John Barry’s James Bond Scores (Part 4 of 6): Moonraker — 11 Comments

  1. This is very interesting indeed!! To think of Barry is “symphonic” is an interesting idea – providing a level of sophistication one wouldn’t normally expect to find in action-film music.

    You’re suggesting, then, that Barry’s decision to use more “symphonic” scoring for “Moonraker” was influenced by the success of Williams’ “Star Wars”. It’s a risky game for them, though, isn’t it, particularly with audiences for popular film who are used to, say, The Beatles used for title music. Over time, audiences in the megaplex have grown less sophisticated, not more so IMO.

    You also discuss the inherently non-narrative quality of symphonic music. That’s to say, ‘absolute’ music because there are certainly symphonies which appear ‘narrative’ in the sense that they provide musical ‘images’ of extra-musical ideas. I’m thinking here of Beethoven’s “Pastoral”, just as one example. But, actually, I’ve always felt symphonies were ‘narrative’ in a very particular way. I remember completing an analysis decades ago of the first movement of Mozart’s symphony No. 39 and describing the ‘drama’ unfolding between instruments of the orchestra and that this had been achieved through dynamic range, alternating the main theme between instruments – having them tossed back and forth – and modulation. But, I grant that it’s a ‘stretch’ for any novice to develop this argument in a meaningful way. I simply mention it in the context of your discussion about John Barry and how some of your ideas tapped into my own thoughts.

  2. Correction: I earlier commented on “The Beatles” used as title music for a James Bond film. Of course, I meant Paul McCartney and Wings (“Live and Let Die”). And there have been other pop icons used in James Bond films.

  3. Hi Sue – thanks for your thought-provoking comments. Always a pleasure to discuss these things with you.

    You’re absolutely right that concert music on its own can have a narrative. I suppose when I say “narrative”, I mean a literary narrative, which is much more specific than a purely musical narrative. With this lack of a specific literary narrative in symphonic music, the focus is instead on the development of musical motives, something like the kinds of developments subjected to characters in a literary narrative. That’s a big part of what drives symphonic music forward.

    In film, one isn’t required to have such elaborate musical development because that is taken care of by the literary narrative to which the music is attached. Not that all film music should simply repeat themes and motives over and over. But generally, film music lends itself more to repetition because of the complexities of the plot. In other words, hearing a familiar bit of music in the same way helps us mentally bind together the very fragmented nature of filmmaking with its jumps in times, locations, and even points of view.

    So to use a more symphonic style certainly isn’t a requirement for what is generally considered successful film music. But it adds more nuance to the film since we can not just see but hear the developments as well. I think it’s a hard thing to do well, as musical details can easily become lost in our focus on the film’s narrative. But if done well, as it is in Moonraker, I think one can appreciate its emotional effects without even knowing that one has heard a development of a certain theme (as in the Venini Glassworks scene above).

    Finally, regarding your comment on why filmmakers would want to use symphonic music instead of pop music. I think we have to remember that the Star Wars album was a huge sensation, selling over four million copies in its initial release in 1977. That kind of success in film always has a powerful influence on the films that follow. I think that Moonraker was an instance where there was a conscious attempt to somewhat emulate the style of the Star Wars score (especially given the former’s overt space theme). So symphonic music at that time was, in a sense, popular music.

  4. It all makes perfect sense that way you shape your argument!

    Do you know what really interests me too? Music to accompany silent film. I once toyed with the idea of doing a PhD on the topic of Australian music used to accompany Australian silent cinema, thinking this would make an outstanding thesis. But, time moved on…it didn’t eventuate. But, particularly when one looks at restorations of a film like “Metropolis”, the whole idea of symphonic (or other) music composed especially to accompany silent cinema has a whole, new brief compared to sound film, IMO. (Of course, if you couldn’t read in the first part of the 20th century you couldn’t go to the cinema!!!). It’s a great score for “Metropolis”, but I’d be interested in the various kinds of music – and I guess these varied depending upon the venue – for the Griffith films, just as an example.

    This would make a fascinating thread in your film music course!! Cheers

  5. another great analysis mark…you should write a book !. This score has got better over time i think. Lot’s of great Barry touches and it is interesting how his writing got more lush for Bond in this movie . One think to note , Drax’s chateau is in fact Vaux-Le_Vicomte……


    • Thanks, Ed. I’ve updated the post accordingly.

