Music

The 120 Best Film Soundtracks

Going to the trouble of making a list such as this may seem trivial to some, but, in fact, the tradition of musical scoring for cinema should be considered the ‘classical music’ you’ve liked but didn’t know it was ‘classical.’

Let me explain. I will assume you, like I, enjoy an immediately rapport with great film music, that the main themes to movies like ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ I will assume you find them ‘beautiful’ and that, if you have given it any thought, that you know they are composed for and played by a full symphony orchestra. In other words, the same orchestra that plays Beethoven at Carnegie Hall on Friday night may be in the studio the next day recording the next John Williams soundtrack.

Let’s go even further: Not only does the film composer employ all the potencies of the modern symphony orchestra, and often vocal soloists and a chorus, the composer draws upon the entire development of Western music (and sometimes non-Western) in creating a 90 to 120 minute musical narrative to accompany the action and dialogue on the screen.

But here there’s an even more important point to make: At the very time that film music was emerging as a developed art form, the mainstream of classical music took a wrong turn towards atonal and twelve-tone compositions. The late Romantic musical tradition, as represented by Mahler, Bruckner, and Richard Strauss, was carried forward by film composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Miklos Rozsa, and Bernard Herrmann. Both Korngold and Rozsa had been established classical composers before arriving in Hollywood, so they literally embodied the bridge I am describing.

As chronicled superbly in Robert R. Reilly’s Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music (Ignatius, 2016), the rejection of traditional tonality dominated the concert hall well into the 1980s before composers like George Rochberg and David Del Tredici began to realize the mistake.

If my argument holds, the list below represents a classical music tradition that never broke with the development of tonality in the Western music tradition. In other words, an appreciation for film music is, necessarily, an appreciation for ‘classical music,’ that is, music reflecting the legacy of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, and Strauss.

Many American composers who never took that atonal turn, such as David Diamond, Paul Creston, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Nicolas Flagello, but for decades their compositions were rarely played or even mentioned in surveys of contemporary music. Conductors like Gerard Schwartz and Leonard Slatkin have been at the forefront of rediscovering their music as well as other composers who refused the break with tonality.

It’s not too far-fetched to say that film music has been the ‘classical music’ for far more listeners than the music played symphony halls around the world for the past fifty years. The time has come to claim to not merely admit it, but to celebrate the music and musicians who have continued to minister to the human ear, and the human heart.

