A Moving Image of Elliot Goldenthal

Becoming a Composer

FRANK J. OTERI: More than almost anyone else who comes to mind, you are someone who is able to successfully divide yourself between these two very different worlds. I think it’s rather fitting that you’re sitting where you are, between a piano and synthesizer. It’s sort of a metaphor, in a way, for our whole discussion today. But before we plunge into a specific decision of where your career has gone, let’s take things back to the beginning. When did you decide you wanted be a composer and what did that mean to you at the time?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: I suppose I was extremely young. Two-ish? Three-ish? Something like that. I was exposed to, possibly, Beethoven or Louis Armstrong, whatever. The sense of logic in the music was very attractive to me, like little bits of information that made up a whole. I remember being attracted to that as opposed to just melody.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting that you say Beethoven and Louis Armstrong both without even breathing between them. So, for you, from the very beginning there was really wasn’t a divide between so called Western classical music and America’s popular traditions.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: No. If you listen to Louis Armstrong’s solos, without him studying Beethoven they’re very Beethovian. Again, there are little bits of motivic material that get developed in an effortless way, especially his early solos. In the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens you hear a huge amount of construction in his work. And then it just swings like Beethoven.

FRANK J. OTERI: Like “West End Blues“…

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Yes, yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: But you then went on to study formally. You went to the Manhattan School of Music and became an official composer in the Western classical sense of what that means. I think it’s very interesting that two of your teachers were Aaron Copland and John Corigliano who are the only two composers in American history thus far—hopefully this will happen to you— who’ve won both the Oscar and the Pulitzer, two of the most prestigious prizes in America for film music and for concert music composition respectively, and both of whom lived in both of those worlds to some extent, although not as much as you do.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: We all grew up within a three-mile radius, it’s really weird, in Brooklyn. Corigliano was my official teacher and I got to know Aaron very well in the last ten years of his life. He was very helpful with my scores and I had the great pleasure of sitting down next to him and reading through many of his scores really, really slowly. He was getting on in age and I wasn’t the best sight-reader, so it was the perfect tempo. It was a tremendous pleasure asking him questions about… okay we’re at this bar, what did you feel here? And there? It was a tremendous learning experience right there. As for John Corigliano, I studied with him for seven years, every Wednesday, privately. He continues to be my consiliere, so to speak, for any musical problems I have.

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