Film Scores | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Film Scores

GeneralFilm scores. Musical works composed especially for films.

Film scores. Musical works composed especially for films. The films may be of any duration or type (full-length feature, short, fiction, publicity, documentary, animated cartoon, etc), but those intended for television are excluded unless also shown in halls or movie theatres for commercial purposes.

See also Films; Incidental music.

Some composers consider film music a poor relation in the music world. In their view the film score, imprinted optically on film, is fixed for all time and only in exceptional circumstances will be honoured with a concert performance. But while it is true that the writing of film music follows very strict rules which may curb the composer's inspiration, it also is true that the dissemination of a cinematographic work sometimes occurs on a very large scale. Thus Maurice Blackburn may have taken satisfaction in knowing that on many occasions film enthusiasts in Tokyo had been able to hear the music he wrote for Blinkity Blank (produced by Norman McLaren, 1955) while only rarely had that same public had the opportunity to hear a concert work by one or other of his Canadian colleagues.

Music written for the cinema is different in many ways from that intended for concert halls, as the composer Eldon Rathburn points out: 'It is often constructed of short, telescoped phrases, climaxes reached with little preparation, violent colour and textural changes; of particular note is the absence of long transitional passages. Oddly enough, some of the present-day concert music has many of the above characteristics' (Musique et Cinéma). Moreover, music is just one of the elements of a film's sound-track. Speaking of the documentary film (a genre in which he has been particularly active), Maurice Blackburn describes how he conceives his work: 'The dialogue of a film may be compared to a recitative. This is why I attend whenever possible the recording of the scripts, so as to watch over the speaker's intonation and rhythm. It's the same with sound effects: their tone, their rhythm, their emotional value are what have an impact on me, not their realism. You have to beware of imitative music and descriptive commentary; and the sounds must summon up the unknown world of our subconscious' (Musique et Cinéma).

Work Methods

Since a film is the result of a collective effort, the composer working on a film is not free to create in isolation, as he is when composing a concert work. He must submit to such demands as budget, number of performers, timing (occasionally calculated in fractions of a second), the mood of each sequence, the producer's tastes, and the pressures exerted by production schedules.

The ideal work method consists of a collaboration between director and composer from the moment the project is developed (in other words before any shooting), such as that between McLaren and the jazz musician Oscar Peterson for Begone Dull Care in 1949. Unfortunately, this kind of exchange is not always possible. In many cases, the composer is called in after the shooting is over, that is, when the picture strip has been synchronized with the dialogue and sound effects. The musician then screens the film with the director, and together they determine what scenes will contain music, the exact length of each musical insert, and the type of music required by the particular mood of each sequence. For his part, the composer Harry Freedman is more in favour of 'musical economy': 'Music can wreck a scene or save it. If the scene is well done, well acted and well directed, there may be no need for any underlying music. In that instance the intrusion of music could destroy the beauty of what is already there. However, in other instances, music can provide the mood or momentum that a given scene is lacking in its dramatic presentation... Music is overused in films today, partly because audiences have grown used to having their reaction dictated to them by the music. And very often music is added for commercial reasons rather than artistic ones. Any half-way decent song that is used in a movie becomes a big hit so that theme and title-songs have become over-used as well' ('Silence really is golden,' James McLarty, Motion).

Composers And Film Music

In the Canadian feature film industry by 1990 there had been very little recourse to the services of composers of serious music. Why is this so? Are they demanding fees that are too high or, like Stravinsky, do they look down on this field of musical creation? In this regard the prolific composer William McCauley states: 'There used to be, and to a lesser degree still is, a stigma attached to writing commercial music. It's put down by people who don't write it - sometimes I think it's because they can't write it. Commercialism is almost a dirty word for them. I've spoken to several of these musicians who had very strong views about writing commercial music, and you ask them if they would like to write a score and all of a sudden their attitudes change because they've never been asked before. This negative attitude is changing however. People are realizing that if your music is liked enough to have people pay for it, then there must be some merit in it'. ('A kind of awareness,' Brian Charent, Motion).