-1. City Lights, Charles Chaplin (1931)
-2. King Kong, Max Steiner (1933)
-3. She, Max Steiner (1935)
-4. Modern Times, Charles Chaplin (1936)
-5. The Charge of the Light Brigade, Max Steiner (1936)
-6. Anthony Adverse, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1936)
-7. Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Prokofiev (1938)
-8. Gone With the Wind, Max Steiner (1939)
-9. Sea Hawk, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1940)
-10. Thief of Bagdad, Miklos Rozsa (1940)
-11. 49th Parallel, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1941)
-12. Citizen Kane, Bernard Herrmann (1941)
-13. The Uninvited, Victor Young (1941)
-14. That Hamilton Woman, Miklos Rozsa (1941)
-15. Now, Voyager, Max Steiner (1942)
-16. Kings Row, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1942)
-17. The Song of Bernadette, Alfred Newman (1943)
-18. Mr. Skeffington, Franz Waxman (1944)
-19. Henry V, William Walton (1944)
-20. Laura, David Raksin (1944)
-21. Spellbound, Miklos Rozsa (1945)
-22. Forever Amber, David Raksin (1947)
-23. Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Bernard Herrmann (1947)
-24. Red River, Dimitri Tiomkin (1948)
-25. Scott of the Antarctic, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1948)
-26. The Red Pony, Aaron Copland (1949)
-27. The Heiress, Aaron Copland (1949)
-28. All About Eve, Alfred Newman (1950)
-29. Quo Vadis, Miklos Rozsa (1951)
-30. A Christmas Carol, Richard Addinsell (1951)
-31. A Place in the Sun, Franz Waxman (1951)
-32. Scaramouche, Victor Young (1952)
-33. The Bad and the Beautiful, David Raksin (1952)
-34. High Noon, Dimitri Tiomkin (1952)
-35. The Quiet Man, Victor Young (1952)
-36. Shane, Victor Young (1953)
-37. I Vitelloni, Nino Rota (1953)
-38. Around the World in 80 Days, Victor Young (1954)
-39. Prince Valiant, Franz Waxman (1954)
-40. On the Waterfront, Leonard Bernstein (1954)
-41. Richard lll, William Walton (1955)
-42. Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, Alfred Newman (1955)
-43. Night of the Hunter, Walter Schumann (1955)
-44. Diane, Miklos Rozsa (1956)
-45. Peyton Place, Franz Waxman (1957)
-46. Raintree County, Johnny Green (1957)
-47. The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Malcolm Arnold (1957)
-48. Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann (1958)
-49. Ben Hur, Miklos Rozsa (1959)
-50. North by Northwest, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-51. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Bernard Herrmann (1959)
-52. The Nun’s Story, Franz Waxman (1959)
-53. The Magnificent Seven, Elmer Bernstein (1960)
-54. Exodus, Ernest Gold (1960)
-55. Psycho, Bernard Herrmann. (1960)
-56. The Alamo, Dimitri Tiomkin (1960)
-57. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Henry Mancini (1961)
-58. King of Kings, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-59. El Cid, Miklos Rozsa (1961)
-60. Lawrence of Arabia, Maurice Jarre (1962)
-61. To Kill a Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein (1962)
-62. Taras Bulba, Franz Waxman (1962)
-63. The Pink Panther, Henry Mancini (1963)
-64. Charade, Henry Mancini (1963)
-65. The Leopard, Nino Rota (1963)
-66. Goldfinger, John Barry (1964)
-67. The Fall of the Roman Empire, Dimitri Tiomkin (1964)
-68. Doctor Zhivago, Maurice Jarre (1965)
-69. Sylvia, David Raksin (1965)
-70. The Greatest Story Ever Told, Alfred Newman (1965)
-71. A Man and a Woman, Francis Lai (1966)
-72. Sand Pebbles, Jerry Goldsmith (1966)
-73. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Ennio Morricone (1966)
-74. Casino Royale, Burt Bacharach (1967)
-75. Two for the Road, Henry Mancini (1967)
-76. Far from the Madding Crowd, Richard Rodney Bennett (1967)
-77. The Lion in Winter, John Barry (1968)
-78. Romeo and Juliet, Nino Rota (1968)
-79. David Copperfield, Malcolm Arnold (1969)
-80. Anne of a Thousand Days, Georges Delerue (1969)
-81. True Grit, Elmer Bernstein (1969)
-82. Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Miklos Rozsa (1970)
-83. The Last Valley, John Barry (1971)
-84. The Godfather, Nino Rota (1972)
-85. Lady Caroline Lamb, Richard Rodney Bennett (1972)
-86. Antony and Cleopatra, John Scott (1972)
-87. The Wind and the Lion, Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
-88. Jaws, John Williams (1975)
-89. Superman, John Williams (1978)
-90. Death on the Nile, Nino Rota (1978)
-91. A Little Romance, Georges Delerue (1979)
-92. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams (1980)
-93. Somewhere in Time, John Barry (1980)
-94. Body Heat, John Barry (1981)
-95. Krull, James Horner (1983)
-96. Once Upon a Time in America, Ennio Morricone (1984)
-97. Splash, Lee Holdridge (1984)
-98. Out of Africa, John Barry (1985)
-99. The Mission, Ennio Morricone (1986)
-100. Untouchables, Ennio Morricone (1987)
-101. Cinema Paradiso, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-102. Time of Destiny, Ennio Morricone (1988)
-103. A Summer Story, Georges Delerue (1988)
-104. Born on the Fourth of July, John Williams (1989)
-105. Henry V, Patrick Doyle (1989)
-106. Glory, James Horner (1989)
-107. Dances With Wolves, John Barry (1990)
-108. Dracula, Wojciech Kilar (1992)
-109. Gettysburg, Randy Edelman (1993)
-110. Jurassic Park, John Williams (1993)
-111. The Age of Innocence, Elmer Bernstein (1993)
-112. Sense and Sensibility, Patrick Doyle (1995)
-113. Apollo 13, James Horner (1995)
-114. Far From Heaven, Elmer Bernstein (2002)
-115. Love Affair, Ennio Morricone (1994).
-116. Hamlet, Patrick Doyle (2009)
-117. Kingdom of Heaven, Harry Gregson-Williams (2005)
-118. Patton, Jerry Goldsmith (1970)
-119. Midnight Cowboy, John Barry (1969)
-120. The Lives of Others, Gabriel Yared (2006)
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How the Beatles, My Great Aunt, and Debussy Changed My Life

