The Soundtrack

THE SOUNDTRACK: SUMMER 2001

By • Aug 1st, 2001 •

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“I wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro… and that’s as good as I’ve any right to be…. Never wrote so directly about myself as in that story… the man is dying and I got that pretty good… by the time I finished The Snows of Kilimanjaro, I had put into it… four novels, distilled and compressed… nothing held back… it took me a long time to write another short story after that… I knew I could never write another as good…”
— Ernest Hemingway
quoted by A.E. Hotchner in the preface to the Easton Press edition of The Snows of Kilimanjaro

A newly discovered critical maxim of my own making reveals that while Hollywood often failed Hemingway, its great soundstage maestros never did. Indeed the artists who composed classic scores for the cinemazations of some of Hemingway’s best– and best known works– reads like a who’s who of great music from Hollywood.

* The Sun Also Rises by Hugo Freidhofer
* Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man by Franz Waxman
* Islands in the Stream
by Jerry Goldsmith
* The Old Man & the Sea by Dimitri Tiomkin
* For Whom the Bells Toll by Victor Young
* The MacComber Affair by Miklos Rozsa
* The Hemingway Play by Lee Holdridge
* A Farewell to Arms by Mario Nascimbene
* To Have & Have Not by Franz Waxman
And… The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Bernard Herrmann.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro, paired with the stylish WWII spy thriller, Five Fingers, has been released by John Morgan and William Stromberg on the ever stalwart Marco Polo label. The music is classic in every emblematic sense of the Golden Age scores– and the re-recording is faultlessly genuine in every way. The conducting here is assuredly the best that William Stromberg has ever done– certain, seasoned and mature. I think sometime during the last few years, this engaging young artist discovered what Hemingway’s wayward leopard was doing so far away from the savannas, when it died atop snowy Kilimanjaro. Truly it’s a knowledge that’s often inexpressible, certainly indelible — and a source of immutable transformation for an artist. That sense of life and death, poignancy and purpose is very much here in this marvelous release.

If not one of Herrmann’s greatest scores, it is nonetheless one of greatest romantic scores, rich in adult sentience. The music, except for the main title, is stripped of characteristic theatricality. Instead, Herrmann plants his feet squarely in the territory of adulthood and doesn’t budge an inch. Action scenes in the film stand on their own without musical accompaniment and Herrmann sits back in studied silence. Most of the time. Memorable exceptions– a heartwrenching punctuation to a woman’s death in the Spanish Civil War that’s cut with the rip of snare drums. And a skin-crawling orchestral narrative of a scavenger following the scent of rotting flesh. The robust main title surely ranks as one the composer’s most powerful compositions. Vivid horns evoke the expanse of Africa with trumpeting fanfares and a rolling orchestral baseline evokes the personal turmoil of Hemingway’s milieu.

And never before (except for the primary studio performance) has The Memory Waltz been performed with such exquisite beauty and feeling. This complex set piece– from the composer’s own re-recording in the early 70s through tiring retreads on countless compilations thereafter– has suffered from its own tendency to be cloying and sentimental. Here the performance resurrects its initial, haunting elegance. The Memory Waltz is laced with love, intensely personal sentiment– and subtle pain, a yearning for a long lost three-quarter time romance wasted and irretrievably lost to vagaries of excess and insensitivity. Herrmann’s intent is once again faithfully and perfectly restored: this music hurts. It’s an experience that underscores the elegance and enduring attraction of great filmusic– its unrivaled power to honestly tweak an emotion and then let it reverberate.

Five Fingers is a pre-Hitchcockian score that signals creative directions that would later result in the best run of suspense scores in the history of filmusic, as well as hints of Jason & the Argonauts. Herrmann is in a theatrical mood and the music is both a proscenium and an invitation to breathless listening. This was a great period for Bernard Herrmann. Alfred Newman and 20th Century Fox studios offered him a list of varied films that allowed the temperamental maestro a sense of artistic security that he would later find missing in his mercurial life and career.

The liner notes by Joe Capporiccio and Chris Husted offer first-rate, learned, imaginative commentary about the composer and the music.

“Sometimes I can’t listen to our recordings. I’m so aware of things that I could have done better. The Snows of Kilimanjaro is different. I listen to it again and again; it hits the mark every time…” William Stromberg, conductor

