Remembering Elmer: A Special Tribute
|Randall D. Larson
Elmer Bernstein was responsible for multiple musical milestones in his 50-year Hollywood career. He introduced jazz into motion picture scoring with The Man With The Golden Arm (1955) and The Sweet Smell Of Success (1957). He brought life to even the most laughable low-budget scores –among his earliest scores were those for Robot Monster and Cat Women Of The Moon (both 1953), both considered among the worst science fiction films of all time. But their scores were significant. I interviewed Elmer by phone in 1984, and asked about his recollections of those two scores. “They were important pictures for me, experimentally. Curiously enough, at the time I did those scores –and it seems hard to realize now, but electronics in scores were virtually unknown. The use of the electronics and the way I scored those films had a profound effect.” He enjoyed scoring science fiction films, and found them full of musical possibilities. “They’re a composer’s holiday, because it gives you such a wide range of things you can do and experiment with.”
Elmer Bernstein virtually defined American Western film scoring with his indelible music for The Magnificent Seven (1960) and dozens of Western scores that would follow. 1962’s To Kill A Mockingbird (one of the quietest and most moving of all film scores) was steeped in gentle Americana and intimate pathos. He composed the classic and oft-quoted action-adventure score for The Great Escape in 1962, and had electrified the biblical epic genre with his astounding score for Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).
A broadly melodic score for 1981’s animated anthology, Heavy Metal, proffered an exuberant musical composition that pretty much ignored the harsh rock songs embedded into the film. An American Werewolf In London (1981) reflected the misty beauty of the English countryside –one of several scores Bernstein wrote for John Landis, most of which contained sparse scoring amongst the more prevalent rock songs inserted into the film. Ghostbusters (1984) gave Elmer the opportunity to compose some grandly magnificent music for the rampaging ghosts and the threat of the demons.
Among his favorite works of his later career, as told to my during that 1984 interview, was his sublimely sensitive score for the German film Marie Ward, released in 1985.
Bernstein was also a staunch advocate for film music, founding The Elmer Bernstein Film Music Collection in the ‘70s to preserve notable scores on LP. His last major film score was Todd Haynes’ 2002 drama Far From Heaven, a lush evocation of ’50s melodrama, for which the composer received his 14th Academy Award nomination for music.
I had the honor of meeting Elmer Bernstein at a Film Music Society benefit concert in 1996. He greeted me warmly and said he remembered with appreciation our phone interview from a dozen years earlier. His quiet demeanor seemed to contract the powerful potency of his energetic film music, yet matched the calm, thoughtful sensitivity of Mockingbird and Marie Ward. His music remains legendary and, while we mark this year as the tenth anniversary of his departure, lives in the hearts and emotive passions of all who hear it.
Could it be possible to imagine film music without thinking of Elmer Bernstein? Absolutely not!
Elmer Bernstein is alongside those indispensable ones: Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and the ever-present John Williams. Of course, the list is longer and inevitably I must omit some.
Maestro Bernstein wrote music for more than two hundred films… Before I was born, Bernstein was already writing masterfully.
He won all possible awards: Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Grammys, Tonys. He certainly got full appreciation and it was well deserved. Each and every one of those awards is nothing more than an anecdote when I listen to the legacy he left us.
Bernstein was great… His music is still great.
He was an exquisite musician, with an obvious and impressive academic background and, above all, a unique ability to convey the right emotion every movie required. His huge knowledge about the different musical languages and dialects made each of his themes to become a paradigm. Multiple-choice:
Was Bernstein a classical musician? A Jazz musician? A musical comedy one? A Romantic? A Post-romantic?
All of them are right!
The most sophisticated jazz in The Man with the Golden Arm, the finest romanticism and sensuality in the main theme of The Age of Innocence, the stroke of genius of The Magnificent Seven theme, which makes one ride along with Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner, and the list goes on and is endless. I listen to each of them and it is touching and overwhelming.
Bernstein took the luxury of writing wonderful music for the movies he was assigned to. He gave his best and was instrumental for those movies remaining in film history forever.
But his music has the wonderful virtue of being self-sufficient away and independently from the cinematographic narrative. Never, in any of his scores, there is a single note too much or too less.
As I am writing, I wonder how Bernstein influenced my own education as a film composer. The answer is simple.
Maestro Bernstein has been and still is a compass for me. His legacy is hosted somewhere in my subconscious and often, even without being aware of it, I make use of it. An unavoidable reference. Here is my humble tribute and, of course, all my gratitude.
Thank you, Maestro!
All about Daniel Tarrab www.agdtfilmmusic.com
Elmer Bernstein’s compositional style is among the easiest to recognize: the way he used syncopations, the repeating, whirling figures in the woodwinds, the sudden changes in dynamics, the elegance of his melodies, not to mention the frequent use of the ondes Martenot. Growing up with scores such as Ghostbusters and The Black Cauldron, I found it fascinating to later collect his soundtrack albums and to explore his earlier musical output. I found the beginnings of that musical voice which has become a good friend to all of us who love his music so much.
Maybe more so than any other composer, Elmer Bernstein knew the difference between the simple and the simplistic. His music might use repeating figures but it never comes across as repetitive or annoying. Some of his themes might remind us of nursery songs but they never drift off into the banal. To Kill A Mockingbird crystallizes this concept: child-like but never childish.
Elmer Bernstein’s legacy will forever include jazz. He was among the first composers to take a form of popular music and marry it with the dramatic needs of a film score. One could say that Elmer Bernstein created the “hybrid” scores of their time. The Man With The Golden Arm is among my all-time favorite scores, as it includes such a wide range of expression: some tracks are what we would call “traditional underscoring” for a chamber orchestra; other tracks can be called “jazz source music”, while the most fascinating tracks take the jazz idiom and push it to previously unheard boundaries. The brassy harshness and relentlessness of cues such as The Fix will inevitably get your pulse racing with delirious excitement.
Elmer Bernstein will probably also be remembered as among the strongest individualists in film music, a trait which undoubtedly contributed to his love for Bernard Herrmann’s music. Elmer Bernstein’s reluctance or innate inability to “sound exactly like the temp” may have cost him some work, but it also helped purify his style, and it made him more endearing to individualists.
How I met Elmer Bernstein?
I just remembered those adventure fanfares I felt seeing such films as “The Magnificent Seven” or “The Comancheros”, which were some of the films that accompanied me on a childhood in which we had only one TV channel.
When, still being a child, I began to be aware of the value of soundtracks and started to get interested in composers, Elmer Bernstein was one of the firsts to catch my attention. His relentless compositions in films such as “The Ten Commandments”, “The Great Escape”, and even works as “Airplane” and “Ghostbusters”, feature great leitmotivs we all recognize since the first notes.
Fresh, dynamic, cheerful, energetic, melodious, highly rhythmic, etc… are some of the characteristics that come to mind all of a sudden remembering Bernstein’s opus, but some other intimate works such as “The Age of Innocence” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” show us the composer’s great spectrum.
I, as a composer, admire him a lot and he is definitely a great reference. As a movie buff, I think Westerns and Epics of the 60s and 70s carry Bernstein’s hallmark, a mark which many other authors also wanted to carry, because Bernstein’s so personal style was a landmark on itself.
There are so many works which made me fell in love with Elmer Bernstein, and I would like to be a bit more original in my choice, but, if I must choose my favorite, it would lie between “The Comancheros” and “The Magnificent Seven”.
As in the scene of the gastronomic critic eating “Ratatouille” in the film with the same title, listening to Elmer Bernstein also takes me immediately back to my childhood in front of the TV at home, watching great films with stunning music.
Thanks so much, Mr. Bernstein!
I start by confessing, and I shall be honest, I am not going to cheat, that Elmer Bernstein was never one of my favorite composers. I appreciate him greatly, but overall I would not place him in my top ten… It is hard to choose ten authors and I always placed before him other composers who are closer to my heart and taste. That does not deprive value of the impression he causes in me, nor do I intend to remove his importance and extraordinary value as a film music master. That is beyond doubt. I think he was a huge innovator introducing Jazz together with Alex North, Leonard Rosenman or the forgotten Leith Stevens and his contribution to Western, the melodramas of the 50s and 60s, film epics or comedy are so important that got him high in a fair podium in the late 50s. A bridge composer between the old masters of the 30s and 40s and the absolute innovators of the late 50s and 60s. Although from listening to his work I always got the impression that his stylistic palette, his range for genres, was shorter than others and that he sometimes applied a formula, certain habits in his compositions. I have argued sometimes with fan friends on this topic… A bit to provoke them I said (and to some extent I still think it) that he is the man of the three styles: Intimate, Jazz and Western… And his works are constant variations on it. At times his “incidental” music seems somewhat formulaic -perfectly crafted and ideal “in images” but without the depth or inventiveness of other composers (it is a very personal opinion, I know) though I admit that he has lots of scores that drive me crazy, including “The Man with the Golden Arm”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Sons of Katie Elder”, “Heavy Metal”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Good Son”, “Slipstream”, “The Ten Commandments” or “McQ”. What is undeniable is that Bernstein was above all a memorable creator of main themes which will remain in film history, extremely inspired in this field and fairly popular for the general public.
My first contact with his music was “Saturn 3”, a science fiction film that impacted me a lot in my teens thanks to the good F/X and to the maestro’s spectacular music (to be released years later by Intrada to my delight)… By the way, when I met the maestro in Barcelona and told him about it, he laughed and said that it was a “big trouble film”. Already in the eighties, particularly with his score for “An American Werewolf in London” and especially with the discovery of a series of classic film scores, my interest in his works increased –a collection of Film Music was released by Belter label, including titles such as “The Return of the Magnificent Seven”, “Hawaii” or “The Ten Commandments”. The latter was an ear-opener to me, it was around 1986 and at that time I was working on my first filming steps with the family’s Super 8. At present it is very moving to see those short films with the themes from “The Ten Commandments” and some other soundtracks coming from my then limited vinyl collection, which I listened and re-listened to over and over again. Today, and although at times I have him a bit forgotten (there are so many things to listen to), occasionally I come back to him… It is those days when you want to enjoy and feel again like John Wayne in “The Sons of Katie Elder” or like Roger Moore in “Gold”.
Finally, and as a human being, he was simply one of a kind, sympathetic, endearing, and charismatic. I was lucky enough to meet him in an unforgettable series of two concerts held in Barcelona in 2002 (if memory serves well)… Until then, his name, mythical, legendary, was a reference to the old style music, of a master who knew how to survive such a complicated decade as the seventies and was reborn, fame and fortune, with unforgettable wonders like “The Grifters” or “The Good Son” or “The Age of Innocence” (well-deserved and fair honors) in the eighties and nineties. As a person, his manner was exquisite, full of sympathy and a kindness I will always remember and treasure (he is probably the composer from whom more signed CDs I own) because at the dinner we organized him, in addition to being full of empathy and patience –apart from his devotion to jamón serrano (Bernstein was a great lover of Spain, he spent a year in Seville in the early eighties), he signed absolutely everything we put in front of him… And more!
Germán Barón Borrás teaches Audiovisual Media. He composes music for shorts, is partner in organizing the Film Music Festival City of Ubeda, and is fan and crazy about soundtracks since he noticed them at an early age.
You can not trust the great composers. Authors like Maurice Jarre, John Barry, Elmer Bernstein… When you think you have located them and properly labeled in their style, you start digging into their work and you discover that you haven’t, the idea that you had set in your head about them was totally different. This is what happened to me with Elmer Bernstein, who at first was just that «great composer who composed The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape» and eventually became an author of many, many styles.
On the one hand, for western music. You already knew him by The Magnificent 7, which marked the style in this genre; also performed well as many little gems for such films as The Comancheros or The Sons of Katie Elder, to name just two examples.
Later I was surprised to hear his work for adventure films, with a style of great strength and extremely energetic. Besides diversifying in both animated films (Heavy Metal, The Black Cauldron) as live action (Spacehunter).
And how about in drama, how was Elmer Bernstein trying to make us cry? Just as well or even better than in the previous genres. If in 1962 he gave us a masterpiece like To Kill a Mockingbird, eventually he was giving away as many wonders as Genocide (TV), The Age of Innocence or Far From Heaven, which was his last soundtrack and an excellent testament for an incomparable career.
Now I’ve listened to a lot of compositions by Elmer Bernstein, do I feel I know well all his work? Even remotely, because I’m sure he still has got a lot of soundtracks for listening and a lot of wonders to discover. It’s what the great classical composers have, these geniuses, that the more CDs you listen to and when you thought you knew everything about them, they always come back to surprise you.
Felipe Múgica was born in 1976, and he’s from Barakaldo, a small town from Vizcaya (Spain). There are few things he likes more than a Tim Burton film, only some nice OSTs of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Georges Delerue…
I must have been around eight when I first noticed the magnificence of Bernstein’s genius. I remember sitting in the living room of my old family house, next to my mother, while my sister jumped on the sofa. We were watching «Ghostbusters» for the first time, as it was being broadcasted on television. My memories of that first viewing get confused with my own childhood memories, the rough feel and that same smell of being a child which that green colored sofa had, with its matching round buttons. And, of course, I remember the first impact the film caused in me. Among this network of sprouts rooted in my psyche I can extract intermittent and protonic flashes from the movie’s final part, starting from the moment when the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster joined not only their fates. Varnishing those memories in the pit of my brain I remember the feelings that the inter-dimensional and apocalyptic music that accompanied that final segment aroused in me: dark sounds, as unsettling and linked to purple, oscillating between insane and oneiric. The music disturbed me. It had made me feel comfortable with a nimble little piano theme dedicated to the protagonists, but in the final segment it was making me feel as if I was taking part in that cosmic doomsday atmosphere. That supernatural soundscape permeated my skin like melted marshmallow.
Shortly afterwards, eager to repeat similar experiences, I decided to investigate the films made by the same filmmakers, so I came up to «Stripes». I liked the film: Bill Murray in another charismatic performance, and seeing him accompanied by Harold Ramis was quite an event for me at the time. However, the aspect of the movie that I found most appealing was the military march, which got mixed with that of «1941» on those occasions I tried to hum it. It was a bright, funny and powerful piece, perfect for that energetic war comedy. Quickly I did a search on the composer and found that, incredibly, he was the author of that gozerian nightmare: Elmer Bernstein. For me, the supernatural had a name and, now, the military too.
Perhaps to a lesser extent, because Bernstein’s notes have accompanied me from an early stage, and certainly due to the composer’s innate genius, his creations have always seemed to me to possess logic, development and stability in their natural perfection, a precise symmetry and a familiar cadence. They were written with a prodigious strength of mind and as supernatural as the atmospheres he was able to capture. So I was not surprised to discover years later that he was the author of the brief score for «An American Werewolf in London», with those melancholic but latent lycanthropic passages where we can see the arrival of Jack and David to East Proctor town. Recently, thanks to a word of advice from an old friend, I felt again those rhythmic and harmonic beats with the suggestive themes of “The Hallelujah Trail”. And, although that was the first time I listened to them, somehow I felt as if I had always known that music, participating in that melodic feeling so familiar that I am trying to describe.
Therefore, for me listening to (and discussing) Elmer Bernstein is like a trip to the early days of my conscience and my memory, and feeling the innocence of childhood, when the ears were delighted with every note emerged from the intellect of that symphonic and rhythmic wizard, with a huge feeling of being part of my life from the very beginning. Like that green colored sofa …
Octavio David López San Juan was born in 1982 in Alicante (Spain), and became a fan of 007 (and film music) when he saw a tank passing through a wall while sounding James Bond Theme.
Years ago Elmer’s name was quite familiar to me, but I had no time to listen to a soundtrack by him. I was immersed in keeping trying to find unreleased scores or some then unknown to me works of composers such as Jerry Goldsmith or Bruce Broughton. I could spend hours with my best friend, talking about war movies as The Dirty Dozen, The Deer Hunter or The Great Escape, being the latter film my opportunity to learn more about this composer. We did not talk only about the cast and the images, but also about the music, the famous march that is the film’s trademark. Since then, his name was a bit more known to me, until I saw Ghostbusters again. Ignoring its popular songs, I tried to focus on Bernstein’s music, which was quite effective, but which somehow did not completely convince me.
After Intrada’s release of The Black Cauldron, I became curious about the renowned composer, who had created a terrific work for the movie. I went through the ingenious Airplane!, Heavy Metal, Wild Wild West (one I loved as a kid, without having a clue about the composer, as I said), and the well-known The Magnificent Seven, down to my favorite work: To Kill a Mockingbird.
I have no right to talk as much about Elmer as about Jerry Goldsmith, of whom I virtually know almost all his works, but I can say that I am in front of one of the greats, who heightened cinema and its music, as well as some personal moments hearing and “seeing” his works, one of the many roles that a great film composer plays.
Jorge Godoy: Born in Chile, my family thought that TV would be my end as a person: full of Martians, mummies, vampires, mystery programs, etc… From a very young age I rented horror VHSs, and I fell down fascinated with the quality of yesteryear cinema, so I became a true video store mouse. Luckily I usually knew what to choose, in order to inspire me and stimulate my imagination to write stories, create short films and movies and create my own VHS covers. In short, they were all wrong.
Jerry Goldsmith has been one of my biggest inspirations for composing and writing, which led me to discover the BSO Spirit website, where I met a great new friend, and then I started reading his reviews on Goldsmith and then share the same tastes and opinions on music and cinema.
Any beginner in the world of film composing would be attracted to many works, works not lacking quality because of this, but which are normally trivial. It is not the case of the one that opened me the door to this excellent American composer: “The Magnificent Seven”. Many years ago, when as a teenager I was looking for different interests and found the most reachable ones within the little acknowledged artistic fields, in particular film music, suddenly I heard that remarkably famous tune that, precisely, marked the stylish march of the seven cowboys as the film ran in the living room’s TV set. Those were my instinctive beginnings in film music, “The Magnificent Seven” tune which, along with a couple or three other movies, took shelter in my subconscious, to bloom later on and start the road that afterwards would lead into more complex structures.
There are film composers exalted for their marketability, others who let themselves be influenced by this easy and profitable trend and some others who will never get into it. Elmer is part of the latter. Fortunately, he gave us his most fruitful period with memorable titles of exquisite quality in the 50s and 60s, such as “The Ten Commandments”, “The Man with the Golden Arm” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
His melodies will be always remembered. “The Great Escape”, the mentioned “The Magnificent Seven”, but I personally think that he reached his artistic peak merging, together with the orchestra, the world of jazz. Many works, great recognition, but, in my opinion, about to enter the list of the greatest composers of all time. There he stopped, without detracting at all the genius of his prolific opus, at the gates of his teacher North but with an undeniable own legacy. Without a doubt, “The Man with the Golden Arm” is one of his most outstanding creations. A complex and not easy to listen work; jazz spiced with atonal structures and, from the beginning, well coupled to the images. The opening credits, an important moment for any film music aficionado, reveal a perfect synchronization between what we see and what Bernstein suggests and we slightly suspect, sounds and influences that will end up in such important works as the James Bond saga. Let us focus on this great work, “The Man with the Golden Arm”.
The beginning of the movie sets the tone, musically speaking, with themes which will remain within the atmosphere of jazz. Elmer matches the scenes convincingly. We may see it as the main character comes back to his usual places and how, entering the bar, the notes remain cheerful and carefree and once in the house and seeing his wife, the rhythm pauses and emphasizes the more sensual and feminine feelings. Great initial work. It seems as if the composer forgets to reflect what we see and focuses on the ideal field of the image, that which we imagine watching, just thinking about the two lovers and listening to Bernstein; while they talk, the viewer conjures up and comes back to their past, perhaps together, maybe alone, in some romantic room and without the murky relationship they have (later on, the great composer will reveal what he really portrays with his leisurely structures in these scenes of the couple, with the appearance in the story of Molly’s lover, to whose image, in fact, he refers). The music stops abruptly when anger and surprise (a significant incident after some small talk) appear. Not an easy to appreciate structure, but masterful and which the composer will develop in the rest of the movie. In such a way he will skillfully handle the pace of footage. Bernstein remains silent at length some times, appearing suddenly, most of the times mixing light touches of the strings with the jazz orchestra, setting this mysterious and tragic tone of the composition.
Elmer Bernstein was one of those composers who had the courage to face the alleged negatives that the strong personality of a director such as Otto Preminger would present to any proposal not coming from himself. He did and “The Man with the Golden Arm” got quite an artistic personality based on the notion the composer had for the work. It was hard to deal with the first film with its original music entirely composed in jazz style. Varying structures, rhythms, sensations, all without using the traditional orchestra, music’s eternal and effective weapon. Bernstein was, with no doubt, one of the greatest artists devoted to film music in history and he showed it with the here discussed soundtrack. However, his career would divert many times into easier works that, as I said earlier, prevented him from accessing, in the opinion of this writer, the most exquisite group of film composers in history.
Antonio Miranda was born in Madrid and he lives in Zaragoza at present. His passions are Art, Philosophy, Music; Painting or Jazz; Handel or Aborted; Baroja or the loneliness… He writes, passionately, about film music in “End Titles”, a blog you can visit in Banda Sonora y Cine .
Elmer Bernstein is the Western. It may seem foolhardy to make such a strong statement, considering Aaron Copland, Ennio Morricone, Dimitri Tiomkin, Jerome Moross, John Williams or even Jerry Goldsmith (to name only the most prominent) as some other very important capital names in film music that marked their stamp in the genre, but that who comes first is usually the one who occupies the main place assigned by our subconscious. And Elmer Bernstein remains, for me, as the quintessential western composer. John Wayne thought so, so who am I to contradict The Duke?
Bernstein’s contribution to film music in the twentieth century went, in my opinion, beyond the images the bulk of his compositions were attached to for more than fifty years. Five decades devoted to music, half a century thrown into a creative passion that led to some of the most enduring melodies of the Seventh Art and, for his own merit, the popularity of films and Marlboro, crossed the borders of his discipline to become popular culture. “The Magnificent Seven” has been, is and will be, forever, one of the reasons and main foundations of my love for film music.
Any minute of this immense master piece deserves reverence and admiration, starting with its sweeping main theme that fills the title credits with verve, epic and energy, announcing heroism, friendship and torrential adventures for what is to come. But immediately afterwards and as if by pure musical magic, it turns into the menacing theme for Calvera, one of the melodies in –his beloved- staccato more outstanding in Bernstein’s entire career and a piece to be counted among the best dedicated to the figure of the villain throughout film music.
But neither of them is, for me, the cornerstone of this legendary creation. Not even the final ten minute long tour de force, where violence and action are unleashed with some of the most amazing percussive polyphonic playing within Bernstein’s opus. No. The musical sequence which most makes me hold my breath, quiver and gives me goose bumps is “Strange Funeral” and its direct continuation in “After the Brawl”. This memorable set piece comes to give meaning to the expression film-music, because it is very rarely that we can find in cinema such a powerful symbiosis and musical grandeur. Seeing or hearing this sequence (which comes to be the same) is enjoying one of the highlights of the discipline and of the Seventh Art, which Bernstein supported more than a bit in this occasion, helping it to rise to the category of myth thanks to his musical mastery.
For this reason, and for the countless strokes of genius from his pen which reinvented symphonic music and Silver Age’s jazz (“The Man with the Golden Arm”, “The Ten Commandments”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Hallelujah Trail”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, “The Great Escape” or “Birdman of Alcatraz”, to name some of the most memorable), as well as his impeccable later career, until his latest gem and final declaration of principles “Far from Heaven” , it is that I consider Elmer Bernstein one of the Magnificent.
Ignacio was born in Malaga in 1978, raised in Guadalajara and was adopted by Madrid. Fan from 1985 to film music thanks to Alan Silvestri, soon John Williams and finally Jerry Goldsmith took over. in his ultimate passion for the art of composing for the screen. That was just the beginning. He collaborates with scoremagacine.com and Rosebud (Valencian BSO magazine) and is chief editor of bandasonora.org .
There are movies that, for having seen them during my childhood –or being already a teenager-, in the theater or on an old VHS, I remember with special affection. And, somehow, they are part of my life, as it happens for sure to a handful of people of the generation I am part of. Adventure, action, science fiction, horror… or comedy movies, like “Ghostbusters”.
But it was not till a bit later, at some point in my teens, when I became interested in film music and related those movies I liked from the 80s or 90s with their composer, as I already did with directors or actors.
“Ghostbusters” which, besides songs such as Ray Parkers Jr.’s super-famous one, also had some music that caught my ear and that later on I came to learn that it was thanks to that characteristic sound of the Ondes Martenot; to that piano rhythm for the “cunning” ghostbusters; to those more serious moments, even –deliberately- exaggerated; and to one of Bernstein’s themes I love most: “Dana`s Theme”.
It was followed by scores such as “The Good Son”, “The Age of Innocence” or “Far from Heaven”.
Elmer Bernstein was, with these movies, one of the first great composers I met. From that moment on, exactly the same as with some other film music greats, I was discovering –and still am- his long career step by step, where one is able to see his huge versatility in different film genres: drama, western, epic cinema, documentary, comedy or animation. In all of them, using different musical styles. Resulting essential titles in movie history we all know.
Elmer Bernstein. Captain of my musical escapes, one of the best. For me, Elmer Bernstein means two things: ADVENTURES (in the Far west) and JAZZ.
My first buys of his work was on LP. In this way I could collect wonders like “Amazing Grace and Chuck”, “The grifters”, “My left foot / DA”, “Men in war” and “The Black cauldron”. The passing of the years has made that I could store up about fifty titles that make me happy every time I listen them.
Because Elmer Bernstein is good cinema, classics that marked our childhood musically dressed with gorgeous themes that we have hummed sometimes. Because the notes of Elmer Bernstein stick you without mercy…and you don’t want to let go of them. Because Elmer Bernstein is a melodic stream: when he wants to be delicate, he turns into a mockingbird and caresses you with the harp, the guitar, the oboe or with another instrument …returning then to the most furiously action. And meanwhile, jazz rhythms are able to colour my most boring days.
And to finish I’d like to mention especially a work that I like so much every time I listen it. Maybe music not very well-known but it is pure glory. I refer to “Hoodlum” (1997). The first theme of the disc (Prologue) is memorable, a genuine bliss that resumes perfectly all I feel about film music of this master.
I take and I’ll take Elmer “Starlight” like buccaneer sailing across my veins, valiant cowboy shooting accurate notes to heart.
Alfonso Conde is best Known as “Tximbo” or just “Alf”. He opened his eyes for the first time in Bilbao (Spain). Stardate unknown, true melmakian past, bright smile child. He moved to Madrid, where he studied law, but what he really liked was history. One day he woke up humming some film tune and since then has not stopped: hundreds of CDs are accumulated in his quarters. He now plans to extend ambitions (and shelves), after furiously unleashed his rock vein.
