On Thursday, May 04, 2011, students of The Factory Digital Filmmaking Program at Douglas were given the opportunity to attend a lecture given by noted film historian Steve Vertlieb on the history of film music. Although Vertlieb delivered the lecture via conference call, students were also presented with video and audio clips to strengthen points of the lecture. The author covered the topic from its earliest days in the 19th century to present day. Vertlieb is or has been an associate of many of cinema's great composers and students were very impressed not only with depth of his knowledge but with the personal connections he brought to the subject matter. Following the nearly three hour lecture students participated in a question-and-answer session with Vertlieb. Initial feedback to the event was very positive. Several students were very vocal in their appreciation of the event and are encouraging us to invite Mr. Vertlieb again and to possibly find a way to incorporate his insights more fully into our curriculum.
Steve Vertlieb has allowed The Thunder Child to share his lecture below:
PART ONE: FROM SILENTS TO SOUND
Music used to accentuate dramatic enhancement of both moods and situations is as basic, and essential, to films, television, and radio as is direction, acting, and cinematography. Musical accompaniment has been a part of dramatic story telling from the earliest live theatrical presentations ever staged before an audience. Music, like every other tool devised to engage one's attention, is as valid a mechanism as the sound of a human voice. It has been said that music has saved more bad pictures than any device known to man, and its effectiveness as both a theatrical and emotional manipulation of an audience is as valued today as it has been from the beginning of staged productions.
Early entrepreneurs had dreamed of projecting images onto a screen as early as 1835. However, it wasn't until 1894 that Woodville Latham and his sons, Grey and Otway, photographed a prize fight between Young Griffo and Battling Barnett upon the roof of Madison Square Garden in New York City. Peep shows had dominated the trade until then and patrons, eager to see actual movement had to content themselves with peering through the eye piece of a crude mechanism, while waiting in line sometimes for hours in order to experience a few brief seconds of entertainment. The Lathams had reasoned, somewhat prophetically, that they could generate much quicker capital by herding thirty or forty patrons into a tiny exhibition hall than by waiting all day in line for single customers to have their view. The results were screened on May 20th, 1895, to the astonished gasps of the first "theater" goers.
Among the first controversial shorts of the period was an alluring little trifle known as The Kiss, featuring actors May Irwin and John C. Rice in the extended and provocative "kiss" sequence from their stage success, The Widow Jones. In an early attempt at film censorship, the clergy denounced the production as "a lyric of the stockyards." Rather than frighten potential patrons away, this unpaid advertisement actually helped the early shocker break all previous attendance records.
By 1903, Edwin S. Porter had produced the first film that attempted to tell a story, rather than merely project unrelated images upon a sheet. The film was The Great Train Robbery. Among its cast of players was an actor named G.M. Anderson who went on to become one of the screen's first western stars...Broncho Billy Anderson.
Once the stage had been set for progressively more involved and ambitious story telling on the screen, film makers such as David Wark Griffith and Cecil Blount De Mille would assume the director's chair, attempting to turn a crude peep show into an international art form. Movies had taken their first rudimentary steps and, in so doing, had discovered a way to present filmed presentations to ever growing congregations of paying customers but, while producers had found a way to visually tell a story, they had yet to determine a way to express their dialogue in words.
And so movies were silent in their formative years. Title cards were flashed upon the screen at regular intervals in order to communicate the thoughts and intentions of actors and actresses. Yet, while these early films were considered "silent," few of them contented themselves to rely purely upon visual images alone. As the film industry grew, theater employees would inject their own interpretations of sound effects into the unfolding story at strategic intervals. In bigger, more sophisticated cities, both organists and pianists would play largely traditional music live during each performance in order to elicit an emotional response from the audience.
It wasn't long, however, before production companies began employing the talents of professional musicians to compose original music for their more prestigious endeavors. In 1914, the Oz Film Company commissioned Louis F. Gottschalk to write specific themes for their films, while accompanying sheet music was delivered to pianists at theaters exhibiting their films.
Famed operetta composer Victor Herbert wrote original music in 1915 for The Fall Of A Nation, a sequel to D.W. Griffith's The Birth Of A Nation. While America may have led the rest of the world in early film production, Germany became legendary in its daring use of sound and film during the 1920s. Director Fritz Lang hired composer Gottfried Huppertz to write complete, original scores for his fantasy and science fiction masterpieces, Die Nibelungen and Metropolis, in 1924 and 1927 respectively. Friedrich (Fritz) W. Murnau employed composer Hans Erdmann to write an original score for his horror masterwork, Nosferatu (the first screen version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula) in 1922, and Faust by Werner Richard Heymann in 1926.
Back in the United States, American composer William Axt was busily writing original music for some two hundred motion pictures, beginning with The Prisoner of Zenda in 1922 and concluding with Madame Curie for MGM in 1943. Along the way he wrote the scores for many silent epics including Erich Von Stroheim's lost masterpiece Greed in 1924, The Big Parade in 1925, as well as the original Ben Hur that same year.
The Jazz Singer
While most film historians regard The Jazz Singer, released by Warner Bros. in 1927, as the first sound motion picture, it was actually an elaborate production of Don Juan starring John Barrymore one year earlier that became the first sound film. The exciting swashbuckler featured sound effects, clanging swords, and an original score by William Axt pre-recorded and synchronized on discs to play concurrently with the projected images on the screen.
But spoken dialogue had yet to replace scripted cards, projected at strategic moments upon the screen, until the brothers Warner signed Al Jolson to both sing and speak the first words of written dialogue ever heard coming from a flickering motion picture screen. The Jazz Singer was a huge gamble for the studio heads at Warners. They had managed to lure Al Jolson, a huge Broadway star, away from the bright lights of Tin Pan Alley in order to star in a film that might just as easily have bankrupted the studio. The Jazz Singer had been a great success on the stage in New York.
Based upon a celebrated play by Samson Raphaelson, the story of a rebellious Jewish boy who longed to sing jazz music on the stage, while infuriating his strictly traditional father, an Orthodox Cantor, had brought fame and fortune to its star George Jessel. While Jack Warner had built his studio on daring decision making, The Jazz Singer, in fact, contained only minimal dialogue and a variety of musical set pieces, designed to show off the vitality and exuberance of its flamboyant star. Much of the film was still silent, offering traditional Yiddish themes and classical music to convey its drama. Sustained dialogue was still too risky a gamble at this stage.
Yet, when audiences first heard Al Jolson speak and sing in darkened theaters around the world, it sent shock waves across the globe that forever altered the way in which we watched movies. Careers were dramatically cut short when even the most celebrated stars found audiences cringing at the sometimes thin and hollow sound of their voices. The film industry had changed overnight.
Yet, while the era of silent films had abruptly reached its unexpected conclusion, studio heads were caught with their proverbial pants at half mast. Studio facilities were wholly unprepared to address the costly technical change over from silence to sound. Entire studios were thrown into a chaotic adventure without any ground rules or direction. Nervously thrust upon an entirely new path, both executives and performers would either sink, forgotten, into the encroaching quicksand of the past, or take the financial bull by the horns and commit huge financial expenditures to entirely revamping their production methods.
