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Interview MichaeL J.Lewis.

Michael J.Lewis, was born 11 January 1939, Aberystwyth, Wales. He trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where he studied harmony, counterpoint and composition. His many film scores include Julius Caesar (1970) starring Charlton Heston, The Medusa Touch (1978) starring ‘Richard Burton’, 11 Harrowhouse (1974) starring James Mason, The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) starring Roger Moore and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969) starring Katharine Hepburn for which he won the Ivor Novello Award. His 1973 Broadway show, ‘Cyrano’, earned the writers a Grammy nomination and the show’s star, Christopher Plummer, a Tony Award. Michael’s score for the 1979 TV animated adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s _Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The (1979) (TV)_ won him a coveted Emmy Award. He moved from the UK to the USA in the 1980s and his first venture into American films, writing the score for The Rose and the Jackal (1990), starring Christopher Reeve, achieved an American Cable Excellence nomination. Michael J Lewis’ last film score to date was for the 1994 martial arts thriller Deadly Target (1994). He currently divides his time composing, producing and recording between the USA and the UK. In the mid 1990s he formed his own company called Pen Dinas Productions, the first release in 1995 being the highly acclaimed double CD entitled ‘Orchestral Film Music of Michael J Lewis’, which received outstanding critical reviews.

APG

Where from does your love of music come from?

MJL

If you believe in God, then the answer is that all music and musical talent comes from above. If you don’t believe in God then the answer is that all gifts come from the “Creator of the Universe” or whatever title you choose to use. I truly believe that there is a spirit far greater than man out there somewhere who gives us great gifts when we are conceived. Bach, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Cervantes were all born with great talents, which they, as humans, chose to cultivate. Undoubtedly, the environment in which we live has a lot to do with developing these great gifts. Spanish born composers absorb the influences of their national musical flavors, as do Indian and Russian and Welsh composers. (I was born in Aberystwyth, Wales.) I was a choirboy at age 6 and church organist at age 10. We rehearsed 3 times a week and sung at 2 services every Sunday. Additionally, I started piano lessons at age 9 and was composing by the time I was 10. That was a lot of music at a very early age. I loved music from the day I was born. I was blessed with a great gift, which I love as much now as I did in my early years. Music has been my life. Thank you, God. Church music was the very core of my life for the first fifteen years. Great tunes, great harmonies, – the very foundation of composition.
Then, when I was fifteen, I heard a real live symphony orchestra for the first time. My life exploded, it was an electrifying moment. A whole new world opened up for me. I always wanted to be a composer; this moment was an affirmation, I have never wavered.

APG

How did you start in the world of movies?

MJL

In my mid-twenties, I wrote a stage musical, which caught the attention of Bryan Forbes (The L Shaped Room) – a leading British writer/director at that time. Bryan liked my music very much. One night, over dinner, he asked me what my long-term ambitions were. I told him that all I wanted to do was compose. He asked me if I was interested in film music. I told him of my love for great film melodies e.g Exodus, Lawrence, Zhivago, A Man and a Woman (Un homme et une femme.) The 50’s and 60’s were the Golden Years of Film Music and I was very much inspired by the composers of that time. Forbes explained to me that he had a close working relationship with John Barry (Bonds) but if the opportunity arose he would think of me.

APG

If I am not wrong, your first sound-track was The Madwoman of Chaillot. It’s, in my opinion, a masterpiece. Please speak to us in depth about the process of creation of this work?

