Sunday, March 06, 2011

Orchestration Oddjob

In an idle pause last night I swept once through the eight TV channels we receive and landed on the German first channel's broadcast of Goldfinger (1964), of all things, a movie I remember from my childhood (watched, IIRC, from the backseat of my parents' 1960 Pontiac Tempest in one of those Southern California drive-ins that has long since been replaced by a track of condominiums or a strip mall.) The famous music — the Bond and Goldfinger themes and their direct derivatives — was well-impressed in my memory, but somehow I had completely forgotten the other soundtrack music (by John Barry), not directly connected to the famous tunes (and only tenuously connected to them by chromatic character and the emphasis on winds) and much of it a- or non-tonal. There is a common argument made against non-tonal music that it has never secured any wide acceptance. But bits of film music like this are indisputable evidence against that argument: the music, while — with the exception of some superb writing for solo contrabassoon* — not particularly sophisticated, is perfectly functional. While I personally have little interest in effective film music (and, by extension, effective films), it's clear that a- or non-tonal music can be extremely effective in supporting a whole array of settings, moods, or situations in which some form of common practice tonal music will probably not work well and may well not work at all.


* I have to really wonder how that contrabassoon sounded from the little drive-in loudspeaker that hung from the car window...



Among the other notable "non-tonal" film scores is that of Leonard Rosenman for Elia Kazan's East of Eden.
Rosenman, whom I new quite well in California, studied
with Schoenberg, Sessions, and Dallapiccola. He was
also an accomplished though a not well known
composer of concert music.

Chris said...

This resonates nicely with thoughts I was having as I was researching, and gathering raw material from, public domain films and TV episodes from the 50's for an installation last year. I heard non-tonal stuff all over the place, and wrote some things in that spirit for our piece.

I reached a similar conclusion; that non-tonal sounds could be versatile in connection with video at times when tonality would be inappropriate.

Charles Shere said...

Streetcar Named Desire.