn blending together.  We hear the Stepmother’s motif in the lower strings/woodwinds while the choir stays in the background and rises to the end. 

Searching the Kingdom brings Ella’s theme into a comical and light 18th century arrangement with a forward momentum.  Trilling flutes, trumpets and harpsichord really make this track enjoyable.  This style has been done by Doyle for other Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations and work well in this film.  Ella and Kit begins with a slow version of Lavender’s Blue (tying into the sung version not heard on the album) before a solo piano takes over the theme with some new chords underneath and counter melodies added.  Courage and Kindness brings the Love Theme back on piano and flute.  Celeste and harp arpeggios sparkle as the strings take the melody.  Cinderella’s theme is brought back, with a brief cello reprise of the Love Theme.  Lavender’s Blue is also reprised with piano and lush strings before the chimes and choir push the finale forward with one last reprise of Cinderella’s Theme. 

Strong (sung by Sonna Rele) is based on Doyle’s themes is a fine end credits song.  The album also includes the other two end credit songs – A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes (sung by Cinderella herself, Lily James) and Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (sung by Helena Bonham Carter).  Both of these songs from the original 1950 animated film don’t appear in the film, but add a nice connection to the remake.  Digital releases of the album include instrumental (i.e. karaoke) versions of the finale three tracks. 

Fitting in a musical world between Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Brave (2012), Doyle’s themes match the style and fairy tale environment of Cinderella.  Utilizing the orchestral colors for the romantic fairy tale and magical elements, Doyle brings a lush sound and memorable themes to the film.  Branagh really lets Doyle’s music shine in the film and adds emotional weight to a story we’ve all heard before.  Longtime collaborators James Shearman and the London Symphony help bring the musical performances to life.  Many parts sound like Harry in Winter from ‘Goblet of Fire’ (2005) in style and orchestration.  Still, the score feels fresh throughout, even using the folk song Lavender’s Blue (known to some from a separate Disney film).      

It’s no understatement to say how much source dance music Doyle wrote for the production, some of which were written before or during production.  I can understand how some listeners will skip or delete these tracks for a different flow of the album.  The love theme was one of Doyle’s first parts written for the film, with Branagh wanting something simple and hummable.  The themes weave together seamlessly, all part of a bigger picture.  This score is completely worth a listen.  One of the top scores I’ve heard this year and beautifully matched with the visuals of the film.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Double Oscar Nominees

With so many composers scoring multiples of films each year, it's not surprising that composers have received multiple nominations from the Academy Awards. It almost seems like a given through the Academy history that any composer's double nomination will cancel each other out. The times the composer has won against themselves has only happened in 1941, 1977 and 2014.

A few things to note:
1. Notice the prolific writing and mass nominations of Max Steiner, Victor Young, Alfred Newman and John Williams.

2. Just by submitting a score for nomination from 1937-1945, you could receive a nomination, hence the multiple double and regular nominees.

While it's not as rare as you think, here is a list of those double (or triple) occurrences throughout the Academy Awards history.


The Charge of the Light Brigade – Max Steiner
The Garden of Allah – Max Steiner

Army Girl – Victor Young
Breaking the Ice – Victor Young

Dark Victory – Max Steiner
Gone with the Wind – Max Steiner
Gulliver's Travels – Victor Young
Golden Boy – Victor Young
Man of Conquest – Victor Young
The Rains Came – Alfred Newman
Wuthering Heights – Alfred Newman
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Alfred Newman

Arizona – Victor Young
The Dark Command – Victor Young
North West Mounted Police – Victor Young

Since You Went Away - Max Steiner
Adventures of Mark Twain - Max Steiner

**All That Money Can Buy – Bernard Herrmann** [WINNER]
Citizen Kane – Bernard Herrmann
Ball of Fire – Alfred Newman
How Green Was My Valley – Alfred Newman
Lydia – Miklós Rózsa
Sundown – Miklós Rózsa
Suspicion – Franz Waxman
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Franz Waxman

I Married a Witch – Roy Webb
Joan of Paris – Roy Webb
Silver Queen – Victor Young
Take a Letter, Darling – Victor Young

Double Indemnity – Miklós Rózsa
The Woman of the Town – Miklós Rózsa


Spellbound - Miklós Rózsa
The Lost Weekend - Miklós Rózsa
A Song to Remember - Miklós Rózsa, Morris Stoloff
Captain Kidd - Werner Jansson
Guest in the House - Werner Jansson