This was a Brave New World in which both studio heads and their contract players would either be re-born or pass into memory. For musicians and composers, song writers, dancers and singers, however, opportunities were growing by leaps and bounds. Sound had overtaken the film industry, and the clamor for sounds to occupy the soundtrack had grown to a fever pitch. Spoken dialogue would come both slowly and somewhat reluctantly for, in reality, no one on either side of the aisle seats could fathom whether the public would permanently embrace more than a few fleeting spoken lines of dialogue. Therefore, during a most painful and awkward transition from traditional methods of producing motion pictures, "All Singing...All Dancing" became a familiar catch phrase in the months and years to come. Hollywood would stage massive talent raids on the New York stage in order to bring fresh talent to the screen and satisfy an ever growing demand for sound.
Song writers and musical stars of the Broadway stage were financially bribed, coerced, and kidnapped from The Great White Way, and transported to the City Of Angels in order to begin production on loud, boisterous musicals with little plot or dialogue. The demand for sound had become insatiable and so, unimaginatively staged musical numbers in routine and largely static presentations, were quickly filmed in order to fill an ever demanding void.
Al Jolson had become Warner Bros. reigning star and champion of loud, often abrasive, musicals whose originality was presented in ever waning frequency, and diminishing theatricality. Musical stars with overwrought personalities, and underwhelming stage presence proliferated in these early embarrassing, and largely experimental film efforts. Others were able to evolve in front of the cameras, and blossom as they grew ever surer of their fledgling craft. To accommodate heavy sound equipment, a once fluid art form was at least temporarily grounded and forced to resist camera movement. Performers were required to remain within the trajectory of the often immobile camera lens so that their voices might be properly recorded.
It was an uncertain period of transition from mastery of silent cinema to virgin terrain, and new technology, which might spell either success or failure for what had become a confident, reasonably self assured industry. Film producers, directors, cinematographers, writers, actors, and musicians were preparing, with overwhelming trepidation, to go where no man had gone before, and only time would tell if they would be able to survive or drown in a frightening whirlwind of sound.
PART TWO: EXPERIMENT PERILOUS
With the coming of sound came new responsibility. It was no longer enough to simply line up strategically placed chorus girls and singers in front of a stationary camera. Photographed cards with short paragraphs could not satisfy the insatiable appetite of the hungry microphones. Dialogue had to be written now for virtually every scene, and it soon became clear that the spoken word alone would not be able to compensate for the emptiness of crackling silence screaming through theatrical speakers. Music would soon become the cushion with which to fill in the silence.
Maximillian Raoul Steiner was an Austrian Jew born in Vienna on May 10th, 1888.
A child prodigy, he received piano instruction as a small boy from Johannes Brahms and, while enrolled in The Imperial Academy Of Music at age 16, was taught some of the best piano songs by Gustav Mahler.
Coming to America as a young man he worked for eleven years in New York as a Broadway musical director, arranger, orchestrator and conductor for operettas composed by Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, and George Gershwin. Steiner's ambitions brought him to Hollywood in 1929 as the motion picture studios were beginning to feel somewhat more comfortable in the experimental transition from silence to sound and, as a now accomplished orchestrator imported from the musical theater, he became a pioneer in what would soon become the development of Hollywood's golden age of film music.
Steiner would be at the creative forefront of a young art form...symphonic music written for the motion picture screen. Composing seemed a natural progression from orchestrating the works of others, and the youthful Steiner adapted to his new challenges with both skill and ease. Working for the fledgling Radio Pictures Studio in Hollywood, young Steiner quickly began writing original scores for the studio's pictures. His most noteworthy assignments in these early days were the background scores for a tropical romance called Bird Of Paradise, and a thrilling little adventure drama called The Most Dangerous Game. Working on this ingenious thriller would catapult Steiner into the most fortuitous relationship of his early career.
Merian Cooper's King Kong
Merian C. Cooper
David O Selznick, then the head of Radio Pictures, brought in an exciting young film maker and documentarian named Merian C. Cooper to take over the reigns of "Production Head" of the studio. Cooper, a renowned pilot, adventurer, and explorer, had turned to film making in the twenties, along with his partner Ernest B. Schoedsack, and had filmed two award winning documentaries, Chang, and Grass, as well as the adventure classic The Four Feathers starring Richard Arlen and Fay Wray. Cooper had read a book by naturalist W. Douglas Burden called The Dragon Lizards Of Komodo, and had allowed his vivid imagination to run rampant.
What, he wondered, might happen if one of these large modern day reptiles was thrown together with a giant gorilla? He came up with a story about a monstrous prehistoric ape captured in some primordial jungle half way across the world, brought to New York in chains, and fighting his final battle atop the world's largest structure, the newly constructed Empire State Building, against an army of motorized Pteradactyls in the sky. He called his scenario King Kong.
Radio Pictures was in financial trouble, and so plans to actually film on an island with Komodo lizards and a giganticized ape were scrapped. For the creatures, Cooper turned to stop motion animation creator Willis O'Brien. O'Brien had created the dinosaurs for Warner Bros silent extravaganza The Lost World. The young producer wanted an original music score to illustrate his screenplay, but the film was already over budget. He turned to the man who had written the themes for his earlier adventure thriller, The Most Dangerous Game, and paid Max Steiner twenty five thousand dollars from his own pocket to write an original score with which to bring his dinosaur fable to life. Steiner's thunderous themes for King Kong became the first profoundly important and influential underscore of the sound era, and revolutionized the manner in which motion picture music would be written and performed for the next seventy eight years.
It remains the guide by which all successive and modern film composers would find their path. Savage, thrilling, and romantic; musically illustrating every manner and nuance of its character's feelings and emotions, King Kong was the score that virtually invented an entirely new art form called The Hollywood Sound.
While Max Steiner was the first of a young breed of Hollywood composers, others would soon join the studio system to help create a whole new world of sight supported by sound.
Prominent among these was classically trained Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a renowned symphony and operatic composer who fled Germany during Hitler's growing persecution of the Jews. Korngold came to Warner Brothers in 1934 at the invitation of producer Max Reinhardt in order to orchestrate the music of Felix Mendolsohn for the film production of A Midsummer's Night Dream.
Korngold remained in Hollywood long enough to create his own unmistakable sound, most closely associated with the classic swashbuckler films of one of the studio’s biggest stars, Errol Flynn. His superb accompaniment for such films as Captain Blood,The Sea Hawk, and the unforgettable Adventures Of Robin Hood, remains some of the most exciting music ever written for the cinema.
Franz Waxman was another of the Jewish emigres who found a home in Hollywood during the 1930s. He raised the artistic bar early in his career by writing the exhilarating score for a monstrous endeavor called The Bride Of Frankenstein. While the original Boris Karloff vehicle in 1931 had contained little musical background, the superb sequel in 1935 featured an exciting musical presence that lifted the horror film to near operatic heights with its brilliant accompaniment.
So successful was Waxman's contribution to the Universal horror cycle that its music was used by the studio repeatedly in the popular Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe, and remains among the most electrifying scores of the early sound years. Waxman would continue writing music for films through the 1960s, a decade which produced his remarkable score for the Tony Curtis/Yul Brynner epic Taras Bulba, advertised at the time as "The Eighth Wonder Of The World."
Sir Alexander Korda and his brothers had founded one of the largest, most prestigious film franchises in Europe, Britain's renowned London Films. In 1935, Korda commissioned acclaimed science fiction novelist H.G. Wells to write an original screenplay for a futuristic epic to be called Things To Come. Wells penned a massive work of poetic prose on the folly of war, and mankind's ultimate redemption in the altruistic purity of scientific technology. Wells personally invited British classical composer Arthur Bliss to invent its accompanying symphonic ballet.
