Obituary: Stanley Myers
Saturday 13 November 1993
STANLEY MYERS loved the movies. He must have composed the score for more than 100 films, both for features and television. He did seven for me, including Heart of Darkness which he finished only a month ago. So many film composers prefer to keep their involvement separate from the film-maker, happy of course to enhance the film, but also rather pleased to have the music-stand on its own in case of a record deal. Myers just wanted to make himself and his music part of the movie.
It was nerve-wracking when it came to the time to show Myers the first cut of the film, in some ways more alarming than showing it to the producers or the studio. As an artist you knew he would never be able to keep his true thoughts about the film from showing, either in his face or from the charming way he would stammer in excitement. I had a theory, worked out over nearly 20 years of knowing him, that if he spoke perfectly lucidly and without hestitation, it was because he didn't care about something. But if he was moved or thrilled, he would grope for words in an almost incomprehensible way.
Thank God, for the most part, on the movies we made together I could hardly understand what on earth he was going on about, until it came to the time he would phone me and say, 'Nick, I just want you to come over and listen to something.' I would go over to his flat in Beaufort Street: he'd say, 'The gin is in the kitchen, I'll just put the tape on.'
He would then sit at the piano and play to the scenes as they ran silently on the television. Stumbling through odd sections, starting over again, sometimes suddenly laughing and saying, 'Oh Lord, that's not right, is it?', but always thinking only of the film and how his music would help it live and grow.
Watching him at these times was like watching those original film-music men, the pianists who sat beside the screen in the cinemas in the days of the silents, vamping and playing to enhance the action; getting a chance to change their mind about what they would do from one showing to the next.
He had a huge knowledge of music and wonderful terms of reference. It was like being in the presence of a living Grove's Dictionary. He was extremely generous to people like myself who had no formal musical training. He would genuinely try and find musical phrases from totally untechnical examples of help, such as, 'You know that piece, Stanley, I think it was Greig or was it Bach? It goes, da da di da da . . .'
He knew all the great musicians and was very particular about who he wanted to work with him and was always full of praise and admiration for the players who performed his work. When he conducted a session they in turn seemed to play beyond themselves. Those sessions were always so exciting and happy.
I remember on Insignificance (1985) we thought of transposing a Mozart violin concerto from strings to brass and he brought the great Gil Evans, who worked with Miles Davis, over from the US to help him arrange it. They became instant friends. With Gil came Lou Soloff, the trumpet player who with Stanley's help, encouragement and enthusiasm played like the great 'G Angel'.
Stanley Myers, with all his love of life and ability to express his art through film, was primarily a great musician: one of those rare musical talents who have the gift of melody. Even when he composed the most complex pieces they were always driven by the most lyrical melodies. He won many awards, including two Ivor Novello awards, and was given a special Grand Prix at Cannes in 1987 for his artistic contribution.
I shall miss him and I know all the other film-makers who worked with him will. Among them, Stephen Frears, Michael Cimino, Volker Schlondorff, Gavin Millar, Bryan Forbes, Jerzy Skolimowski, David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Ted Kotcheff, Paul Bartel and on and on.
Thank you, Stanley, from us all.
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