You probably know by now that John Barry, one of the legendary composers who brought much popularity to film music, has passed away.
As you probably also know, Barry was born John Barry Prendergast in York in 1933, son of Jack Xavier, who owned theatres and cinemas in the north of England. This, told Barry, is where he remembered being taken to see Mickey Mouse and falling in love with all things cinema. The story tells romantically, like a real life Cinema Paradiso experience.
Barry had an unconventional musical education, which probably explains why his music stands out as different. It's a journey that includes an Army band (the Green Howards), his rock n'roll combo (the John Barry seven), during which Barry discovered and launched the pop career of Adam Faith, and an apprenticeship in harmony and counterpoint at York Minster.
Though he already had a film score under his belt (Beat Girl, through the Faith connection), it was his skills as an arranger that caught the ear of Peter Hunt and got him hired onto Doctor No. The rest, as they say, is history. John Barry went on to be enormously popular through his sensational James Bond film scores, whilst also courting more serious critical acclaim through the British 'new wave' comedies, dramas and spy thrillers of the 1960s. This matured into an acceptance into Hollywood that tumulted with such major romantic film scores as Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves.
Barry was not into 'busy' music. He seemed much more interested in what could be sensually created in layers. He once told me that every layer of his famous Midnight Cowboy theme was musically very simple. It was in the interplay of those simple layers that the music came alive. Such is Barry's trademark. His style of setting simple melodies in concert with one another is evident in much of his work, most notably You Only Live Twice and Walkabout. He was also the grand master of themes. He wrote seductive, sensual, luxurious themes which worked like magic both on film, on soundtrack albums and in popular culture.
To this day, I never fail to marvel at the wondrous quality of his music. It glistens like gold.
Barry's fans include pop artists and other film composers. Even the great master Jerry Goldsmith once spoke of his admiration for Barry's unique abilities to really capture a film in music.
His song Goldfinger, written with Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, should, by itself, be enough to guarantee immortality. The fact there are so many more immortal themes in his canon, from The Ipcress File to The Persuaders to On Her Majesty's Secret Service and more, only cements that. The fact that films such as Midnight Cowboy, Walkabout and Somewhere In Time exhibit the marriage of film and music in its highest, most beautiful form, should cement it even more.
Today, perhaps it's easiest to remember his penchant for sad, melancholy music. Today, I'm reminded most of what I consider to be one of his greatest pieces. It's the end of the 1982 film, Frances. Frances and Harry meet, painfully separated by love that can't be. Barry's music, beautiful and sad, yet strangely optimistic, evoked tears. That's the kind of music I'm thinking of right now.
Rest in peace.