MJL

On Friday March 15 1968, I received an early morning phone call, at my London flat, from Margaret, Bryan Forbes’s secretary. She explained that Bryan was directing a movie ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ at Studio La Victorine in Nice, France. They urgently needed a theme for the film. Forbes’s regular composer, John Barry, was deeply involved with ‘A Lion in Winter’ and could not work on ‘Madwoman’. Would I be interested in “flying down to Nice the next day to discuss the project?” asked Margaret. Arrogantly, I asked who was in the film. Katharine Hepburn, (Philadelphia Story), Danny Kaye, (White Christmas), Yul Brunner, (The Magnificent Seven), Margaret Leighton (Under Capricorn), Edith Evans, (The Nun’s Story) were just a few of the names she mentioned. I could not believe it. The director had kept his word and had remembered me.
The next evening I was staying at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, having dinner with great legends of the cinema. They were all very nice to me. Hepburn and I got on very well. She told me that she was part Welsh and loved that I was born and bred in Wales and just knew that I was going to write a great score for her film. If Miss Hepburn was happy, everybody else was happy. All that remained was for me to write a melody for the movie that everybody loved.
The producers rented me a grand piano and installed it in a villa in the studio grounds. My instructions were simple. “Make it good, make it big.” I was only too eager to oblige. So they locked me up in my villa, I sat down at the piano and about half-an-hour later I had written Aurelia’s Theme to ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot.’ I walked over to the set and told Bryan Forbes that I written the theme and that it was great. He was not at all happy. He said I had rushed it and should go back and try again. I asked him to listen to my creation before I tried again. He said that if the tune was not good enough my film career would be over before it had begun. I told him I clearly understood his concern, but that in no way was anyone going to be disappointed.
At the lunch break, all the stars, led by the director, walked into my piano room. It was a jury like no other. I knew I had just one shot. So, playing the piano, I started the theme off really gently, tremulando, just as it is on the soundtrack and gradually built it up, playing more passionately, more intensely, more dramatically, until I arrived at a great climax – just like in the film. When I finished playing there was absolute silence for about 15 seconds. No one said a word. Suddenly Katharine Hepburn burst into wildly enthusiastic applause. She loved ‘Aurelia’s Theme’. Hepburn was Aurelia and I was her composer. Everyone looked at the great star and then they too started to applaud – wildly. I had landed my first film. I was pleased. The director was pleased. The producers were pleased. The stars were pleased. God was pleased.
I stayed in Nice for month, having a great time. I composed in the morning, watched and chatted with the crew at work in the afternoon and ‘played’ at night. I wrote two more themes for the film when I was on the Cote d’Azure, ‘ Irma’s Theme’ and ‘Romance.’ Both became part of the ‘Madwoman’ score.
I had had zero training in film music or even film making, so, as I mixed with the film crew and the cutting room crew I politely asked question after question. I learnt all about 35mm film, sprockets, splicing, sound , picture, effects and got introduced to the Moviola which, along with my Bechstein grand, became an essential part of my life for many years until the digital revolution took place and everything changed. I loved working with the Moviola. You could touch the film, have real contact with it.
When I got back to London, the production company, at Forbes’s insistence, hired Wally Stott to guide me through the intricacies of writing for film. Wally (Watership Down), an excellent composer in his own right, introduced me to Carroll Knudsons ‘Project Tempo’ 1965 click track book which I immediately fell in love with and became obsessed with the technique of achieving perfect sync. I used my copy so much that I actual wore it out and had to buy a second one. With a little practice, I found I could hit any action point anywhere in a cue, with complete accuracy, to a fraction of a second. Fantastic. No director, no editor ever questioned my sync after that. Thank you Wally (later to be Angela Morley).
While the editing of the film was in progress the company paid for me to record, not to picture, the three themes I had written with a real, live orchestra – the ultimate demo. (They brought in a conductor for the session, which I did not like at all.) This was the Golden Age of Film Music just before the synth (Emu 1 and 2 and DX7 were the first digital intruders for me) and dreaded samples. The demos I recorded were laid into the film as they cut it and they worked amazingly well. The director and I were in perfect sync.
Then came the time to write for film using the Knudson click track system. It was a hugely exciting time, learning constantly as I composed. Neither the producers or director limited me in any way. They just turned me loose. When it came time to score the action ‘Palais de Chaiilot’ sequence, I had this idea of making it all percussion with just a few brass and string stabs. It was quite unlike anything I had ever conceived, or even heard before. I rang the director and told him that I had this ‘off-beat’ idea and that neither I, nor Wally Stott (who was keeping a distant eye on things) had any idea if it would work. His simple reply was, “Well Michael, we’ll find out at the sessions won’t we? Go ahead.” I went ahead and the track got a huge amount of attention. This was in 1969 before multi- track recording had been fully established. The recording was very complex but, with a little ingenuity, we linked 3 film projectors and a 1inch tape machine together and achieved a 12 track recording. Voila. A new age had dawned.
Before the final sessions, the director asked me who I would like to conduct the orchestra (this was my first film and orchestras are very expensive). Without hesitation I said that I was the only one who could bring my music to life. He asked if I had the experience to conduct a large professional orchestra to film. I said I had done a lot of conducting (I didn’t say my conducting experience was with choirs and not to film - ). He said, “OK.” I knew Carroll Knudson would get me through – and he did. The orchestra all wore headphones, I had done my homework well (preparation is everything) and all was spectacular.
I received The Ivor Novello award (Britain’s premier music award) for my first film and never once went near a film course. I learnt on the job, as I went along, asking pros, politely, respectfully, the right questions and fortunately getting the right answers. Watch, learn, do.
Over a very short period of time I had learnt everything I know about film by asking a lot of great professionals a lot of good questions and getting great answers. No such thing as a bad question. Never be afraid to ask – you might miss the right answer.
At the end of the sessions, Forbes told me how pleased he was with my work. He also told me something else, which became almost prophetic, and which I have never repeated to anyone else.

