Last year Danny Elfman accepted an invitation from the American Composer Orchestra to write an evening of music for them to perform at Carnegie Hall, and there wasnt a terrible lot of thought that went into [the decision], he says. [So] I decided I better go to New York and see Carnegie Hall, because Id never been there. And that was my biggest mistake.
For the first time in his career, Elfman was asked to write orchestral music that wasnt attached to a film, and he was given nearly free rein. Film composers typically arrive on a project at the end of production when theyre expected to write music that fits precisely into a scene under the pressure of a ticking clock. And these are the conditions under which Elfman wrote a dozen memorable scores, from Batman to Mission Impossible. I really think I would never get anything done if I didnt have a deadline, he says. Id probably still be working on Pee Wees Big Adventure.
But when I actually walked around the lobby [of Carnegie Hall], rather than inspiring me it had a catatonia-producing effect. It was like the Wizard of Oz voice: Youre playing Carnegie Hall. Elfman, a self-trained musician who fronted L.As Oingo Boingo for nearly two decades, may joke that visiting the Hall was a mistake, but when the deadline began to loom and his film composers discipline kicked in, he produced Serenada Schizophrana, a series of six dense but broadly reaching movements thats chaos is Elfmanesque and thats complexity will surprise only those who havent been paying attention to his film work. Its an internal battle between the two composers that live in my head, one that would like to be taken a little more seriously and the other that wants to be taken anything but seriously. They were duking it out, and I just kind of let them run amok.
And amok they ran, nodding to Orffs Carmina Burana and Herrmanns Vertigo, Sergei Prokofiev and Duke Ellington. Thats the stuff that rolls around in my head, he says. While Zach Braff and Wes Anderson are blanketing their movies with pop songs, a number of modern film composers are drawing on a century or more of musical inspiration. Elfman, arguably the best-known American film composer working today, transitioned with apparent ease into a purely orchestral work and then back to film, most recently scoring the live-action version of Charlottes Web, but the distinction between the two forms isnt always so clear, and he may have put his finger on why: as he says, the great film composersSteiner, Korngold, Waxman, Tiomkin, Alex Northwere inspired by classical music, and they in turn created the style of music that became film music.
[Roger Neill encounter snipped]
Movies with pop-song soundtracks date back at least as far as Martin Scorseses Alice Doesnt Live Here Any More. But the synergy of classical music and cinema goes back to the silent era, and its refreshing to find active composers who are not only aware of that lineage but are embracing it with gusto.