Maurice Blackburn wrote in 1965 of the difficulties experienced by a composer of serious music in adapting to the very strict demands of this type of composition: 'In the twenty years that I've been writing for film, I've never been able to create the form in which I would have wished, on occasion, to express my ideas. In every instance it is the image that has imposed its structure on my film music' (Musique. et Cinéma). And Eldon Rathburn expressed similar views: 'It is important that the film composer recognize the fact that his job is not to impose his will on the film but to let the film ''speak'' to him and in ''listening'' to the film the composer should be in a receptive mood to enable him to determine its musical needs' (Musique et Cinéma).

It also happens that serious music composers are cut off from the production of feature-length films by producers or directors who prefer a more 'popular' sound and call upon rock groups to write the music for their films. Moreover, this occurs not only in Canada but throughout the western world, and usually there is a financial reason. As with themes and title-songs, the music track frequently is sold in disc or cassette form, on a label whose economic ties with the film company are obvious. If the rock group composer and/or performer of the score is known, his participation in the film is highly publicized, thus attracting a public already familiar with the group in question.

Whatever the reasons, only a few composers of serious music have written for Canadian films. Among those who have composed for short films are Robert Fleming, Serge Garant, Michel Longtin, Bruce Mather, Pierre Mercure, Barbara Pentland, Clermont Pépin, Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux, Harry Somers, Andy Thompson, Gilles Tremblay, Jean Vallerand, and John Weinzweig. Those who have written scores for feature films include Lucio Agostini, Maurice Blackburn, Walter Boudreau, Jean-Marie Cloutier, Larry Crossley, Harry Freedman, Michel Gonneville, Hector Gratton, William McCauley, and Oskar Morawetz.

Music in the Silent-Film Era

The origins (of music in the Canadian cinema do not coincide with the advent of talking pictures as may be supposed. As a matter of fact, the phrase 'silent film' is a half-truth, since the films of that period, while containing no dialogue or sound effects, were presented with music. The difference was that the music was not recorded on the filmstrip itself, as it came to be after 1927, but was performed 'live' at each performance by one or several musicians located before the screen on which the film was being projected. In this Canada was merely imitating what was happening elsewhere: musicians were employed by the Lumière brothers, Louis and Auguste, and Georges Méliès in France and Thomas Edison in the USA. In some film studios producers even hired musicians during the actual shooting of the film, so as to create the right atmosphere for filming and to 'inspire' the actors and crew.

Among the silent-film accompanists active in Toronto were Reginald Stewart, Kathleen Stokes, Roland Todd, and Horace Lapp. Around 1924 Lapp began creating suitable mood music on the organ in the Allen Theatre in Toronto. Leo Barkin's first employment on his arrival in Canada in 1926 was as a film accompanist at the Rialto Theatre in Toronto. Percy Faith worked 1920-7 as a film accompanist in Toronto, Reginald Godden played for the silents in Barrie, Ont, and Lorne Carey accompanied the first movies in Hamilton, Ont. Charles Hofmann, a US silent-film pianist who moved to Canada in 1972, called himself an 'instant composer,' since he never played the piano with a score in front of him. He would sit down in front of the screen and improvise the musical commentary. In the 1960s Lapp and in the 1970s Hoffmann began practising their art once more with the showing of silent films in film-clubs, festivals, and schools.

In Montreal Billy Eckstein began accompanying silent films at the Lyric Hall in 1906. Six years later he became the regular pianist at the Strand. He was billed as 'The World's Foremost Motion Picture Interpreter'. His reputation went beyond the borders of Canada, and such virtuosi as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Josef Hofmann, and Vladimir de Pachmann visited the Strand to hear him. Eckstein often worked with another pianist, Vera Guilaroff. While in his teens, Wilfrid Pelletier was a percussionist in the ensemble at the Windsor Star cinema. In 1926 the 15-year-old Mack White began a brilliant career in Montreal as a silent-film accompanist. Equally skilled as percussionist and pianist, the young White was able to create a variety of sound effects (gun shots, moving trains, explosions, whistles, bells, etc) on these instruments.

