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Red Contributor


John Charles

Composer

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Born: 1940

Biography

John Charles is best-known in New Zealand as one of the country’s first composers to make his mark on film, thanks to his varied and distinctive scores for classics Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth. He has also spent time working in television as a producer and executive.

Born in Wellington, Charles studied arts at Victoria University, where he played music with the university jazz club. The next few years saw him working as both a newspaper journalist, and a programme officer for the NZ Broadcasting Service. After graduating with a Bachelor of Music, he rejoined the NZBC as a producer and occasional director (including doing both jobs on episodes of landmark drama series Pukemanu). In 1973 he directed teleplay Lunch with Richard Burton, followed by two episodes of the country's first situation comedy, mixed flatting tale Buck House.

Although Charles moved to Australia in 1974, he would go on to compose music for a run of future Kiwi screen projects. Two years later saw his first feature-length score, for acclaimed tele-movie The God Boy (based on the Ian Cross novel).

The man who Charles would work with most often was jazz trumpeter turned filmmaker Geoff Murphy. Their association dates back to 1966 and Murphy’s very first film, unfinished children’s musical The Magic Hammer. The two went on to play together as part of 70s touring group Blerta, and on the Murphy-directed TV show of the same name.

In the late 70s and 80s, Charles joined Murphy as he segued into feature films. The result was a series of classic soundtracks: the jazz-tinged Goodbye Pork Pie, the largely symphonic soundtrack for Utu, and ambitious end of the world piece The Quiet Earth, which remains one of his most popular soundtracks to date.

Charles also provided the score for 1984 tele-movie Iris, based on the life of poet Iris Wilkinson (pen name Robin Hyde), and collaborated with Lost Tribe composer Dave Fraser on the music for Constance, which referenced Hollywood melodramas of the 40s.

During the same period Charles also spent time working in television on both sides of the Tasman. In the mid-70s he worked in Sydney, at the music department of public broadcaster ABC Television. Returning to Wellington in 1978, Charles spent two years as Head of Entertainment Programmes for Television One.

In 1980 he returned to Sydney, and ABC-TV. Since composing for The Quiet Earth in 1985, Charles has been permanently based in Australia, working as a freelance composer, arranger, pianist and TV director. There he has continued to contribute to New Zealand projects, including composing for World War Two romance A Soldier’s Tale, TV’s Bread & Roses (based on the early life of politician Sonja Davies), Lange-era mini-series Fallout (1995), and Geoff Murphy-directed thriller Spooked.

He also composed music for the seven-hour long The Sound and the Silence, a Kiwi-Canadian mini-series about inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

In 1996 Charles joined the Australian Film Television and Radio School, as Composer-in-Residence, where he taught screen composition for more than a decade.

[Information about John Charles and his music for film and television can also be found on the NZ Onscreen website.]


Composed (54)

A Soldier's Tale

music for feature film produced by Mirage Entertainment and directed by Larry Parr


Bounty

music for short film


Bread and Roses

music for feature film/ TV mini-series


Constance

music for film for chamber orchestra and dance band


Crepuscule With Nellie

arranged for jazz group and string quartet


Darling Johnny-O

for flute, acoustic guitar and cello


Elegy for Strings (I.M. Tony Isaac)

for string orchestra, 3m


Elle

music for a TV commercial


Epiphany Ramble

variations on Christmas hymn 'Personent Hodie'


Fallout

music for TV miniseries


Felled Trees

for voice and piano, 1m


Five Little Pieces

for piano, 6m


Five Maori Songs

for Maori choir and orchestra


Four New Zealand Songs

for voice and piano, 7m


Goodbye Pork Pie

music for feature film for jazz group and orchestra


Harry's Ramble

for orchestra, 7m


Heart of the High Country

music for TV series


Iris

music for film, 17m


Jack Winter's Dream

music for film


Long and Winding Road

arranged for voice and orchestra


Man of Letters

music for film


Monk's Mood; Friday the 13th

arranged for jazz group and string quartet


Pieces of April

arranged for vocal duet and orchestra of original music by Dave Loggins


Pioneer Blues

for voice and piano, 2m


Rockin' In Rhythm

arrangement of song by Duke Ellington for voice and orchestra with solo clarinet


Sea Coast

music for film


Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear

arranged from the text and original music by Randy Newman for voice and orchestra


Spooked

for small orchestra, for feature film, 40m


Stabat Mater

music for a short film for soprano and ensemble


Suddenly Snow

For voice and piano


Sunrise

for orchestra, adapted from the title music for the 1984 feature film 'The Quiet Earth', 3m


The Flight of the Albatross

orchestration and arrangement for feature film


The God Boy

music for film


The Last Tattoo

music for feature film for orchestra, jazz and swing groups


The Perfectionist

music for film


The Quiet Earth

orchestral music for film produced by Don Reynolds and directed by Geoff Murphy for Cinepro, 24m


The Sound and the Silence

music for TV mini-series


The Turning Wheel

a song cycle for voice and piano, 15m


Theme from Utu

for solo piano, 2m 30s


Three Ezra Pound Songs

For voice and piano


Three Folksong Arrangements

for low voice and piano, 6m


Three Ruth Dallas Songs

for voice and piano, 6m


Utu

suite for orchestra adapted from incidental music for the film Utu (1982), 14m


Utu

music for a feature film produced by Geoff Murphy and Don Blakeney and directed by Geoff Murphy, 32m


What does the future hold?

arrangement of NZ Expo song for male and female vocal soloists and orchestra


Zombie Fugue

for string quartet, 2m


Zombie Fugue

for piano duet, 2m



Recordings (2)