By Deal W. Hudson

It was the spring of 1970 when Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the Beatles. I had already grown discontent with pop music, the frenetic discord of Jimmy Hendrix touched no part of a young man brought up on Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Broadway show tunes. The Beatles, to my ear, wrote songs that expressed tonal continuity with the music I had grown to love.

My first year at the University of Texas, 1968, I set up an Akai tape deck on the desk of my dorm room and next to it laid a pile of reel-to-reel recordings of my favorite crooners. In my closet hung a row of Oxford cloth button down shirts next to my grey, blue, and brown wool pants. My penny loafers were kept shined, and when it grew cool in Austin I would put on my grey herringbone jacket bought for me by my great Aunt Lucile in London the previous year.

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My great Aunt Lucile Morley of Austin, TX

When Aunt Lucile met me in London at the end of my summer tour of Europe which she had given me as a Christmas present, she was not pleased with my attire. She hailed a taxi and told the driver, “Selfridges“! She led me into the men’s shop and told the attendant she was going to buy me new clothes and he could “dispose” of what I was wearing. Aunt Lucile insisted on adding an umbrella, which no “gentlemen” should be without. Once on the street, she was distressed that I didn’t know how to walk properly with an umbrella — she said, “Tap the sidewalk on every third step,” and I did, eventually.

Aunt Lucile lived in one of the historic houses in Austin, next to the Treaty Oak and the Coca Cola bottling plant. During my four years at UT, I served as her yard boy and as a waiter at her receptions and dinner parties. When she fed me breakfast after mowing her yard, she would lay out silver, china, and immaculate linen, in spite of the fact that I was sweaty and wearing gym shorts, tennis shoes, and a T-shirt.

My great Aunt had been a professional singer between the two world wars, singing mostly in Europe. She had sung the “Negro Songs” of H. T. Burleigh on the same program with Irish tenor John McCormack at Royal Albert Hall for the Queen Mother of England. In the summers, she sang with the well-known composition teacher and composer, Nadia Boulanger, at her American School at Fountainbleau. She was the one person in my family who appreciated my interest in, and passion for, literature, philosophy, and the arts. Years later, she was the only family member who read my dissertation on romanticism, concluding, “You’ve been a bit hard on the romantic poets, haven’t you?” And, yes, I had.

Back to the Beatles and my musical disorientation that followed. A few months after their breakup, I had just finished mowing my aunt’s lawn when she brought me a towel and a glass of water, and suggested I introduce myself to her new tenant who lived in the apartment on the side of the house. “She’s a new music teacher at the university, I think you should meet her.” I was anxious to get back to my apartment, but whatever Aunt Lucile wanted, she usually got. So I went around to the apartment door and knocked. A pretty young woman answered the door. I explained who I was and was invited in and offered a glass of delicious lemonade.

When she asked, I told her I was a junior philosophy major at UT. Then she asked what kind of music I liked. After I had shared my complaint about the direction of pop music, she asked if I had ever heard any classical music. I had heard some Gershwin, I told her, and had attended an opera as a high school student, but nothing had really left a big impression. “Well,” the young professor said, “tell me what you like in music.” “Melody,” I said. She went to a large stack of albums, pulled out a record, and put it on the turntable.

claude-debussy

French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

The music I heard over the next few minutes changed my life. It was so beautiful, the most beautiful music I had ever heard, and I sat transfixed until it ended. She saw my reaction, smiled, and said, “That was “Prelude to the Afternoon of Faun” by the French composer, Claude Debussy. I asked her if she had any more music like that, and she put on some Ravel and then some Wagner. I knew then that I would go immediately to the University Co-op and buy these recordings. I thanked her — I hope to this day she knew just how much I was in her debt.

