Film Music: "Real" Music?

I’ve been reflecting on the whole conversation about whether movie music is “real” music (as opposed, I suppose, to “just reel music”). I’m sure both Tosy and Jaquandor have weighed in on this, but I’m too lazy to check where.

In any case, I started thinking about this when I went to the Albany Symphony back on March 25. I was supposed to go with my wife, but she was still suffering the effects of oral surgery. so I ended up going with my father-in-law to this American music series concert. The first half was contemporary composers, and the second was listed as by Hermann. I thought, “Hmm, I don’t know an American composer named Hermann.” Then I read the notes: oh, BERNARD Hermann, the composer for movies. I too was biased about thinking of a composer for movies as a composer.

The performance, mostly of music written prior to his movie career, was wonderfully lush. The concert ended with the overture for one of the movies he scored, North by Northwest. It stood up well without the visuals of the movie. Here’s the article Hidden Herrmann: ASO resurrects movie music master’s works from obscurity from the local paper.

Somehow, this got me to start thinking about Elmer Bernstein. I’ve long been aware of how effective his “serious” music is, never put to better effect, I think, than in “Animal House”. If it weren’t for wonderful juxtaposition of his artistry with the hijinks of the characters, I don’t think the movie would not be nearly as funny. Likewise, his music for Airplane! lends a mock seriousness to the proceedings, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. Separate from the films, though, and it works as well as fine listening. Next time you watch either one or any of the other comedies he’s scored, listen for the “background music” as music.

I note this today because would have been Elmer Bernstein’s 85th birthday; he died back in 2004. I think it’s too bad I can’t separate his, well, magnificent theme for the Magnificent Seven from the tune’s use as a Marlboro commercial, something I can still hear and see in my head, even though President Nixon signed legislation banning TV and radio ads back in April 1970, effective January 1971.
MLK, Jr. was assassinated 39 years ago today. Since he was 39 when he died, that was now nearly a whole (short) lifetime ago.

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