APG

With what directors have you felt most comfortable working?

MJL

I have had excellent relationships with all my directors. Bryan Forbes has a special place in my life because he ‘discovered me’ and put his total trust in my talent. But all the others have been great too. The more the people I work with trust me, the better I perform. I thank them all for their support and encouragement.

APG

Which movies composers do you admire most and why?

MJL

The composers I admire most are the ones who have written great themes for great movies. Henry Mancini, (Moon River from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’). John Barry (all the early Bonds) – a master of being simple with great effect. Michele Legrand (the original ‘Thomas Crown Affair’ – ‘Windmills of your mind’ is a masterpiece). Enio Morriconi is another master as was Maurice Jarre, (Lawrence, Zhivago). The soundtrack to ‘The Lion King’ is one of my favorite scores of all time at every level. Songs, orchestrations, score, sound, performance, all superb. The Hollywood composers of the 50’s, early 60’s – Ernest Gold (Exodus) – I love this theme. Jerome Moross, (Big Country). Elmer Bernstein, (Great Escape) all knew how to do it. One of the greatest film composers of all time was England’s Sir William Walton, (Henry V). Certain far less talented but more financially successful composers have ‘borrowed’ shamelessly from Sir William as well as other less known English composers. Sir William wrote the music for ‘Battle of Britain’ but had it rejected except for the final ‘Aerial Ballet’. Notice how the ambience of the film changes when Walton’s music begins.
Perhaps the greatest movie theme of all time, as far as I am concerned, is Max Steiner’s ‘Gone with the Wind.’ The music made a great film into an iconic masterpiece.

APG

Do you know any Spanish film music composers?

MJL

I regret to say that I do not. Albeniz, De Falla, Rodrigo, Tarrega, Victoria are world-class classical composers I know well but Spanish film composers have escaped me. Sorry. My loss.

APG

How would you define your music? At the end of the 60’s it was innovative.

MJL

Not quite sure how to answer this question. If I was pushed to define my work I would regard it as Orchestral Romanticism largely ignored (you being a rare exception Antonio – much appreciated. Thank you.) I have received many reviews opining that I have my own distinctive voice – which I am very proud of – passionate and emotional – which I am.

APG

What differences do you think there is between composing for the movies and for television?

MJL

For me there is very little difference except for budget. TV budgets are always more restricting. The essential job for the composer is to help tell the story emotionally and to support the action. This is the same for film or for TV. However, the production people are different. The creatives are different and, in the US, TV in particular, the execs are often quite insufferable.

APG

‘Theatre of Blood’ and ‘Yes, Giorgio’ are different scores of yours that I love. Could you speak to us about them?