As Steiner had done two years earlier with the score for King Kong, Bliss created a sublime tapestry of wall to wall music that so entranced the British public that Decca Records released a lengthy suite from the picture for commercial consumption in late 1936. Bliss recorded the music before the film had been completed and, while the recording was not, strictly speaking, a soundtrack...the score for Things To Come must be considered the first commercially issued recording of original music for a motion picture ever produced.
Dimitri Tiomkin, a Russian Jew, emigrated to the United States in 1928. He was hired by Paramount in 1933 to write the score for Alice In Wonderland in 1933. Two years later he wrote the music for one of the most bizarre horror films of the decade, MGM's classic remake of the acclaimed silent masterpiece The Hands Of Orlac starring Conrad Veidt.
Its American counterpart Mad Love introduced Peter Lorre to domestic audiences, and featured a nightmarish musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin. His career, however, didn't begin to achieve full recognition until his fateful meeting with director Frank Capra at the little studio on Poverty Row, Columbia Pictures. Their long association culminated in the memorable score for It's A Wonderful Life just after the Second World War.
In 1937, however, Capra was busily preparing perhaps his most atypical project, the wondrous James Hilton fantasy concerning the valley of the blue moon, hidden deep within the fabled mountains of Shangri-La. Lost Horizon was an idealistic novel of a sacred lamasery lost in the Tibetan hills in which war had never been known, and people lived to be hundreds of years old without any signs of aging.
In his autobiography The Name Above The Title, Capra describes the experience of first hearing the score for his film as Tiomkin played the music for him on the piano. Capra walked out of the studio with stars in his eyes, for the score for Lost Horizon by Dimitri Tiomkin remains, perhaps, the loveliest of the 1930s, and one of the most beautiful rhapsodies ever composed for a motion picture.
Alfred Newman was another of the most illustrious and prolific composers in film history. An American Jew, Newman was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1900. A child prodigy, he toured the vaudeville circuit with performer Grace LaRue. Billed as "The Marvelous Boy Pianist," Newman found himself working on Broadway by the age of twenty, playing piano for the likes of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
By 1930, when Irving Berlin joined a growing ensemble of composers leaving New York for Hollywood, Newman followed him, and began writing original scores for producer Sam Goldwyn. While Korngold, Steiner, and Tiomkin became known for their more bombastic musical scoring, Alfred Newman was best identified with lush, romantic music employing a high degree of strings in his personal instrumentation.
Notable among these scores was the exquisite Les Miserable for Fox in 1935. Writing some two hundred scores in his lengthy career, Newman was perfectly capable, however, of writing the exciting, adventurous music more often identified with his compatriots. His work on David O Selznick's superb realization of The Prisoner Of Zenda in 1937 for United Artists is epic romantic swashbuckling music, while his powerful scoring for George Stevens' Gunga Din in 1939 is both rousing and unforgettable.
In 1940 Newman would begin a twenty year association with 20th Century Fox as its principle composer, and music department head. His fanfare introduction for Fox's stable of films, including the familiar Cinemascope theme, is still used today.
Victor Young, along with Max Steiner, was among the most busy and prolific of composers, each having written some three hundred fifty scores for films in their careers. Young, an American born Jew, began as a serious composer and concert violinist, but entered the world of popular swing and jazz groups, learning to write catch themes and songs.
Coming to Hollywood in the early thirties, he found himself writing ghost music for westerns, including the Hopalong Cassidy series starring William Boyd for Paramount. By 1937 he was receiving on screen credit, and soon became the music director and principal composer for Paramount Pictures throughout the thirties, forties, and fifties, winning an Oscar for Around The World In Eighty Days, his last film in 1956.
Young was a master tunesmith, composing many of the most memorable themes in Hollywood history, including "Golden Earrings" for the movie of the same name, "Stella By Starlight" for the memorable ghost story The Uninvited, and "Love Letters," and "The Call Of The Faraway Hills" from Shane, and the first bonafide hit theme song written for a television program, "Blue Star," the theme of tv's first doctor series, The Medic with Richard Boone as Konrad Steiner, Doctor Of Medicine.
As the first decade of the sound era came to a close, it produced, perhaps, its most striking and enduring motion picture music...Max Steiner's breathtaking and sweeping score for David O Selznick's supreme achievement, MGM’s 1939 production of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind. The decade had both begun and ended with the astonishing work of Max Steiner. The decade to come would be no less significant.
PART THREE: THE WAR YEARS
Max Steiner's grand and glorious score for Gone With The Wind in 1939 ended the first decade of the sound era on a bombastic note. It was a troubling way in which to close the period in that it recounted the saga of a country at war.
The 1940s would see America plunged into the inescapable reality of a world at war. We had officially grown up, leaving the celluloid innocence of the silent era behind. Drama would now occupy not only the theater stage, but the world stage, as well. This sober reality injected its heavy influence upon the creative arts, as filmmakers were forced to grow beyond their years. A new, more stark reality began to emerge on the screen and, with it, new voices.
A New York actor, director, and writer by the name of George Orson Welles had taken the country captive with his revolutionary productions on the off Broadway stage, and with his infamous live radio production of H.G. Wells's The War Of The Worlds on October 30th, 1938. The night that panicked America produced a national broadcast in which thousands of unsuspecting radio listeners actually came to believe that America was being invaded by creatures from another planet as they listened...live...to a dramatically unfolding news event.
Welles had dramatized the science fiction novel in documentary fashion, as though sporadic news bulletins of an actual alien invasion were interrupting a program of dance music. For anyone tuning in late, after the opening disclaimers that this was merely a dramatization, it might have sounded as if the country was actually being attacked by forces from another world. It gained its host, and producer, overnight fame and notoriety, leading him to Hollywood to write, produce, direct, and star in his first motion picture.
Among the creative forces who had contributed to the development of the infamous radio broadcast was a young composer named Bernard Herrmann. Twenty-five year old Orson Welles would bring many of the players behind the microphone, from his Mercury Theater On The Air, to Hollywood to take the world of cinema by storm, as they had done previously at the CBS Radio studios in New York with their acclaimed radio dramatizations. Their first project for RKO Pictures concerned the rise and fall of a fictional newspaper publisher named Charles Foster Kane. The film would become Citizen Kane.
Citizen Kane was entirely unlike any film ever made up to that time. With its striking use of both imagery and sound it was, perhaps, the most uniquely original motion picture ever produced and remains, in the estimation of most critics, the greatest film of all time. Bernard Herrmann joined his Mercury Theater associates to contribute the score for their motion picture debut.
Unlike the lush orchestrations that had set the mood of the previous decade, the music for Kane was dark, brooding, and decidedly unromantic. It was entirely a modern score, breaking away from the European traditionalism that had so beautifully proliferated the earlier decade. Bernard Herrmann was a new force to be reckoned with, and quickly ascended to the ranks of the most influential screen composers.
Herrmann would compose both in Hollywood and abroad until his death in 1975, beginning with Citizen Kane in 1941...finding his most important collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock in the 1950s and 60s, and finishing with the innovative jazz score for Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver, completed only hours before his death. Such was the profound respect and influence commanded by Bernard Herrmann during his remarkable career that, upon its release, Scorcese dedicated his film to the late composer.