For the more important films the producer would supply a written score. The fashionable cinema had an orchestra of about 15 musicians; the average employed an ensemble of 7; the more humble had 1 or 2.

See also Organ playing and teaching 6/ Theatre organists.

Animated Films:

NORMAN McLAREN. The animated film (created either by animated drawings, the shooting of one image at a time, the optical printer, or by any other technique) is a medium which has proven particularly congenial for the composer. Most animated films have no dialogue or spoken commentary; the sound-track consists simply of sound effects and music. Generally, they are very short but allow for an unbroken musical continuity, the creation of which understandably is more interesting for a composer than the fragments written to be interspersed at random throughout other types of film.

One Canadian film producer for whom music and image were inseparable is Norman McLaren. Even in his films without dialogue, synchronization between the sound-track and the visual element is so complete that it is difficult to imagine viewing one with no sound. McLaren created some 60 films between 1934 and 1980 (see list in McLaren entry). For some he chose the music before drawing the pictures; in others, the music was selected after the drawing was completed. Furthermore - and it is this that places him in the front rank of film composers - McLaren himself 'wrote' the music for a dozen of his films without using a single sheet of music. His method, regarded as a significant innovation, was to 'sketch' sounds by hand directly onto the film, in the space reserved for the optical sound-track. McLaren thus became a complete film artist, creating an imaginary world wherein his brilliant imagination produced a perfectly synchronized interplay of sound and image.

Certain composers specialize in animated films while continuing to write for other kinds. Among the composers most frequently associated with animated films, in addition to McLaren, are Maurice Blackburn, Pierre Brault, Denis Larochelle, Karl du Plessis, and Normand Roger. It should be observed that the animation films of the NFB enjoy a high international reputation. The prizes obtained by NFB entries in European and US festivals attest to their quality.

Specialized Composers

An examination of the filmography of more than 200 Canadian cinema composers reveals that some of them have written large numbers of scores.

Eldon Rathburn has created, mostly for the NFB, some 185 sound environments for animated films (The Romance of Transportation, Short and Suite, Canon), documentaries (Corral, City of Gold, Sky, Morning on the Lievre, Circle of the Sun, A is for Architecture, L'Homme et le froid) and feature-length films (Le Grand Rock, Nobody Waved Goodbye). In 1964 he was awarded the annual prize of the Society of Film Makers. Maurice Blackburn, another who has worked chiefly for the NFB, has over 100 films to his credit, including A Phantasy, Blinkity Blank, Je, Normétal, Lines-Vertical, and Percé on the Rocks, as well as the feature films Le Gros Bill, Ti-Coq, Le Festin des morts, Cordélia, Mourir à tue-tête, etc.

Louis Applebaum has written several scores for the NFB: A Little Phantasy, Dollar Dance, Around is Around, Varley, The Jolifou Inn, and theme music for the series of war films 'World in Action'. During the 1940s and 1950s the prolific composer Robert Fleming wrote numerous scores for NFB shorts, including Les Aboiteaux, City out of Time, Les Maîtres-sondeurs and Phoebe.

William McCauley has worked mostly in private industry, in particular with Crawley Films in Ottawa. He has written some 125 scores, including the feature film Between Friends. He collaborated on the documentary Upper Canada Village, produced by Moreland-Latchford Productions for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Information, a film which has received many awards.

Feature-Length Films

By 1990 a detailed and analytical history of Canadian music for feature films had yet to be written, and no retrospective production record existed. This report will confine itself therefore to a brief survey, based on incomplete documentation, taking into account the fact that because production companies often have a short and tenuous existence, there are seldom archives that can be studied.

The first original feature film score by a Canadian composer is often said to be that of Ernest Dainty for Carry on Sergeant, presented in Toronto in 1928. According to the periodical Motion, however, the film was released as a silent film, and in her husband's biography Gertrude Dainty states that the music was performed by the theatre orchestra during the projection. Therefore the music of Howard Fogg for Rhapsody in Two Languages (1934) may be considered the first original Canadian score for a film with a synchronized sound-track.

