The Way of the Word

31. January 2011

RIP John Barry

Born John Barry Pendergast, November 3, 1933, died January 30, 2011, of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 77.

John Barry’s father was a classical pianist who also onwed a chain of movie theaters.. Originally a classical pianist himself, he continued to learn the trumpet and developed an interest in composing and arranging. During his time in the British Army, he learned the how-to with the help of a corresponence course. In 1957, he abandoned his original career path of arranging music for big bands and formed the John Barry Seven. The band remained in business until 1965, and had several hits. During this time, he arranged music for several performers of the BBC show Drumbeat. Including Adam Faith. When Faith made his first movie, Beat Girl, in 1960, he hired John Barry to write the music. It became the first movie soundtrack to be released as an LP in the UK.

His work first for EMI records and then for Ember Records caught the attention of a movie producer who was in the process of producing “a little spy movie,” and who was unhappy with a theme delivered by the original composer, Monty Norman. They hired John Barry to revise the theme.

John Barry went on to contribute to altogether 12 of the James Bond movies. One thing led to another, John Barry kept getting more and more calls from movie producers, and he went on to become (one of) the greatest movie composers in the history of cinema. (The “one of” is to appease the fans of other film composers — for me, Barry was the greatest.) Barry’s distinctive style concentrated on strings and brass, but he was also an innovator. He was one of the first to use synthesizers in a film score, and he made extensive use of contemporary rock and pop music. He usually didn’t just provide the theme music, but wrote the entire soundtrack score, thereby very much improving and enhancing frequently already impressive movies.

You couldn’t go wrong with a John Barry score.

Some other examples of his work are the music to the movies Zulu (1964), Born Free (1966, two Oscars for the music), The Lion in Winter (1968, Oscar and BAFTA awarded), Midnight Cowboy (1969, Grammy Award winner), Star Crash (1978), Somewhere in Time (1980), Out of Africa (1985, Oscar winner), Dances With Wolves (1990, Oscar winner), Enigma (2001). His other work includes five musicals, the best known among them probably being Passion Flower Hotel (1965) and Billy (1974).

An illness suffered in 1988 rendered him unable to work for two years, and left him vulnerable to pneumonia.

He won five Oscars out of seven nominations. He was the proud owner of four Grammy Awards, two BAFTA Awards and several Golden Globe nominations.

You know the saying that “they don’t make them like this anymore?” That might as well refer to John Barry. Forget all the rest (although, yes, there are good movie composers working in the business now), John Barry was the best there was at what he did. Hands down.


30. November 2010

RIP Peter Hofmann

Peter Hofmann was born on August 22, 1944, in Marienbad (Germany) and died on November 29, 2010 in Selb (Germany) at the age of 66, apparently of pneumonia.

Hofmann joined a rock band as a singer and bass player at the age of 16. Before that, he was an exceptional athlete, and during his time as a Bundeswehr conscript he served as a paratrooper. He used the money he got when he retired from the Bundeswehr to finance his training as a singer at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe. He gave his debut as an opera singer (he was a tenor) in Lübeck in 1972 as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte. His breakthrough came in 1976, when he sang the role of Siegmund at the Bayreuther Festspiele. He sang there for 14 years. Afterwards, he sort of specialized in singing Wagner operas. His voice started to fail him in 1990, and he ended his career as an opera singer.

Parallel to opera, he performed as a rock singer and published several very successful albums. After retiring from opera, he joined the cast of Hamburg’s stage of The Phantom of the Opera, where he sang the title role during 300 performances. In 1997, he played Old Firehand in the Bad Segeberg performance of Winnetou and Old Firehand.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1994, but managed to conceal it with self-discipline and medication. He finally revealed his disease in 1999, and ended his career with his Christmas tour in 2000. After that, he suffered a fairly rapid and severe physical decline.  At the end, he was unable to speak, to eat without assistance, and he was bound to a wheelchair.

Looking at the above, his death was probably a kindness. His image at least was that of a very physical and athletic person, and for someone like that being so physically decreipt must have been the proverbial fate worse than death.

I still remember when I first heard him. It was when his debut rock album, Rock Classics, came out. I had no idea who he was, I just heard a song from the album on the radio and thought, “This guy will fail in the business. Because he can actually sing.” I found out afterwards that he was actually already a famous opera singer who was, let’s say, slumming in popular music. I loved his interpretations of those rock songs (and C&W), and his own songs as well. I have several of his albums, and I’m actually listening to one of them as I type this.

He made opera cool.

23. December 2009

Christmas Carols

Filed under: general,music,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 09:49
Tags: , ,

What is your favorite Christmas song, and which is the one you dislike the most?

Apparently, most people here in Hamburg hate the song Last Christmas. Probably because it’s played all the time all over the city these days.

The Christmas tune that I hate the most, and I really do mean hate, to the point where it makes me borderline homicidal, is Jingle Bells. It doesn’t help that almost all the street musicians here in Hamburg seem to know only two tunes: Jingle Bells during Christmas season, and The Godfather theme the rest of the year. The reason why I hate Jingle Bells so much is because it reminds me of happier times, times that are irretrievably lost. Unfortunately, being reminded of that doesn’t make me happily nostalgic. Instead, it makes me miserable for having lost those times. I don’t blame the song, but if something were to remind you all the time just how miserable your life has become, you’d get borderline homicidal too.

My favorite Christmas song is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as performed by Dean Martin. The other versions are also okay, but I have always liked the timbre of Dean Martin’s voice.

So: your turn: what are your favorite and least favorite Christmas songs, and why?

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