Death of a Salesman – Alex North
A Streetcar Named Desire – Alex North


An Affair to Remember – Hugo Friedhofer
Boy on a Dolphin – Hugo Friedhofer


Images – John Williams
The Poseidon Adventure – John Williams


Obsession – Bernard Herrmann (posthumous nomination)
Taxi Driver – Bernard Herrmann (posthumous nomination)

**Star Wars – John Williams** [WINNER]
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – John Williams


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – John Williams
The River – John Williams


Empire of the Sun – John Williams
The Witches of Eastwick – John Williams


Born on the Fourth of July – John Williams
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – John Williams


Little Women – Thomas Newman
The Shawshank Redemption – Thomas Newman


Apollo 13 – James Horner
Braveheart – James Horner


A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – John Williams
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – John Williams


Memoirs of a Geisha – John Williams
Munich – John Williams


The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams
War Horse – John Williams


**The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat** [WINNER]
The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

Back through 1995-1998 the Academy split the music category to Dramatic Score and Musical/Comedy Score.  There were a few times that a composer was nominated in both - but nobody walked away with a win in both.


Nixon - John Williams (Dramatic)
Sabrina  - John Williams (Comedy)


Good Will Hunting  - Danny Elfman (Dramatic)
Men in Black - Danny Elfman (Comedy)


Pleasantville - Randy Newman (Dramatic)
A Bug's Life - Randy Newman (Comedy)
The Thin Red Line - Hans Zimmer (Dramatic)
The Prince of Egypt - Hans Zimmer (Musical/Comedy)

Bonus x2:
From the 1940s to the 1980s, there was a separate category called Original Song Score and Adaptation.  In 1974, two people were nominated in ALL three categories - Best Original Score, Best Song Score, Best Original Song.

John Williams - 

Cinderella Liberty (Song "Nice to Be Around")
Cinderella Liberty (Dramatic Score)
Tom Sawyer (Original Song Score/Adaptation) [Shared with the Sherman Brothers]

Marvin Hamlisch - 

The Way We Were (Song "The Way We Were")
The Way We Were (Dramatic Score)
The Sting (Original Song Score/Adaptation)

And Marvin Hamlisch WON FOR ALL THREE.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quick Review: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Music composed by Howard Shore
Music conducted by Conrad Pope
Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, James Sizemore
Score performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at Wellington Town Hall

Special Edition running time: 108 minutes
Available on Water Tower Music

After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson and Howard Shore round out the Hobbit trilogy with Battle of the Five Armies.  While many a movie-goer and Tolkien fan have complained endlessly about the stretching of the original text to three films, I'm here to talk about the score.  Each film has continued the thematic world that Shore created for Lord of the Rings, with a few themes being held over into The Hobbit.

Without mentioning every moment, I wanted to continue my rundown of major themes and their variations.  Some of these themes first appear in the previous installments, so I'll include those links here: An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) and The Desolation of Smaug (DOS).  Without further ado, here is my rundown of 'Five Armies'.

As the film starts moments after the previous film, we begin with Smaug's destruction of Laketown.  The album begins with music from this scene, Fire and Water.  Like the ending of the DOS album, we get a heavy dose of Smaug's slithering dark theme with the themes for Girion and Bard woven in.  The familiar horn call of the Erebor theme ends the track.  Shores of the Long Lake has more variations of Bard's theme, the Laketown politicians theme, and the stunning Tauriel and Kili love theme (reprised from DOS).

Beyond Sorrow and Grief begins with the lower male voices in the fantastic House of Durin theme, with references to the Erebor theme and Smaug's theme.  Guardians of the Three (a score highlight) revisits some Lord of the Rings themes.  First we get the Lothlorian theme (which also appeared with Galadriel in AUJ).  We also hear snippets of Necromancer theme, now definitely related to Sauron's theme.  While this track hammers the darker side, a welcome action variation of the Rivendell theme appears alongside Gandalf's theme.  The choir stands out in this cue as it gets darker.

The Ruins of Dale begins with a statement of Laketown's theme.  A plaintive version of the Shire theme appears for the first time in this score.  Generally a dark track with pounding drums, Gandalf's theme makes a bold appearance at the end.  The Gathering of the Clouds features several DOS themes being built up - including material for Thranduil and the Mirkwood elves.  The Erebor and Durin statements make appearances, with a war-like style.  Mithril utilizes the creepy "dragon sickness" motif that reappears throughout many of Thorin's sequences in addition to haunting versions of Smaug's theme.  Building upon the war style, a nice statement of House of Durin's theme leads to the mash-up of villainous themes heard in Bred for War.