MJL

Thank you for compliment. Theatre of Blood and Yes Giorgio are two very different scores. T of B was composed and recorded in London for a very fine English director, Douglas Hickox (Brannigan). Giorgio was composed and recorded in Los Angeles for a fine American Oscar winning director, Franklin J Schaffner (Patton). I had a great relationship with both men. T of B was a unique concept based on murders from Shakespearean plays, which screamed out for a classical score, which was perfect for me. ‘Giorgio’, with Luciano Pavarotti, was an attempt to recapture the romantic films of Mario Lanza (The Student Prince), using a lot of Italian operatic literature. Rossini, Verdi, Puccini were great company to be in. I was very honored to be asked to be part of the project. The opening song to the film was a great Italian aria called ‘Mattinata’ by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It had been recorded live, in the open air, in San Francisco. The recording was awful. When Schaffner and I started to spot the film the first track on reel one was ‘Mattinata’. I expected to pass it by because my contract was just to write the underscore. However, Frank asked me what I thought of the recording. I said that Pavarotti was great but that the recording sucked. He agreed. I thought that was the end of that. Then he dropped the bomb. He smiled his most cunning smile and calmly said that he wanted me to fix the problem. “Now wait a minute Frank,” I said. He smiled his most cunning smile again and simply said, “Fix it.” I got the message. Don’t argue with an Oscar winning director at MGM Studios in Culver City, California, the home of the Hollywood film musical. Legendary names were on display on every wall. Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain), Fred Astaire (Three Little Words), Judy Garland (Wizard of Oz), Esther Williams (Bathing Beauty) had made history here. What was my problem?
The click track had been a vital and essential tool for me. A predetermined set tempo. Pavarotti knew no such restrictions. Every beat, every measure, of ‘Mattinata’ was different, the tempo constantly changed, never the same. Rubato reigned. A conductor’s nightmare. The sound was so bad the original orchestra had to be dumped, leaving me with a free- wheeling stereo track of Pavarotti and nothing else. The music editor, Bill Saracino (Deer Hunter) on the film was great. He had been at MGM forever. He gleefully told me that recording a full orchestra to Pavarotti’s voice track would demand great preparation and many tools such as dozens of 3 and 6 ft wipes, flashes and anticipatory clicks for a nearly 4 minute track. Frightening. These were skills that were well known in the 40’s and 50’s but were certainly not in my 80’s repertoire. Bill was very supportive. He said that the only conductor he knew who could do this job was Andre Previn (My Fair Lady conductor) who had been very successful in Hollywood before he became a highly celebrated, and very good, music director with the London Symphony Orchestra. “You can do it,” Bill said calmly. “You can do it.” I had huge doubts but little choice. However, no matter what, I was not going to fail at MGM. So we started out on the task of listening to every bar of Pavarotti and planning our guide track. It took forever, but it was great fun and I learnt a basketful of new tricks. Finally we were left with a vocal track, a series of variable wipes and flashes and a random, intermittent click track that popped up every now and then for 5 clicks leading into difficult downbeats. I told the director and producers that I needed the orchestra for a full session, devoted solely to this track and that I would probably have to record in sections and then edit together. They agreed. I then went out to Palm Springs with my girlfriend, sat around the pool and spent a week completely memorizing every wipe, flash , click and idiosyncrasy of the great Luciano Pavarotti’s performance.
When the dreaded session started I explained the problem to the orchestra (LA musicians are outstanding) and warned them that the session could be very difficult, to which they roared back, “No, never. Leave it to us, Michael.” I showed them the sequence with the wipes and flashes and preparatory clicks. They laughed and said “No problem. Roll the tape.” The tape rolled, the film played, I (knowing every sprocket hole) conducted, the great Franklin J. Schaffner watched, with great anticipation, behind the glass of the control room. Guess what happened? We nailed it first time. Incredible. We did a few more takes for safety and the orchestra had gone home within the hour. What’s the moral? Do your homework, do your preparations thoroughly, never underestimate your abilities, get the best musicians and you can overcome most problems with ease and enhance your reputation in the process. Despite all the problems I think the recording of ‘Mattinata’ on the soundtrack of ‘Yes, Giorgio’ is as tight as any you will ever hear. I marvel every time I hear it.
A splendid new book devoted entirely to, and aptly titled, ‘Theatre of Blood’ written by another Welshman, John Llewellyn Probert, was published in London in September 2016 by Electronic Dream House. The book analyses the movie in great detail and is recommended to everyone interested in this inimitable film. I did an extensive Q and A for the book, which has a chapter devoted to my music for the film, and I include the interview for you, with questions by John Llewellyn Probert, in this article. Please enjoy.

 

Interview Questions for Michael J Lewis on THEATRE OF BLOOD 4.1.16

Q

Michael, thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Perhaps we could begin with you telling us how you became involved in writing the score for THEATRE OF BLOOD?

A

Thank you, John, for asking me to contribute to your splendid project. TOB, for me, started when my agent called and said that I had been offered a horror film. I assumed it was a Hammer Horror and immediately turned it down. I had been offered a Hammer immediately after ‘Chaillot,’ an offer to write a piano concerto no less, and had turned that down as well. Going from Katie Hepburn on the Cote d’Azur to Hammer at Elstree was not my idea of progress. Can you believe it? Thankfully the producers of THEATRE OF BLOOD persisted, explaining that it was not a horror at all but a black comedy based on Shakespearean murders. That was a bit more impressive. So I went along, saw the rough cut, loved it and, very wisely for a change, said, “yes.” I can’t remember if it was still called MUCH ADO ABOUT MURDER at that stage or not – probably not.

Q

During the writing of the score, were you given pretty much free rein to write what you liked? How much guidance / input was there from the other creative talents involved?

A

I have been blessed with great directors, Frank Schaffner, Brian Forbes etc, who encouraged me to follow my instincts. They chose me, put their trust in me and that trust in turn inspired me. Dougie was no exception, except that he wanted to be more involved in the process than most.

Q

What was director Douglas Hickox like to work with?

