Perhaps it is no coincidence that as a Toronto Conservatory pianist and an amateur photographer I should have a keen affection for music and motion picture soundtracks. The attraction is especially commanding when the soundtrack captures the drama at times to the extent of a spiritual level. Examples are the theme songs of Casablanca, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a Clockwork Orange, Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Romeo and Juliet to name but a very few.
“I do think we are all musical receptors, at a very deep level,” says Brand. “We have that in our ancient DNA, and because film music is working at a deeper level than language and intellectual thought, maybe it’s hitting us all at that level. In a funny way, talking about that means that you recognise it, but it doesn’t change its power.”
Granted these films are products of what is primarily viewed as American or Hollywood culture, a mixture of entertainment, catharsis and lachrymose mawkishness. Small wonder that much of the music is reminiscent of Aaron Copeland, referred to by his peers and critics as the “Dean of American Composers“.
“The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. He is best known for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as “populist” and which the composer labeled his “vernacular” style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres, including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.“
It is important to distinguish a film such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds which uses music more as a stage setting than a form of inspiration. Sacred music for example would be out-of-place in Jaws or Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Similarly the iconic European films such as Federico Fellini’s Satyricon or La Dolce Vita are more notable for prosaic or poetic literature than music; certainly the filming alone is paramount. Significantly the theme song of Amarcord by Nino Rota and his Studio Orchestra is a persuasive stimulus of summer on the Riviera.
The strength of music (even when abetted by forceful imagery) is ultimately the power of the individual to translate the sound into emotion often not directly related to either the music or the movie but rather remote personal acquaintances and reminiscences. Because music hasn’t the literary prescription of a novel the manifestation of a theme can achieve at times the oddest pinnacles of sentiment. The music often imparts a nostalgia which has nothing whatever to do with the account being related in the film. Yet insinuating the music of film is frequently the blaring trumpets more suitable to the arrival of Augustus Caesar at the Roman Coliseum. So too the spiritually evocative chorus of human voices which unite the military and religious sanctity. These two bulwarks of society – state and enlightenment – are forever ingredients of penetrating pathos.