jeudi, mai 04, 2006

Christopher Gunning about film music

3 May 2006 -

- Jean-François Houben: Maestro Christopher Gunning, you wrote numerous - and remarkable - film & TV scores (a.o. COLD LAZARUS, FIRELIGHT, HANDS OF THE RIPPER, KARAOKE, POIROT, ROSEMARY & THYME, UNDER SUSPICION...) but also several concert works. Do you judge your musical life as a "double life" -- as some of your colleagues "concert and film composers" ?

- Yes, it’s quite a double life. The disciplines for each are quite different, although in my case I feel that one can help the other, both artistically and financially.

The most obvious difference between the two genres is that a concert work has always to have its own logic and narrative, whereas the musical shape of a film sequence is dictated by events and moods on the screen. The entire idiom of a film score might be determined by the film’s subject matter. Perhaps it demands a score composed in a period style, or at the other extreme, an avant guard style, or maybe it’s a Western, but when I’m working on a piece of my own, there are no predetermined issues of idiom at all.

If you ask me which area I prefer to work in, then I answer “both!” I enjoy working as part of a team in close collaboration with directors and producers on a film and the happiest experiences and the best music have always come from good working relationships. At their best, they’re a little like mini affairs; you live in each other’s pockets for a month or two, and then you part company and suddenly it’s all over. Afterwards you can feel a sense of loss.

I also like to hide away and take time to develop my own ideas, be my own boss, and come up with something which is truly my own. These periods of relative solitude are important for me.

I should also say that without my TV and film commissions, I could not survive as a composer at all. I most certainly don’t do them ‘just for the money,’ but nevertheless without them I would not be able to take the time necessary to write my concert works, which have never provided any income to speak of at all.


- You conducted some of your film music compositions in concert (POIROT, UNDER SUSPICION...). Film music concerts seem to occur more and more frequently. Are you enjoying such events? Are you satisfied with this tendency?

- I very much enjoy conducting, and have enjoyed performing my own film and TV scores in public. That said, my own experiences of attending concerts of film music have been “mixed.” The fact is that some great movie scores work in a concert setting, while others, even though they’ve been very successful and effective in the cinema, do not. I’ve performed scores by other composers which worked brilliantly in concerts or as broadcasts – off the top of my head I can think of “Psycho,” “Young Sherlock” by Bruce Broughton, or “Islands in the Stream” by Jerry Goldsmith, but I’ve also come away from film music concerts feeling dissatisfied. Probably the determining factor for me is whether or not the scores have their own narrative. Are they through composed or just a collection of tunes? If they’re a collection of great themes it can be rather like hearing a chocolate box full of tasty morsels – gratifying in an “instant” sort of way, but not truly involving. To be brutally honest, I’d probably rather go and hear the 5th or 7th Symphonies of Sibelius, Symphony no 3 by Lutoslawski, or perhaps a jazz concert than one devoted purely to film scores...

- Do you sincerely feel that the "best of film music" can be performed in a concert hall as the classical or contemporary music (despite the fact that music specifically written for the screen isn't "pure music")?

- I think I’ve covered this in my last answer, and yes, it’s certainly possible to have concerts of great film music, but I don’t think film “lollypops” make for the most satisfying concerts in general. I’d go to hear Prokofiev’s scores. I’d go to hear some of Richard Rodney Bennett’s scores (especially ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ - the storm sequence is still one of my favourite pieces of music for film) and I’d go to hear John Williams too. That’s not an exhaustive list.

One subject not so far covered is how a film score can occasionally make such a powerful impact that it becomes the overriding element by which you remember the film. I immediately think of Henry Mancini, whose tunes I always loved as a boy and still love now. Two bars of “Moon River” and I remember Audrey Hepburn and the whole atmosphere of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the opening riff of “The Pink Panther” has me recalling Peter Sellers, and Stephane Grappelli’s wonderful violin solo in “Two for the Road” straightaway has me thinking of Audrey Hepburn again and Albert Finney. I think this genius for creating something direct and unique for each film he worked on has seldom been equalled.


Thanks to Christopher Gunning!

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