Carlo Martelli

A Carlo Martelli Interview by John Mansell © 1996

carlo_martelliIn spite of his name, Martelli is a British composer. He was born in London in 1935 into a working-class family, Carlo Martelli was brought up in Walworth and Richmond and became one of the most admired young composers in Britain while still in his teens. As a young composer, Martelli had probably the greatest success of all those of his generation (which includes Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Richard Rodney Bennett). For example, his Symphony (written when he was 19) was performed by the LSO under Norman Del Mar at the Royal Festival Hall, and was then broadcast by the BBC several times in performances by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The change in Martelli’s fortunes came in the early 1960s. Policy changes at the BBC’s ‘Third Programme’ resulted in his music – melodious and tonal as it was – being sidelined in favour of serial and avant-garde experimentation, and Martelli rapidly vanished from the schedules.

In addition, he had taken on a tremendous workload as a film composer – to which burden was added the further strain of working as an uncredited assistant and ‘ghost writer’ for several other film composers: Martelli sometimes found himself working on two or three films at the same time. The most serious blow of all came in the early 1970s, when council workers unexpectedly emptied his storage space and mistakenly burnt all of his manuscripts. After this disaster (which resulted in the only extant works being those that were already in print by the late 1950s) Martelli gave up composing for many years, and made a living as a freelance viola player. He was often seen playing in a string quartet which entertained diners at the original ‘Pizza Express’ restaurant in London’s Soho. He also worked producing commercial arrangements of popular and classical pieces for quartet.

Silva Screen records commissioned a suite of Martelli’s music from THE CURSE OF THE MUMMYS TOMB for inclusion on the HORROR compilation, at the sessions of the recording Martelli, told me about the suite.
I think the orchestra might have difficulties with this, the music is quite complex, the suite consists of four movements, these are the title sand opening sequence in the desert where the Egyptologist is murdered, the love scene, the scene where the Egyptian attaché debases himself in front of the mummy and has his head crushed, and the final scene where the mummy buries itself in the sewers of London.

The original score for THE CURSE OF THE MUMMYS TOMB has also been issued as part of the Hammer film music series on the UK based GDI records, listening to the score its sounds as if it is performed by a very large orchestra, I asked the composer what size orchestra was he allowed to utilise for this score?
I was encouraged to use a big brass section, this was to achieve a big sound where it was necessary. This section consisted of 8 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 2 tubas. The remainder of the orchestra was made up of, 2 flutes (which doubled as piccolos), cor anglais, bass, clarinet, double bassoon, timpani, percussion, harp, 4 cellos, 14 violins, 3 double basses and a hechiaphone. Hammer had only a small budget for music on their films, or a least that is what I was told. But they did employ some of the best musicians around at the time. Thus the performances were always very good, and by writing in a certain fashion, I was able to make the orchestra sound larger than it actually was.

Michael Carreras, was the producer on both of Martelli’s Hammer assignments, I asked the composer what he was like to work with and did he have any involvement at all in the where the music was to placed etc?
Carreras was a total philistine when it came to music. He did not have the remotest feeling for, or understanding of it. As for taking an active role in where any music was to be placed, or what style of music etc, he did unfortunately try and do this, in common with many other composers that work in film, I had to sit and listen to vast amounts of preposterous and ill informed drivel, and whilst doing this try to keep a straight and serious face. It is a sad fact that nowadays many directors, producers and so called music supervisors are musically illiterate. Many composers such as myself have to suffer a great amount of indignity from these people. There is nothing worse than being engaged to score a film, and when the music is ready being told that it is unsuitable or wrong by someone who is tone deaf.

So if the composer did not get on with Carreras, why, did he return to Hammer for SLAVE GIRLS?
I suppose it was all down to money again, but SLAVE GIRLS was really a favour for Phil Martell, the film was a fiasco, I was deliberately set up on this by Martell, It happened as follows, Phil had not been able to find a composer for the film, I think that Carreras first choice was a European composer but they had turned it down. So Martell came to me and misled me about the film, he originally told me that the score he required would only be a very sparing one, 15 minutes at the most. He also said I would have three weeks to complete it. This to me sounded like a schedule made in heaven, it was sheer luxury compared with other scoring assignments. Well in the end it transpired that the movie required 50 minutes of score and I would have less than 10 days to complete it. As a result of this deceit the music I had already written was totally unsuitable, and I had to start again, thus another session had to be booked, which took us way over budget, and then I had to do some re-writes, which again added more to the cost By this time Carreras was very annoyed indeed, but obviously he did not know the full facts of the story, Martell made sure I took all the blame for his mistakes. As a result I never worked directly for Hammer again.

Carlo Martelli and fellow composer Gerard Schurmann, collaborated together on a few things, so I enquired about their association.
Gerry, taught me the technique of writing music for film, he had heard a performance of my second symphony on the radio, and had marked me as someone that he would approach if ever he were hard pushed for time on a project and required some assistance. In 1963, I worked with him on two movies, DR SYN and THE CEREMONY, and then indeed on all of his subsequent film scores. A great deal of the music in these movies is mine, indeed much of it reappears in scores that I have written, so it becomes confusing at times, who has written what. The music for THE CEREMONY was re-cycled and arranged differently and used again on THE LOST CONTINENT, so this is why I said I never directly worked for Hammer again.

Did he ever go on to a film set or go on location at all?
No, I must admit I never ventured onto any film sets or had the inclination to go on location at all, and I don’t think I was ever asked to do so actually. I would normally just look at the movie I was asked to score just once. This was normally with either the director or the producer and editor, and in hammers case the MD. We would reach a descion as to where the music was to be placed etc, and then go home and await the cue sheets. I have never read a script, pointless exercise, because by the time I would get to scoring the movie, the script had probably been altered umpteen times. I have at times written music for films without seeing them, this was when I was ghost writing for certain composers.

Would you be able to tell us what composers these were?
No I don’t think that would be a good idea.

Did he think that the orchestrating of a score was an important part of the composing process?
Yes, totally, its all part and parcel of the same thing. It would be unthinkable to hand over my music to an orchestrator or arranger, and yes the orchestration of the score is just as important as the composing.

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