Tubular Bells for William Peter Blatty

Saturday, 14 January, 2017

The death yesterday of William Peter Blatty, author of the best-selling novel The Exorcist, brought back memories of the music William Friedkin used in 1973 for his film of the book. Friedkin’s adaptation turned out to be a masterpiece, a landmark in horror cinema, a cultural phenomenon and one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Although it made minimal use of music — a choice that gave the film an air of realism despite the supernatural events depicted onscreen — the score was a winner.

Friedkin had originally commissioned music from Lalo Schifrin, who had done soundtrack work for Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry and the Mission Impossible TV theme, but he hated Schifrin’s score and threw it out the window, literally. Instead, he used classical pieces by the Austrian composer Anton Webern, modern work by the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as original music by Jack Nitzsche. But what is now considered the “Theme from The Exorcist” is Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, which went on to become a hit so huge that it gave birth to Richard Branson’s Virgin empire.

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