Herrmann's personality was as tough and unflinching as his music. He was a dedicated and demanding task master whose refusal to settle for any less than personal excellence made him as many enemies as it did friends and admirers. He was an outspoken proponent of idealistic causes, and he openly championed the work of composers whose work may not have been in vogue at the time. As gruff and abrasive as he could be to those who did not meet his artistic standards of musical idealism, he sheltered a soft, sentimental side that often revealed itself only in the deep sensitivity of his music.
His score for Joseph L. Mankiewics' The Ghost And Mrs. Muir is an almost painfully beautiful rhapsody, portraying the hopeless love affair between a mortal woman and a ghostly sea captain. His music for the 1947 20th Century Fox production is among the most haunting and unforgettably eloquent romantic scores ever written for a film.
Steve Vertlieb and Miklos Rozsa
Another singular voice in the development of the art of motion picture music was Hungarian born Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa began his career as a classical composer in France during the late 1920s, joining Sir Alexander Korda in London for his first attempt at film scoring in 1937. The film was a Russian historical drama with Marlene Deitrich and Robert Donat called Knight Without Armour.
In 1940 Rozsa joined Korda and his London Film Productions once again to compose the score for the Arabian nights fantasy The Thief Of Bagdad. War had broken out in Europe, and so Korda brought his cast and crew to America in order to complete production of their film. Rozsa came over with the rest of the film company to finish his scoring of the picture, and became so enamored of Southern California that he decided to stay. That began one of the most significant careers in Hollywood film music. Herrmann and Rozsa, both born of European Jewish derivation, departed dramatically from their traditionalist musical predecessors, creating a style more at home in the concert hall than on the screen.
Both composers were classically trained, and each had written concertos, symphonies and, in the case of Herrmann, even an opera based upon Wuthering Heights. In this respect they differed from Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, and Victor Young...finding more artistic affiliation with Erich Wolfgang Korngold who also contributed prolifically to the supposed legitimacy of the concert stage.
Rozsa and Herrmann believed, however, that there was little difference between the two forums, and that music was simply music. They never wavered from this philosophy, and treated the film scoring stage and the concert hall with equal reverence and respect.
Rozsa would receive a commission from renowned violinist Jascha Heifitz in 1953 to compose a concerto for him. Director Billy Wilder, for whom Rozsa collaborated on The Lost Weekend, and Double Indemnity, so loved the violin concerto that he vowed one day to use it in a movie. He kept his promise. The film was the bittersweet, romantic adventure The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, released by United Artists in 1970.
When the head of the Paramount music department complained in 1944 that Rozsa's score for Double Indemnity sounded too avant garde, and demanded that Wilder replace Rozsa with another composer, Wilder refused and said "then you can replace me too."
The music remained on the soundtrack, beginning the rich heritage of "Cinema Noir," or dark cinema, for which, musically speaking, Miklos Rozsa was largely responsible. Fittingly, when director and writer Carl Reiner completed his homage to Noir films, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, in 1981, he asked Rozsa to compose what would become his final film score.
Yet another new voice in Hollywood was a Jewish orchestrator by the name of Hugo Friedhofer. Friedhofer had worked quietly behind the scenes for years as a studio orchestrator at Warner Bros., constructing arrangements for the scores of his respected colleagues. Friedhofer had no particular aspirations as a composer, and would always downplay his eventual role in the creation of the Hollywood Sound, and yet his musical voice was as significantly original as his peers and as uniquely powerful, as well.
For the 1946 post war drama of returning soldiers coming home from the second world war, Friedhofer wrote, perhaps, his most eloquent and powerful score.
Sensitively directed by William Wyler, Samuel Goldwyn's production of The Best Years Of Our Lives remains one of the most profoundly meaningful explorations of displaced veterans longing, simply, to fit in and reclaim their interrupted lives. Friedhofer's music wonderfully captured the confusion and conflicted emotions of soldiers uprooted from the simplicity of small town America, and thrust into the mindless brutality of armed combat.
The loneliness and desperation of soldiers, searching in vain for the innocence of the lives they left behind, proved frustrating and ultimately futile, for the America that they remembered had been ravaged by war...its way of life 'gone with the wind'. Their search for normalcy upon returning home found powerful expression in Wyler's direction, and the beautifully uplifting musical themes of Hugo Friedhofer. The Best Years Of Our Lives would deservedly win Oscars for Wyler's direction, Friedhofer's score, and Best Picture Of The Year for Goldwyn.
The author wrote an article on Friedhofer and sent it to him way back in 1980. Below is Friedhofer's response. The Friedhofer letter is poignant and pertains to the lack of respect for, or acknowledgment of, the validity of motion picture music.
The war years produced not only composers new to the genre, but a continuing presence by those artists who had honed their craft a decade earlier. The 1940s were particularly fruitful for Alfred Newman who had grown and matured into a formidable musician, taking over the reigns as the principle composer and head of the music department at 20th Century Fox, and contributing some of the most profoundly memorable scores of the period. Newman's music for John Ford's story of a Welsh coal mining family, How Green Was My Valley, provided a heart rendering background for the moving, Oscar winning film.
Additionally, his scores for The Razor's Edge, based upon the famed novel by W. Somerset Maugham; The Song Of Bernadette, the inspirational film about Bernadette Of Lourdes; and the rousing accompaniments for The Mark Of Zorro, and Captain From Castile, remain striking examples of the art of motion picture music. The stirring musical finale of Captain From Castile is so exhilarating a thematic summation that it is still utilized today by modern marching bands at football games, and other sporting events.
Max Steiner continued as a major force in motion picture scoring during the 1940s in his capacity as the new head of Warner Bros. Music Department, composing most of the classic Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis films of the period. These included Casablanca,The Big Sleep, and Key Largo for Bogart, and both Now Voyager, and Dark Victory for Davis.
While most of Steiner's collaborators appreciated the immensity of his contribution to the art of motion picture music, Bette Davis singled him out for scathing ridicule, claiming that his music accompanied her every move and facial nuance with melodramatic overkill, as though not entirely trusting her ability to deliver the goods. Davis, arguably the greatest screen actresses of her generation, seemed to resent the apparent intrusion of Steiner's music in her scenes. Few in the film community, however, would share the actress's sentiments.
If America had grown more mature from the emotional scarring and turmoil of the second world war, her films and the music that would accompany those motion pictures would reach, perhaps, the richest flowering and renaissance in the history of cinema in the decade ahead. The 1950s would reflect the sometimes painful uncertainty and premature growth of a country that had lost its innocence and youth, and her artists would achieve the very pinnacle of their power in both filmed, and recorded expression.
PART FOUR: POST WAR MATURITY AND THE GOLDEN YEARS
The 1950s would see a renaissance of cinema art, both before and behind the camera. It was a golden period of expression for old and new artists alike. While an explosion of new screen talent was about to take the cinema hostage, the decade after the war would see a remarkable flowering of maturity by many of the directors, actors, and composers more familiar to theatrical audiences from film’s previous decades. Directors such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Cecil B DeMille would create many of their most mature and enduring pictures.
In many aspects, the 1950s would produce some of the richest, most remarkable films in the history of cinema, seamlessly blending the old world with the new. Directors who had helped to create the film industry discovered ambitious rebirth in the exciting productivity of the post war years. Their musical counterparts would find a new maturity in their recorded expression, as well. While many talented young composers were waiting in the wings to create the next generation of musical sound on film, their illustrious predecessors were exploring a treasure trove of renewed ambition and expression.
