It was Danish author Hans Christian Andersen who once remarked that “where words fail, music speaks.” Never has this quote been more appropriate than to describe the work of composer John Barry Prendergast who sadly passed away five years ago today.
Everyone who grew up watching the James Bond films will forever remember the grand themes, sensuous melodies and unequalled musical nuances that both accompanied and accentuated the legendary screen adventures of agent 007. It was a delicate mammoth task to create the unique sound of the early Bond films – an exhausting and yet so beautifully fruitful love affair between an incredibly passionate composer and the cinematic incarnation of Ian Fleming’s ruthless gentleman-spy with a license to kill.
Barry’s use of strings, lyricism, half-diminished chords, and complex key shifting provided melancholy contrast, often heard in variations of the title songs as integrally infused with the plot development. Not only did the music give Bond a musical soul from which later composers would occasionally draw inspiration, the ever present emphatic themes and melodies also moved and accompanied a great deal of people in their daily lives.
There is barely anyone who hasn’t been touched by the immense life work of John Barry at some point. I’m no exception. But surprisingly, it wasn’t a Bond theme that had a significant impact on my life. It was Barry’s soundtrack to “Out of Africa”, the main theme in particular. The epic 1985 drama was the favourite film of my mother who sadly passed away in 1997 following a fierce three-year battle with breast cancer. I was 15 at the time, riven by grief and heartbroken. When people say that time is a great healer, listening to a John Barry composition might, ever so slightly, shift their opinion. True to what Hans Christian Andersen said, words failed and music spoke. John Barry’s music not only helped me to escape, it freed my mind and made me rest in the spheres of a genius like I was drifting in an ocean of memories.
Few composers have been able to captivate millions of people across the world for decades and leave behind such a versatile and memorable body of work like John Barry did. Every carefully crafted tune a magnum opus, every written note a declaration of love. It is music to immerse oneself in and forever embrace it for what it is – the work of a sincerely ingenious artist who had devoted his life to his profession.
A life cut short by a heart, that had kindled the passion for music from which true greatness arose.
Rest in Peace John