Full-Notes:
*Rio Lobo composed & conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. This is a key western score by Jerry Goldsmith and it’s his only score for the Hollywood auteur, Howard Hawks. The film itself, Hawks’ last film, was a tired reworking of the classic Rio Bravo. The same film but, well, sorta different. In a way, the score has a sort of kinship with that early classic score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Both main titles are ballads, prominently featuring guitars. The effect is striking: make a ballad and set the tone for Hawks’ legendary straight from the hip story telling technique. Both scores are John Wayne scores as well– larger than life, colorful, heroic– and action centered. Goldsmith’s main title is one of his very best. The knocking of a thumb on the belly of the guitar, a tense rhythm that’s extended and then overtaken by a guitar solo sets the tone like a campfire refrain. The last notes are then picked up again by the rhythm of the beating thumb against the guitar, fading away. This is a score that belongs to the same period as Goldsmith’s classic The Ballad of Cable Hogue. During this rich period of the late 60s and early 70s Goldsmith seemed to be able to create filmusic of astonishing texture and drama. And Rio Lobo is no exception. It’s also interesting to contrast Rio Lobo with John Wayne scores by Elmer Bernstein, such as Big Jake and The Shootist. This a rolling, rhythmic orchestral style that fits these films like the curve of a six gun’s grip. My only criticism regarding this new CD from Prometheus is that the score is broken up into stereo and mono presentations with no regard to the dramatic flow of narrative imposed by the film itself. Apparently this was done to enhance the listening experience. It would have been good to have a numerical sequencing somewhere to indicate how the score would sequence originally so that you could at least program your CD player.

A Barry Bonanza:
Silva Screen records has matured considerably with the release of three phenomenally good re-recordings of John Barry scores, each one, complete and forming a sort of Medieval Trilogy: The Last Valley (FilmCD355), Lion in Winter (FilmCD353) and (my personal favorite) Robin & Marian (FilmCD354). The performances of each are incredibly faithful to the original performances for the films– and the engineer who mastered the re-recordings, John Laurd Timperley, has demonstrated how to record re-recordings, aided no doubt the discerning ear of producer James Fitzpatrick who worked all three releases. These new recordings sound like filmusic. Conductor Nic Raine is nothing less than splendid. The tempo for all scores is on the money, making each a delightful experience. This was a rich period for Barry and his music features complexity and thought. Musically, his best work is Lion in Winter. Each cue works utterly in the film, and as a listening experience. The only quibble I have is that in the opening of the main title in this new recording, that low piano snarl is missing. It was a small, but important element in the score. If you remember, Henry the Second was the lion who founded the Plantagenant house of kings, including, well, Richard the Lion-Heart. That snarling, low piano was especially articulate of daddy, King Henry, on the prowl, which set the tone for the score– and the film. Small, mind you., not to eclipse the quality of this recording by any means. Included on the disc is a long suite from Mary Queen of Scots. The Last Valley is excellent, too, and long overdue. But for me, it’s Robin & Marian that captures my heart. In every way. This music was so right for the film; the stars, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn and Nicole Willamson were so right for the film and its brilliant screenplay by James Goldman. But what was so right for The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers was so wrong for Robin & Marian: Richard Lester, the wrong director for the right film. What endures are the stars– and especially John Barry’s music, which tenderly captures the wistful romance and special good-byes between two lost loves– and all of us who grew up in Sherwood Forest. These three new recordings are truly excellent. And I look forward to hearing more. Bravo.

Half-Notes Film Score Monthly (FSM) continues its release of classic scores from the music library of 20th Century Fox, arguably where the greatest music of the Golden Age of Filmusic was composed. Under the administration of Alfred Newman, legendary composers created some of their finest scores. A Man Called Peter by Alfred Newman (FSM Vol. 4, No. 7) continues that composer’s noble exploration of the human spirit. Closely linked but more mature than How Green Was My Valley, this elegant score is rich with Scottish nuance and rhythm in its narrative of Peter Marshall, a one-of-a-kind minister who forever influenced so many Americans’ religious lives during the 1950s and early 60s. Luminous and inspirational, the score perfectly captures Marshall’s ecumenical commitment. It’s amazing to have this recording. The excellent film isn’t widely known, neither is its score. That said, it’s so easy to look back and judge any score from the Golden Age of Hollywood as an undiscovered masterpiece. But the difference between a great score and a masterpiece still applies, even in the 1950s. A Man Called Peter is a great score, surely, but not a masterpiece. Do I care? Not at all. A Man Called Peter is nothing less than great and all heart. Throughout are traditional works, religious and military. I find the mix not only satisfying but true to the narrative of the film. Frankly, I never thought to have this wonderful score. In today’s world where bombast and violence permeate virtually every form of entertainment, A Man Called Peter brims with what it means to be human.

Another FSM release, The Best of Everything (FSM Vol. 4., No. 9), again by Newman was music for one of Fox’s premiere films of 1958. The lavishly mounted, highly polished melodrama of young career women in New York was immensely popular and the song, a hit for crooner Johnny Mathis. Newman composed one of his best cityscapes for this film, cosmopolitan, emotional and exceptional in its treatment of life in the Big Apple. The score and film are not well known today. But the music evokes life in the 1950s with a sense of restrained romance, idealism– and cautious optimism. A must for any collection. Praise for all involved.

Also imperative for any shelf of filmusic is FSM’s release of Hugo Friedhofer’s Soldier of Fortune and Between Heaven and Hell (FSM Vol.4, No.9). Friedhofer is one of the most underrepresented composers today. So few of his works are available. This a courageous move on FSM’s part to both archive these scores and bring Friedhofer to the forefront for serious admirers of filmusic. (Gossip has it that the original trax for Friedhofer’s masterpiece of World War II, In Love and War have been transferred. Long thought to be destroyed, this great score is a testament to Friedhofer’s genius and a virtual symphony of that great war by the greatest generation. It is imperative that this score be released, in its entirety.)