In the awakening growth and anxiety of post war recovery, modern and expressionistic music was about to deposit its roots into the national culture. Jazz was making its controversial debut in movie theaters across the nation, while provocative musical exploration of less traditional themes by youthful artists was demanding to be heard. Among the first of a new breed of film composers were Elmer Bernstein and Alex North, hungry young Jewish musicians eager for an opportunity to change the face of film composition forever.
Beginning with Saturday's Hero for Columbia Pictures in 1951, Bernstein's throbbing, unconventional melodies would violently explode upon the screen, erupting with musical ferocity never before heard within the framework of a film.
His score for Otto Preminger's shocking 1955 study of drug addiction, The Man With The Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra, would ignite the screen with its bold, jazzy, rhythmic themes. Its remarkable main title theme would attain legendary familiarity in jazz performance. In 1956, however, Bernstein demonstrated his supreme versatility by offering his talents to one of the aging pioneers of the motion picture industry.
Victor Young had served both Paramount Pictures and Cecil B. DeMille for seemingly countless years until his unexpected death of a heart attack in the mid fifties. DeMille was preparing his last supreme spectacle, a full color remake of his silent classic The Ten Commandments.
Young's death left the elderly director in a state of chaotic bewilderment. He was wary of the new breed of film composers, unwilling to trust his massive epic to the whims of a youthful, inexperienced musician. He initially thought he might divide the work between several up and coming composers, thereby equally dividing the risk. He finally decided to give the important assignment to a single composer and, somewhat remarkably, placed his trust in the hands of the young composer who had broken new ground with his jazz score for The Man With The Golden Arm.
Elmer Bernstein hungrily embraced his association with the grand old man of film while DeMille, with much trepidation, awaited the results of his nervous decision. He needn't have worried, for Elmer Bernstein's majestic score for the biblical classic was epic, spectacular, and powerful, establishing the young composer as a major force in Hollywood music for nearly six decades.
Leonard Rosenman emigrated to Hollywood in the early fifties from New York, along with his close friend James Dean. Their professional association solidified when Rosenman was asked to write the music for the iconic actor's first two motion pictures. East Of Eden, directed by Elia Kazan in 1953, and Rebel Without A Cause, directed by Nicholas Ray in 1954, helped to establish both Dean and Rosenman as two of the brightest new talents on the cinema horizon. Rosenman's stark thematic underscoring lit the spark for a bold new breed of Hollywood talent, electrifying the screen with strikingly original, and modern, atonal scoring.
Alex North, an important member of the new breed of young, avant garde Jewish composers, was asked by Elia Kazan to score his film version of Tennessee Williams' controversial stage production A Streetcar Named Desire, to feature the volatile rising star of the original Broadway play, Marlon Brando.
North's electric composition perfectly captured Brando's ferocious portrayal of a Wild One named Stanley Kowalski whose personal rage and animalistic behavior incinerated the screen. With Bernstein's musical depiction of drug addiction in the later Preminger film, North's 1951 score for A Streetcar Named Desire remains a landmark in early jazz film scoring.
North would work for Kazan again the following year in Viva Zapata, once more starring Marlon Brando, but when Kazan named names of known communists within the film industry before the House Un-American Activities Committee, North said that he would never work with the brilliant director again. Kazan defended his personal honor on screen two years later with a very personal masterpiece. On The Waterfront, released in 1954 by Columbia Pictures, starred Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a disaffected dock worker on the gang run piers of New York, who turns against his brother and his friends after the murder of co-worker considered a stool pigeon for the feds.
Malloy agrees to testify against those closest to him to a Federal Grand Jury, thereby alienating him from the docks and from pursuing his livelihood. In the absence of Alex North, from whom he felt abandoned, Kazan hired acclaimed symphony conductor and Broadway composer Leonard Bernstein to write the score for his provocative new film. Bernstein's one and only foray into dramatic film underscoring resulted in one of the most powerful, exhilarating motion picture scores ever written. Along with the pent up passion of Brando as Terry Malloy, Leonard Bernstein's remarkable score for On The Waterfront literally implodes with passion and frustration as both character and composer search for meaning in a bitter, cynical, sometimes dangerous environment along the mean streets of New York, and post war America. Kazan's film, and its music, remains a landmark of modern, expressionistic film making.
The 50s were, in many ways, a period of transition. As a country, America had grown beyond the ravages and turmoil of war, from naive innocence to a world weary understanding of the forces inhabiting our volatile planet. We had entered the Nuclear age, and yet we hadn't become entirely hardened by the terrible reality of global conflict.
Cynicisms and rebellion would begin as we turned the corner into another decade but, for now, we were growing comfortable with the rapidly unfolding drama of daily modern living. There was excitement and enthusiasm in the land, a cautious celebration of our new found freedom. Motion pictures were experiencing the winds of change, as well, for a formidable new challenge had appeared over the post war horizon in the form of rampant advanced technology…and its name was Television. People no longer needed to leave the comfort and security of their homes in order to enjoy screen entertainment.
Now it was being fed to them on a spoon through a little box that was somehow miraculously able to send visual signals directly into their living rooms. The only way that the movies could compete was to offer spectacle instead of convenience. Twentieth Century Fox offered a new wide screen process which they called CinemaScope. Paramount delivered Vista Vision. Warner Bros. presented Bwana Devil, and later Vincent Price, starring in an enormously entertaining horror film called House Of Wax, all showcased in a startling invention called 3-D.
Producer Michael Todd presented Todd-A-O, while an enormous wrap around screen would soon proclaim the reality of Cinerama. All of these new inventions and film processes were calculated to steal back audiences from the very real competition and financial threat of Television.
Composers, too, were determined to match the spectacular visual imagery unfolding on the screen with equally impressive scores and so, as films increased in length, so did the music that accompanied them. Composers who had honed their craft from the beginnings of sound film had discovered an invitation to more fully explore their art with ambitious determination, and unparalleled artistry.
Miklos Rozsa, now a "house" composer at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, had begun a new phase of his lengthy career as the master of the Epic film. From Quo Vadis in 1951 through Ivanhoe,The Knights Of The Round Table,Young Bess, and the greatest spectacle of them all...Ben Hur in 1959, Rozsa's talent flowered and blossomed throughout the 50s. However, his understated rhapsody for director Vincente Minnelli in 1956 captured the emotional anguish, and exquisite passion of a tortured painter whose artistry invited the inspiration and admiration of the world.
Lust For Life, a superb film rendering of the life of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, directed by Minnelli and starring Kirk Douglas as the traumatized genius, produced some of the most heart felt, and deeply passionate music of Miklos Rozsa's enduring career. It is a profoundly beautiful and eloquent accompaniment to the pain and artistry of Van Gogh's unhappy existence.
In a similar vein, Alfred Newman would reach new heights of artistic expression with his sensitive scores for The Diary Of Ann Frank, Anastasia, and The Robe.
Dimitri Tiomkin had reached the creative zenith of his long career with the soaring, ethereal music for William Wellman's 1954 tribute to the wonder and danger of flight, The High & The Mighty starring John Wayne.
However, when he won an Oscar for High Noon, the classic Gary Cooper western directed by Fred Zinneman, he humbly thanked the many classical composers who had inspired him such Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and Beethoven. Rather than appreciate his good-natured homage to the art of music, the film academy audience laughed in cynical derision, assuming that he was acknowledging the mediocrity of motion picture music and its supposed theft from the masters. Once again, film music and its composers were being subjected to snobbery and smug contempt by a musically illiterate film community that held its own artistry with little regard or respect.
