An Interview with Antón García Abril by Marco Werba
Originally published in CinemaScore #15, 1986/1987
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher Randall D. Larson
Antón García Abril was born in Teruel in 1933. After studying in Spain he went to Italy to attend the ‘Accademia Chigiana di Siena’ musical courses, where he studied composition with Vito Frazzi, conducting with Paul Von Kempen and film-music with Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. The latter was to have a great influence upon Abril’s first film scores. After working on various Spanish film productions, Abril met Mario Camus and began to write the music for all of Camus’ films; the score for LOS SANTOS INOCENTES is one of the most effective of these collaborations. Abril also worked with Pilar Miro, another well-known Spanish director.
Abril went on to write the music for many Spanish films and television productions, gaining a reputation as one of Spain’s most prolific film composers. Recently, he scored an important British film series for Thames Television, called MONSIGNOR QUIXOTE, starring Alec Guinness. Abril’s music effectively delineated a Spanish flavor, using the guitar along with the English Chamber Orchestra to express a very sad vision of the Don Quixote myth.
In addition to his work in films, Abril has also written two musical comedies and a great deal of classical music, including cantatas, piano concertos, chamber music and orchestral symphonies.
The following interview was conducted at the First International Film-Music Meeting held in November 1986 in Seville, Spain, where Abril was a guest speaker.
What first stimulated you in the direction of film music?
I had studied music since I was very young. Before finishing my studies in composition I had the chance to meet a director who was shooting a big film in Cinemascope and needed a composer. At first he didn’t want to give the work to a beginner, but he did listen to some compositions I had written for piano, and he decided to give me the commission. My first instrument was the piano, and from there I studied harp and violin, though mainly just to learn instrumental technique. I usually don’t use piano when I orchestrate my music, I write straight onto the scoring sheets. I first write the melody and use the piano to write the harmony, and then I orchestrate it.
After this first scoring assignment you wrote music for many Spanish films. Did various directors want you to use music taken from Spanish folklore, or did they want a more American or European kind of descriptive music?
When I started scoring Spanish films there was a big influence from American films. Nevertheless, I always tried to respect my specific cultural background. And my musical education was, of course, influenced by the place in which I live – Spain.
During the composition work-shop you held here at the Seville film music meeting, you said that it’s always better to orchestrate one’s own music but that, because of lack of time, you sometimes need to use another orchestrator. What about concert music, when you have more time available? Do you orchestrate your own concert music?
Yes. When I write for chamber orchestra I have all the time I want to do my own orchestrations. Even when I score a film and I work with an orchestrator I always write a specific score with all the instrumental indications on it. I always control all the sound and colors I want since I am the composer and the creator of the music.
Is it possible to maintain a personal music style while passing through so many different types of films as you do?
It is not so difficult to maintain a personal style when your compositional technique is highly improved by various commissions. Once you get this technique, you do all the work spontaneously without trouble.
You scored some horror films, including one in Germany, searching for new sounds. How often do you have a chance to experiment in your music?
For THE ISLAND OF DEATH, a German film directed by Ernst Von Theumer, I had just two days! I had to find a new sound, something never heard before. I opened the piano and searched for every kind of sound possible. At the end the piano was broken but the music was incredible! I will never forget this experience. Unfortunately, there is never much time to experiment and find new sounds. The problem is always the same — lack of time. It will always influence your work in the score.
What do you think about electronic music and composers like Vangelis who work only with keyboards?
When I use electronic instruments I like to find new sounds and not only imitate real instruments. It’s an interesting element but you have to know how to use it. Vangelis uses only keyboards and does interesting works, but you cannot take him as an example of how a film composer must be. He’s an exception.
What I like to do is mix synthesizers with the orchestra. Some contemporary composers consider atonal music as the only valid kind of modern music to write and listen to. I think that, even if tonal music is “old fashioned” it nevertheless can be as good now as it was before. Something can be “old” but used in a modern way. It depends on how you use it.
Do you think there is a lot of difference between television and film scores?
No. I don’t think so, because television to me doesn’t exist. It’s only a “window” from which I see films. A TV series is only a number of films shown once a week. Musically, the only difference is that you have to find a main theme which will be repeated weekly every time the tv series is shown. This could be dangerous, so you have to be careful and find a good theme that the audience will remember with pleasure. It must be simple and not repetitive.
You also scored some westerns…
Yes, I did TIERRA BRUTAL, and English Western with an American kind of music (Bernstein, most of all) and TEXAS, ADDIO, an Italian Western with music influenced by Morricone. No matter what kind of film it is, what is fundamental is to give feelings to your music and, most of all, to move our human sentiments.