Classical Music and Three of my Movie Favourites
I’m not a great lover of classical music but the classical music I do know and love has come to me through the medium of film. Yes, movies have inspired almost all of my favourite classical music choices.
The Blue Danube
The Blue Danube is a waltz written by the composer Johann Strauss II. He was an Austrian composer known as the ‘Waltz King’ and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna in the 19th century. I first heard the music in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the memorable sci-fi movie directed by Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick used numerous classical pieces in the movie and the Blue Danube is used during the space station docking and lunar landing sequences.
I first saw the film in the summer of 1968. I was only 11 at the time and I remember my Mum being surprised I had spent hours at the cinema on a lovely hot day. I watched the film in the huge movie theatre in Northenden, now a Jehovah’s Witness assembly hall. There were only a few people in the picture house that day and it was wonderful having this huge place almost to myself and seeing this incredible film in 70mm on the big screen. I recall being somewhat confused by it all, especially the jump from neanderthal times to the future, until I bought the novel by Arthur C Clarke which explained things in a way the movie did not.
2001 is a particularly visual film. Kubrick cut out a lot of dialogue because he wanted the film to stand as “basically a visual, nonverbal experience” that “hits the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”
According to Wikipedia, despite the few people in the cinema with me that day in 1968, the movie went on to become the highest grossing North American movie of that year.
2001 set the pace for the sci-fi movie with its depiction of spacecraft drifting slowly and silently through space. The first Star Trek movie was heavily influenced by 2001 which made it look a little dated when the movie Star Wars was released and did the opposite thing, showing spacecraft whooshing across the screen at incredible speeds.
2001 is a wonderful movie and as well as continual enjoyment, it has also given me a love of Johann Strauss.
March of Pomp and Circumstance.
The March of Pomp and Circumstance was written by Sir Edward Elgar and there are actually six marches altogether. The most famous is the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ march which traditionally ends the last night at the proms. I first heard this classical piece in the movie ‘Young Winston.’
The music for the movie was written by Alfred Ralston and includes his original work as well as arrangements of Elgar’s music. I used to have the soundtrack to Young Winston on vinyl and on the back cover there were extensive notes by the producer. He rather pompously announced that neither he nor Richard Attenborough, the director, had any interest in making a film about the British Empire, which is rather sad because the British Empire, in my view, was something we British should be rightly proud of. Anyway, Churchill himself was certainly proud of the Empire and his part in it, and in making this film the producers therefore did what they say they didn’t want to do. The movie is based on Winston’s early life, indeed his autobiography of his early days was entitled just that: ‘My Early Life.’ It is a wonderful read and has been made into a lovely film.
One interesting feature of ‘Young Winston’ is that at the end of the film there is a rather poignant scene where Winston, in his later years, falls asleep in his study and has a dream about his late father, his relationship with whom, as we see in the movie, was not good. In the sequence his father, Randolph Churchill, returns to him; he and Winston discuss life and finally part with a sort of understanding nod to each other. I have always thought that it finished the film off rather nicely but whenever I see Young Winston on TV, that scene has been cut. Years ago I bought the video version and the scene had been cut on the video too, so if I ever decide to buy the DVD version, I’ll be checking the running time before I buy!
Manhattan is Woody Allen’s ode to New York. I have always loved that opening sequence with the monologue by Woody. He narrates the opening of his book and is not satisfied with it so starts the book over again. The dialogue goes something like this;
‘Chapter one. He adored New York City. He idolised it out of all proportion.
No, make that he romanticised it out of all proportion.
To him, no matter what the season was, it was a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwyn.
Oh no, let me start this over.
Chapter one . . .’
When he finally gets the book opening he wants, then the music of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ roars into focus. Manhattan is a movie shot in black and white and is one of Woody Allen’s most famous and successful films. Allen plays a 42-year-old writer who is involved with a 17-year-old girl played by Mariel Hemingway. The photography is wonderful as is the movie. There is a lovely part played by Meryl Streep who plays the part of Allen’s ex-wife who has written a book about their former life together.
How have the movies influenced your music choices?
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