Compare weekly cinema attendance with the numbers who go to classical concerts (or any other sort, come to think of it!) and you will be left with no doubt as to why music composed for films works its magic in the hearts and minds of listeners more than any other genre.
And it is no wonder that those who take up an instrument are so quick to ask teachers if they can learn their favourite film themes.
In the case of the most popular composers and successful scores, there’s very often a tie-in publication so that fans can buy the sheet music, as was the case with the excellent La La Land score which I recently reviewed here.
But for those after an anthology of their favourite pieces, the choice is not so easy. Some publications of this kind provide poor transcriptions, while others aren’t sympathetically arranged for piano, taking account of the player’s level.
It is with real pleasure that I can therefore warmly recommend the latest piano book from Faber Music, a collection simply entitled Film Themes: The Piano Collection.
The book includes 30 film themes arranged for piano solo, covering a wide range of cinematic genres and periods, but all with memorable and hugely popular scores.
Happily it includes music from some of the major blockbusters of recent years, including Frozen, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Twilight, The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey alongside favourites from the Harry Potter films, 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book.
The full contents are as follows:
- Alone In Kyoto (Lost In Translation)
- Bella’s Lullaby (Twilight)
- Chocolat ( Chocolat)
- Cider House Rules – Main Titles (The Cider House Rules)
- Cruella De Ville (101 Dalmations)
- Elevator Song (X+Y)
- Forrest Gump – Main Titles (Forrest Gump)
- Gone With The Wind (Gone with the Wind)
- The Hanging Tree (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1)
- Harry’s Wondrous World (Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone)
- Heal (If I Stay)
- I Wanna Be Like You (Jungle Book)
- In Noctem (Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince)
- Let It Go (Frozen)
- Long Way Down (The Fault in our Stars)
- Love Me Like You Do (Fifty Shades Of Grey)
- Love Theme (Romeo & Juliet)
- Maybe (Annie)
- Mia & Sebastian’s Theme (La La Land)
- Morning Passage (The Hours)
- Neverland (Minor piano variation) (Finding Neverland)
- Not About Angels (The Fault In Our Stars)
- Not Goin’ Home Anymore (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid)
- Obliviate (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows)
- Prelude in E minor (The Pianist)
- Rachel’s Song (Blade Runner)
- Rey’s Theme (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
- See You Again (The Fast And The Furious)
- Theme (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind)
- This Is Berk (How To Train Your Dragon)
Of course, if you or I were to compile lists of our personal favourite 30 movie themes of all time (and do feel free to do that in the comments below if the mood takes you!) our choices are highly unlikely to be a complete match of the list above. Such is the nature of subjective taste.
Also, of course, copyright considerations will always come into play when compiling such a collection – although I can’t deny I thought it a little lazy to include the public domain Prelude in E minor by Chopin, which is so easily available elsewhere.
But without doubt or reservation, Faber are to be congratulated for compiling such a diverse and well-rounded collection as this, and I am sure many will be quick to snap it up!
The book announces itself with a cover design inspired by the iconic opening ‘crawl’ from Star Wars, here listing the movies represented within. Although there are a generous 112 pages, I had no problem with it staying open on the piano music rest, nor at this point does the binding seem likely to fail. Overall then, this is a nicely presented publication.
Aside from the title page, the inside of the book entirely comprises the pieces, with an average of four pages per title, but in a few cases much longer. The notation is well spaced, and clearly engraved with a good font size. There are relatively few performance directions (presumably it is assumed that the player is familiar with the music anyway) and no fingering suggestions.
This is all as I would expect for a publication of this type. But what of the arrangements themselves?
According to the minimal blurb, the pieces have been “arranged for the intermediate pianist”, but this phrase tends to be a “catch-all” in commercial sheet music publications.
In this instance, I would say that the easiest pieces (for example, Alone in Kyoto, The Cider House Rules, The Hanging Tree, Not Goin’ Home Anymore) are around Grade 4-5 level, while the majority of other pieces would be more suitable from around Grades 6-7.
Taking one of the most ambitious examples, Harry’s Wondrous World (from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) fills eleven pages and is an imaginative, though rather difficult, arrangement of the entire six minute orchestral track rom the movie soundtrack, and not simply the main theme(s) from it. Technically it includes octave passages in both hands, regular stretches of an eleventh, triplets and irregular time divisions, time signature changes, dramatic shifts of dynamic and mood, and so on.
I needed to check the original soundtrack recording alongside the score to clarify a few passages where the orchestral elements are transcribed with impressive detail, but which didn’t make immediate sense on the piano. Attention to effective pedalling, balance and tonal colour will all help bring these elements to life and ensure this is a genuinely impressive showpiece.
It’s great to see movie music benefit from this level of pianistic adaptation, and I have no doubt that fans of the music will be utterly delighted by this collection.
At the same time it would be great to see Faber Music produce a version of this collection for ‘Easy Piano’ as they did with the La La Land books. Arranged with care for the needs and ability of the player at around Grade 2-3, the book could reach another, highly enthusiastic audience.
Another case in point here is the arrangement of Let it Go from Frozen – which is surely on the “must play” list of so many younger pianists. The version here is six pages long, written in the key of A flat major, with octaves used throughout in both hands, complex syncopations and technical demands at around Grade 6 level. It’s a great arrangement for those who can play it, but those who expect an easier arrangement will be disappointed, and should perhaps instead try Faber Music’s Easy Piano Films book.
Overall then, the arrangements here are generally fabulous, but players are advised that in many cases they are quite hard to play.
I would suggest that for the player who is at around Grades 6-8 level and hankers after playing film music for pleasure, the material offered here provides a wide range of enjoyable pieces that will sometimes be reasonably straight-forward to learn, and at other times offer challenge and highly imaginative arrangements.
In addition to the pieces already mentioned, the highlights for me included a solid arrangement of Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Mia & Sebastian’s Theme from La La Land, Rachel’s Song from the Vangelis’s sublime Blade Runner score, and an effective arrangement of Rey’s Theme from The Force Awakens. I am sure that many will be pleased, too, to see the inclusion of Michael Nyman’s music from The Hours.
Put simply, this is a brilliant collection for the more advanced pianist who wants to explore these movie themes and play them in intelligent piano arrangements.
I already have one student who has bought a copy, excited to learn Nino Rota’s classic Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet, and I will most certainly be recommending the book to others in the coming weeks too!
Available online from Musicroom here.
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