A

Douglas Hickox was such a delightful man, a fun man – a joy to be with. Suave, intelligent, enthusiastic. I welcomed his participation. This, after all, was no ordinary assignment. Dougie was very experienced, having done countless commercials through his production company Illustra. He knew what he was talking about. So, one afternoon he came out to my home in North London, overlooking the lake at Ally Pally and I played him, on my Bechstein grand, the theme I had written for the movie. Dougie had a great smile. He beamed with pleasure. He loved the tune, its concept and its orchestration. We were obviously in sync and that allowed us to become more adventurous in our approach to the entire score. It was all such fun.

Q

The opening title cue is now widely regarded as a classic piece of cinema scoring. It fits the silent movie footage it accompanies perfectly, and both together provide a wonderful introduction to the kind of person Edward Lionheart is and the kind of film we are about to watch. Were you shown the edited together title sequence before you wrote the cue? Or did they edit the footage together afterwards to fit your theme?

A

I had been given a black and white dup. of the film, which I viewed on my beloved Moviola. I loved that machine, the hands-on way of loading 35mm film (picture and sound) – it made me feel really connected to the medium – unlike today’s .MOV untouchables sent via the internet. It’s all becoming so abstract, working with people you never meet and a digital medium you never physically touch. Anyway, enough of that rant. Can you believe that most people today don’t even know what a Moviola is (was). Let’s move on. Yes, the title sequence had been edited and I wrote the title cue to film and the director loved it and I was very proud of it – and still am.

Q

I could not help but notice very brief snatches of a couple of your previous scores in early THEATRE OF BLOOD cues. In Ides of March we open with an echo of ‘Caesar’s Triumphant Return’ from your score for Stuart Burge’s 1970 film JULIUS CAESAR. There’s also an echo of the dynamic percussive sounds you used in Bryan Forbes’ MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT as Michael Hordern’s George Maxwell is led into the abandoned warehouse by a disguised Vincent Price. And a little later, when the camera zooms in on a poster for Edward Lionheart’s Julius Caesar, the very opening of the cue Friends, Romans, Countrymen again echoes your own score for JULIUS CAESAR. Were these intended as little musical ‘in-jokes’? And are there any I might have missed?

A

As I mentioned earlier, Douglas and I had this exploratory session at my house in North London. I would explain to him what my ideas were. Directors very often do not have intimate knowledge of the orchestra, so to make my thoughts more understandable I would run a sequence on the Moviola and simultaneously play a track from a recording of earlier film off tape. e.g “ Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” from Caesar. Douglas loved it. (Directors often fall in love with ‘temp tracks,’ which can cause great difficulties down the road for the composer.) So I took the feel of that track and developed it further for that particular cue. We did the same thing in “Troilus and Cressida.” It worked really well. Never waste a good idea..
(Incidentally, those original recordings of Caesar ‘disappeared’ when I eventually moved from UK to LA and to my knowledge no other copies exist. If someone has a copy, please contact me.)

Q

I’m always fascinated by the nuts and bolts of film score recording. How large an orchestra did you get to use to record the original score to THEATRE OF BLOOD? And how long did the recording take?

A

I have a pretty standard studio line-up for most of my projects. 16 violins, 6 violas, 4 cellos, 3 basses, 2 Flutes, 1 Cor Anglais, 1 Oboe, 0 clarinets if I can get away from them (hate them), 2 Bassoons, 2 Trumpets, 4 French Horns, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba, 2 or 3 Percussion, 1 or 2 Harps, 1 or 2 Keyboards and occasional miscellaneous delights like the great, late Hugo D’ Alton on Mandolin for the lead in TOB. Studio musicians are the best of the very best, the crème de la crème, and they will play, superbly, anything you write for them (as long as it’s playable) at sight. They never cease to amaze me and I have complete respect for them be it in London, New York or Los Angeles.
A film is usually recorded in 4 or 5 three-hour sessions followed by an equal number of mixing sessions.

Q

Your cue Cymbeline I have described as ‘four minutes of comedy horror delight’. Was it your idea to go ‘full DR KILDARE’ in accompanying the surgical removal of Horace Sprout’s head?

A

Ha, ha. This is where Dougie became invaluable with his intelligence and wit. He taught me the power of counterpoint regarding music and film. If someone is running down a flight of steps, the music doesn’t need to be ‘running down steps’ music. We can see that the character is doing what they are doing. Let the music convey what we can’t see. If the film is comedy, then the options are endless. So Dougie kept crying out, “Dr Kildare Michael, we need Dr Kildare music. Let the blood take care of itself,” – which of course it did.’ I got the message. I sat down at the Bechstein and doodled something saccharine sweet. Douglas jumped up and down with delight and “Edwina’s Theme” had its bloody birth. Add a piano and a few strings and over forty years later people are still talking about it. Dougie must be grinning merrily. The ‘Dr. Kildare’ idea was his, I just supplied the tune.

