I have to admit, I’m often thinking about film music versus concert music. As an aspiring film music journalist, of sorts, I think about it from a number of angles: the concert/classical influence on film music; the seeming snobbery from the high-browed classical orchestrati towards film music; why I prefer film scores to concert works; and, of course, the issue of good old plagiarism.
As a writer, I am trying to reach out to people beyond the film score bubble and preach the gospel of film music. But I constantly feel the need to defend it as a legitimate art form; I am always conscious of the demons (real or imagined) who claim that film music is nothing but a cheap, commercial, knock off of “real” orchestral music.
The fact is, I love good concert music. I adore the music of Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Rimsky-Korsakov (notice a pattern?). Wagner, Brahms, Vaughan Williams, Debussy…all geniuses in my book. I tend to stay away from the earlier classical and baroque composers; too much stuffy form or mathematical precision. I also abhor just about anything considered “modern”—serialism, atonality, and all that cerebral nonsense. Give me the romantics, with their respectful look back at the vocabulary of classicalism, but infused with a wild passion and the emotional might of a full symphonic orchestra.
Here’s the thing, though. For me, the best of the concert world generally has one thing in common: it reminds me of film music. A memorable theme, slowly and ingeniously developed. A gentle, lilting passage that communicates love (or home, or pain) more effectively than any word. Something exotic from another land (like the brilliant Scheherazade) that transports and immerses. But always, some kind of coherent narrative told through the deliberate use of instruments and themes or motifs.
I realize that, technically, it ought to be the other way around. Great film music is reminiscent of great concert works, since in nearly every case the latter preceded the composition of the former. (The crankiest of cynics would simply say that good film music is wholesale pillaging of great concert music; I’m saving my thoughts on that matter for another essay.)
What I’m driving at is, my favorite kind of concert music has a quality that good film music has inherently: it tells a story. So many symphonies (and concert works in general) seem to wander, spastically coughing up a melody line here or an instrumental interplay there. I know that in the works of great classical composers, there are almost always highlights and interesting moments sprinkled throughout. But so often the whole feels disjointed and haphazard. Concert music speaks to me only when it tells some kind of story.