To better illustrate the contempt with which film composers as a rule were held, there was a popular radio program in New York during the 1950s in which esteemed classical music critics congregated each week to show off their supposed expertise and knowledge of symphonic music, and its roots. When an unidentified excerpt of music was played, they were expected to identify the composer, and comment on the merits of the selection. A piece by Miklos Rozsa was played for the gentleman, all of whom admired its beauty and importance--until the host of the program identified the work as having been written by Rozsa, after which the previously enthusiastic panel of critics grew disenchanted, and referred to the composer, disdainfully, as "the film guy."
Johnny Green was a popular song writer, orchestrator, and pianist both in Hollywood and New York. Dramatic underscoring, however, was not generally considered his forte. Yet, when MGM brought their romantic civil war extravaganza Raintree County to the screen in 1957, John Green contributed a superb musical score whose sweeping grandeur, and overwhelming beauty must be counted as one of the most significant achievements of the decade. His concert overture from the film remains a staple of symphonic repertoire to this day.
Bernard Herrmann would also write some of the most exquisite music of his career during the 1950s when he teamed with his most legendary collaborators, Alfred Hitchcock and stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen. For Harryhausen, Herrmann would set to music cyclopean creatures, dragons, and frighteningly living skeletons. For Hitchcock, the collaboration would produce some of the master's most compelling works: The Man Who Knew Too Much, North By Northwest, and, perhaps, both Herrmann's and Hitchcock's personal masterpiece, Vertigo. As the decade came to a close, Hitchcock and Herrmann would begin work on their next film, the story of a boy, his mother, and a shower. It was called Psycho.
Author Steve Vertlieb and James Bernard
Britain's James Bernard began writing music for Hammer Film Productions at the start of their celebrated run of horror and science fiction film remakes. The studio, specializing in vivid colour interpretations of many of America's fantasy classics of the 1930s and forties, brought actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to international stardom as Baron Frankenstein, and Count Dracula respectively.
Bernard, a cultured Englishman, joined the studio at the outset of its golden era of horror, and was the composer who would originate the sound of Hammer Films for virtually all of its creative productivity. Beginning with his scores for the early Quatermass films of the middle 1950s, The Creeping Unknown, and Enemy From Space (The Quatermass Xperiment, and Quatermass 2 in England), James Bernard would write most of Hammer's most chilling scores, as well as many of their loveliest. From the frightening overtures to Horror Of Dracula, and Curse Of Frankenstein to the romanticism of Taste The Blood Of Dracula, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, James Bernard was a formidable talent. His last major work was for a restoration of F.W. Murnau's silent masterpiece Nosferatu. Thankfully, the marvelous score was recorded by Silva Screen both in America and abroad, commercially preserving the work of a most underrated composer.
Perhaps the most monumental and significant motion score of the decade, though, would come from Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and the creative pen of Miklos Rozsa. Ben Hur was a masterpiece of film direction and scoring. The 1959 epic won eleven Academy Awards for its studio, including Best Picture, Best Director for William Wyler, Best Actor for Charlton Heston, and Best Score for Miklos Rozsa.
The winds of change were lurking in the wings, however, and both rebellion and rock 'n roll would soon change the face of Hollywood forever. For film music's golden age, Ben Hur would signal the end of the beginning...and the beginning of the end.
PART FIVE: THE SIXTIES, AND BEYOND
The 1960s in America would signal the end of communal reassurance and stability, either real or imagined, for the dawning of a new decade brought with it emotional and physical insurrection against a national climate perceived by her youth as lazy, racist, and mired in hypocrisy. The country had become embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam, while civil rights marches and protests were about to tear America apart. Rebelliousness in the corridors and streets of the nation had sewn the seeds of discontent, and a changing culture demanded that its music meet the needs and expectations of a younger, more turbulent generation.
The national climate had grown angry, both in its rhetoric and in its music. The rich, romantic musical legacy of previous generations was regarded with contempt and suspicion by youthful ears and rejected out of hand, without mercy or compassion. Music, above all else, needed to become truthful and relevant. Rock 'n Roll had abducted the airwaves in virtually every American market.
Hollywood executives, ever eager to capitalize on the changing moods of the nation, weren't blind to the cries of a new generation of ticket holders. As they had with the coming of sound, studios and producers scrambled to meet the needs and expectations of a new demographic market. A volatile climate of rage and anxiety had transformed the national consciousness, and traditional means of story telling on screen and over the airwaves had suffered violent, irreparable upheaval. Traditional symphonic underscoring of motion picture soundtracks was quickly being replaced by rock rhythms and disjointed song scores. Few of these were particularly memorable or even appropriate.
The single exception to this onslaught of self-righteous mediocrity was Mike Nichols's The Graduate in 1967 which featured an entirely relevant, wrap around soundtrack by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel that both complimented and enabled the progression of the screenplay.
While veteran composers continued to be thrown an occasional bone, particularly in the genre of either historical or biblical spectacle, the handwriting was clearly being written on the wall.
Bronislau Kaper, a Polish Jew, fled the Nazis in 1935, signing a seven year contract with Louis B. Mayer at MGM. In 1947 he wrote the lush romantic score for Green Dolphin Street. Its melodic theme became "On Green Dolphin Street," a popular staple of modern jazz repertoire.
His exciting themes for the classic Science Fiction thriller Them in 1954 helped to elevate the Warner Bros. picture to near operatic delirium. He would return in 1962 with, perhaps, his most brilliant score...the spectacular music for MGM's lavish remake of Mutiny On The Bounty with Marlon Brando.
In 1960, arranger and composer Russell Garcia created a lovely, poetic score for George Pal's science fiction classic The Time Machine, followed one year later by another remarkably sensitive score for Pal's Atlantis, The Lost Continent. Both scores composed by this top commercial arranger and conductor assured his place in film music history.
Meanwhile, the fledgling medium of television continued to develop new talents on either side of the camera. Young composers such as Henry Mancini would break new ground with unique scoring for programs such as Peter Gunn, and Mr. Lucky.
Mancini was able to break down generational barriers and prejudice with an incomparable versatility, equally adept at writing hit tunes as he was at writing darker, quietly ambitious film scores.
Mancini was to prove himself among the most remarkably talented composers of either this or any other generation. Beginning his composing career at Universal during the heyday of science fiction and horror film production in the 1950s, Mancini wrote some of the finest dramatic scoring of the genre (along with Herman Stein and Hanz Salter). His profoundly intelligent background music for such films as The Days of Wine and Roses, Experiment in Terror, Wait Until Dark, Two for the Road, and Breakfast at TIffany's as well as his rousing music for the science fiction epic Lifeforce displayed astonishing talent and uncommon versatility.
Jerry Goldsmith in the 1980s
Other composers rising from the ranks of 1950s and 60s television included a young musician named Jerrald Goldsmith whose melodic themes for NBC's Dr. Kildare television series, as well as the more horrific Thriller series hosted by Boris Karloff, soon catapulted him to the big screen where, as Jerry Goldsmith, he would become one of the two most popular and respected composers in the film industry, creating the wildly popular themes for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and hundreds of equally recognizable scores.
Goldsmith was a master of wonderfully thematic material, creating much of the most distinctively beautiful motion picture music of the post-Sixties era. From 1963 until his timely passing in 2004, Jerry Goldsmith became one of the two most dominant forces working in the field of motion picture music. His scores for The Wind and the Lion, The Blue Max, The Omen, Chinatown, In Harm's Way, Legend, The Swarm and countless other films over more than four decades of working in Hollywood established this brilliant musician as one of the most influential composers of the past half century.
