Klimt’s Golden Masterpiece

Although ostensibly I’m not in the game of offering film reviews, in the case of the recent film release, “Woman in Gold”, which I saw at the weekend, I can’t help myself.  I haven’t enjoyed a film so much in quite a long time.  The press reviews for this film were lukewarm  –  so much so that I almost thought twice about parting with my £25 for a pair of cinema tickets.  I’m glad I did.  The Daily Mail had awarded the film a disappointing three stars.  For me, it was at least a four and a half, if not a five star film.  Based on a true story, the film took for it’s subject matter the restitution of artworks stolen from Jews by the Nazis  –  in this case a now famous painting by Klimt entitled “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”.

Not only do I enjoy the work of Klimt, I particularly admire this painting, adorned as it is in sumptuous gold leaf.  Interestingly, in the film we only see the painting in all it’s resplendent luminosity once the painting has been restored to its rightful owner.  Before this point in the film the painting seems somewhat dulled down.  I’m not sure if this was a deliberate ploy on the part of the director, but it certainly seems fitting.

I’m so moved by the film that I have decided that I will compose a piece of music which focuses on this Klimt painting.  Watch this space!

Interestingly, the music in the film, composed by Martin Phipps and Hans Zimmer, did not impinge on my consciousness one little bit  –  proof of a successful film score, I think!

The Lady In Gold

Avant-garde versus melody

An interesting article appeared in The Sunday Times last weekend (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1542923.ece) in which music critic Dalya Alberge interviewed composer Howard Blake (of The Snowman fame) who expressed the view that both the BBC and bodies such as the Arts Council have been promoting “avant-garde” artists at the expense of composers who want to write “tunes that do not grate on the ear”.  This has certainly been my feeling for many years  –  but now I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Howard Blake on this.  I actually studied composition with Howard Blake for a short time and I have to say that he was a kind, gentle and encouraging teacher and I learned a great deal from him in a short time.  I have the utmost respect for him and his work  –  I love both his piano concerto and his violin concerto!

I was in contact with Howard Blake at a time when I was being interviewed for a place at one of London’s music conversatoires. My interview at the Royal College of Music was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  It was quite clear that I didn’t stand a chance of being offered a place simply because my music was far too traditional and melodic for the college’s avant-garde taste.  A year later I did secure a place on the composition course at the Royal Academy of Music, albeit on the commercial composition course, which was far more tolerant of a traditional, melodic style.

And that’s where I agree with Howard Blake about the BBC (and music for television in general).  When was the last time anyone writing for television composed a really memorable tune?  The seventies and eighties gave us many good examples of really good television theme tunes  –  The Good Life; To The Manor Born; Open All Hours  –  and soap operas such as Howard’s Way and EastEnders, both from the pen of Simon May.  The last really good signature tune to come from the BBC was that of Keeping Up Appearances, composed by Nick Ingman early in the 1990’s.  I can’t think of anything better since then.  And don’t we all want a stonking good tune to sing along to when our favourite TV programme comes on?  The theme tunes to Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge are good enough, but just try singing them right now  –  I bet you’ll struggle!

It’s when it comes to the Arts Council funding etc that I might take the opposite view.  As I have already alluded to earlier in this blog, I have decided, after many years of working in a traditional style, to discover a new, more avant-garde voice for myself because I now feel that the discovery of new ways of working is maybe of more value that replicating the past with a few minor tweeks.

Howard Blake does go on to say that “there is the view that tonal music has all been done by the great composers and one should therefore be looking for new expression.  Nobody would disagree with that.  But that does not mean excluding music with melody”.  One cannot really disagree with this, and the conclusion I come to therefore is that there needs to be more of a balance in the funding and support of composers by bodies such as the Arts Council  –  supporting composers writing in a variety of styles, both the avant-garde and the more melodic.

Work in progress…

One piece I’ve been working on is the musical description of the formation of a snowflake as might be seen under a microscope.

As well as being interested in art I’m also interested in architecture, both large and small; the construction of things.  An example of this is the extract of this new piece (you can hear it on SoundCloud  –  see below), which describes the formation of the six-fold radial symmetry of three snowflakes in turn.  Remember that each snowflake that has ever fallen is virtually unique and so each of the three snowflakes described here is slightly different musically also.  The music is constructed from fragments of music created in score using the notation software, Sibelius, saved as sound files, then edited in the Cubase program to form a collage of musical sound.

What is so fundamentally different for me in this new way of working is that there is no underlying continuous pulse.  There is rhythm, most certainly.  Rhythm is an important part of the material on the original sound files  –  and then new rhythms are created when these sound files are manipulated in this musical collage.  But there is no underlying pulse.  This is not music to tap your foot to!

Listen to an extract of this piece here: