Hannah Nepil interviews composer John Scott, who conducts the RPO in accompaniment to Douglas Fairbanks’ 1922 silent film on 12th July at Cadogan Hall.
When the composer John Scott was asked in 2006 to compose a score for the silent film Robin Hood, his first reaction was ‘no thanks’.
Which may seem surprising. After all, in 1922 when it came out, Douglas Fairbanks’ film was the most expensive ever to have been made, at a cost of over 1,000,000 dollars. But something about it made Scott hesitate. ‘When I first saw it, it was too fast,’ he says, ‘everything looked unnatural. And,’ he adds, ‘it seemed like a thankless task working so hard for something when I couldn’t believe in the speed of it.’
He changed his mind after the film was slowed down to look more natural: ‘At this new speed the sets, the pageantry, the costumes could now be appreciated for what they were.’
There are several film and TV versions of Robin Hood, each accompanied by different music. ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen’ is the famous theme from TV’s The Adventures of Robin Hood; Bryan Adams was number one for a long time with ‘Everything I Do, I Do it For You’ from the Kevin Costner film. And if really pressed, many people could hum a tune from the Walt Disney movie.
For Scott, though, the definitive version was Erich Korngold’s score to the Errol Flynn version. And that was a concern. ‘I didn’t want to be compared with Korngold,’ he says. ‘But then I thought, I’m not going to copy Korngold. I’m just going to write a score that I believe in.’
Scott is no stranger to film music. He has composed scores for films including The Shooting Party and Greystoke – The Legend of Tarzan, and one other silent film, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Nevertheless, writing the score to Robin Hood was hard work. ‘With a silent film the music never stops, so it was a relentless process,’ he says. But he is happy with the result. ‘It’s a swashbuckler,’ he says, ‘There’s adventure music, baddy music and romance.’
The score was premièred in Nottingham in 2007 and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will give the second ever performance, accompanying a screening of the film, at Cadogan Hall in July.