Q

Straight after that we get “Sexy Lips and Swinging Hips,” which is so different as to be almost from another kind of movie altogether. Was it a blast to be able to swing from the melancholy majesty of a track like ‘Oh Pardon Me Thou Bleeding Piece of Earth’ where we first see the interior of the Burbage Theatre, to jazzy, sassy pieces like this, in the same film project?

A

I freely admit to the approach we took for this sequence. The great thing about having a highly creative director and producers who trust and support you is that it gives you the courage to give things a try. Sending up Diana Rigg was a blast and the late Stan Roderick on Flugel horn excelled himself. The great thing about this style of music is that all you have to do is give the musicians a top line (melody and chord symbols) and they do the rest.
FYI
Just after TOB I started working with the one and only Anthony Burgess (a Shakespearian expert) on the Christopher Plummer musical “Cyrano” as it trudged towards Broadway. I suggested to the producers that I could quite possibly talk Burgess into writing lyrics for the two tunes from the film and Diana into singing them if they would fork out for the recording. The deal was done. Burgess wrote the lyrics “Anything at All” ( Title theme) and “Now” (Edwina’s Theme) and Dame Diana sang the songs. She did great. Very seductive indeed. But, for some reason I have never figured out, the recordings were never released. Incidentally, the Peters and Lee songs from “11 Harrowhouse” and the George Benson track from “Sphinx” took the same route south. Maddening.

Q

Your cue Partita of Blood is available on the soundtrack album but doesn’t feature in the film. It’s a fabulous, frenzied harpsichord solo – was the cue intended for a scene that never made it into the film? Or for a scene in which a different music track was eventually used?

A

Ha. We had a terrific harpsichordist in the sessions who was not only an outstanding keyboard player but was just a touch eccentric. Towards the end of the last session, I thought it would be fun to just give him the TOB theme lead sheet and let him loose. He ran with it. As you say, the result was “fabulous and frenzied.”

Q

The Fugato is a marvellous piece that begins with bassoon pursuing oboe, with the rest of the orchestra coming in for the full-blooded duel between Lionheart and Devlin in the gymnasium. Of all the cues in the film this one sounds as if it might have been one of the most challenging for the orchestra to get right. Was that a challenge for you as a conductor?

A

Two guys chasing each other around with swords on trampolines just screamed out for a fugato. It was fast and tricky but no problem for the orchestra. The musicians relished a challenge and delivered with ease. John Richards, my first recording engineer at the old CTS Studios in Bayswater put me right from the very beginning. His advice was simple. “Michael, do your preparation thoroughly before the sessions and all will run smoothly at the sessions.” It works every time. With great players (Sid Margo of Palmers Green was my ever trustworthy ‘fixer’), well prepared scores (Gordon Barrow of Marylebone) was my ever patient, impeccable ‘copyist’) and a well thought-out click track, the conductor’s job was a relatively easy. Gordon and I would get very upset if we found more than a handful of glitches in an entire soundtrack. It all came down to doing your homework. This is my favourite cue from TOB.

Q

Some of the murders have music that tends towards the comedic (eg Cymbeline or Drown in a Butt of Wine where we see the end of Oliver Larding) or playful (The Dragon Wing of Night). Others are more abrasive such as Flame With Ash Highlights (the end of Chloe Moon as Joan of Arc in a hairdresser’s) or indeed Ides of March at the beginning of the film. Did the musical style of each murder scene suggest itself? Or did you say ‘let’s make this one lighter’, ‘let’s really scare them with this one’ and so on?

A

Well, after all, the film is a ‘black comedy’ meant to be enjoyed. I had a blast, Dougie had a blast and it seems a lot of people still have a blast enjoying the route we took with the music. My MO with film scoring has always been that the film is your mistress and you had better look after her well, the more obedient the better and you will be well rewarded! So every morning I would sit at my beloved Moviola and run the sequence to be scored that day. By the end of the cue, I would get the feel of the scene and, very importantly, the tempo of the scene. Once I had grasped those two elements, everything else fell into place, and the picture would tell me exactly what to do – and I just did it. Also, I would hear Dougie whispering in my ear, “counterpoint Michael, counterpoint.” He was never afraid of excess and consequently neither was I. Also, TOB was a walking who’s who of British Theatre. Each one great, motivating, inspiring. Morley fluffy, Diana Dors frothy, Eric Sykes frenzied, Jack Hawkins frantic, Harry Andrews flighty. Then you had Vincent who was obliquely funny and Dame Diana the ever faithful ‘over the top’ daughter. Plus, plus, plus. John Cohen and Stanley Man had done a great job on the script. The whole experience was a joy from beginning to end. A composer’s playground. Never, for a single moment, did I ever feel restrained. The Jack Hawkins sequence as he creeps up the stairs after Diana Dors was totally, melodramatically operatic. I loved writing that sequence so much. Such fun. Love it. My second favourite cue in TOB.