      Yes, a book about this would be a good topic. Though I’d probably wait a few years yet since Burlingame’s book just came out last year. Still, there is still lots more to say since that book is more historical than analytical. Maybe I will one day…

  6. In this analysis, the absence of music during the action and fight sequences was identified as a changing trend throughout the 70s. I just wanted to bring to your attention that almost from the “off”, John Barry was wise to his music not being drowned out by loud sound effects. Here is a quote from Michael Schelle’s The Score, Interviews with Music Composers from the late 90s:

    “At the time we did Goldfinger, certain movies had exaggerated sound effects. But with Goldfinger, they really, really did it—with the hits and the screeching car sounds and the runaway trains and the fist fights—everything was just way over the top, very noisy. I was frustrated, so I asked if we could have the senior sound editor involved with the music score. For one car-chase scene, as an example, I suggested that the sound effects could be at high volume for the first part, but then we would find a given point where something changes in the action—another element of danger or an imminent escape—where the effects would then dis-solve into my music for the second part. The music would lift the emotions and the effects would be subliminal, except maybe for the last five seconds, where everything effects and music would crescendo to a fevered pitch. So, on a lot of the Bond movies, I would work side by side with the sound guys. And the formula worked very well. If you ask people why the Bond chase scenes worked, they don’t really know. But I believe it’s because of this careful blending of effects and music. When I get a movie nowadays, and we enter into that “action” area, I use the same approach: find out what the sounds are, and fade the music in and out of the effects. In the five-minute buffalo hunt in Dances With Wolves, for example, they initially had laid a very loud temp track over the entire scene, but I pushed for beginning it with only the sounds of the buffalo, which were such terrific sounds by themselves, without music. Let’s give the audience the feeling of what that must have been like if they were there — let’s give that to them first, and then I’ll come in when some element changes and the effects can fade into the background.”

    A couple of early examples are in From Russia With And Goldfinger. In the former he scored the end of the train fight with Grant and it was intended that the music would come in when the garrotte is seen (however it was unused). In the latter, the car chase is unscored until Bond is seemingly driving head on with another car. That was the point when the action changed and was ready for the tension to be turned up a notch. The fight with Oddjob is unscored apart from a tiny moment when Bond has the lethal hat. That was yet another quality of Barry, knowing when best not to underscore a scene and letting the atmosphere build naturally and despite generally being an outlandish film, he played the tense moments in Moonraker for all they were worth. His comments on the dub were after he composed the score so I believe he was just going for Bond v Oddjob feel for the Cheng fight – enhance the realism by hearing the footsteps, blows and breakages standalone.

  7. Obviously I am just getting around to reading stuff you wrote sometime ago, but your fascinating explanation of the Moonraker score made me want to listen to it again–in fact I think I want to buy a copy thanks to you. You note the different instrumentations Barry used in the Gunbarrel opening over the years, specifically the fuller, more symphonic version for this film. However, don’t I also hear a different, more dissonant repeated chord useed over the opening bullet holes that move across the screen than in previous versions? It just sounds different to my ear, and not just the instruments. Is it to catch our attention in a new way? Curious as to your thoughts.

    • Hi David. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and question. As to whether the Moonraker “bullet-hole” chords are more dissonant, I have to say definitely not. The recording of the chords seems to be more closely miked, so there’s greater definition to the individual notes, which might explain why it could appear to be more dissonant. Starting with From Russia with Love, those chords have always been an EmM9 chord, or the notes E-G-B-F#-D#. The top trumpets I believe are spaced from the top down as B-G-F#-D#, but the D# is always hard to hear, being rather covered up by the middle of the texture. Actually, in Live and Let Die, George Martin changed the chord to a much mellower Em7 chord, or E-G-B-D. Martin’s rock background as opposed to Barry’s experience in jazz probably explains the difference. (And interestingly, Hamlisch’s The Spy Who Loved Me didn’t use the chords at all.)

  8. Hi there, new visitor to this site , love it ! Very informative and not being a musician but a film music enthusiast easy to understand.
    I wonder if you can help me with a query on the Moonraker score .
    I am desperately trying to find the piano sheet music for my daughter to play for ” Bond lured to the pyramid .” I cannot find it anywhere.
    If you have any ideas where I can purchase this I would love to hear them please .
    Best regards and keep up the great site !

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