The Film Music of Jerry Goldsmith
Though he had started composing music earlier, Jerry Goldsmith has been highly regarded as a very talented and justly famous movie composer since the early nineteen sixties. Not only has he won an Academy Award, he has had seventeen additional Oscar nominations as well as five Emmy Awards and nine Golden Globe nominations! In addition to innumerable special awards, lifetime recognitions and achievements, perhaps capping all these was the special invitation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that resulted in his composition Fanfare for Oscar. It will be played at all future Academy Award events and telecasts. Very few composers can even approach his list of accomplishments in the film music world. Little wonder that I've nearly always put him in my top five movie composers list for the past three decades.
Creative artists, whether painters, writers or composers, often repeat or partly repeat themselves. After a period of time perhaps the creative juices do not flow as easily as or as continuously as previously. More likely a job is to be done (a specific commission) and the person or company paying for a "new work" wants or expects a definite resemblance to previous efforts by the artist. This is a very logical expectation. Creative artists are not always and maybe not even often able to be as creative as they would like to be. An author may use some basic plots over and over again, just changing the characters, setting and time periods. The readers are usually pleased to get to read the latest version of the author's story telling though book critics may wince at the thought of reading and critiquing yet another version. I can see how such can happen very easily with a movie music composer particularly if the composer is well liked and famous as Jerry Goldsmith certainly is. With so many studios and directors clamoring for his services I find it at least understandable that some of his themes, techniques and instrumentation become repetitious, probably more so than I had realized. I bring this subject up because there have been some negative comments about Goldsmith's more recent and very frequent (past dozen or so years) film efforts. None other than my favorite movie reviewer, Dr. Arthur Lintgen, who can usually be counted on for perceptive views on the film as well as the musical score and the recording's sound quality, has become very disparaging of recent Goldsmith efforts. Art Lintgen's comments appear often but not often enough in The Absolute Sound magazine.
This should in no way detract you from thoroughly enjoying Jerry Goldsmith conducting his own music very competently on this new Telarc release. Many composers somehow are not the best conductors of their own music for whatever reason; here Goldsmith does just fine. I think he does even better in the beautiful romantic and hauntingly melodic selections than with the more dynamic selections such as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I would have preferred fewer selections and more music (time) for each of them. Specifically I would have not have included the medley of television themes and believe that many listeners may be confused; many people use the terms movie and film to mean the same thing and don't include television even though it is a video film recording.
While preparing this article I attended the International Festival at Daytona Beach as I have done for thirty-five years. As always, the London Symphony Orchestra was featured and I sat in the eighth row, center. I am quite surprised to find that this excellent recording played on my sound system in my listening room sounds very much like what I was hearing in the eighth row right down to depth perspective and soundscape! Really, and all the more surprising since this is a studio recording! How could this be? Of course the orchestra was the same, so that's a big help as orchestras do differ in "their sound". Next I believe that the horns and winds may have been getting away with projecting more than usual under guest conductors who were different each night. Air Force One herein is part of a medley; I have another Telarc recording CD 80535, Mega Movies, which also contains the title cut of Air Force One with Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Of course it sounds different than the studio recording I'm writing about. A surprise is that in some ways this Goldsmith studio production sounds closer to what I heard live in the Daytona concert hall than the Mega Movies album recorded in Cincinnati's concert hall - what's going on here?
I talked to Michael Bishop, the well-known sound engineer and sound effects specialist for the Mega Movies album. Between us the thinking goes something like the following: The Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach is much smaller (about half the seating capacity of Cincinnati's) and the stage width is narrower and the stage construction assuredly does not add significantly to the "bloom" of the lower frequency instruments which the Cincinnati's stage is known to do as reported by Bishop. The larger than average recording studio at Abbey Road comes closer to the orchestral soundscape's width I heard in Daytona than does the wider spread in the Cincinnati's album; the ambiance added to the studio recording is also closer to the "real thing" I heard than the result from the Cincinnati recording with its tremendous spread and feeling of natural spaciousness. As usual with studio recordings the bass drum is just not the same as in a typical concert hall, though still impressive. This studio recording comes surprisingly close to my experience with the same orchestra (London Symphony) in a relatively small auditorium from a center seat in row eight - quite an achievement.
Overall the selections are well chosen and for the most part the album holds its own on its own, not as an unrelated sounding collection. The first selection in this album immediately grabbed this card-carrying Trekkie's attention, the theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The following cut is an eighteen minute medley containing some of Goldsmith's greatest compositions in snippets far too short to entice unfamiliar listeners. Included are The Sand Pebbles and the very different but equally outstanding Chinatown, the recent Air Force One, the interesting A Patch of Blue, the relatively unappreciated but very fine score for Poltergeist, Papillon, the uniquely and beautifully outstanding Basic Instinct and The Wind and the Lion. All these selections are segued very nicely. For those not familiar with the word "segue", it is usually a musical description meaning a smooth uninterrupted transition as from one theme or song to another. When expertly done it can be difficult to determine exactly where one selection ends and the next begins. It is not true that the word is attributed to Vinnie and Maria Seguerro who often listened to two different radio stations at the same time so there would be no musical lapses; it is from the so called "Vulgar Latin" word of similar spelling. Other selections includes themes from the fine The Russia House, Boys from Brazil, Rudy, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Patton a very logical choice to conclude an almost too generous list of Goldsmith compositions. Fewer, but longer selections would have been my decision; I did not even mention nine other included selections! Basically this is an interesting and entertaining introduction to Jerry Goldsmith's film music. One of the truly "greats" even if he's become a bit repetitious of late. Definitely recommended.