The Sounds of Movies

ESO plays silver screen classics

Now that the era of silent films is long behind us, people who make movies must consider how sound and music contribute to a film’s emotional reaction. Classical music, certainly not devoid of an ability to evoke powerful feelings, frequently offers a sonic backdrop to motion pictures. This upcoming Edmonton Symphony Orchestra presents classical music that past movie-makers have included in their works.

One such piece is Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which has appeared in Platoon and The Elephant Man. This piece, along with all the others on the program, are ones that were selected for specific emotional moments in the films, explains Bob Bernhardt, who will be conducting the concert.

“There is a profound connection to a character or to a moment; this music just locks it in.”

“[Audiences] will understand why the director or the music coordinator of the movie chose this music for their movie—in many cases, there is a direct emotional reaction to these pieces that create an atmosphere or a nostalgia,” Bernhardt continues.

While people in the film industry might include classical music to establish an emotional response during a particular moment, other motivations might underlie a filmmaker’s decision to turn to classical tunes: copyright. Indeed, a work’s availability in the public domain might also affect its inclusion, Bernhardt explains, adding that this accounts for the presence of much classical music in cartoons of the past.

As someone who enjoys both cartoons and classical music, and who devoted a previous Classical Score to such a topic, I asked Bernhardt what might happen to an existing piece of classical music after audiences have created a strong association between the work and a moment in a movie.

Bernhardt thinks that a work would retain the life it had before being included in the film, but would also develop a further connection to the movie.

“[A piece] now has a life in connection with certain movie scenes,” he explains, adding that the works from this concert are played in concert halls all the time, allowing audiences to hear the pieces in a non-movie context.

One such example is Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, which people recognize either on its own, or in relation to Apocalypse Now or Blues Brothers, two films where this aggressive tune was used for dramatic and comic effects, respectively.

Bernhardt acknowledges that some people might end up associating a classical work to the movie in which it appeared, while not realizing, or forgetting, that the piece actually existed well before the motion-picture age. Still, he wouldn’t consider this a dangerous consequence for the piece of music. In fact, at concerts, he enjoys informing people about a work’s origins.

“[It’s] fun to remind people about ‘this gorgeous music you’re about to hear, you might this it’s only 30 or 40 years old, but it’s actually 200 years old,’” he says, emphasizing this kind of discussion’s ability to connect with audiences. “I find it interesting, and I kind of enjoy putting it into that context at these concerts.”  V

Thu, May 20 (8 pm)
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Classics of the Silver Screen: Classical Music Popularized By the Movies
Winspear Centre, $20 – $69


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