John Williams and author Steve Vertlieb
The other gentleman to earn that distinction began writing musical themes for such early series as the detective thriller Checkmate at CBS in 1959, as well as the prestigious ABC Television series Alcoa Premiere hosted by Fred Astaire in 1960. Johnny Williams would evolve, during the following decade, into clearly the most important and successful film composer of the past thirty five years...John Williams. Quietly reserved and thoughtful, John Williams would eventually change and influence the musical screen as no other composer had done before him.
Even older composers such as Bernard Herrmann would work steadily on the small screen in the 50s and 60s, supplying significant scoring for Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, and Rod Serling's groundbreaking fantasy series, The Twilight Zone.
On the big screen, Bernard Herrmann continued to push the artistic envelope with the score for Alfred Hitchcock's controversial suspense classic, Psycho. Hitchcock, however, while finding his greatest commercial success with the Robert Bloch novel about Norman Bates and his infamous alter ego, had nowhere to go after Psycho but toward a downward spiral.
If Psycho was the ultimate drama of modern identity theft, the aging director was presently allowing the studio to steal his own artistic soul. The years were creeping in on the hugely popular director and, with an eye perhaps on his job security and future employment, Hitchcock accepted an offer from Universal Pictures to become a studio executive. In order to bolster their corporate profit structure, competing studios were branching out into areas of recorded music and publishing in an effort to cross merchandise their increasingly risky financial product. They had to reach out to the exploding youth market in order to remain financially viable.
Popular hit singles and soundtrack recordings were becoming the jewel in the crown of added revenue for producers and studios. When Hitchcock was preparing his filming of Torn Curtain in 1966, he was becoming increasingly aware of his slipping box office potential for large financial receipts. Warned by his corporate partners to replace Bernard Herrmann, whom they regarded as old fashioned and out of touch, Hitchcock ordered his once trusted musical partner to write a more contemporary score for the new picture.
Herrmann, believing that the director would come to his senses, and realize that this story of cold war tensions demanded a more serious musical treatment, was recording a more traditional dramatic score. Ever vigilant, Hitchcock's spies notified him that Herrmann was in the midst of recording a harsh, dramatic underscore on the Universal soundstage. Enraged by what he perceived as an act of sedition by his former friend, Hitchcock stormed onto the musical stage, berating Herrmann in front of the assembled musicians, and cancelled the "treasonous" recording session. Herrmann and Hitchcock, representing one of the most important pairings of sight and sound in motion picture history, never spoke again.
For his political shocker The Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury in 1962, director John Frankenheimer hired a young classical and jazz composer named David Amram to write the score for the controversial film. Amram, an exciting young Jewish composer of the Beat Generation, and Jack Kerouac's musical collaborator for the first jazz/poetry readings ever presented in New York City in 1957, and for Robert Frank's 1959 Beat classic silent film Pull My Daisy, created a haunting chamber work, reflecting the psychological horrors of brain washing and presidential assassination after the Korean War.
He'd already written the evocative music for Frankenheimer's The Young Savages with Burt Lancaster in 1960. Then, in 1961, he would compose the brooding romantic score for Elia Kazan’s masterwork Splendor In The Grass. The tragic story of teen-aged yearning and sexual repression, with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, featured a profoundly sensitive score by Amram who would soon become disenchanted by the restrictions of movie making, and depart for less confining creative opportunities in jazz and concert halls around the world, both as a composer and performer.
A newly completed documentary, David Amram: The First Eighty Years, will see its premiere in prestigious film festivals and art theaters during the Fall of 2011.
John Barry, a celebrated British rock and jazz composer and performer, emigrated to the world of films and television with his debut scoring of the original James Bond adventures starring Sean Connery in the early years of the decade. A progression of physical illnesses, however, had taken its toll on the fragile artist who, in his maturing years, began to compose some of the most sensitive, romantic, searingly passionate scoring of films in modern memory.
His compositional art is majestically represented in such inspired tapestries as Dances With Wolves, Out Of Africa, Born Free, Monte Walsh, Eleanor And Franklin, Robin And Marian, and the beautiful Somewhere In Time. Sadly, the composer died in New York of a heart attack in the early weeks of 2011.
Author Steve Vertlieb and Lee Holdridge
Among the finest of America's contemporary composers, Lee Holdridge came to New York to write songs, theater, and chamber music. Brought to Los Angeles in 1974 to collaborate with Neil Diamond on the score for Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Holdridge quickly demonstrated his unique gift for melodic inspiration with his scores for both television and motion pictures. A six time Emmy winner, the beloved composer has been responsible for the romantic themes, as well as underscoring, for the CBS television series Beauty And The Beast, as well as the popular ABC TV series Moonlighting.
His remarkable score for the eight hour TV mini-series remake of John Steinbeck's East Of Eden is one of the loveliest scores ever written for television. His motion picture scores include Splash, The Beastmaster, The Tuskegee Airmen, and The Long Way Home, the latter documentary feature part of an on going creative collaboration with Moriah Films (the film wing of The Simon Wiesenthal Center).
Holdridge continues to write for the visual media, as well as in operatic and symphonic composition. His most prominent works for the stage include the opera Lazarus And His Beloved, and the Concerto For Violin And Orchestra #2. His score for The Mists Of Avalon mini-series for television provided further illustration of the melodic genius possessed by this gentle, poetic musician.
Bruce Broughton is yet another of the singular musical talents working, often unnoticed, in an unreceptive modern film music community. Like Lee Holdridge before him, Broughton demonstrated an uncanny knack for melodious thematic materials, contributing some of the most distinctively original music of the mid-1900s. In a period consisting of merely three short years, Brought composed the exciting score for Lawrence Kasdan's western extravaganza Silverado, the beautiful accompaniment to Young Sherlock Holmes, the poignant music for The Boy Who Could Fly, the sweetly humorous Harry And The Hendersons, and the thrilling background score for
In a modern climate of growing musical ignorance, however, this uniquely gifted composer has found himself sadly under-used, and unrecognized by smug studio executives contemptuous of melodious development and structure. Traditional melody, it seems, has become suspect in the eyes of corporate financiers, and regarded as somehow "old fashioned," as though personality in a musical signature might shift control or power from the studio hierarchy to the composer.
Conversely, James Newton Howard has enjoyed enormous success with his intricately jazzy and symphonic scores. Rising to prominence with his exquisite musical background for Barbara Streisand's drama The Prince Of Tides, Howard has found himself equally adept at creating the exhilarating jazz accompaniment to the big screen adaptation of television's The Fugitive with Harrison Ford, as well as the moody, introspective music for The Sixth Sense, and the spectacularly romantic themes for Peter Jackson's bravura re-imagining of Merian C. Cooper's classic adventure fantasy King Kong.
Italian composer Ennio Morricone became, perhaps, the most influential European musical voice of the past forty five years, lending his bombastic themes to the "Spaghetti Westerns" of the 1960s and achieving fame with his music for Sergio Leone's Clint Eastwood trilogy concerning The Man With No Name.
An orchestrator for Mario Lanza during the 50s, Morricone achieved international recognition for his unconventional symphonic and popular scores throughout the decades that followed, working both here and abroad in a career that continues to achieve both respect and recognition.
