Charlie Chaplin, who won an Oscar for the score he composed for his film ‘Limelight’, said that while film music actually may convey more to the beholder-listener than the camera conveys at a given moment, still it must be never more than the voice of that camera... With this fabulous introduction for the category Best Music (Original Score), actress Penelope Cruz and actor Owen Wilson presented the Oscar statue to the French composer Ludovic Bource for ‘The Artist’ during the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in 2012.
Ludovic Bource, who did not have any formal training in composition or orchestration and learned to read music as a child when he took accordion lessons, beat double nominee John Williams, among others, with his distinctive work. On 26 February 2012, he rose from his red suede theatre chair in the famous Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak Theatre) and greeted Williams and other film music greats such as Howard Shore and Alberto Iglesias. He was the evening’s winner.
A memorable day, that also brought a loud cheer from the Brussels Philharmonic, where the story began. No-one expected the film ‘The Artist’ to become such a worldwide success. Although the concept of a silent black-and-white film had not been used for years, this nostalgic tale woven around the theme ‘A Star Is Born’ repeatedly captured the hearts of the general public, the specialised press and the international film industry.
In De Klankband (The Soundtrack), a new podcast series from the Brussels Philharmonic about film music and music in films, film journalist and ‘The Original Soundtrack’ author Robin Broos talks with the various protagonists who made this award winning soundtrack in Studio 4 at Flagey back then.
In the Brussels Philharmonic, they found the perfect partner for this special project: an enthusiastic orchestra, known for its high quality, flexibility and ability to perform all sorts of music – as well as experience of recording film music. In addition, the acoustics in Studio 4 lent extra character to the symphonic parts. The Brussels Jazz Orchestra led by saxophonist Frank Vaganée recorded the big band parts and jazz legend Jef Neve played the piano parts which were sometimes classical, sometimes jazzy.
In April 2011, Ludovic Bource, who wrote the music for the film, spent six days in Flagey’s Studio 4 to record 80 minutes of music. When asked about his best memory of the film, Bource replied: "Recording the music with the Brussels Philharmonic: 80 musicians, including about fifty string instruments, four French horns, four trombones, five percussionists running back and forth, a harpist, ten technicians, five orchestrators and three arrangers. It was magnificent!”
With a silent film, the soundtrack naturally occupies a prominent place, because given the lack of dialogue, the music has to convey emotions. Director Michel Hazanavicius had already spoken at length with composer Ludovic Bource about his dream of making a silent movie. When writing the story, the director drew inspiration from the music of Waxman and Steiner. Although this playlist was sent to Bource, he in turn listened to symphonic works by Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel and others. And although he had already composed a few themes before the recordings, now more than ever he needed the edited scenes to be able to really get down to work.
“As always with scoring for films, it’s a very stressful process”, says conductor Ernst Van Tiel. “The soundtrack is the final stage in the production of a film and the music is often written after the film has been finished. This time it was different, but the orchestra wanted to do it. The atmosphere during the recording sessions was magical. The composer had a direct line with the director, who was shooting the film in Los Angeles. A new scene or an idea meant that the transposition into music had to be very fast. Sometimes the music was written in the evening, printed at night and recorded the following day. “I didn’t make it easy for Ludovic Bource and the orchestra, but they did a magnificent job," Hazanavicius admitted in one of his interviews.
At the last moment, it all came together so the film was ready for the official Cannes Festival selection. Luckily, because after the showing, French and international audiences as well as the critics proved to be extremely enthusiastic. And the rest is history… The film won many other awards, besides the Oscar, including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a César. Partly thanks to the exceptional music, ‘The Artist’ conquered hearts all over the world. And made the Brussels Philharmonic famous far and wide.