Stephen Sondheim’s Homage to Ravel

Artistically, a strong kinship exists between Stephen Sondheim and Maurice Ravel. In the music of Ravel, we often get a sense of cool detachment. Distance and irony open the door to the most intimate expression. Stravinsky alluded to the pristine craftsmanship of Ravel’s music when he called the composer “the most perfect of Swiss clockmakers.” As a student, Stephen Sondheim learned “that art is work and not inspiration, that invention comes with craft.” Perhaps …

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Miklós Rózsa: Seven Great Film Scores

Beginning in the 1930s and 40s, the soaring, majestic sound we associate with the golden age of Hollywood films was created largely by Eastern European emigres—composers such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner. Another significant name from this list is the Hungarian-born Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995), who wrote scores for nearly 100 films between 1937 and 1982, earning 17 Oscar nominations. Rózsa’s introduction to film scoring came in 1934 during a …

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Remembering Ennio Morricone

The Oscar-winning Italian film composer Ennio Morricone has passed away. He was 91. Morricone scored more than 500 films, including the suspenseful spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone. His scores include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Days of Heaven (1978), The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), and The Hateful Eight (2015). Almost obsessive repetition, slowly driving rhythm, the deep voice of the contrabassoon, and (in the final moments) a bass line …

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Louis Kaufman and the Sound of Hollywood’s Golden Age

While you may not recognize his name, chances are good that you have heard American violinist Louis Kaufman (1905-1994). Kaufman has been called “possibly the most recorded musical artist of the twentieth century.” In addition to making around 125 classical recordings, his rich, chocolatey sound is etched into as many as 500 film soundtracks. His singing tone, with its generous use of portamento and fast, shimmering vibrato, is the distinct sound we …

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Music of Oscar-Winning Composer, Hildur Guðnadóttir

At the recent Oscars, the Academy Award for Best Original Score went to the 2019 psychological thriller, Joker. The score’s composer is the Icelandic cellist, Hildur Guðnadóttir (b. 1982). She has a growing list of film and television score credits, including Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), Trapped (an Icelandic television mystery series), and Chernobyl, a series produced by HBO and Sky TV. After listening to some of the film music, I was inspired to investigate a few excerpts …

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John Williams’ “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”: A Cinematic Tone Poem

John Williams’ haunting, ethereal score is integral to the drama of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, much of the score was written before filming began. In a reversal of the normal process, Spielberg set parts of the film to Williams’ music. The film blends mystery, terror, and childlike wonder. One of its dominant themes involves the human need to connect and find deeper meaning. It is the music …

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Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”: Anne Akiko Meyers

Smile, composed by Charlie Chaplin as the love theme for his 1936 film, Modern Times, was inspired by the soaring, romantic melodies of Puccini’s Tosca. Here is an excerpt from the film with the music in its original form. Lyrics were later written by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons and the song became a standard. It was first recorded in 1954 by Nat King Cole. Later, it was performed by artists including Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, and Michael Jackson. Violinist Anne Akiko …

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