Q

The finale of the film features a lengthy music cue from yourself that effortlessly takes us from celebration (the ‘call to arms’ as Lionheart sets fire to the theatre) to chaos to melancholy while accompanying the action perfectly. Was it a challenge to write and conduct a piece of music that long that had to change style several times and be very precisely timed to what was happening on screen?

A

There are tricks to every trade and the click track system is one of them for a composer. I fell totally in love with the system the minute Wally Stott (later to be Angela Morley) introduced me to it on “Chaillot.” The system of metronomic clicks enables a composer to be accurate with his sync and to manoeuvre from one tempo to the other another with comparative ease. All you need to do is thoroughly understand the system and do your homework well. Sharp question, John.

Q

Were you happy with the way your score to THEATRE OF BLOOD turned out?

A

I demonically focus on what I am writing as I write it and completely believe in my work. When I am done, I am done, and move on, knowing that I have given the very best that I have to give. That’s what makes me happy. I leave others to judge – which they will do with varying success. What’s done is done and best left alone. I am normally given just 5-6 weeks to write 50-60 minutes of music. There is little time to look back. Just do what you think right and move on. It must work. I‘ve never had a score rejected.

Q

Is there anything in the score that in hindsight you might have done differently?

A

No.

Q

Do you ever revisit it or any of your other scores?

A

Usually when I visit people and they insist on playing one of my CDs at dinner and then fail to understand why I am not listening to what they have to say. My music, or anyone else’s music, is not meant to be audio wallpaper! If you play music, listen to it. If you want to chat, chat, but turn off the music first.

Q

How was the score received by the film-makers?

A

We all hugged and smiled. Dougie, as I mentioned earlier, was a highly successful commercials director and shortly after TOB, he got me my first commercial – a 60 sec cinema commercial for Walls Ice Cream. Each character was inspired by a Hollywood movie character. Shaft represented chocolate ice cream, Ginger Rodgers was peach parfait etc. Quite crazy. Shortly after Walls, the same agency gave me a British Rail commercial, which I scored romantically with piano and strings. After that ad had its first TV airing, the phone started ringing incessantly, paving the way for 100s of commercial tracks being spawned all over the world for the next two decades. Wild, wild times, all kicked off by Douglas.

Q

And how was it received by the critics of the time?

A

Variety was very kind. “The score by Michael J Lewis indicates major talent.” -
Good stories to tell.
One night in Toronto during a preview run of “Cyrano,” a local cinema was playing TOB. The “Cyrano” people contacted the cinema and told the exhibitors that I was in town. They kindly put on a special show for the cast of the musical. In town that night was my agent, the legendary Kay Brown, who incidentally discovered Ingrid Bergman and “Gone with the Wind” etc. She bravely sat through TOB until Robert Morley encountered his “doggy woggies” baked in a pie. At that point, Kay gagged, fled the cinema and headed for the nearest bar.
For a period in 1973 Burgess and I were ‘Kings of Broadway.’ We had ‘Cyrano’ playing in the Palace theatre, receiving standing ovations every night for our show-stopper song ‘You have made me love’, TOB was playing in a cinema across the street and the Kubrick/Burgess ‘ A Clockwork Orange’ was running a few blocks away. We spent a lot of time in Sardi’s.

Q

How did you feel getting about the chance to re-record certain cues from THEATRE OF BLOOD for your Pen Dinas double CD ‘Orchestral Film Music 1969 – 1994’?

A

Nice question John. The Double Album was recorded by the Rundfunk Orchester in Berlin in 1992 just after the wall came down. It was the first time the Rundfunk (an East German orchestra) had recorded in the West. The players were very dour but great – lots of them. When I heard the playback of the first take, I was horrified. It was indescribably bad. The engineers made it clear, in German, which I didn’t understand, that what I was hearing was what I was going to keep on getting and they were not going to change their ways for a Welshman. There was nothing to argue about. We were light years apart but I was not going to let that stop me. There and then, I decided to just go ahead and record the scheduled 100 minutes of music and find a way of fixing it back in LA. I just went ahead and recorded for 2 or 3 days and never listened to another take. The engineers did their thing on one side of the glass and the musicians and I did ours on the other side. We really enjoyed making music together, the engineers didn’t. It was an unforgettable experience, which took a lot of fixing. The album eventually got rave reviews.

