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 Posted:   Jan 2, 2014 - 12:30 PM   
 By:   Morricone   (Member)

I am so stoked about the upcoming Elmer Bernstein tribute concert, there hasn't been one around here for a LONG time. He is, for me, the one solitary link with the Golden Age, the Silver Age and even modern film scoring. When he started, with peers like Andre Previn hanging about, he was ensconced in the Golden Age approach to film scoring and would not have been up for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS if he hadn't mastered some of it's precepts. But many things, such as his blacklisting, brought him far and wide from that approach. His jazz score for THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM paved the way for many a subsequent offshoot including Henry Mancini’s PETER GUNN. And I’d say the main title to John Williams very first score DADDY-O directly emulates it (probably on request).

I decided to campaign for this concert by going over a lot of Elmer between now and then. So, for the first time ever, decided to start at the bottom of the barrel. Scores that turned me off when I first heard and saw the movies they were in. "Why?" you may ask. Because I have found the greatest composers have reasons for everything they do and there is even the possibility of hearing something I may have overlooked.

When THE REWARD came out in 1965 Elmer already had 20 score LPs out! And since this was a western and Elmer had done THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE COMANCHEROS and THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER beforehand expectations were high. And yet I was prepared to downscale since this looked like a modern western and HUD with it's minimalist score had also come out. Well I could only downscale so far. Minimalist is cool but this music seemed so stripped down it seemed incomplete. At some points it was just sustained notes for atmosphere. Sound familiar?
The liner notes on the Intrada release explained all. Elmer in his own words:

“What I didn’t know about Bourguignon was how he worked with music when he got it. I was so fascinated with the process that I didn’t resist it. Ordinarily I’d go nuts. We spotted the film together. I don’t remember playing anything for him in advance, but we talked about it a great deal. He was at [my] house all the time. When it came to the recording, he would listen to a piece of music, and he would find some element in it that he liked. It could be just the bass line. I had never run into that before. He was using the music but taking things out of it. He’d like what a particular instrument was doing, and we’d wind up with just that instrument. Basically he was like a composing colleague or an orchestration colleague on the stage. The whole score was [assembled] that way. I don’t imagine much of what I originally envisioned remained.”

In other words the current approach to film scoring where every cue is micro-managed through mock-ups until it doesn’t even sound like music anymore has it’s precedent. The Idea that a soundscape for atmosphere is enough and is what "film music should be" was foisted upon Elmer before anyone else. The advantage here was there was only one person to deal with. Elmer could have fought it but the man was working HIM. He liked everything he did but only part of it. So he bent Elmer’s music to sound like what he wanted. Elmer saw and participated in what would be the future of film music.

And yet even here there was one aspect left alone. Elmer wrote a song for THE REWARD. It sounded so authentic I thought it was written by someone else. Later I found out Elmer did lots of study on folk music and it was one of the reasons he had such a wide range. This song was used instrumentally over the end titles. Looking back at this song reminds me of going back to Morricone scores that I admired and finding similar items. I would be so knocked out by those scores I would ignore the source cues. I was a symphonic guy so rap, polka, jazz, folk, mariachi, etc. had no interest for me. But years later I would start playing those source cues more, they also sounded very authentic. After a few listens I noticed there was real music within the piece. Mariachi writing is usually quite simple but there are techniques in the playing and writing that these two masters of western film music (Elmer and Ennio) must have gotten a kick out trying. There is a catchiness and a uniqueness about these songs. The song from THE REWARD, with lyrics by Margaret Guerrero, is one of those.

SO if I can find all this at the bottom of Elmer’s barrel Imagine how much else I can find between now and February 15th amongst his myriad scores.

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