Having watched and listened to them all of our lives, we are children of the movies, . Along with the beauty of Ingid Bergman and Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bell Tolls, an intense adventure of beauty,sacrifice and death, (for a 14 year old impressionable kid), the movies have been the most vivid reflection of human emotions, especially, as expressed by their music. In conservatory and music schools, we learn of the incredibly sensitive and delicate art of word painting, expressing emotion through an interval, a suspension, a sequence of chords. appogiaturas and accents placed at crucial emotional points. While in the service, my friend asked me “what is an agogic accent? The answer was ,” an accent by delay”. He then asked me what is the longest agogic accent to be found in music? I didn’t know. He replied,”the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue”, the clarinet trill and cadenza a the very beginning of the work” Afte a moment of thought, the realization of the truth of his comment, and the power of accent, by stress or by delay, has simply never left my mind. All, every single one of this musical word painting has been present in music since the time of Gregorian Chant. The sudden drop within a a phrase of repeated notes, a drop of a minor third at the word “Pain” oe “sorrow” or “death” when studied and repeated brings to us the meaning of the words and how they underline and describe the emotions being expressed. An inexperienced musician will say that this Plain Song or gregorian Chant is nothing but boring and highly repetitive. And, at their level, they are correct. This is but the surface of the musc, no matter how simple, but further study allows us to witness the extraordinary creative process of word painting in music.
And so, listening to music and watching movies has become an almost lifelong quest of discovery. And it is almost all based on the music of Ravel, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Strauss and Debussy, to name ut a few. I can remember Dimitri Tionkin, a Bulgarian Jew, who was a composer of Hollywood film music. He won the Academy Award years ago, for the film “The High and the Mighty”. His acceptance speech went somethng like this, “I’m no Prokofiev, I’m no Stravinsky”and he went on with a few others), but what I do, I do pretty well. From Frank Skinner on and on to and through many film composers, nusic for the movies becomes almost a study in itself, its content rich and expressive over and above the film being shown on the screen.
So, last weekend, we saw a couple of films, one current horror movie called “the Purge”, a new release, and another movie made more than 60 years past called “Breakfast for Caesar” with Ronald Coleman and Celeste Holm and Vincent Price, made in 1950.
The first film, “The Purge”s perhaps the most disgusting presentation I have ever seen, concerning a world in which one day is set aside for crimes of all kinds, including murder, for which there are no penalities. While the premise may sound interesting, it was presented in the most disgusting way and was a film of gun death and repeated violence, done without an ounce of finesse opr understanding. Did I mention that it was disgusting? Curiously, it began with a badly canned version of Clair de Lune” by Debussy. That should have been the clue, as it was a terrible arrangement. No more need be said.
That morning, quite early, perhaps at 4AM, I happened to turn on the television, saw immediatey , part of a black and whie movie called Beakfast for Caeser, with the cast as noted above.
It was fluffy and fiftyish, a comedy from those years. Suddeny, I heard the most beautiful clarinet playing I have ever experienced. Gorgeous phrasing, perfect legato, sound, you name it, it was perfect. I wracked my mind ,trying to think of all of the clarinetists who were playing in the studios during that time, but could up with no name, and was left only with the players sound, his articulation and the beautfy of the sound. That is what I carried away . It is still there. The other movie “The Purge” was truly despicably insulting, expensive to see and containing nothing but gratuitous violence. Who would go to see such a horrible prsentation. Beats me. But, I will always remember that clarinetist, whomever it may have been.