Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sharing a Film Score

Every so often a composer equally shares a film score.  Sometimes they actually collaborate on the score and sometimes another composer is called in to supplement or replace.  Since the beginning of the film industry, there have been additional composers, uncredited composers, and music directors that have done plenty of scoring jobs as well.  But in this case, I've selected 5 different films and how the composers worked together to achieve the final product.

1. The Egyptian (Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman)
For this 1954 religious epic, two of the heaviest hitters of scoring actually worked together.  Newman was originally assigned to the score, but other scoring commitments and deadlines had Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck recommend Franz Waxman or Bernard Herrmann to finish the project.  Newman composed several cues and melodic ideas which Herrmann came in to arrange and develop.  A rarity in his career, Herrmann did eventually collaborate with Newman to form a cohesive score.  The score in the end sounds more like a Herrmann score, but each cue has a separate composer credit and each composer even conducted their respective cues at the recording sessions.  

2. Batman Begins (Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard)
Story goes that Christopher Nolan had Zimmer in mind for the score for this new Batman franchise.  Zimmer turned to veteran composer Howard as a possible collaborator.  Rather than splitting the work, they composed together taking turns at each other's material. Indeed it is often hard to tell who wrote which cues with many shared by both composers - but sometimes you can as stylistic choices give some parts away.  Additional composers and orchestrators helped unify the score's sound.  With the sequel, The Dark Knight, Zimmer and Howard divided more of their work up separately.      

3. The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)
Initially asked by director David Fincher, Reznor first turned the project down before finally accepting.  Reznor then turned to Atticus Ross (who previously co-wrote and produced Nine Inch Nails albums) to co-write the score with him.  Exploring new ways to produce sound and expand on earlier Nine Inch Nails electronic sounds, the results are oddly mesmerizing and unsettling.  They both share credit on the film (which went on to win the Academy Award) and later work together on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and Patriots Day.

4. Chicken Run (John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams)
After working with Hans Zimmer's Media Ventures and several DreamWorks films, they worked together on Antz.  Naturally they teamed up again for Chicken Run.  This wacky score seems to be primarily Powell, but both composers shared each others themes.  Their successful scores together led to their collaboration on their most popular project - Shrek.    

5. The Last of the Mohicans (Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman)
For Michael Mann's 1992 film, he turned to Jones for an electronic score.  When the production changed to a more traditional orchestral sound, Jones reworked and rewrote a large majority of the score including the main thematic and battle material.  To finish scenes not scored, Mann turned to Edelman who composed a handful of cues for some of the quieter moments.  Overall the score is mostly Jones' work.  The original soundtrack album oddly separated the composers work into distinct parts, while a 2000 re-recording put the cues back in film order.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Song and Score Oscar Winners

With the recent Oscar win of Original Score and Original Song going to Justin Hurwitz's on La La Land, I thought back to the other times both Song and Score Oscar went to the same film (and in many cases the same composer).

It is interesting to note how the patterns of film scores go from musicals, to the title tunes of the 1960's, to the overwhelming wins of the Disney renaissance years and the infrequent occurrences since.  I've also include a handful of ceremony pictures just for fun.

1939 (12th Academy Awards)
The Wizard of Oz (score by Herbert Stothart)
"Over the Rainbow" (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Yip Harburg)

1940 (13th Academy Awards)
Pinocchio (score by Leigh Harline and Paul J. Smith)
"When You Wish Upon A Star" (music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington)

1952 (25th Academy Awards)
High Noon (score by Dimitri Tiomkin)
"The Ballad of High Noon" (music by Dimitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Ned Washington)

1955 (28th Academy Awards)
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (score by Alfred Newman)
"Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" (music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster)

1958 (31st Academy Awards)
Gigi (score by Andre Previn)
"Gigi" (music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner)

1961 (34th Academy Awards)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (score by Henry Mancini)
"Moon River" (music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer)

1964 (37th Academy Awards)
Mary Poppins (score by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman)
"Chim Chim Cher-ee" (music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman)

1966 (39th Academy Awards)
Born Free  (score by John Barry)
"Born Free" (music by John Barry, lyrics by Don Black)

1969 (42nd Academy Awards)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (score by Burt Bacharach)
"Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head" (music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David)

1973 (46th Academy Awards)
The Way We Were (score by Marvin Hamlisch)
"The Way We Were" (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman)

1980 (53rd Academy Awards)
Fame (score by Michael Gore)
"Fame" (music by Michael Gore, lyrics by Dean Pitchford)