A Thief in the Night corresponds more with Bilbo, using his "sneaky" motif from the previous scores.  The Arkenstone's theme makes a brief appearance in this overall subdued track.  The last half of the track contains a darker variation on the Woodland Realm.  The Clouds Burst keeps the strings dissonant, with a solemn version of Thorin's theme.  We also get the first references to Dain's theme (new for the film) heard later in the battle cues.  With the titular battle at hand, the Erebor theme and Dain theme make appearances among strong string writing and majestic orchestral statements.  

The Darkest Hour starts the second disc off with a dramatic version of Gandalf's theme.  Continuing the battle between good and evil, we also get variations on the various Orc themes and pounding percussion musically squaring off against the House of Durin, Thorin and Erebor theme.  The most interesting is the hymn-like variation on the Laketown theme near the end of the cue.  One of the album highlights is Sons of Durin, naturally utilizing the Durin/Thorin/Erebor theme combo.  This is possibly the most stirring cue, matching the "Lighting of the Beacons" from Return of the King.            

The Fallen first uses the Woodland elf theme as a ghost-like lament.  A Shire reprise is hinted at, before the tension returns and the militaristic drums emerge.  The themes for Legolas/Woodland trade off heroically between Tauriel's theme in Ravenhill.  The Tauriel/Kili Love theme is hinted at, to return in a later track.  To The Death brings the struggle of hero and villain with a trade off of themes through the pounding action.  The fist-pumping moment occurs with the reprise of the "Nature's Reclamation" theme (in a new setting to boot!), a favorite of mine from the Lord of the Rings trilogy scores.  

Courage and Wisdom features one of the emotional reprises of Thorin's theme.  The choir also reprises the Tauriel/Kili theme as well as a slower version of her theme.  The most surprising is the thematic cameo of the Fellowship theme, instantly recognizable within the score and matching the connection on screen to the LOTR trilogy.  

The Return Journey musically begins the connecting tissue back to the Lord of the Rings.  After a noble statement of Thorin's theme, we turn to the Hobbit and Gandalf's themes.  The familiar tone of the Shire theme on whistle sends us back to the actual Shire - which continues in There and Back Again.  A sneaking reprise of the History of the Ring theme appears, giving us a hint of what is to come for Bilbo in the next films.  Rounding out the film score is another warm reprise of the Shire theme.

For the end credits, Pippin actor Billy Boyd sings The Last Goodbye.  It's a lovely way to end the Hobbit trilogy, and the choice of singer really connects the two trilogies.  However, the song suffers from the Into the West-syndrome - it sounds far too similar to the Oscar-winning song from Return of the King.  But after Neil Finn's Song of the Lonely Mountain and Ed Sheeran's I See Fire, this is my favorite of the songs in the Hobbit trilogy.  The strummed guitar style fits nicely as well as the gentle orchestral accompaniment.                       

Ironfoot is the suite of Dain's theme - with it starting right off the bat with bagpipes.  Both the theme and this soaring version are among the highlights of the album.  The track also contains some of Bard's heroic motif, and some action-oriented Laketown reprises.  As bonus tracks, we get Dragon-sickness and Thrain (the latter from the Extended Edition of DOS).  Both have interesting music and expand on material heard earlier in the scores.                 
When the Lord of the Rings trilogy was all the rage back in the early 2000s, we couldn't have guessed we would get more Tolkien adaptations (or three, given the film splits).  We also couldn't have guessed that Howard Shore could contribute more to his musical world, which awarded him 3 Academy Awards.  The musical themes expanded with a wealth of new material, even if it didn't all transition from one film to the next.  The thematic continuity between all 6 films is impressive, and his ability to weave them emotionally pays off for the listener/viewer.  There are some great standouts cues in this film, and I find myself pressed to rank The Hobbit scores. 

In my opinion, The Hobbit didn't live up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (an almost impossible task).  I do have to credit Shore's action and emotional writing, in addition to the leitmotivs expertly passed from film to film.  I'm sure we'll never get an epic set of films like the ones in Middle Earth, and probably not from Shore or Peter Jackson again.  It is fitting to give the characters and creative team a final goodbye - best summed up in the lyrics to the credit song: "I bid you all a very fond farewell."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Screen Credit Quiz (Round James & James)

It's time for a Screen Credit Quiz!  My last quiz (found here) was identifying Alan Silvestri from Alexandre Desplat.  For this quiz, let's confuse everyone and have each film either composed by James Horner or James Newton Howard.  Enjoy! 

Put your guesses in the comments! And have fun!!