The Film Music Society FMS FEATURE ARTICLE...

May 23, 2003
New Score for Silent Film Classic Is Premiered
by Jon Burlingame

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde never sounded so good.

On Sunday, May 18, composer John Scott unveiled his new orchestral score for the 1920 silent classic starring John Barrymore, conducting the 40-piece Hollywood Symphony Orchestra before a small but appreciative crowd at the Haugh Performing Arts Auditorium at Citrus College in Glendora, California.

The British composer said he had been inspired to create the 81-minute score after watching a print of the film with a lackluster score for solo organ. For a second viewing, he turned the sound off and found the film greatly improved; he decided to write a score that would truly enhance the experience.

And that he did. Scott's music provided a fresh emotional underpinning for the Robert Louis Stevenson melodrama, including a melancholy theme for the brooding Jekyll, exquisite string passages for his love interest Millicent, fiery dissonance for his transformation into the evil Hyde, even raucous music-hall settings for Hyde's nightly debauchery. The scope of moods ranged from ominous to thrilling.

Scott conducted without the usual aids of click track or streamers. "I tried to make the music colorful in order to convey the atmosphere of 19th-century London," Scott wrote in his program notes. "It is a dramatic, complex, melodic and emotional score."

Indeed it was, deserving of additional performance and even recording. Scott is one of a handful of contemporary film composers with a strong melodic sense, and the experience – with both the film and the orchestra visible to the audience – was enthralling. Present among the friends and colleagues of the composer were such luminaries as explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, director Ivan Passer and editor Thom Noble.

Scott opened the program with four suites from earlier scores: the delightful waltz of Rocket to the Moon (1967); the musical seascapes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997); the alternately savage and stately Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984); and the fanfares and drama of The Final Countdown (1980).

© 2003 Jon Burlingame