1989 (62nd Academy Awards)

The Little Mermaid (score by Alan Menken)
"Under the Sea" (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman)

1991 (64th Academy Awards)
Beauty and the Beast (score by Alan Menken)
"Beauty and the Beast" (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman)

1992 (65th Academy Awards)

Aladdin (score by Alan Menken)
"A Whole New World" (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Tim Rice)

1994 (67th Academy Awards)
The Lion King (score by Hans Zimmer)
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice)

1995 (68th Academy Awards)
Pocahontas (score by Alan Menken)
"Colors of the Wind" (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

1997 (70th Academy Awards)
Titanic (score by James Horner)
"My Heart Will Go On" (music by James Horner, lyrics by Will Jennings)

2003 (76th Academy Awards)
The Lord of The Rings: The Return Of The King (score by Howard Shore)
"Into the West" (music and lyrics by Annie Lennox, Howard Shore, Fran Walsh)

2008 (81st Academy Awards)
Slumdog Millionaire (score by A.R. Rahman)
"Jai Ho" (music by A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar)

2016 (89th Academy Awards)
La La Land (score by Justin Hurwitz)
"City of Stars" (music by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Quick Review: La La Land

La La Land
Music composed by Justin Hurwitz
Songs composed by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Music conducted by Tim Davies
Music orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz
Soundtrack running time: 45 minutes
Score album running time: 52 minutes
Available on Interscope Records

One of the most talked about films in the 2016 season was La La Land. Director/Writer Damien Chazelle teamed up again with composer Justin Hurwitz after their breakout film Whiplash (2014).  Music is just as much a major component in this film, with large musical numbers harking back to the old Hollywood studio musical days.  This story tells the industry ups and downs of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) the jazz pianist looking for a club of his own and Mia (Emma Stone) an actress wanting her big break.  

The music and songs weave the story together and there are two album releases - soundtrack with all the songs, jazz source cues and score highlights, and the score album with no songs.  Naturally, there is a bit of overlap between the two albums with tracks appearing on both.  For the full experience, you'd have to make your own film arrangement playlist.  For now, I'll look at them separately but write about how the thematic material from one album expands into the other.

Much like the Disney Renaissance films,  the score is extensively linked to the songs.  Almost every song's melody is incorporated into parts of the score.  Here are the songs and their connections:
Another Day Of Sun - a Hollywood theme for their aspirations
City of Stars - Sebastian's Theme
The Fools Who Dream - Mia's Theme

The melody from A Lovely Night appears through the score, while Mia & Sebastian's Theme is the love theme heard prominently in the film.    

Let's start with the songs:
Another Day Of Sun starts the film off with a large production number on the freeway.  The infectious toe-tapping song introduces us to the Hollywood Theme and introduce the jazz instrumental influences, solo vocalists, big band large orchestra, samba feel, and large choral arrangement.  Someone in the Crowd continues the Hollywood big band style with fast paced action on screen with Mia and roommates dressing up to go on the town.  After a dance break and softer/slower section, the music roars back with a big chorus finish.  
A Lovely Night is the song that Mia and Sebastian flirt through.  Hurwitz's song echoes the styles and harmonies of old tunes, and the lyrics reflect the "totally not in love with you" style from 1940-1950s musicals.  The dance break gives orchestra time to show off with cute musical syncing, also fitting for that nostalgic feel.  City of Stars straddles the line of score as and song as the melody represents Sebastian's Theme through the film.  This version features piano, other orchestral bits and Sebastian singing longingly.  The next reprise of City of Stars is a duet and the lyrics represent their budding romance.  The piano accompaniment is stronger, but still features the minor key pattern - unusual for a tune between lovers.  It seems that this song is the breakout of the film, mainly because its thematic usage.

Start a Fire sounds like it should be out of place in this album, and it's on purpose.  It's a John Legend song, and he appears in the film as a band mate of Sebastian.  Funny enough, the characters are supposed to hate the song, but it's another catchy song for us.  The Audition (The Fools Who Dream) is Mia's standout song.  It comes in the film where we almost forget it's a musical - her song is spun out of dialogue as she sings it tearfully right to the camera.  I'll also add City of Stars (Humming) to the song list, it's exactly that - a guitar and humming rendition of City of Stars.  

And on to the score:
Mia Gets Home is a very short cue, but shows off a hint of Hurwitz's jazz instrumentation -  vibraphone, woodwinds, piano and celeste.  Bathroom Mirror/You're Coming Right? is upbeat with guitar, piano and drum set and feels like an extension of his song material.  Classic Rope-a-Dope is a bit of Mia's Theme on vibraphone with a few other instrumental flairs.  