Q

Finally, you and I are both proud Welshmen. How much of Wales would you say there is in your score to THEATRE OF BLOOD? And in your music in general?

A

That question deserves a book unto itself John. Every writer at one time or another has to say, “Where does it all come from, how does it all work?” I have always believed that the creator, be it a composer or a writer or a painter, is but a conduit from some source that most of us can’t understand. We can be eternally grateful, but never fully understand the gifts we are telegraphed. And it really doesn’t matter. Just do ‘it’ and if you are connected, it will flow. I believe we are wired to some great Spirit of the Universe who supplies us with the ideas we need. It’s hard to believe that a mere human is responsible for the B minor Mass, or The Choral Symphony or “Yesterday.”
At the same time, environment certainly makes a big contribution. My love of music was certainly inflamed by my early days in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales. I was a choirboy at age six, organist by age 10 – all those grand hymns, Welsh, English, German. All those great tunes and majestic harmonies, e.g. Aberystwyth, The Old Hundredth, Eine Feste Burg. I heard my first professional orchestra in Wales during my early teens at a concert in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, which included Benjamin Britten’s “Young Persons Guide’ and Malcolm Arnold’s “ Scottish Dances. (It was the last movement that drove me over the top.) I was set on fire, enthralled, overwhelmed, intoxicated. I knew that I was going to be a composer from Day 1 but that concert sealed the deal. Then my mother, Elisabeth Ellen Lewis, would take me to the cinema in Aber to see and hear epics like “King Solomon’s Mines,” music from some far off MGM stage by Mischa Spoliansky and crying uncontrollably over “Johnny Belinda” and its score by Max Steiner, which got an Academy nomination. Then I was mesmerized by “The Wizard of Oz” and Harold Arlen’s perfect tune “Somewhere over the Rainbow” – as great a melody as has ever been written by anyone, anywhere at any time. Add to this the sound of great Welsh Male Voice choirs and spontaneous four-part Welsh Hymn singing at Cor y Castell (The Castle Choir) in Aberystwyth on a Sunday night as the sun set over Cardigan Bay (weather permitting). The fire was truly ablaze. At Ardwyn Grammar School in Aberystwyth, where I was academically retarded, they would repeatedly ask me what I was going to do when I grew up. My answer was consistently “a composer, sir,” and the ‘sirs’ would invariably scoff. “And we can suppose that one day you are going to be a composer at MGM in Hollywood, Lewis?” I would smile modestly and reply emphatically, “Yes, sir’ – and I did. (Luciano Pavarotti in “Yes Giorgio) and TOB helped me on my way – for which I will be eternally grateful to John and Stanley and the great Douglas Hickox. I know he’s still smiling and inciting some Great Spirit of the Universe to indulge in counterpoint.

APG

I think that you are working in the pre-production of a new film. What can you tell us about it?

MJL

As far as I know, the film you refer to has failed to get funded. It is an excellent idea. I was very enthusiastic about it. Very ambitious. A great story screaming for high quality production and an epic score. I like epics - Someone will make the film. Whether or not I will be involved is a different question. I hope so. I have already composed and recorded the theme – a classic!.

APG

Have you written any work of concert, in addition to your music for movies?

MJL

I have always been very interested in choral music. Some of the greatest music ever written has been choral. e.g Bach’s B Minor Mass and William Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’. I have had quite a lot of performances of my choral works. Additionally, I am also very proud of my catalogue of CD’s – e.g ‘Incandescence’, ‘The Golden Harp.’ and ‘Celtic Moon’. ‘In the Language of Heaven’ is a rare collection of a cappella Welsh Folk Songs which no one wants to listen to but of which I am immensely, intensely proud.

APG

What other new projects do you have currently?

MJL

I have recently composed and recorded, in Austin, Texas, a highly diverse (dramatic classical, jazz, country, Latin etc) 17 minute piece for huge orchestra (all solos are live, all orchestral parts sampled – Hollywood strings etc). It rocks. I am seeking to involve a modern dance choreographer and an innovative film director to create a sensual, Academy standard short. Very, very exciting.
Also, I have just written my first novel, a Middle Grade story for 12 to 14 years olds. It’s an anthropomorphic tale about gorgeous Arabian horses. Action packed movie material with songs. Currently shopping for an agent.
It’s a very busy and exciting period in my life – plus I am building and landscaping a new Studio House in Mississippi that I have designed. Never a dull moment.

Thank you again Antonio. Hope you enjoy reading what I’ve had fun writing.

Copyright © Michael J Lewis 2016
Huckleberry Place, Mississippi.

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