At the Co-op, I bought a Debussy LP conducted by Pierre Boulez and played by the New Philharmonia Orchestra, along with some Ravel and an album of Wagner overtures. That day began a lifelong passion of exploring the entire history of classical music, every epoch and every form, from both played and sung, chamber music and orchestral, opera and oratorio, songs and choruses. Over the next ten years, I collected the entire standard repertoire and had started looking into the lesser known later romantics such as Delius, Vaughn Williams, Finzi, Hanson, and Pfitzner. At the end of my three years at Princeton Theological Seminary, I went on an opera tour of Europe with Aunt Lucile, the highlight being “Lohengrin” at Bayreuth and “Der Rosenkavalier” at the Munich Opera.

By the time I started teaching at Mercer University Atlanta in 1979, I knew enough to teach Music Appreciation in the prison program at the Atlanta Federal Prison. Being an amateur, I played my student/prisoners what moved me and found it moved them as well. Several cried when I played the Penitential Psalms of Lassus and, especially, “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Ravel. My class was almost entirely African-American from cities on the East Coast, but the music built a bridge between us that made of all sad when the class came to an end.

What provoked these memories was the death of composer/conductor Pierre Boulez at age 90 whose recording served my entryway into the vast universe of great music we, perhaps wrongly, call “classical.” I’m startled when people ask me why my musical tastes are so “narrow” (I haven’t listened to pop music since 1970). I am still discovering wonderful music (Norwegian Ludwig Irgens Jenson (1894-1969) for example) that makes me realize I will be on this musical journey until the day I die. Thanks to my Aunt Lucile, her tenant whose name I, sadly, cannot remember, Claude Debussy, and Maestro Boulez, my life has been inestimably enriched.

Published at The Christian Review, January 12, 2016

Carried Away by Christmas Music — A Confession

Deal W. Hudson

I’m a Christmas music fanatic. A long row of Christmas music LPs still stands at dusty attention on my bookshelves. Names like Perry Como, Bing Crosby, the Kings College Choir, and Eugene Ormandy peek out from their spines. (My Christmas cassette collection was destroyed by a flooded basement), but CDs began replacing them long ago, the latest being a superb collection of new and traditional carols from conductor Simon Halsey, “Rejoice! Christmas at Sage Gateshead.” All the CDs have been “ripped” into downloads, and the only music presently loaded on my iPhone is about Christmas.

I had forgotten how superbly Glen Campbell sang “Little Altar Boy” — it doesn’t eclipse the memory of Karen Carpenter, but the same note of sincerity is there, and it’s touching. But my favorite right now, among all my Christmas recordings, is the Mormon Tablernacle Choir singing, “When Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?”

Some years ago — at a time that was not good for me –a week or so before Christmas I was flipping channels when I stumbled upon the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas special. Kathleen Battle was the featured soloist, but it was this performance of the French carol ( “Quelle est cette odeur agréable”) “Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance” that both riveted my attention and lifted me out of the doldrums.

It’s one of most exquisite recordings of choral music I know, and if you ever have a chance to see it performed on TV, I urge you to watch it. It begins with the sopranos singing the first verse over an orchestral accompaniment. The second verse is sung almost pianissimo by the tenors, again with orchestral accompaniment. The third verse is shared by both women’s sections, but after the first few bars the orchestra suddenly goes silent, and the effect of the exposed voices in harmony is thrilling.

The experience of beauty in music, for me, is literally a “Sursum Corda,” a lifting of the heart toward the final happiness we are destined to share with God. Music is unique among the arts for its ability to penetrate us, to take the mind and body on a journey, away from division and toward unity. The beauty of music envelops us in its musical line, and through the impact of harmony and melody we find it easier to pray, to aspire to goodness, to believe in the underlying order of the world.

Religions provide guiding narratives for human existence — they address the question of origin and destination, the meaning of suffering, and the means to joy. Music, as no other art form, has a greater ability to help convince us that a paradise once existed and still does out of time, as it awaits us in the presence of God. Anyone who doubts what I say should listen to the “Dona Nobis Pacem” at the end of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (I would recommend Robert Shaw’s unsurpassed account on this little-known Christmas CD).

If the beauty of this breathtaking prayer for peace does not touch you, does not lift you out of the ordinary, then I would let Shakespeare issue you this warning:

“The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted” (The Merchant of Venice).