Simon Hester: Scenes from the Movies

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When I reviewed Simon Hesters Megabytes from Editions Musica Ferrum a couple of years back, I was immensely impressed with his music, concluding that it was,

“…an absolutely brilliant and hugely creative collection: strongly recommended!”

Hester has a new collection available, again published by Musica Ferrum.

Scenes from the Movies delivers 8 new pieces suitable for advanced players (UK Grades 6-8), inspired by classic cinema.

Let’s find out whether it has “box office hit” written all over it…

Golden Age of Hollywood

Scenes from the Movies appears as a fairly simple music folio in Musica Ferrum’s typical house style, and with a cover that deliciously evokes the art deco movie theatres of old.

The 20 pages within are printed on cream paper, their content basic in the sense that there is no introduction to the composer or the music; nor indeed any other preamble apart from a simple contents page listing the following eight titles:

  1. Big Opening
  2. Big City Scene
  3. Battle Scene
  4. Love Scene
  5. Action Scene
  6. Creepy Scene
  7. Scéne Français
  8. Closing Titles

On YouTube, the composer has shared his own recordings of the collection, which you can listen to here while reading on:

Film Music for All Occasions..

In common with the cover, the music within echoes the aesthetics of an older age, in which pop songs, electronic noodling and atmospheric music beds had not become the staples of film music. The lush melodic gestures and harmonic complexity here owe more to the likes of Elmer Bernstein, Ron Goodwin, Max Steiner and Nino Rota than to more recent film composers.

Stylistically, while broadly in a classical vein, there are splashes of jazz harmony in several pieces and a Gershwin-esque swing flair in Big City Scene. Meanwhile, Hester’s arch humour, though not as overt as in Megabytes, is never far from view.

Like the great instrumental scores in classical and jazz styles that used to dominate, these pieces command attention with their own scene-stealing qualities. While they may evoke those great film scores of yesteryear, however, these pieces never descend into kitschy pastiche.

On the contrary, I would say they are a breath of fresh air when compared to much of the filmic piano writing so common at present; it is a relief that Hester eschews the derivative formula of his contemporaries in favour of music which has a far more gripping character.

The Closing Titles references themes we have encountered throughout the collection, and in particular in the Big Opening, giving the collection a sense of unity in the same way that a great soundtrack ends with an infectious celebration of its best moments. Rather like the finale of Poulenc’s Villageoises it makes little sense in isolation of course!

Piano Classics?

These pieces will find a welcome audience with advanced players who have a penchant for exploring accessible new music, and especially those with affectionate memories of the old movie hall and an enthusiasm for musical diversity.

Level-wise, they would suit players at around Grades 6-8 level. As they are also compact in their composition (six of the eight pieces are two pages long, one is a single page, the longest is three) they would also make excellent exam selections and I hope that the boards will investigate the publication promptly!

I almost always comment on the fingering (or lack of it) in a publication; here there is none. This is of course, hardly unusual in more advanced music.

On the plus side, Hester’s scores thus have more clarity, an important point as he gives plenty of detail in terms of articulation, dynamics and phrasing. On the minus side, the lack of fingering leaves the collection less primed for educational use: the lower advanced player at Grade 6 may well struggle and will likely need the help of a good teacher to work out effective fingering patterns that convey the style well.

The more advanced independent enthusiast will of course happily work through these pieces unaided, and I suspect that the book will particularly appeal to competent adult players looking for some light relief.

Curtain Call…

This collection once again leaves no doubt that Hester is a superb composer, and one whose music deserves a far wider currency among pianists and teachers.

Whether performed as individual miniatures or as a concert set, Scenes from the Movies is sure to delight players and audiences alike. An oscar-worthy collection!

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published author and composer based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs a successful private teaching studio.

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