Classical Views: Keeping score
Have you ever watched a film with the sound turned off? It is amazing how much the music can influence the emotional impact of the film.
Experiments have been made using different types of music with a film to see how this changes the reaction of the audience members. The same scene can make you either laugh, or cry, depending upon the music selected.
Over the years, many directors have utilized compositions by classical composers on the soundtracks of their films. Many classical pieces have become universally known because of this broad exposure.
One of those pieces is the "Adagio" by Samuel Barber. This music has been used in many films, but the one that first comes to mind is the film "Platoon" (1986). Hearing this melancholy and reflective music, while watching the heart-wrenching war scenes from the battlefield creates a tremendously moving experience.
"Classical Music for Film" will be performed by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, 8 p.m. Feb. 8 and 3 p.m. Feb. 9, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown.
The list of classical music made famous by their use in films is very long, and selecting just the right combination of pieces for the concert with the Allentown Symphony was a challenge. I didn't want all short pieces, or all sad or reflective pieces. Like a balanced meal, I needed some "meat and potatoes," some "salad" some "vegetables" and some "dessert."
I needed pieces that reflected different emotions. I wanted the concert to flow like a journey, with stories about the films, and I wanted to showcase contrasting music that was heart-warming, engaging, interesting and reflective.
For the first half of the program, I decided to focus on composers who only wrote classical compositions, and their pieces were then selected and used in their original version in a film, or often, in lots of films: pieces like Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 from the movie, "Breaking Away" (1979), or the first movement of the Unfinished Symphony No. 8 by Schubert, which was featured numerous times in films, including "Minority Report" (2002), "Being There" (1979) and "Dracula" (1934), or operatic compositions like the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni which was used in "Raging Bull" (1980).
For musical contrast, I selected the haunting and angular Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste by Bela Bartok which created the eerie music for "The Shining" (1980), and I decided to end the first half with the popular, toe-tapping, Sabre Dance from Gayane by Khachaturian, which was used in the film "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998).
For the second half of the program, I utilized a different strategy in selecting the music. I focused on composers who, although were well-known at the time as successful classical composers, chose to write music specifically for film.
For many it was the lure of the money. Writing for film pays much better than writing for classical concerts. For some, like Shostakovich and Prokofiev, it may have been politically-driven. For William Walton, writing music for war-time propaganda films kept him from being sent directly into battle during World War II.
No matter how these composers first became associated with writing music for films, I group them together because they all later took melodies and selections from their film music, and then arranged these to be played on the concert stage in some form of classical piece.
William Walton composed concert suites; Wolfgang Korngold, a violin concert; Dmitri Shostakovich used his film melodies in some of his symphonies; Ennio Morricone arranged short concert pieces of his film music; and Serge Prokofiev rewrote his entire film score into a full cantata for chorus and orchestra.
The pieces in the second half of the Allentown Symphony concert include selections from "The Battle of Britain" Suite by Walton; a movement from Korngold's Violin Concerto with quotes from the film "Anthony Adverse" (1936); the "Funeral March" from the "First Citizen" (1939) by Shostakovich (the main melody was later used in his 11th Symphony); and the theme music, "Gabriel's Oboe," from "The Mission" (1986) by Morricone, in a rendition made famous by cellist Yo Yo Ma. The concert ends with selections from Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky" Cantata, drawn from his epic 1938 film score.
This concert of film music features soloists from our orchestra. Concertmaster Eliezer Gutman will perform the 2nd movement of the Violin Concerto by Korngold. Assistant Principal Cellist Jameson Platte will play the cello obbligato part for "Gabriel's Oboe" by Morricone.
Joining us for the Prokofiev "Alexander Nevsky" Cantata selections will be the members of two Lehigh Valley high school choirs: the Parkland High School Chorale, with Director Frank Anonia, and the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts Chorus, with Director David Macbeth. We are very excited about featuring these talented young people in the final pieces on the program.
"Classical Music for Film" is a concert that will really touch your heart as you remember these classic films and enjoy this exceptional music. It is a concert the entire family will enjoy.
Diane Wittry is Music Director-Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia; and author, "Beyond the Baton" (Oxford University Press).
Concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715