Monday, 30 March 2009

Good Mourning - Maurice Jarre 1924-2009

As a lover of film music, it's always sad to hear of the passing of one of the greats. Today the world lost Maurice Jarre... There's something about his name even that evokes a sense of exotic romance and then there's the music, matching the name with its broad, exotic strides, sweeping romance and just a touch of fire.
I expect as word has spread of his death, from Cancer at the age of 84, stereos, computers and iPod's the world over have collectively poured out music from the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ghost, A Walk in the Clouds or Witness, a show of collective mourning through music. It's funny how we - and I'm assuming that people like me do the same thing! - will hear news like this and go straight to the CD shelves and pluck something out to listen to, a private memorial to someone you don't know, but whose music has moved and excited you. My own collection is somewhat sporadic, spread between CDs (at two addresses) and a vast iTunes library. Easy grabbing distance was Silva Screen's 'Film Music By Maurice Jarre' - incidentally the first album I penned sleeve notes for - and so that became my mourning music of choice. The 'Overture' from Lawrence of Arabia - the film that brought him to the wider world's ears and earning him the first of three Oscars - still raises hairs, the battery of tympani and brass at the beginning, followed by the sweep of the main theme, while the likes of Ghost is a musical diptych of romantic orchestral flourishes and steely, unearthly electronics - a musical play on the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
While he scored well over 150 projects during his career, it will be his enduring collaboration with the late David Lean which will be seen as the pinnacle of his presence on film. Watching the wonderful Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert - Lean By Jarre - on DVD is always a thrilling and emotional experience; it's plain to see, not just through the music, but by Jarre's final words, how much affection the composer had for his old friend and collaborator. It will now have even more of an impact, knowing the composer too is no longer with us. Indeed the stars just keep on going out, which is a sad but inevitable fact.
As with any composer though, we have their music to remember them by after they're gone and Maurice Jarre's stream of now classic tunes will live on forever.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Rediscovering Old Gems... and Spotify

A while ago I planned on reviewing the original E.T. The Extra Terrestrial album for Music from the Movies - believe it or not there is no review of it, like many other classic releases that ought to be covered on the website. I came to the music of E.T. through the film of course, but on album the first disc I owned and got to know was the 1996 album, of the remastered and extended score. What I didn't realise at the time was that album was actually the first time the actual score, as heard in the film, had been released. So, blow me down, when I clapped ears on the original 1982 MCA release (on LP and CD) I discovered a whole new take on the classic cues I had grown to love. It was of course the done thing back in the day, to record an album presentation of a film score so as to give it a more rounded listening experience, a package of all the best bits if you like.
Inexplicably, on the flip-side, I had been enjoying the original MCA release of Williams' Jaws for some time, not realising that it was an album recording and not the original score at all. Of course once I was a confirmed film music 'nut' I could tell that something was amiss and upon the 20th Anniversary of Spielberg's fishy tale, all became clearer still as the original score was released by Decca.
I still return to the original album recording often, as it offers wonderfully fuller versions of what are actually much shorter cues in the wider score; take 'Promenade - Tourists on the Menu'... On the full soundtrack album it is a brief ditty, seemingly chopped around, unlike the album presentation which allowed Williams to breathe life into his chirpy, tongue-in-cheek composition. It is if you like a concert presentation, which the aforementioned E.T. disc is full of; 'E.T and Me' is a beautiful highlight, while the opening strains of 'Three Million Lightyears From Home' present all sorts of additional flurries and colours that don't feature in the score itself.
This may all be old news to many, but for me they offer a fascinating shift in perspective, a chance to rediscover and fall in love again with favourite pieces of music.
Williams has had the opportunity to return to his great film works many times, thanks to his long association with the Boston Pops Orchestra. His annual 'Film Night' at Tanglewood, and dozens of albums with the ensemble have seen him re-imagine themes from his scores over the years. Just this year he will present a brand new suite from E.T. featuring harpist Ann Hobson-Pilot... One album I have bizarrely only just listened to for the first time is the 1993 collection Williams on Williams - The Classic Spielberg Scores. Of course I was aware of its existence, and I had in fact picked it up in Virgin Megastore on every visit when I was a child and put it back again, figuring having another Williams compilation was a waste of money when I could discover new sounds. How wrong I was, for the disc is a classic example of the composer re-shaping classic tunes, though I suppose I only feel that way about those tunes all these years after hearing them in their original forms. With the album being released in 1993, it of course offers up to date music from the fruitful Spielberg-Williams Collaboraton (incidentally the title of the Williams CD I already had as a child when ignoring this one) and as such it presents music from Schindler's List, Jurassic Park and Hook alongside examples from their years together on film. The latter title remains one of the busiest and most engorged of scores, thanks to the music's long gestation and the lack of a completed film from which to work. Here though, Williams - two years on from its release - returns to some of the score's highlights and re-presents them in gloriously longer casts. 'Smee's Plan', 'The Lost Boys Ballet', 'The Banquet Scene' and 'The Face of Pan' see familiar and cherised refrains expanded and re-worked into concert works, with the latter one of my favourite Williams compositions (originally titled 'You Are The Pan' on the soundtrack album). Further highlights, and more personal favourites, include 'Jim's New Life' and 'My Friend The Brachiosaurus' (from Empire of the Sun and Jurassic Park respectively) - both are standout moments on their original albums, set apart from the score that surrounds them and longing for more attention, which is dutifully given by the composer here.
I listened to the Williams on Williams album on 'Spotify' - the new online music portal, with a difference. I had heard about it on the news a while back and didn't really think much of it... however I am converted well and truly. Layed out similarly to iTunes, the platform allows you to search music, artists and albums, but unlike iTunes you can listen to entire tracks and indeed entire albums - and all for free. You can create playlists, which I've found is a useful way of logging albums you'd like to listen to for future reference without having to trawl through the sometimes lengthy search pages.
What's the catch? Advertising... It's a little like listening to the radio, for after a handful - or more - of tracks, you have to listen to a 30second advert. If you press mute on the computer, it pauses the ad, so you have to listen. I patch my computer through my stereo, so can simply mute it. It's not actually a big deal and they are soon over; the ads never iterrupt tracks as they play, but appear between them here and there. The good thing about the idea is that it probably will inspire people to purchase what they hear on CD or online from the usual places, rather than stealing the music so they can simply hear it. Hopefully.