When I select “film scores” on Pandora, I try to guess the film and the composer while I write, grade papers, or blog. Do you play that game? John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith utilized full, melodramatic orchestras with a signature sound that echoed in your head long after the film was over. Just playing the main song links the film to history. High-handed manipulation? You bet. How many mediocre story lines are elevated because the musical score became a character itself, going along with the ride, telling you how to feel at every turn, alerting you to upcoming doom? Star Wars IV is a prime example.
Before those two heavy-weights, excluding musicals, classic films such as Gone with the Wind (Max Steiner) or The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein) had their signature sound but there was enough intermittent silence to allow the actors to speak. The score was saved for the opening, transitions, and the end. This was expected and pleasing.
In my opinion, there has been a shift away from full orchestral compositions in the last, say, 20 years. Now more than ever contemporary songs fill in as background music to the events. Second, dramatic films are increasingly not using much music at all. The effect is a stark and unsettling as the silence fills the space. Third, instead of full orchestras, now we hear more lighter chamber music such as string quartets, duets or singular instruments. Fourth, urban-mechanical grindings and hammering simulate apocalyptic or the robotic presence. All of these changes have intruded the orchestra.
To claim one style is superior than the other is subjective. I can tell you my favorite all-around composer who did all styles was James Horner. However, my favorite scores of all time do not belong to Horner, they belong to Leonard Bernstein, Alexandre Desplat, Philip Glass, and Rachel Portman.
I miss the full orchestrations and the effort to sweep me off my feet. I enjoy it when the music and I attend the story. I also think it’s best to stick to one style instead of including part orchestration, part contemporary song tunes. My least favorite style is when there’s very little music at all.
Who’s your favorite composer? Your favorite score? Here’s mine by Rachel Portman. It’s breathtaking.