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 Posted:   Jun 19, 2014 - 2:58 PM   
 By:   Ludwig van   (Member)

Well you broke it down nicely but you seem to ignore the most obvious influence on it. All of us who knew anything about film music at the time recognized these titles as being pure Korngold. Williams was certainly having fun with that idea from the opening KING'S ROW type fanfare...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJwa9mX0bxA

to Luke's theme which was a kind of reworking of a SEA HAWK type theme

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxbYAOoXyPE

...it was a wonderful throwback to old film music rethought it a very different context. But as Williams has said many a time, we must never forget the giants on whose shoulders we stand on.


Of course you're right, Morricone. I was well aware of this when I wrote the post. But I think far too much has been made of this connection. While it was certainly a deliberate throwback to classical Hollywood, as was the whole film in many ways, to make that connection explicit in the post would encourage claims that Williams is devoid of originality, a thief, and a hack.

I am so sick and tired of those kinds of accusations that I thought I would spare us all the grief and avoid drawing the parallel. Film music fans like us already know the influence anyway. Besides, the two are very different even if the first five notes of the melody are almost exactly the same (except for a minor rhythmic change). The leaps up to the trumpet's high note, which is then repeated, boost the theme into the realm of the super-heroic rather than simply the heroic, swashbuckling type of character Korngold's themes are generally assigned to. And actually, the cadence to the theme is more reminiscent of cowboy flicks like The Big Country and The Magnificent Seven than of Korngold's scores for the swashbucklers. Also, as I attempted to show, harmonic aspects of the theme actually derive from the fanfare that precedes it rather than from Korngold. Williams is a specialist in incorporating chords in fourths (quartal harmony) into his music, surely an influence from his jazz training. Korngold, coming from the classical side, tended to avoid them.

In any case, I hope you can understand why I thought the connection would be rather misleading and why I instead shared thoughts that most people probably didn't already know.

 
 Posted:   Jun 19, 2014 - 4:02 PM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

I wasn't thinking of the Wagnerian perspective. The reference was very specifically Herrmann and how three individual notes can hold so much power in two films where the score features powerfully in the foreground rather than the background.

They are deliberately played on strings in both cases and held with equal length pauses between them. They follow this pattern: up . . . a little higher . . . then significantly further down.

Then there is the idea of the triad. You can't have one note, neither two; three however, is a semantically closed grammatic cycle. Perhaps this is more the idea I'm trying to formulate? How much range can there be in three notes?

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 10:51 AM   
 By:   Ludwig van   (Member)

I wasn't thinking of the Wagnerian perspective. The reference was very specifically Herrmann and how three individual notes can hold so much power in two films where the score features powerfully in the foreground rather than the background.

They are deliberately played on strings in both cases and held with equal length pauses between them. They follow this pattern: up . . . a little higher . . . then significantly further down.

Then there is the idea of the triad. You can't have one note, neither two; three however, is a semantically closed grammatic cycle. Perhaps this is more the idea I'm trying to formulate? How much range can there be in three notes?


Grecchus, just one thing I would mention about this use of the famous motif. Paul Hirsch, who was one of the film editors on Star Wars is quoted as saying,

"The scene where they pop otut of the hatch in the Falcon, I laid in a very famous piece of Psycho music there. It was a three-note motif that Scorsese had insisted that Benny use in Taxi Driver. It was a dark, ominous three-note motif. Curiously enough, Johnny--I don't know if he did it deliberately or what--but it's now incorporated into his cue for that moment in the film."

So to use the motif was not an idea from Williams. He merely followed the temp track, much as with the few other cues that allude strongly to other famous pieces. This is not to undermine your interpretation at all. I think it's completely valid. Just wanted to make the point that it wasn't simply Williams' concoction to include the motif. Who knows why he kept it in there.

 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 11:52 AM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

So it was purely functional, then? I didn't know that story, Ludwig, so thanks for putting it into perspective. The editor gets the credit for three well placed notes. smile

Out of interest, where does Paul Hirsch quote the story?

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 12:14 PM   
 By:   Ludwig van   (Member)

So it was purely functional, then? I didn't know that story, Ludwig, so thanks for putting it into perspective. The editor gets the credit for three well placed notes. smile

Out of interest, where does Paul Hirsch quote the story?


Hirsch is quoted in the book, The Making of Star Wars, by J.W. Rinzler.

It doesn't discredit your interpretation, because it obviously gives the scene some sort of meaning, especially when one knows the quotation. I wonder what Hirsch was thinking by putting it in there.

 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 12:31 PM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

I wonder what Hirsch was thinking by putting it in there.

So we can continue to play ball, after all!

Yes, the question arises as to how the editor sequenced a piece of music that fits the bill. Of, course, in the film, JW's original score quickly intervenes and takes full reign after the Herrmann 'exclamation.' Being an editor means that, just as with the honed skills of the musician, a photographic detail could easily stick in memory from as famous a film as Psycho. When the trio of notes sounds out in Psycho for the first time, Norman has just entered into cabin 1 and, having closed the door behind him, looks down at the floor and sees the key to cabin 1 lying there face up. He then picks up the key and resumes his mop up operation. Could that be the, dare I say it, key?

Edit: Silly me, the three note motif is studded in Psycho with some measure of regularity. It could have been anything. In fact, it's more likely to be the final shot of Marion's hurriedly purchased second hand car being fetched out of the swamp. You know, the car having been hidden by Norman to avoid arousing suspicion is in the motion of 'popping up.' Only thing is, in that instance even though the three notes are there, Herrmann tags on a fourth to round out the movie on a slightly jarring . . . note!

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 12:50 PM   
 By:   Ludwig van   (Member)

Silly me, the three note motif is studded in Psycho with some measure of regularity. It could have been anything.

It's usually described as the "madness" motif. Whether one agrees with that is another story. But doesn't it come up prominently in the parlor-room scene when Norman mentions the madhouse, and that seems to trigger his whole psychotic episode that leads to Marion's murder?

 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 12:57 PM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

It's usually described as the "madness" motif. Whether one agrees with that is another story. But doesn't it come up prominently in the parlor-room scene when Norman mentions the madhouse, and that seems to trigger his whole psychotic episode that leads to Marion's murder?

Ah! You mean - as in coming out of the closet? wink wink wink That's neat, but it relies on breathtakingly fast intuitive process on first view. However, with the benefit of hindsight it could be the 'fait accompli.' Perhaps Mr Hirsch could provide a hint why a little madness seemed like a good idea at the time . . . it certainly fits in with Taxi Driver!

Edit: Yeah, you're right. The madness motif appears as Norman reacts to Marion's suggestion he put 'mother' - some place. It might have triggered Norman's episode, but later in the film it is suggested two other girls had gone missing previously. Haven't read the Bloch book for a possible explanation.

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 1:27 PM   
 By:   Ludwig van   (Member)

It's usually described as the "madness" motif. Whether one agrees with that is another story. But doesn't it come up prominently in the parlor-room scene when Norman mentions the madhouse, and that seems to trigger his whole psychotic episode that leads to Marion's murder?

Ah! You mean - as in coming out of the closet? wink wink wink That's neat, but it relies on breathtakingly fast intuitive process on first view. However, with the benefit of hindsight it could be the 'fait accompli.' Perhaps Mr Hirsch could provide a hint why a little madness seemed like a good idea at the time . . . it certainly fits in with Taxi Driver!


True enough. The book says a little more on this. It says that Hirsch used Psycho music in the temp track to De Palma's Sisters (1973), "and everyone responded enthusiastically," so they got Herrmann to score it. Hirsch himself says that "when Sisters came out, a lot of its success was due to the reception that the score got--and in a sense it revived his American career."

Not sure what to make of that, though. Any thoughts?

 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 1:53 PM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

I'm not at all familiar with Sisters. Psycho is a film with a heap of baggage. The score is deservedly on a pedestal and I believe Benny had downers of equal magnitude to his highs, for which Psycho must be somewhere near the top. I really wouldn't be able to comment positively in any way about the score to Sisters assisting Benny with a period in the doldrums because I haven't heard it. Actually, I wasn't even aware of it until you mentioned it to tell the truth. Discogs, I note, mentions that Laurie Johnson was the conductor and Eric Tomlinson the recording engineer with the LSO playing the orchestra. A combination like that can't go too far wrong. wink

Any work that is of the 'here and now' will always serve as the latest milepost from the 'done pile' and it may well have put Benny in good stead - especially with the topsy-turvy of the "here today, gone tomorrow" world of tinsel-town.

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 2:43 PM   
 By:   ChristianKühn   (Member)

One of my favourite tidbits about film music is how similar in construct three of the genre's most memorable melodies/themes are:



(Note: These are not 1:1 examples, just me whistling the melodies and putting them into a notation program.)

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 2:57 PM   
 By:   Primo   (Member)

Silly me, the three note motif is studded in Psycho with some measure of regularity. It could have been anything.

It's usually described as the "madness" motif. Whether one agrees with that is another story. But doesn't it come up prominently in the parlor-room scene when Norman mentions the madhouse, and that seems to trigger his whole psychotic episode that leads to Marion's murder?


In Steven Smith's biography of Herrmann – in the chapter on "Psycho" – he traces the use of this "madness" motif throughout the composer's career: "It is worth noting… that the 'Madhouse' theme was first written for Herrmann's 1935 'Sinfonietta for Strings,' provides the coda in the cantata 'Moby Dick' [1940], and reappears in Herrmann's last film score, 'Taxi Driver.' Clearly it was one of the composer's favorite signatures for madness and desolation."

 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 3:28 PM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

Christian, after some slog I got to do the whistle - as printed. Nice one!

 
 
 Posted:   Jun 20, 2014 - 7:11 PM   
 By:   Ludwig van   (Member)

"It is worth noting… that the 'Madhouse' theme... provides the coda in the cantata 'Moby Dick' [1940], "

I was aware of the motif in the Sinfonietta since I've blogged about that, but that it appears in Moby Dick? This I did not know. Thanks for pointing it out.

The more I think about it, I believe the motif's appearance in Star Wars may be what Grecchus was getting at - a case of what was in the "here and now", since it was used to temp Sisters and, more importantly appeared in Taxi Driver just the year before Star Wars. As to its meaning, though, that's a matter of interpretation.

Christian - nice work! Cool the way those themes all flow into one another like that. I would add that E.T. has the same first five notes as Star Wars as well - a reference to a reference? (Williams referencing Williams referencing Korngold?)

 
 Posted:   Jun 21, 2014 - 4:57 AM   
 By:   Grecchus   (Member)

Could be. I think that may be all there is to it. The motif is a sort of short, sharp musical 'peak' and it seems to have been re-energised memetically - or maybe even a bit like a stone with sufficient energy to cause it skip over the water several times.

Having access to the 2x DvD presentation, I watched Taxi Driver again just hours ago and paid attention to the score. I couldn't detect a three-note motif anywhere. What I did spot at around the one hour and five minute point of the movie was a five-note sequence of which the leading three were the madness motif. A few minutes later the same five-notes appear again. Then nothing until the end titles when Benny did exactly as he did with Psycho. It's four notes that sound out, although, the final one is not the same as it was in Psycho. It's been said Mr Scorsese insisted on that trio appearing in Taxi Driver. If I missed them, perhaps someone can enlighten me as to their whereabouts? I'm thinking Herrmann was too proud a composer to repeat himself exactly, and hence, detract from any possible criticism of self-plagiarism. At the very least he did enough to mask the inclusion of the motif while at the same time, giving way to Scorsese's wish to have that homage in his movie. And that's all that seems to have been required for it to be wired into the DNA of the Star Wars score.

Edit: A simple goole search would have saved some 'barking.' The use of the motif from Psycho seems to have been well established quite some time ago. Unfortunately, it passed me by. I suppose it doesn't hurt to dust off the skeleton in the closet - from time to time.

http://colorfulanimationexpressions.blogspot.co.uk/2012_06_01_archive.html

The above article contains filler covering the conjectures made here. It is unfortunate the video clips from the article do not show up.

There's a whole lot more, but this specifically, is interesting:

http://originaltrilogy.com/forum/topic.cfm/Star-Wars-The-Temp-Track/topic/12014/

Dang it, here's some more. The stuff out there is endless:

http://www.malonedigital.com/starwars.htm

 
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