Mia & Sebastian's Theme introduces their Love Theme, a gentle waltz on piano which is expanded as a large scale piano solo.  Stroll Up the Hill features more vibes, celeste and piano in this short flighty cue.  There The Whole Time/Twirl continues the previous orchestration and quotes moments of A Lovely Night.  Bogart & Bergman is an airy rendition of Mia's Theme heard later in The Fools Who Dream.  This charming arrangement features woodwinds on the melody, cascading celeste and pizzicato strings among others.

Mia Hates Jazz features Sebastian's Theme on guitar.  Herman's Habit is a full-on jazz tune, fitting right into the jazz club they visit.  Rialto At Ten seems like the same style jazz tune, but a chunk of it is the melody from A Lovely Night.  The short cue Rialto repeats the same A Lovely Night refrain on vibes.  Mia & Sebastian's Theme (Late for the Date) is a piano-led version of the theme, building to a thrilling statement of the theme in the string section with piano rippling arpeggios in the background.  Planetarium is one of the standout moments of the film as a result of the fanciful imagery and music.  At the beginning, flutes play off of each other before Mia & Sebastian's Theme takes off into a dreamy dancing waltz.  The orchestra builds several times before the fantastic full Disney princess-style statement of the theme.  The clarinets twirl the characters down (literally) with some playful musical banter between pizzicato strings and woodwinds that lead to a large final note.  

Holy Hell is another short cue with flitting woodwinds, light strings on a charming melody.  Summer Montage/Madeline brings the Lovely Night into a full jazz/big band setting giving the ensemble members a chance to shine.  It Pays brings the Hollywood theme (Another Day Of Sun) to the jazz setting with a killer sax solo.  Chicken on a Stick brings the Hollywood theme into another arrangement with vibes and celeste taking the majority of the melody.

City of Stars/May Finally Come True is the only song to make the score album, but this extended version contains an orchestral interlude.  Chinatown is light underscore with framework hints of the Hollywood theme under the celeste and vibes.  Surprise is a jazz number with trumpets in the foreground.  Boise uses the City of Stars melody, although this is sped up and swinging.  The piano carries the tune, with a saxophone solo adding a fantastic layer.

Missed the Play has a very paused rhythm with an appearance of Mia & Sebastian's Theme.  It's Over/Engagement Party has an extended intro on the score album, and then goes into a piano-led somber version of the dance break from Someone in the Crowd, making this version stand out compared to the happiness of earlier.  In its short time, The House In Front of the Library references Mia's Theme and Sebastian's Theme.  You Love Jazz Now returns us to the chorus and verse of A Lovely Night while Cincinnati fits as jazz club source music.  

Epilogue represents one of the highlights of the film letting the music, direction, choreography, costumes, art direction, et al really shine.  A 7-minute medley of the film's music, it starts with Mia & Sebastian's Theme and the lush, waltz variation before going into the Hollywood/Another Day Of Sun material and the Someone in the Crowd interlude before transitioning to Fools Who Dream (Mia's Theme) which almost becomes a different tune by changing the orchestration and it feels sunnier and more lilting than ever before.  A jazz rendition of Fools Who Dream takes over, with a short trumpet cadenza-like passage.    We return to Mia's Theme and when the chorus arrives, it becomes a thrilling magical moment.  City of Stars and the Love Theme are reprised, but the piano seems distant and bare.

The End is one more glimpse at the Love Theme with the choir and orchestra crescendoing to a final chord.  Credits brings us an orchestral arrangement of Another Day Of Sun with a larger sound, vocals and a few trumpet solos.  This cue is by far one of the catchiest tunes to walk out of a theater to.  The album ends with Mia & Sebastian's Theme (Celesta), with the celeste almost sounding like a dreamlike music box.          

This score is one of the only one like it this year.  Some listeners have made comparisons in film and score to The Artist which was also a critics darling in 2011.  That score felt more pastiche than Justin Hurwitz's work on this film.

One thing that I always look forward to is song-to-score continuity.  When one composer tackles it all, it can flow evenly between and the parts mean more as a whole.  For example, the Alan Menken scores of the early 1990s, use this method which also takes its inspiration from the Broadway tradition.  In this film, Hurwitz also takes the jazz source music into the same level as original score (and also sometimes sneaking in a major melody in).  

