We talk to the cellist about recording a disc of works by composers whose music is usually found on the silver screen…
Cellist Richard Harwood has just made a recording of works by some giants of film music – from Ennio Morricone to John Williams. But this isn’t a disc of their blockbuster scores, instead, this is a chance to hear the works they’ve written for solo cello.
Your recording Composing Without the Picture: Concert Works by Film Composers has just been released on Resonus Classics and has works by some of the biggest names in the film music world. How did you put the programme together?
The concept was conceived quite some time ago but the programme developed. The programme looks at film composers and their concert music chronologically, starting with Ernst Toch and finishing with the two youngest composers; Fernando Velázquez, who wrote music for The Impossible and Mama and Benjamin Wallfisch whose work includes Summer in February).
Can you give us an overview of what pieces are on the recording?
The album includes concert works for solo cello by nine film composers including Ernst Toch, Miklós Rózsa and Ennio Morricone who are known for movie scores like Address Unknown, Ben-Hur, Cinema Paradiso and The Untouchables. I was incredibly fortunate that John Williams gave me his personal permission to record Three Pieces, a work currently in his private collection – the sheet music is not publicly available. There is a world premiere recording of ‘I Think I Do Remember Him’ by Dario Marianelli and new concert works written for me by Christopher Gunning, who wrote music for La Vie en rose and Poirot, and Alex Heffes, whose scores include The Last King of Scotland and One Day in September.
And why did you choose to focus on film composers?
I’ve always had a huge interest in screen music and it occurred to me that recordings often consider the works of composers best known for their classical concert music who also wrote scores for film, but almost never the other way around. I’ve been crazy about screen music since before I can remember. I remember being in love with many television themes as a kid and, of course, all the great John Williams scores of the ’80s (Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones) hooked me as a child.
All the works are for solo cello – why did you decide to go down that route?
I thought it would be really interesting to see what film composers – who normally have an infinite array of instruments and effects at their disposal – want to say with just one instrument.
Some of the pieces on the recording were specially written for you. How did that come about?
Because of the studio work I do, I’ve formed good friendships with most of the composers on the album. I had a chat with them to find out if they’d written music for solo cello and, if they hadn’t, asked if they would write something for the project. Some of the composers asked for a brief, but I didn’t want to restrict them, so I said they could write their work in any style, about anything, to any length.
Did they noticeably change their style for the concert hall?
With concert music, there is obviously no fixed image to write to, no director, no requirement to write a memorable melody, so it’s only what’s inspiring them, what is in their imagination and what they want to experiment with. Perhaps the biggest change in style between their film and concert writing comes from Ennio Morricone who has incredibly atmospheric and effective works featured on the album but they're quite a world away from the rich and lavish melodies he is known for in the cinema.
Cellist Richard Harwood's recording is available now as a download from Resonus Classics and on iTunes. To read interviews with Christopher Gunning and Alex Heffes, as well as a handful of other high-profile film composer, pick up a copy of the September issue of BBC Music Magazine – out now.