Charles Graham - Honouring film composition genius

John Barry
John Barry

CALL it snobbery if you like, but I usually give the Classical Brit Awards a miss.

It’s far too frothy-poppy for my liking. But if it at least gives the uninitiated a glimpse into that marvellous world of music covering a millennium and five continents (which is more than most schools do these days) then it’s not TV air time wasted.

However, there is special cause to watch this year’s ceremony because of a special posthumous award to the film composer John Barry (pictured).

Now the classical music world certainly does have a brand of snobs who look down their noses at those who have forged a career writing music for the big screen rather than the stage or pit.

But frankly I think that’s rot. While the symphony and the string quartet are for me the most profound expressions of music, I don’t see why film scores can’t plumb the emotional depths from time to time and the best of scores deserve to be treated with equal respect to ballet and other forms of incidental music.

And John Barry was one of the best. Like other masters of the medium in recent decades such as Ennio Morricone and Gerry Goldsmith, he had that wonderful gift of capturing the mood of a scene with wonderfully ingratiating melodies and harmonies.

Some of the best scores are so integral to the atmosphere that you only notice it when it’s not there.

Others are deliberately intrusive but again add so much to a movie.

I find music used in films can afford to be much more adventurous for the average listener because it can be put into context more easily.

A friend once walked in on me listening to a particularly violent and discordant piece. “What’s this rubbish?” he asked. “It’s just noise.”

And yet when I pointed out that he hadn’t reacted that way when it featured prominently in the score to The Shining when we watched it the night before, he was stunned.

It had provided an superb extra layer of drama to what is a cinematic masterpiece.

So it was that John Barry could conjure up just the right atmosphere, whether it be one of his many sassy James Bond scores or the majestic musical vistas of Born Free and Out of Africa.

His Brit award, like many of the other gongs showered on him in his lifetime, were richly deserved.