Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Music, Soundtracks, and Accompaniment for an Apocalypse

Pleasant surprises

We all know the power that music has to evoke emotions. Several months ago, as I was driving home at the end of a long day, a colorful sunset lit the sky. I felt enraptured as I listened to "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from The Planets, by Gustav Holst. My favorite part of "Jupiter" comes as a surprise (see "Rock Music and the Element of Surprise"): a slower-tempo segment of grandeur sandwiched in between frivolity. I have no idea why Holst composed "Jupiter" the way he did. The segment I so appreciate was later turned into a tune used for the hymn "I Vow to Thee My Country," a patriotic piece particularly appreciated by the British and performed (for example) at the funeral of Winston Churchill.

The power of spectacular soundtracks

Like many people, I appreciate spectacular soundtracks for movies. I remember, when I was a boy, repeatedly resetting the needle on my father's turntable as I listened to his LP for How the West Was Won (1962), long before I was able to actually see the movie for myself. By that point, I had already pictured much of the story from the titles and musical dynamics of the tracks on the LP.

But I can't begin to express what I felt, at age 13, when I heard, for the first time, Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, used in both the opening sequence and the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I had to purchase the LP  for the soundtrack so I could listen to this piece again and again. And, feel the sadness behind the Adagio from Khachaturian's Gayane Ballet Suite #3, another piece from the soundtrack for 2001. This soundtrack was just as much an act of genius as the visuals of the movie, given how the skillful use of these pieces helped to convey the vastness and mystery of space.

Inspiration for writing

For both inspiration and pure enjoyment, while I was writing my Civil War stories (MISSING IN ACTION, 1863, and Battlefront and Homefront), I must have listened to the soundtrack of Gettysburg (1993) hundreds of times. While writing fantasy I've listened to Scheherazade, by Rimsky-Korsakov, to put me in an inspired state of mind.

Endings, and an apocalypse

But some of the most moving of orchestral pieces are those used at the climax of movies. Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, like Khachaturian's Adagio from Gayane, is a slow and sad composition. Barber's Adagio was famously used for the pathos of the final scene in Platoon (1986). 

And I cannot think of the sci-fi movie, Knowing (2009), without pondering the apocalyptic conclusion to the movie. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the movie, devastation runs rampant as the world comes to an end. The power of this ending is a result of two things. First, there is neither dialogue nor voiceover. And second, the first part of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major, opus 92, II. Allegretto is used to communicate the depths of despair as both the movie and life on earth comes to an end.

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