Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Magnificent Seven One

I'm breaking my radio silence ("Situation unchanged, Admiral!") just long enough to note the passing of another film music legend, Elmer Bernstein.

Bernstein's filmography is a good long one. He was one of the composers who bridged the Golden and Silver Ages of film music -- along with Jerry Goldsmith -- and he was active pretty much up until the end, even being nominated for an Oscar two years ago for his score to Far From Heaven. (He lost to Elliot Goldenthal's Frida.)

Bernstein's music was always a veritable fountain of melody and excellent orchestration, and I heard in his work the voice of Aaron Copland and Americana perhaps more than in any other film composer's. I love the scores to The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even Heavy Metal. I don't own nearly enough of his music. (He is far from the only composer for whom this is true, sadly.)

By all accounts, Bernstein was a gregarious and charming individual. I, of course, wouldn't know, but I do recall watching him speaking on a show that American Movie Classics once broadcast about the use of music in film. Specifically discussing the scene in The Ten Commandments when the Hebrews begin the Exodus, he related how he noted that director Cecil B. DeMille had cut the scene so it was very ponderous and slow-moving, and thus Bernstein scored it accordingly. However, when DeMille heard what Bernstein had written, the director said something along the lines of, "No, no, no, that's not right! I screwed this scene up and shot it too slow, so you have to use the music to speed it up!" This Bernstein did. What got me about this TV segment was that Bernstein told this story with a chuckle and a gleam in his eye. (To this day, Bernstein's score is pretty much the only thing I like about The Ten Commandments.)

I could claim sadness at Bernstein's passing, but instead I'd just like to note his amazing legacy of music. Well done, Maestro.

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