Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Leonard Rosenman (1924-2008)

Via the blogosphere (here and then here) I've just learned of the death of Leonard Rosenman. His well known career as a film composer is documented here and here. Other obits here, here and here.

I first encountered Rosenman during my grad studies at CalArts when he gave a talk to music and film students. He told how he had introduced contemporary musical techniques into his scores only to have an irate studio exec (could it have been Jack Warner) storm onto the recording stage demanding to know why so many of the musicians were just resting. The guy thought that if the musicians were being paid they should all be playing all the time.

Years later - think the 90s - I engraved several of Rosenman's chamber works and I therefore came to know the man. On entering his studio, over a garage up a long driveway from a Hollywood Hills canyon road, you couldn't help but immediately notice the two Oscars and two Emmies behind his desk (all somewhat the worse for their exposure to our smoggy L.A. air.) Although he'd been in Los Angeles about 40 years he gave the instant impression that he was still very much a New Yorker.

He had a penchant for saying exactly what he thought. I remember him reminiscing that his career had suffered because he had told a few of the wrong people to "go to hell". His most famous quote, said while receiving his second Oscar, "I write original music, too, you know.", revealed exactly how he felt about popular perceptions of his work.

It wouldn't take long before Len told anyone that he wrote his own music beyond film and television scores. He'd sit down at the piano (he was an excellent pianist) to demonstrate whatever he was working on at that moment. Many Hollywood composers think they deserve more notice for their serious work - it's like a syndrome. I'd guess that most have unperformed symphonies in a deep desk drawer the way everyone else in L.A. is supposed to have a movie script.

I think Leonard Rosenman was right: he did deserve greater respect for his "other" music. He had an amazing creative talent although he is best known for only certain parts of it. I will always wonder whether he might have achieved the respect he craved had he stayed in New York instead of coming to Los Angeles where his music became a small but important and honored part of a vast industry rather than a body of one individuals personal artistic expression.

Len Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . .

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