Summer time, and orchestra concerts become less formal. Band concerts, too. Here in Greensboro, City Arts sponsors a series called Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park (MUSEP). Even though the Fourth of July was on Wednesday this year, music by the Greensboro Concert Band at the fireworks was part of the MUSEP series. That, my own orchestra’s upcoming concert, and the outdoor concert by the Eastern Music Festival’s student orchestras got me thinking about movie music.
A brief glance at history
The concept of “classical” music didn’t exist until the nineteenth century. Neither did the concept of a concert consisting only of orchestral music. Concert orchestras playing classical music appealed to the aristocracy and the upper middle class.
So did a high-class popular music. Those popular concerts featured orchestras mostly accompanying novelties by virtuoso soloists and lots of the latest operatic selections. Yes. Opera at the time was popular music, and besides Mozart, Weber, and a few others, mostly sneered at by classical music partisans.
What about the lower middle class and the working class? They usually couldn’t afford either the classical or popular concerts favored by the more well to do. Conductors of dance orchestras looking for a steady income started offering “promenade” concerts in the off season.Wealthy people attended them, but they were cheap enough that the less well off could afford them.
Promenade concerts featured a mixed repertoire, intended to appeal to the widest possible audience. They nearly always included classical symphonies, played to a high artistic standard. They also included more popular novelties: wind instrument virtuosos, arrangements of operatic music, dance music, and quadrilles.
Today’s “proms” in Britain, the New Year’s concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Boston Pops Orchestra are among the many ways the promenade concert tradition is still with us. So, of course, are the orchestral concerts on Greensboro’s MUSEP series and similar concerts all over the world.
A brief worldwide survey of movie music concerts
Operatic music by Meyerbeer, Rossini, Verdi, and others is now considered classical music. Today’s pops concerts still include nineteenth-century dance music (waltzes, polkas, etc. by Strauss, Waldteufel, and others) and overtures from operettas (by von Suppé, Strauss, Lehar, Romberg, Herbert, et al.).
Film sound tracks contribute a lot of the more modern music on today’s pops concerts. I found a very interesting web site, Movies in Concert, which lists upcoming professional orchestra concerts from all over the world that will include at least one piece from a movie sound track. It specifically excludes movies based on stage musicals. Here are some quick observations:
- Concerts with film music are not limited to summer time.
- Film music occasionally turns up on regular subscription concerts. Some modern “classical” composers like Prokofiev and Copland wrote plenty of film music. No surprise to find their music on more formal concerts. In January 2013, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra has scheduled a program featuring Respighi’s Pines of Rome along with pieces by Rossini, Pizetti, and a violin concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold that uses theme from three movies of the 1930s.
- On December 28, 2012, both the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Lucerne, Switzerland and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will present Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. In St. Louis, the concert will be repeated the next day.
- American film music is well represented on concerts worldwide. Here is a random sample, each country represented by a single concert:
- Spain: a film festival featuring three orchestras in one day. The first will play Jurassic Park Suite by John Williams, Flashdance Suite by Giorgio Moroder, Schindler’s List Suite by John Williams, and Dibulandia (not attributed). All the titles played by the other orchestras are English-language.
- Germany: the first concert in the list not titled Hollywood in Concert is devoted to Charlie Chaplin’s 1971 score to his first full-length movie The Kid.
- Italy: The European Union Youth Orchestra has scheduled an 80th-birthday tribute to John Williams. The program promises dozens of Oscar-winning scores including Out of Africa by John Barry, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Cinema Paradiso by Henry Mancini, Psycho by Bernard Hermann, and John Williams’ ownStar Wars and Schindler’s List
- Japan: Also sprach Zarathustra, op.30 by Richard Strauss, Symphony No.1 in C minor, op.68 by Johannes Brahms, concluding with Star Wars by John Williams
- All the Russian film music I identified was by Shostakovich or Prokofiev.
- Michele LeGrande (both French and American movies) and Toru Takemitsu (Japanese movies) are well represented on concerts.
- Music from movie and TV cartoons does not figure as prominently on concerts as music from feature films, but it is scheduled to be heard on several concerts.
- One piece frequently on the schedule, The Legend of Zelda™: Symphony of the Goddesses by Koji Kondo turns out not to be movie music, but based on the composer’s work for the Nintendo video game.
I am very glad to see music from recent movies and video games appearing on regular subscription concerts as well as “proms” and such. It’s a great way to broaden the audience for orchestra concerts.