JOHN MORRIS in 2015
PHOTO BY CERYS HANDSCHUMACHER
(CREATIVE COMMONS, VIA WIKIPEDIA)
Best known for scoring nearly all of director Mel Brooks' comedy films, composer John Morris died Thursday Jan. 25th at the age of 91. Morris's most famous score in the fantasy/science fiction/horror genres was that for Brooks' 1974 YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, a pitch-perfect send up of classic Universal monster movies for which Morris composed a pitch-perfect score in the classic Universal vein.
Morris' score for Brooks' hilarious monster movie homage surpassed its film music roots. In his obit for Morris in Variety, writer Jon Burlingame commented on Morris' memorable violin theme which is central to the YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN score: "Under the title 'Transylvanian Lullaby,' [the theme] has even been performed by classical artists from violinist Gil Shaham to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra."
The lullaby was Brooks' idea. "Mel said for Young Frankenstein, which is really a horror film basically, writing scary music was totally inappropriate and had nothing to do with the main character," Morris told Film Score Monthly.
In a 1997 interview. "Mel told me to write the most beautiful Eastern European lullaby that you can. That would become the heart of the monster. It would be his childhood. I understood him because Mel always goes for the emotional center of something. It's not that Mel didn't want scary music, it was just another kind of movie. It was an emotional movie. You just have to write honest music."
Morris began as Brooks' regular composer with 1967's THE PRODUCERS; he went on to compose the music for all of Brooks' movies except DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT and ROBIN HOOD, MEN IN TIGHTS (1995, 1993, both scored by Hummie Mann)
An orchestral composer in the classical vein, Morris was also known for his scores to THE ELEPHANT MAN (directed by David Lynch but produced by Mel Brooks' production company Brooksfilms), the gothic horror drama THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985, another Brooksfilms production, directed by Freddie Francis), THE IN-LAWS, CLUE, JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY, the underscore for DIRTY DANCING, and the TV mini-series SCARLETT, the sequel to GONE WITH THE WIND.
Morris was nominated twice for an Academy Award, for his score to THE ELEPHANT MAN (also nominated for a Grammy), and for his song, co-written by Mel Brooks, from BLAZING SADDLES. He won back-to-back ASCAP Awards for his participation in COACH, which won "Top TV Series" from 1992-96.
Read Jon Burlingame's complete remembrance of John Morris in Variety here.
Listen to John Morris' violin theme from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,
as heard in the Main Title, below:
Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer. He has written liner notes for more than 120 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, FSM, Perseverance, Silva Screen, Harkit, Quartet, and BSX Records. A largely re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published: the first of this four-book series is now available. See: www.musiquefantastique.com