The years 1944-54, sometimes termed the heroic days of the Canadian film score, were but a modest prelude to a development that would reach its full potential in the early 1960s. Among the pioneers, mention should be made of Morris C. Davis, who composed the music for a film produced simultaneously in French (La Forteresse) and English (Whispering City) but with different actors. One sequence from the film feflatured a concert in which Neil Chotem played the Quebec Concerto, an arrangement of André Mathieu'sConcerto No. 3. Other films of this period were Le Curé de village (Davis with Lucio Agostini), Un Homme et son péché (Hector Gratton), Le Gros Bill and Ti-Coq (Maurice Blackburn), Les Lumières de ma ville (Pierre Pétel), Le Rossignol et les cloches (Allan McIver), and La Petite Aurore, l'enfant martyre and Coeur de maman (Germaine Janelle). An English-language film of this period - Forbidden Journey - had music by Oskar Morawetz.

After 1960 production in Quebec grew steadily, and producers called upon both composers and chansonniers. Certain names recur frequently, but the following list may not give an entirely fair representation because it is necessarily incomplete:

Maurice Blackburn. Le Festin des morts; Le Temps de l'avant; Mourir à tue-tête; Cordélia; J.A. Martin, photographe

Pierre Brault. Le Viol d'une jeune fille douce; Red; Le Temps d'une chasse; La Vraie Nature de Bernadette; Kings and Desperate Men (with Michel Robidoux); and others, at least a dozen titles in all. Brault also worked with the animation department of the NFB.

Walter Boudreau. La Chambre blanche; Ultimatum; Les Maudits Sauvages; Une Nuit en Amérique (the score of which was adapted for concert performance under the title Variations I); Réjeanne Padovani; L'Infonie inachevée (which employed sterophonic sound)

Bernard Buisson. Les Bons Débarras; Une Amie d'enfance

Robert Charlebois. Jusqu'au Coeur; Tout l'temps, tout l'temps; À soir on fait peur au monde; Deux Femmes en or

Alain Clavier. L'Arrache-coeur

Jean Cloutier. Thetford au milieu de notre vie

Jean-Marie Cloutier. Le Règne du jour

Jean Corriveau. La Guerre des tuques; Un Zoo la nuit; Les Bons Débarras

François Cousineau. L'Initiation; etc

Jean Cousineau. Pour la suite du monde (with Jean Meunier); À tout prendre (with Maurice Blackburn and Serge Garant); Mon Oncle Antoine; Taureau; Dream Speaker; Ada

François Dompierre. IXE-13; O.K.... Laliberté (with Céline Prévost); La Gammick (with Alain Clavier); Partis pour la gloire; YUL 871 (with Stéphane Venne); Tiens-toi bien après les oreilles à papa; Bernie pis la gang; Ti-Mine; St-Denis dans le temps; The Decline of the American Empire; Bonheur d'occasion

Claude Dubois. Cerveaux gelés

Lewis Furey. L'Ange et la femme; La Tête de Normande St-Onge; Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang; Fantastica; Night Magic (with Leonard Cohen); Maria Chapdelaine

André Gagnon. L'Évasion des carrousels; Les Jeux de la XXIe Olympiade; Night Flight; Running

Lee Gagnon, Chantal en vrac; Seizure; Pousse mais pousse égal

Claude Gauthier. Tête en fleurs; Entre la mer et l'eau douce

Michel Gonneville. Tu brüles, tu brüles

Richard Grégoire. Éclair au chocolat

Pierick Houdy. Comme les six doigts de la main

Diane Juster. Éclair u chocolat; The Morning Man

Yves Laferrière. Anastasie oh ma chérie; Les Plouffe II: Le Matou; Sonia; Jesus of Montreal; La Femme de l'hôtel; Babylone; Blanche est la nuit; Moody Beach; etc

