Sad news this morning: Composer Marvin Hamlisch died yesterday in Los Angeles after a brief, unspecified illness; he was 68 years old. Mr. Hamlisch wrote the scores and/or songs for more than 40 films (most recently 2009’s “The Informant!”), and won three Academy Awards, for the scores for “The Sting” and “The Way We Were” and the title song from “The Way We Were.” He also composed the musicals “A Chorus Line,” “They’re Playing Our Song,” and others, and was currently at work on the new musical “Gotta Dance” and had composed the score for Steven Soderberg’s upcoming film about Liberace, “Behind the Candelabra.”
There are many Hamlisch songs we could be humming today — “What I Did For Love,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “The Last Time I Felt Like This” — but I’m going to include here a little instrumental piece called “The Glove,” one of two Jazz Age-style tunes written by Hamlisch for “The Sting.” Most of the music for “The Sting” came from ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who died in 1917; newly arranged by Hamlisch. Here’s Hamlisch, quoted on his official website, about the experience of making music for that film:
I was well aware that there were other musicians who knew the music of Scott Joplin far more intimately than I, men who had popularized Joplin’s famous piano “rags.” But I knew how to write for film, marrying music to the length of each scene, and I could also play the piano “rags”- those Juilliard piano lessons were about to pay off.
The real fun came for me when we started recording the soundtrack. We didn’t have a full-size orchestra, as with “The Way We Were,” but we had eight or nine great musicians, with yours truly at the keyboard. We spent hours making ragtime; the piano player in me had found a long-lost brother in Scott Joplin.
The music for The Sting was getting a lot of mention in the reviews. (Who would have guessed that a ragtime single would bounce to the top of the charts?) Of course, there were critics. Some carped that Scott Joplin’s music was out of place in a movie set in another era. The film was set in the thirties; the Joplin “rags” were written around the turn of the century. I had been aware of this. I knew this might cause a problem for some purists. But the music and movie had a great kinship-a good humor and high spirits. It received many nomination and won many Oscars.
And here’s “The Glove”; it’s a charmer. Rest in peace, Mr. Hamlisch. (For fans of Hamlisch and “The Sting”: You can catch the 1973 hit in 35mm — a rare treat — on screen at the Grand Illusion this week, through Thursday.)