RIP John Barry

So, John Barry ‘passed away’, died, shuffled off this mortal coil or whatever you want to call it earlier this week. It wasn’t a huge surprise – the man was 77, and had been in poor health for several years – but it still marked the end of an era. With the exception of John Williams, Barry marked the last of a golden age of film composition, where Romance and romance could still mesh and where string-soaked melodrama was the perfect accompaniment to cinema, not the latest pop hit or remix.

Barry, a notable Yorkshireman, first became famous for his work with the Bond series, and of course his main themes for the films are enough to ensure his place in film scoring history forever. However – and this is where I might differ from the vast majority of readers – I find that it’s his later work that becomes most interesting. From the early 70s onwards, he became the absolute master of romantic melancholy, with scores to often mediocre and forgotten films (Raise The Titanic? Howard The Duck? High Road To China?) offering sweeping, pensive beauty and scope. And of course, if he scored something that would endure, such as Out Of Africa or Dances With Wolves, his trademark meshing of brass and strings became something quite extraordinary.

One could quibble that Barry was ultimately a one-trick pony, with a trademark sound that came to be almost parodic of itself (and, indeed, was rejected from many of his later films, with his final score being the almost deliberately old-fashioned music to Michael Apted’s WWII romantic thriller Enigma). But this would be to ignore the remarkable scope of his music, which beautifully summons up great vistas of land and space, amazing adventures and the awesome regret of lost love. It’s a shame he never got to score The Great Gatsby in any of its incarnations, because that sense of melancholia and undying, failed romance were so key to so much of his work.

Anyway, here are a few of my favourite pieces by the great man. Enjoy.


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