Anne Lauber. L'Affair Coffin

Claude Léveillée. Patinoire; Taxi; Les Beaux Dimanches

Andrée Paul. Patricia et Jean-Baptiste (with Raoul Duguay); Il ne faut pas mourir pour ça; Q-Bec My Love; Les Dernières Fiancailles

Jacques Perron. Le P'tit vient vite; Il était une fois dans l'Est; Le Martien de Noël; Les Smattes

Jean Sauvageau. Mistashipu (Wilderness Award 1975)

Louis Spritzer. Ciné-boum

Stéphane Venne. Où êtes-vous donc?; Les Mâles; Seul ou avec d'autres; Jusqu'au cou

Gilles Vigneault. Poussière sur la ville; Ce soir-là; Gilles Vigneault...

It was in the early 1960s also that the production of feature-length films in English began in earnest. Toronto was the production centre, but some films, especially co-productions, were produced elsewhere in Canada, notably in Montreal. To the customary composers were added jazz and pop musicians. Producers also engaged composers from Quebec, such as Pierre Brault and André Gagnon.

Lucio Agostini. Inside Out; Ragtime Summer; The Little Brown Burro; Ichabod Crane

Milton Barnes. Blood and Guts

Bill and Ben Bogaardt. Time of the Tarsands (prize, Alberta Film Festival)

Howard Cable. Canada Carries On; Small Fry; Ski Skill; also about 10 scores for the NFB

Neil Chotem. The Butler's Night Off; U-Turn

Ron Collier. Face Off; A Fan's Notes; Paperback Hero

Clarence J. Crilley. Rivers of Romance

Larry Crossley. The Johari Window; Wolf Pack; Cry of the Wolf; The Man Who Skied Down Everest

Gordon Fleming and others. Catuor

Harry Freedman. Act of the Heart (Acte du coeur) including the cantata The Flame Within (Canadian Film Award 1970); Isobel; The Pyx

Hagood Hardy. Tukik and His Search for a Merry Christmas; Second Wind; Rituals; Klondike Fever; American Christmas Carol

Paul Hoffert. Outrageous (Etrog Award 1977); Circle of Two; Midnight Matinee; Double Negative; The Groanstar Conspiracy; Third Walker; Winter Kept Us Warm

Paul Horn. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Milan Kymlicka. The Last Act of Martin Weston; The Reincarnate; Wedding in White

Matthew McCauley . Between Friends

William McCauley. The Neptune Factor; Sunday in the Country; It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time

Bob McMullin. On the Edge of Ice Pack; Race Home to Die; The Shadow of the Hawk

Ben McPeek. The Rowdyman; Only God Knows; Catch the Sun

John Mills-Cockell. The Clown Murders; Deadly Harvest

Oscar Peterson. The Silent Partner (Etrog Award 1978)

Art Phillips. The Dionne Quintuplets

Tibor Polgar. In Praise of Older Women

Morris Surdin. Hospital

Paul Zaza. Murder by Decree (with Carl Zittrer); Stone Cold Dead; Title Shop; Porky's

It frequently happens that a director will use the same composer film after film: eg, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre with Andrée Paul, Denis Héroux with François Cousineau, and Paul Almond with Harry Freedman. Besides Norman McLaren, a few directors, eg, John Howe, Pierre Marcoux, Jim Kraemer, and Anne Wheeler, have composed their own music.

When a film has been produced in Canada as a co-production, the music usually has been composed by a musician from the other participating country. This was the case for Kamouraska (Maurice Le Roux), Two Solitudes (Maurice Jarre), and Angela (Henry Mancini).

The Guild of Canadian Film Composers was founded in 1979, and Glenn Morley was its president in 1990. The aims of the guild are to establish a standard contract that will define clearly the rights of composers called upon to write for films and to seek to provide its members with all pertinent information and to represent their interests in dealing with deparments and government agencies.

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television has awarded the Canadian Film Awards (Genie awards) annually

Further Reading

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