He's matured a lot since Whiplash (2014) with Tim Simonec writing a bunch of the in-film jazz music.  The score cover credits Hurwitz as "Music Composed and Orchestrated by", which is a great to see with the crafting of the orchestra is essential to this film.  The instrumentation makes it not sound like any recent score.  The jazz arrangements are also fantastic and played by some of the best (Randy Kerber as featured pianist, Wayne Bergeron on trumpet and Dan Higgins on sax, among others).  Credit also goes to lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (known also for their Broadway musical work).  So many lyrics fly by and it's worth seeking them out to catch them.

In this throwback/homage/nostalgic film of classic Hollywood and French musicals, the music carries a lot of weight.  I found Justin Hurwitz's music sticking the landing at each moment, crafting a handful of melodies and utilizing them from the saddest moments to the brightest dance breaks and all the romance in between.  As the film sweeps at just about every awards ceremony in 2016-2017, I'm thrilled to see lots of recognition to this excellent score. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

2016 Original Score Awards Roundup

Here's the 2016 Roundup of Original Score nominations and winners from various associations. Winners will be marked in red and updated regularly!


Jackie (Mica Levi)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
Passengers (Thomas Newman)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Hidden Figures (Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Noctural Animals (Abel Korzeniowki)

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Kristopher Carter, Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion)
*The Little Prince (Hans Zimmer, Richard Harvey, Camille)

The Red Turtle (Laurent Perez Del Mar)
The Secret Life of Pets (Alexandre Desplat)
Sing (Joby Talbot)



*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)
Runner-up: Jackie (Mica Levi)


*Sing Street
Runners-up Tied: Jackie, La La Land


*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul)


*Jackie (Mica Levi)


*Jackie (Mica Levi)


*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Runner-up: Jackie (Mica Levi)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
Noctural Animals (Abel Korzeniowki)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)
*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Noctural Animals (Abel Korzeniowki)


La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Gary Clark, John Carney (Sing Street)


Arrival (Johann Johannsson)
Jackie (Mica Levi)

*La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
Lion (Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Quick Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Music conducted by Pete Anthony
Music orchestrated by Pete Anthony, Jeff Atmajian, Jon Kull, John Ashton Thomas, Philip Klein, Peter Boyer, David Butterworth, Jim Honeyman
Music recorded by Shawn Murphy, Peter Cobbin
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London and AIR Lyndhurst, London
Album running time: 72 minutes (+25 minutes Deluxe Edition)
Available on WaterTower Records

Branching off the world of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World continues with the adventures of Newt Scamander.  Both a spin-off and prequel, we meet Newt entering New York City in 1926.  He of course has a briefcase of fantastic beasts, some of which escape and threaten to expose the American witches/wizards to "muggles", known as "nomaj" in the USA.

For the score, director David Yates enlisted James Newton Howard, not a stranger to some large orchestral and magic-filled films.  As of this writing, they are planning to make this a 5 film series with hopefully Howard continuing to score each one.  This new franchise gave Howard plenty of thematic opportunities - an overarching Wizarding World theme, a lively theme for Newt with heroic variations, theme for Newt and Tina's friendship, Fantastic Beasts fanfare, a jazz-inspired theme for nomaj Kowalski, and of course several motifs for the various creatures.   

As the Warner Bros logo appears in the Main Titles, John Williams' Hedwig's Theme gets a brief nod.  As the film's title appears we hear the first appearance of his Fantastic Beasts fanfare which goes from magical to menacing.  Newt's Theme appears as a lively and optimistic string ostinato and the fantastic sweeping second part which ends the cue.  

There Are Witches Among Us/The Bank/The Niffler begins with some choir which launches into the Wizarding World Theme, a mysterious swirling theme which appears several times throughout the score (and most likely in the following films).  Hijinks ensue when the creature the Niffler runs amok in a bank.  The Niffler is given a comic motif as it intermingles with the first phrases of Kowalski's Theme.  The second part of Hedwig's Theme appears (which hardly has shown up in post-John Williams 'Potter' scores).

Tina Takes Newt In/MACUSA Headquarters gives more grand statements of the Wizarding World Theme that match nicely with the entrance of MACUSA's building.  A more lilting and light version of the theme begins Pie Or Strudel/Escaping Queenie and Tina's Place.  The orchestration keeps things in the magical realm - bell trees, glockenspiel, woodwinds and celeste.  We briefly hear Newt's Heroic Theme as well as jazzy comic beats for Kowalski.

