MUSIC FOR THE MOVIES: Some Sacred Teachings from the Great Masters

The process of musical writing for movies - either for feature films, short films, advertising, documentary, etc. - is a unique exercise of precision, common sense, versatility, patience and talent. In some cases, it is also important having a wealthy dose of sense of humour, experience and even faith... And as faith moves mountains, composers never lose the hope and the passion for their inclement but passionate profession. After all music is the "invisible" element in the cinematographic narrative and, therefore, the most difficult to be argued. It is the less tangible component among those involved in the most collective of the composition forms. For this reason, before we initiate the sacred work of musical creation, we always pray with the teachings from the great masters (or prophets, perhaps?):

"Why a trained musician would embrace a career that asks for the exactness of an Einstein, the diplomacy of a Churchill and the patience of a martyr? Anyway, after writing 350 scores, I cannot think about another musical form that offers as much challenge, excitement and creative demand in putting music to work".
Victor Young (1900-1956) - Among hundreds of his works are Shane, For whom the Bells Tolls and songs like "Stella by Starlight" and "When I fall in Love".

"It’s almost impossible to make films without music. The film needs the cement of music. I never saw a better film without it. Music is so much important, like cinematography. I spent my entire career fighting against ignorance".
Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) - Mythical figure, Hitchcock’s preferred composer, creator of movie music masterpieces like Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, etc.

"I always see the director as a secret code to be deciphered".
Danny Elfman - Creator of references like Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, The Simpsons main title and several others.

"The biggest problem is to take the initial decision about the musical evolution of the movie. You have to decide what the music must do".
"I really believe that in ideal circumstances music would have to be a character".

Elmer Bernstein - In this business since 1951, he is a master who already left his mark in all genres: The Ten Commandments (epic), The Magnificent Seven (western), To Kill a Mockingbird (drama), Ghostbusters (comedy), etc.

"I presume that creative people are reluctant to admit their suffering in the creation process. But I see the suffering as an inevitable part of the experience. There’s no score that I have finished exactly the way I originally wrote. You have to hear the director’s suggestions, to have the skill to make the changes and still to remain constantly creative".
Jerry Goldsmith - His career is impressive, he is one of the most prolific composers and created memorable scores like The Omen, Star Trek The Motion Picture, Alien, Gremlins, Mulan, etc.

"The music must be synchronized with the action? Yes and No."
"The music’s function is not to illustrate, but to complete the psychological effect".
"Apparently only a composer knows the time is taken to write music".

Miklós Rozsa (1907-1995) - Great Hungarian master from the 40´s and 50´s, composer of such classics like Spellbound, Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Ben Hur, etc.

"I don’t know who started with this theory, that the best score is the one you don’t perceive, but this is not true."
"Good music can improve a good film, but it cannot turn a bad film into a good film. We composers are not magicians. We write music".

Henry Mancini (1924-1994) - Obligatory reference, creative composer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, Days of Wine and Roses, Victor or Victoria, etc.

"Even if you particularly do not like music, you can recognize its efficiency at the movies".
Thomas Newman - Born in a family of great film composers (he’s the youngest son of the legendary Alfred Newman), already considered as a contemporary icon, creator of scores like Fried Green Tomatoes, American Beauty, Scent of a Woman.

If Wagner had lived in this century (20th) he would have been the number 1 composer for movies".
"There is an old belief in this business, that a good score is the one that you don’t listen. How can it be good if you can’t even notice it?

Max Steiner (1888-1971) - Austrian, the first of the great masters, he composed King Kong, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca and hundreds of scores.

"My early films had been light or costume comedies that required simple scores that were easily created, a genre that I never completely abandoned even when I went to work on more important films and for great directors".
"To say the truth, people are little concerned about the musical element when they are watching a movie, except when the music is well mixed, or when it is particularly emphasized like in Sergio Leone films, when music is really heard".

Enio Morricone - Italian, cult composer from Once Upon A Time in America, The Mission, Cinema Paradiso, etc.

"(The melody)... came fast to my mind, when it came I was worried if it really would come. I had from Friday to Monday morning to appear with something immortal, after all you do not create something immortal every day".
"To say that the score is not to be heard is like to say that to breathe is only useful when you do not know that you are breathing. The music for films is utilitarian, as well as many things are and some of them are gorgeous by themselves. A tea-pot is made for a purpose, but it also can be a piece of art"

David Raksin - Great composer of classics like Laura, Forever Amber, teacher and influence for many current composers. In an almost Biblical tale, Raksin, during the production of the film Lifeboat (1944) was informed that the director (Hitchcock) did not want music in the film, since it was set in a life-guard boat on deep sea, and he asked: where the music would come from? Raksin then said: ask to Mr. Hitchcock to explain where the cameras come from, and I will tell him where the music comes from".

Worthy Links:

Listening to Movies (Fred Karlin)
The Score (Michael Schelle)
Settling the Score (Kathryn Kalinak)
Music for the movies (Tony Thomas)

Tony Berchmans
Composer and Musical Producer for Sound Design (Brazilian firm specialized in creating and producing audio for movies, radio, Internet and other media)