A Moving Image of Elliot Goldenthal

Beyond the Double Life

FRANK J. OTERI: There are so many elements at play in Juan Darien. Perhaps only a composer with your background could have written a work like that because it is all these elements at once. I am reminded once again going back to Rózsa‘s autobiography, which he called Double Life. In a way having a double life troubled him. He wrote this violin concerto for Jascha Heifetz. He wrote this piece that got played by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. He wanted to get that recognition as a concert hall composer, yet he couldn’t get it at the time because there was this stigma of being a film composer.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: I think the stigma should be less now. I can’t live my life thinking about those who want to stigmatize me. I think it was harder then because there was very much an expectation in film that the music had to be a watered down version of late-19th century romantic music. That’s honest. Even though Saint-Saëns wrote for film, believe it or not one of the first films. I think once people like Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Aaron Copland started working with their own voices and not necessarily mirroring or continuing those traditions. There wasn’t much difference between Aaron Copland’s tone poems and his film music. I don’t hear any difference between The Red Pony and El Salón México in terms of style. I think those lines got blurred and it was harder for Europeans to have to write that watered down 19th century stuff. I don’t feel that way because everything that I do seems, so far, to have been completely different from the last thing that I do. There’s not that much expectation for that genre.

FRANK J. OTERI: So can the music that you write for film have another life in the concert hall?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Perhaps. I had some concerts and they were very successful. They work in the same way as Beethoven‘s incidental music or Mendelssohn‘s incidental music. If you listen to it, quote unquote, cue by cue, it behaves in the same way that film music does.

FRANK J. OTERI: But it’s appreciated in the concert hall…

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: But it’s appreciated in the concert hall!

FRANK J. OTERI: A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets done all the time.

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Right.

FRANK J. OTERI: To tie this all together somehow, there have been concerts, there are pieces that work, there’s certainly an audience for it. John Williams will do a concert of his film scores and it’s more successful as a concert than most symphony orchestra concerts playing music originally intended for the concert hall. Can film music somehow–I don’t want to use the word “save” because it sounds a little too evangelical–but can this world somehow help the concert music world which everyone seems to think is in a bad place right now?

ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: That’s an interesting question. Yes, of course. Every orchestra should have a composer-in-residence. I think the composer-in-residence then should have some influence in pulling in other composers and interacting with other media. Let me end this by being somewhat dogmatic. This is basically directed towards critics and those who liked to stigmatize Rózsa or other composers and made their lives miserable. You out there in computer land, this is Goldenthal dogmatic time. This is it. Ten to fifteen percent seems to be the percentage of good art that comes out of this world. If you have to slog through the 19th century operas, there may have been ten thousand operas written. Then you start to get to some of the good ones—like the works of Goldmark for example, and you go eew, it’s awful. We only get the rarified stuff, the best Wagners. How many Rienzis do we see? How many Die Feens do we see? We get the best. There’s only one Mozart every five hundred years. You know what I’m saying? Everything else, if you add it all up and you look at it, is mainly garbage, like eighty-five percent garbage. That goes for art. Go and look at Pre-Raphaelite art if you want. You’ll get sick looking at the stuff until you come across two or three great paintings. It kind of levels out when you look at this stuff. With most art, fifteen percent floats to the top. Sometimes it’s even within a composer, that they aren’t as consistent as a Mozart, for example. Fifteen percent of the work they write might be really, really, really great. I think within film music, it’s been only a hundred years now, it’s really well represented in that you can find a good fifteen percent or ten percent which is amazing stuff that’s worthy of being studied in it’s original form as a film, that’s worthy of study in the classroom; it’s worthy of study and enjoyment on the concert stage, as well. There’s really remarkable stuff out there. There’s the Prokofievs, the Shostakovichs, the Coplands, the Bernsteins, the Coriglianos, the Philip Glasses, even some of the early Morricones, the Takemitsus, there’s also a great body of work out there that’s about to be discovered. The interaction between hip-hop, and music and rhythm and electronics is very, very, very exciting. Okay end of dogma.

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