While I was writing up my Milton Babbitt obituary earlier, another composer also passed away this past weekend. John Barry, who penned dozens of scores for Hollywood movies and won five Oscars, died last Sunday at the age of 77. There are fuller accounts of his work in this piece at the Guardian and this collection of clips at Total Film. I hadn’t heard his ravishing theme for Mary, Queen of Scots (scored for string orchestra, solo violin, and harp, the latter instrument doing a decent impression of a 16th-century lute), nor have I seen the 1971 film for which it was written. I was glad to discover this music.
Of course, he’s best known for the James Bond theme music, though there was an authorship controversy with another composer named Monty Norman. Weirdly enough, the main melody supposedly comes from a song for an unproduced 1960 stage musical based on V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. Monty Norman is still alive and has a website. Click on the song “Bad Sign, Good Sign” here and the opening lines will sound pretty familiar.
Anyway, here’s the Bond theme. Mix yourself a vodka martini in Mr. Barry’s memory.