The worst film scores ever recorded?

The worst film scores ever recorded?


norman lebrecht

July 07, 2014

My album of the week in is a pair of Soviet-era film scores by the Armenian composer, Aram Khatchaturian (pictured right).



 photo: Lebrecht Music&Arts

The performances are excellent and the Naxos sound quality cannot be faulted. But at the heart of these two scores lies a rot many have forgotten – the blight of terror, sycophancy and outright plagiariasm that bedevilled so much Russian music in the middle of the last century.

Read the review here.



  • John Edward Niles says:

    Aram Khatchaturian was referred to by a friend of mine as “Khatcha-trashcan.” Considering the unspeakably shabby way he treated Dimitri Shostakovich I have always felt that he was second rate composer at best. His music was loud, bombastic and unbearable Socialist Realism at its worst!

  • Terry Faulkner says:

    Using the same criteria to judge awfulness; surely Shostakovich beats out Khatchaturian with his score for the film “Fall of Berlin” with it’s repeated chorus of “Glory to Stalin”. Incidentally, that chorus is sung much more fervently in the early 50s Gauk LP (when Stalin was still alive) than on the recent Adriano CD. I wonder why that is?

  • Harold Braun says:

    The worst is definitely by the politically “correct” but unspeakeably dull hack Hanns Eisler.

  • Mikey says:

    If by “worst filmscores ever recorded” you mean “worst filmscores ever recorded up to the year 1950”, then sure.

    But honestly, there are countless contemporary filmscores that could, nay SHOULD bear the title of worst filmscore ever recorded. Let’s start with “anything by Hans Zimmer”, closely followed by “anything by Ramin Djawadi”, and move on to the bevy of illustrious nobodies who followed step by step in Hans Zimmer’s footprints.

  • Dan P. says:

    While I don’t believe Khatchaturian’s music ever rises above the level of Soviet kitsch, and I doubt that Shostakovich can be seriously compared to any of his great contemporaries in the West, I have to defend them – and Prokofiev too – at least in this extent. Film music was the only way for these composers to make money at their craft when their concert music was being suppressed – not only by Stalin but by mid-level bureaucrats playing their own politics. You have to do what you can to survive. And what do you do if you’re offered one of these crappy movies to score? Give them your best work? No, you give them what’s politically acceptable so you can get paid and feed your family and move on.

    These composers DID had their lives on the line in Stalinist Russia. Their fellow artists were continually being arrested and murdered at the whim of the government thugs. And, while you can’t commend them for bravery (it would have been foolish to be brave in any case), you also can’t condemn them just for composing monuments to dictators. When you’re living in such insane conditions, you do what you have to do to survive.

    Dan P.

  • John Riley says:

    Morally or musically? ‘The Battle of Stalingrad’ is no more mendacious than any number of other similar films. And the composers often had little choice in the matter: ‘The Fall of Berlin’ may well have saved Shostakovich from something much worse!

    Incidentally, I’m not sure whose translation ‘Otello’ uses: nobody’s name appears in the credits: it could well have been Pasternak’s (I can’t be bothered to check) but the screenplay was definitely by the director Yutkevich. I’m surprised you didn’t point out the several skirts-by ‘Gayaneh’. It’s actually not a bad film: quite atmospherically filmed, though we might question Bondarchuk’s Olivier-ish black-face.

  • Oh dear, Norman 🙂
    Well, I still consider these two Khachturian scores as effective film music, especially since they also are very well matching the action of the movies. “Othello” is also working very well and I have been told by the composer’s son (wh is a friend of mine since almost 20 years) that his father was all other than a Stalin bootlicker -he als had to survive, like many other composers at that time. His 3 Symphonies (I like them very much) were all other that enthusiastically received!
    Compared to DSCH, Khachaturian did not set any music of “Batlle of Stalingrad” to scenes in which Stalin appears, this gives him already one point more. Consider, for example, the scene in “Fall of Berlin”, in which Stalin is seen in his garden caressing blossoming trees, accompanied by a a worless chorus. Khachaturian’s idea to symbolize the Nazis with the German “O Tannenbaum” sons is much better that the never ending “Merry Widow” of DSCH’s “Leningrad Symphony”. Personally, there is much “film-like” music in DSCH Symphonies too and I prefer his String Quartets.

  • @ Terry. About the final chorus of The Fall of Berlin” – let me add that I also did not conduct it too enthuisiastcally – and the same goes to the piece entitled “Stalin in his Garden”.
    This was posted after 4 different attempts to decipher the quite unreadable CAPTCHA entry.