Passionate about beer, never misses an opportunity to take a few wherever, whenever, with whomever.
Óscar Salazar from AsturScore
I remember that, before I knew I liked film music, my passion was the Western. Pistols, gunfights and… John Wayne. And the surrounding rhythms. I did not like film music. I liked that music. It was the time I walked around the flat with my handheld recorder. The same recorder that ended up in front of the TV set each time a Western I loved was broadcasted. Silence was mandatory from the moment a musical note was heard, because I ran quickly to the recorder and turned it on, in order to have the themes perfectly edited, without dialogue. Some tapes I have not heard in years, but that I know by heart.
Of course, among the recordings, I had my favorite themes. I think this will surprise nobody. Speaking of themes one cannot avoid talking about “the theme”. The Magnificent Seven. It was the epitome of Western. The glory of the old Far West. And, oddly enough, at such a tender age, I already knew who Elmer Bernstein was. Something to thank, no doubt, to The Duke himself.
Movie after movie I was treasuring themes written by the great Elmer Bernstein. Till the day I saw something different. It also had music by the maestro, but it was not a Western. And the music was just as good. Its title was: The Great Escape. It is funny. I realized that there was music in other films too. It was the first non-Western theme (or from a cartoon) I recorded.
So we could say that, in fact, maestro Bernstein was the one who put me onto film music. And, only for that, I should be eternally thankful.
Rubén Franco from AsturScore
As with all my memories related to film music, I was not aware of Elmer Bernstein’s name until the early 90’s. But The Magnificent Seven melody had already grown on me forever. In fact, it was my first Elmer Bernstein CD (perhaps the best work to introduce him to a larger audience, due to the great popular impact of its main theme).
But Elmer is more than The Magnificent Seven, much more than The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape or Ghostbusters… He is a universe full of galaxies to discover. A vast career with titles of all types: jazz (The Man with the Golden Arm or Walk on the Wild Side), wonderful melodramas (To Kill a Mockingbird or The Age of Innocence), Elmer trademarked comedies (Trading Places or Airplane!), epic and evocative fantasy (Heavy Metal) or the inevitable western (True Grit or The Comancheros).
Curiously enough, Elmer’s name became visible for me with an adapted composition in 1992; Cape Fear (1991), where he began a great relationship with Martin Scorsese, adapting Bernard Herrmann’s original music. That same year, I discovered another gem in a radio program: The Grifters (1990), which had a playful and wonderful leitmotiv.
It was precisely his “minor Works” the reason for my love for Elmer’s music. One of them was the cool dramatic comedy Mad Dog and Glory (1992), a funny, beautiful and even violent score where the music perfectly describes the situations between a forensic, a gangster and a “call girl” and the characters themselves (the Window Magic cue, theme for the De Niro/Thurman relationship, is a beautiful one, impeccably crafted).
Another score I fondly remember was the failed but interesting comedy Oscar (1991) directed by John Landis, with Sylvester Stallone in a gangster comedy. Bernstein adapted music again (The Barber of Seville by Rossini), especially for the great Main Title, but he also composed original music for the comic situations, with wonderful and exquisite music, which seems to have been written easily, skillfully and knowing the craft.
It is in this kind of assignments, which are normally the least recognized, where I found my emotional link to the composer, with titles of different genres and periods: Zulu Dawn, Gold, Slipstream, McQ, Keeping the Faith or Baby, the Rain Must Fall.
Elmer was gifted with the talent of the great composers, with that craft that lots of aficionados miss today; the emotional easiness to connect with the film and the audience. Luckily, his work is timeless, forming a peaceful and wonderful ocean of emotions where one can sail enjoying his great quality.
For this reason, we have decided to dedicate you these emotional words, to pay you a tribute from all the people who have been listening to your music and enjoying it. Thanks, Maestro.