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Film Music, the Kiss of Critical Death

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Arts, music, classical music, film, film score, incidental music, Listen,

Listen magazineFor today’s classical composer wishing to be taken seriously, writing a film score is a step in the wrong direction: Critics tend to snub those who engage in such lowbrow pursuits. Writing in the classical music magazine Listen (July-August), Damian Fowler assesses what he calls “The Fickle Genre” and points out that it can be hard for even very talented composers to shake this stigma.

One who has succeeded to some degree is John Corigliano, who created the Oscar-winning score for the 2000 film The Red Violin and then adapted it into a violin concerto that was recorded by Joshua Bell and hailed by critics. Another composer who’s still battling perceptions is Elliot Goldenthal, who scored Frida and, more recently, Public Enemies but feels he gets short shrift for his concert works, which include the Pulitzer-nominated opera Grendel. “I would like to change my name when I write orchestral pieces,” he says. Writes Fowler:

A student of both Aaron Copland and John Corigliano, Goldenthal says that people misunderstand the function of a movie composer. “It’s not as strange and different as it may seem, writing for the cinema and for the concert,” he says, pointing out that in the nineteenth century many composers wrote incidental music for plays. “Even Beethoven wrote incidental music, which he adapted for other works.”

Things may be changing. Composer wunderkind Nico Muhly, who has plenty of critical bona fides, wrote the score for the Oscar-nominated film The Reader. He harbors no preconceptions about film music: “I certainly never grew up with any thought that it wasn’t great music,” he says. “For me a culture high water mark is the score to Lawrence of Arabia.”

Source: Listen (article not available online)

michael fingerhut
8/25/2009 3:43:29 PM

I guess this situation is not necessarily true for younger generations, e.g. Martin Matalon. As to the older ones, Sergey Prokofiev wrote great music for Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky.


keith goetzman
8/3/2009 10:21:23 AM

Dan, Thanks for setting us straight on Nico Muhly. "The Reader" was nominated in several Oscar categories but not for its score. I changed my post to reflect this. And Tom, thanks for reviewing the reviewers. I agree! Keith Goetzman


tom hendricks
8/2/2009 10:19:30 PM

You write, 'For today’s classical composer wishing to be taken seriously, writing a film score is a step in the wrong direction: Critics tend to snub those who engage in such lowbrow pursuits.' Who are these snobs? They may call themselves critics, but I don't. And neither should anyone else. The idea that you have to bring this up makes me shudder. Maybe it's time to review the reviewers. I'll start. Anyone who puts, where the music comes from, ahead of what the music sounds like is a lousy reviewer. And I give those reviewers an "F" grade.


dan johnson
8/1/2009 9:28:26 PM

One correction: "Composer wunderkind Nico Muhly, who has plenty of critical bona fides, was nominated for an Academy Award for his score to The Reader." He was not.