James Horner would often dominate the domestic market with many of the most popular, award populated films of the last thirty years, composing the prominent scores for such films as Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, Avatar, and the Oscar-winning themes for James Cameron's epic re-telling of the last moments of Her Majesty's crown jewel of the sea, Titanic. However, his loveliest, most haunting creation remains the sublime scoring of Ron Howard's utopian science fiction fantasy Cocoon. This early, symphonic work by Horner remains the quintessential cornerstone of his career.
Epic productions continued to dominate the screen during the sixties, but their presence on motion picture screens was slowly drawing to a close. Still, Alfred Newman composed one of his most joyous scores in 1962 for MGM's lavish historical opus, How The West Was Won. Miklos Rozsa followed his masterwork Ben Hur with the grand, exquisite, and glorious score for El Cid, the spectacular visualization of Spain's legendary hero with Charlton Heston in the lead performance, and Sophia Loren as his idyllic love.
Jerome Moross would write one of the most exhilarating western scores ever to grace the screen for William Wyler's The Big Country just prior to the dawn of the new decade, while Elmer Bernstein would contribute some of the sixties most memorable thematic material, highlighted by his classic score for The Magnificent Seven starring Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner.
Among the greatest achievements of the musical decade remains the incomparable score for Stanley Kubrick's Roman spectacle of insurrection and sacrifice. Spartacus, written by Alex North, combined traditional symphonic pageantry with atonal modern composition. North created a monumental underscore, featuring one of the loveliest romantic themes ever heard on screen. The love theme for Spartacus continues to be re-interpreted to this day by jazz greats throughout the world in recordings and in live performance.
For MGM's Cinerama presentation of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, the director envisioned a score with traditional classical themes by Strauss, which he felt would illustrate the grace and lyrical symmetry of futuristic space technology. When the studio balked, requesting a modern, original score, Kubrick signed Alex North to write the music. North, eager to accept the challenging assignment, wrote major excerpts of the score for the director he'd worked with so successfully on Spartacus. Barely able to contain his enthusiasm, North pressed Kubrick for additional clips and scripting from which to adapt his ever evolving music but Kubrick, strangely reticent, continued to resist the urging of his contractual collaborator.
In reality, Kubrick had conspired to keep the truth of his intentions from both North and MGM, never intending to utilize any of North's original scoring, planning instead to incorporate his original ideas of using Strauss waltzes on the soundtrack. Bewildered by his colleague's refusal to allow him access to the filming, North felt the humiliation and betrayal first hand at the world premiere in Washington of the acclaimed science fiction odyssey. As he sat in the darkened theater, along with hundreds of distinguished invited dignitaries and guests, seeing the completed picture for the first time, the composer realized, to his horror, that not a note of his ambitious score had remained in the film. North never entirely recovered from the debacle of Kubrick's betrayal, and rarely worked in film again.
Bernard Herrmann found it difficult to find work in the states after the explosive severing of ties with Hitchcock, and so emigrated to England in order to continue working. Miklos Rozsa continued to work sporadically in film, turning instead to the concert hall for his inspiration.
After years of recognition and reward, culminating in an Oscar for his triumphant score for Ben Hur, his long time association with Metro Goldwyn Mayer was abruptly concluded when the studio neglected to renew his contract. Both men became independent contractors, with Herrmann contributing the exquisite music for French director Francois Truffaut's depiction of Ray Bradbury's classic science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451 at Universal.
Herrmann continued to work until 1975 when he composed the experimental jazz score for Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver. The music was completed mere hours before the composer's fatal heart attack on Christmas Eve. The film is dedicated by Scorcese to Bernard Herrmann on the final screen credit of the controversial film.
Steve Vertlieb and Miklos Rosza
Director Billy Wilder often spoke of utilizing Miklos Rozsa's "Concerto For Violin And Orchestra" one day as an integral part of a film. Commissioned by violinist Jascha Heifitz in 1953, Wilder had long admired the music, listening to it in his office while preparing other productions. He finally kept his word in 1970 by integrating the concerto into his bittersweet screen tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary creation, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.
Rozsa himself would make a brief on screen appearance in the romantic drama, conducting Tschaikovsky's "Swan Lake" at Royal Albert Hall. The composer would be honored further in late 2007, and early 2008, when the famed Castro Theater in San Francisco devoted nine days to a film festival commemorating seventeen of Rozsa's most acclaimed motion pictures. His daughter, Juliet, appeared live on stage during an evening that included proclamations from both the Hungarian Ambassador to The United States, as well as the Mayor of San Francisco in tribute to what would have been Miklos Rozsa's 100th birthday.
In 1972, conductor Charles Gerhardt would embark upon a bold new venture. Gerhardt decided to begin recording many of the great symphonic film scores of the past forty years for RCA Record's Red Seal label, a franchise which had previously been utilized only in the recording of traditional classical music. From 1972 until 1978, under the auspices of producer George Korngold (the son of composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold), Gerhardt would create an unforgettable series of high quality recordings, preserving the motion picture music of Erich Korngold, Miklos Rozsa, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, and Dimitri Tiomkin. The recordings brought to prominence once more the majestic scores and legacy of the great Hollywood composers, infusing new interest in their work both by the public and by young new directors searching for their roots.
Among these youthful new directors was Steven Spielberg, eagerly searching for ways in which to visualize the inspiration he'd known as a child in the darkened movie theaters of his home town. In 1975 he was asked to direct a screen version of Peter Benchley's best selling novel about a great white shark terrorizing the local waters of a small New England community. Spielberg hired John Williams to compose the music for what would become the enormous Summer blockbuster...Jaws.
John Williams and author Steve Vertlieb
Williams's music was fresh, vital, exhilarating, and passionately symphonic. With full blown, nearly endless wrap around themes and melodies, the composer single handedly re-invented the Hollywood Sound, ushering in a new era of golden, melodic motion picture music.
In 1977, continuing the exploration of his newly discovered voice on the big screen, Williams created two of his most iconic film scores, Star Wars for George Lucas, and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind for Steven Spielberg. In the years that followed, John Williams would become the single most important and influential screen composer since sound came to film, writing the scores for Superman, the Indiana Jones series, E.T., Jurassic Park, Home Alone, Hook, Schindler's List, JFK, The Towering Inferno, Harry Potter, and most recently, War Horse.
Steve Vertlieb and John Williams
At nearly eighty years of age, John Williams continues to write original music for films, performing with symphony orchestras around the world, while affectionately becoming identified as "Americas Composer." With fellow composer Jerry Goldsmith, their richly expressive artistry found its voice for an enthusiastic, new generation of music lovers.
Williams and Goldsmith had become the modern artistic equivalents of Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann, filling motion picture theaters with the glorious resonance of their miraculous creative vision while fabricating, along with those gifted musicians who had first given "voice" to the sound of films, much of the most memorable symphonic music of the twentieth century.
Still newer composers such as James Horner, James Newton Howard, Bruce Broughton, Lee Holdridge, Mark McKenzie (for his astonishingly beautiful score for The Greatest Miracle), and Danny Elfman continue to emerge, while contributing significantly to the art of motion picture music and, as long as films continue to uplift and inspire our dreams, music, as its co-pilot, will continue to faithfully chart their course.
Steve Vertlieb. Spring, 2011
*Commissioned, written, and delivered originally as an evening lecture for screen director Robert Tinnell and students of The Factory Digital Filmmaking Program at The Douglas Education Center in Monessen, Pennsylvania on May 4th, 2011. This newly expanded version for publication is dedicated lovingly to them.
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