Credence Hands Out Leaflets gives us the dark side of the magical world with long-held strings and an electronic rhythm to it.  One long sequence is represented in the track Inside the Case.  We experience the interior of Newt's suitcase and the various creatures that appear inside.  The first magical discovery is the Thunderbird motif, which gives way to both parts of Newt's Theme.  As they explore more lands inside the case, different creature motifs begin to emerge leading to another large reprise of the Thunderbird motif.  The music turns darker with the introduction of the Obscurus and ends on a tender moment for clarinet and piano.  

The Erumpent has some unique underscoring and unique orchestration.  The music turns comical as it becomes a charming waltz.  It later transforms into an action cue complete with snarling brass.  In The Cells returns to the darker serious tone heard earlier.  It's a bit hard to pick out the theme for the dark wizard Grindelwald, no doubt it will be expanded on in future films.  There is some great writing in Tina and Newt Trial/Let's Get the Good Stuff Out/You're One Of Us Now/Swooping Evil.  (Winner for longest track title on an original soundtrack??)  The dark atmosphere turns to an action cue with driving rhythms and racing strings and a great moment with Newt's Heroic Theme.

Gnarlak Negotiations brings us to the jazz world again, as we see a wizard and goblin speakeasy with our charachters trying to get help in finding the Demiguise creature.  A rousing but brief reprise of Newt's Heroic Theme ends the cue.  The Demiguise's musical motif features some exotic instrumentation in The Demiguise and the Occamy.  The Occamy music is a bit more threatening in tone, but the music is full of energy as Newt's Heroic Theme is reprised.  A Close Friend introduces the Friendship Theme, a touching piece for strings, harp and chorus.  

The Obscurus/Rooftop Chase gains intensity as the orchestra crescendos.  The strings and brass clearly have plenty of work in this action cue.  While it keeps the drama of the chase, it never gets too musically busy.  He's Listening to You Tina brings the Obscurus theme to an emotional scene with some serious string underscore. 

Relieve Him of His Wand/Newt Releases the Thunderbird/Jacob's Farewell is the longest track on the album, consisting of a good chunk of the finale.  As the villain's story is carefully wrapped up for now, the bleak tone is brought into the light with the Thunderbird motif mixing with Newt's Theme in another majestic moment.  Howard brings back the Friendship Theme, recalling some of his work for Maleficent.  This emotional half of the track is spectacular, and the last part of erasing Kowalski's memory is quite touching.  Kowalski's Theme returns in full jazz piano and drumset form - a fresh start.  Newt Says Goodbye to Tina/Jacob's Bakery brings back the Friendship Theme (perhaps to turn into a love theme in the future?).  One last reprise of the great Kowalski's Theme also offers a hint at the sweet theme for Kowalski and Tina's sister as the film ends.  End Titles begin with a strong start and segues into the reprises of Newt's Heroic Theme and his rousing second theme before the track fades away.

The bonus tracks are welcome additions to the score (and those willing can add them to the correct chronological order in the album).  A Man and His Beasts is a suite of the Wizarding World Suite - the theme that really doesn't appear much in the score itself but thankfully gets plenty of variations including one for jazz clarinet, muted trumpets and sliding trombones.  Soup and Leaflets is more of the darker material for Graves and Credence.  Billywig and The Demiguise and the Lollipop are shorter cues featuring some tense magical moments and the Fantastic Beasts fanfare.  I'm Not Your Ma features more of the Credence and Obscurus underscore that works great in the film but not entirely interesting on album.  Blind Pig is the source song (music by Mario Grigorov, lyrics by JK Rowling, sung by Emmi) for the speakeasy of the same name.  It's a nice moment in the film to include as a bonus track.  Newt Talks to Credence is a bit of mysterious underscoring.  End Titles Pt. 2 gives one of the lilting magical renditions of the Wizarding World Theme before leading to the larger choir rendition.  Kowalski Rag is a suite dedicated to all varieties of arrangements of Kowalski's themes ending with the dirty jazz and sweet Kowalski/Queenie love theme.  

James Newton Howard should get a lot of credit for this new musical world he's started.  If you haven't noticed, the motifs and themes are seemingly endless for just one film.  Not being a part of Harry Potter - but still connected - gave Howard a musical sense and inspiration that worked to his benefit.  His establishment of these ideas is exciting to see and of course to see in the subsequent films.  Standing up to past Harry Potter scores, this score and themes match nicely in tone and orchestration.  Howard uses the large symphony orchestra and choir to really showcase all varieties of style and instrumentation.  A totally interesting score that is worth many repeat listens.