Hans Zimmer: Classical Composer?

Someone asked me if the soundtrack to the film Gladiator could be regarded as classical music. Seriously. The conversation turned to the similarities between the battle scene and Mars from Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite. But he also asked if the zither/vocals and the charismatic droning of a woman’s voice in the closing titles was also derived from older music.

I have a CD entitled “Music of the Post-Byzantine High Society” by Christodoulos Halaris, and there appear to be some superficial similarities to the two works.

The music for Gladiator also features the extraordinary Jivan Gasparyan who is probably the greatest duduk player in the world, and there is an obvious nod to Armenian music.

To get back to the question: “classical music” is unfortunately a term applied so widely and loosely that it’s impossible to arrive at a consensus. For instance, some people would say it is music written in the idiom that predominated in Europe between about 1750 and 1828 (i.e. from the death of J.S. Bach to the death of Beethoven), while others seem to think that anything played by an orchestra including violins is “classical” , even if it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. So, subjective taste influences the use of the term.

Music composed to accompany films and TV programmes is often written for orchestras similar to those used in 19th and 20th century symphonies, and the musical idiom used often incorporates features of the “classical” music that might have been used in the period in which the film’s story is set, e.g. the Napoleonic Wars or Edwardian England, such as Patrick Gowers’ music for the Granada TV “Sherlock Holmes” which emulates part of a romantic violin concerto.

But “part of” is an important consideration, I think. Film music rarely needs to be a convincing or extended structure, because it is usually heard for a minute or so and then faded out for dialogue. This, and the fact that it often deliberately imitates the music of a previous century, may explain why many people consider it in a separate category from what they call “classical music”.

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