*Film Music composed by John Morgan and William Stromberg, conducted by Stromberg (Promo, J&B001)) An extraordinarily impressive orchestral resume of talent that proves that these reigning maestros of re-recordings are remarkably creative talents in and of themselves. The compositions here are meant to display their virtuosity and reach as composers– and the effect is a dramatic rush of listening, ranging from cues such as Space Race, Ocean Solitude, Metamorphosis to Demon in a Bottle. Highly recommended.

* Man of Galilee, the Essential Alfred Newman Filmusic Collection (SilvaXCD352) a truly earnest 2CD compilation from the man who may well be the greatest of the Hollywood maestros. Let’s get this out of the way first: Newman’s soundstage performances are virtually impossible to recreate. Two reasons: Newman’s inimitable passion as a conductor and what was perhaps the best orchestra of the last 100 years– the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra– which was as much a part of Newman’s artistry as the composer’s own creativity. Now, does this set stand as a testament to Newman’s music? Yes and no. Some things work very well, some don’t. The Fox Fanfare is sluggish but The Diary of Anne Frank, a long suite from the film, works well as does a vigorous performance of Conquest from Captain from Castille. Highlights are the long overture from Keys of the Kingdom, The Mark of Zorro, a suite from How the West Was Won and a display of the height of Newman’s romantic powers, the main title from Anastasia. Here too is a long suite from one of my all-time Newman scores, The Razor’s Edge. It’s a tad slow but the beauty of the score is resplendent. Ending the set is Ken Darby’s adaptation of selections (with his original lyrics) from The Robe and The Greatest Story Ever Told forming a symphonic cantata: The Man from Galilee. This is music of grandeur and spirituality, performed ably and with sensitivity. The production is dedicated to our old friend Tony Thomas, a literate man of wit and spirit, someone truly missed in the community of filmusic. Recommended, especially for those new to filmusic.

* The Roots of Heaven/ David Copperfield composed by Malcolm Arnold, reconstructed by John Morgan and conducted by William Stromberg. Great filmusic expresses great ideas and emotions that stretch beyond what’s happening on the screen, vividly engaging the imagination long after leaving the theater. As time goes by, Malcolm Arnold’s music looms ever more impressive. The Roots of Heaven has long been an elusive score, first issued on an old Fox LP. The film itself was a sort of grand failure, a John Huston folly that should have been a masterpiece. What became a masterpiece was Malcolm Arnolds’s score, its opening fanfares of french horns rolling through an orchestral line like a herd of elephants. Thoughtful, muscular and completely Arnold, The Roots of Heaven slyly avoids the usual jungle clichés and heroically portrays up a wayward idealist’s crusade to save the greatest beasts on earth from the ravages of poachers. David Copperfield is Arnold’s last score for films– and it’s one of the most beautiful narratives imaginable. This is a great re-recording; James Cox wrote the liner notes which are flat-out some the best written for classic scores. He knows Arnold, he knows the music and he brings a special perspective to Arnold’s music, making the notes a true monograph of the Oscar winning composer’s career and life.

* The Cardinal– The Classic Filmusic of Jerome Moross (SilvaKD6030) one the best of the Silva compilations, this 2CD set features music– several long suites– from The Jayhawkers, Seven Wonders of the World, Close-Up, The Captive City, Proud Rebel, and The Cardinal. Every performance is generally an excellent accounting of the original. The Jayhawkers, long a favorite is a spirited, bravura westernscape as is Proud Rebel. A highlight for me was The Cardinal, with tolling catherdral bell and a growling introduction to the main title orchestrated by Christopher Palmer with its matchless, continuously unfolding orchestral narrative that’s as breathtakingly awesome as entering a Vatican chapel. Excellent notes by my friend James Fitzpatrick. A must for any list and a welcomed addition to the recordings of music by Jerome Moross.

* The Glass Managerie composed and conducted by Max Sterner (FMAMS107). Brigham Young University continues its run of great Max Steiner scores. This is one of the maestro’s best, and in many ways, atypical for his Warner scores. His style is more restrained, slightly less romantic and more adult for this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams classic (the author praised Steiner’s score in a personal letter to Jack Warner). The music beautifully evokes the south in a languid, almost jazzy way. It’s interesting to contrast Steiner here with Alex North’s Streetcar Named Desire or Elmer Bernstein’s Summer and Smoke. Praiseworthy in every way, this beautiful production is a labor of love. The liner notes are solid and nearly booklength. Excellent graphics by Leslie Gunn.

Just in…

* The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell, composed and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin (Screen Archives SAE-CSR-003) It’s rare that a complete score by Tiomkin is released and this music for the famed showdown between Billy Mitchell, one of American aviation’s true heroes and Pentagon brass is tailor-made for the Big T. Primarily an interior score, the music is filled with Tiomkin’s trademarks– a string of orchestral counterpoints that mirror what’s happening on screen– in terms of action and also the main character’s emotional drive. The orchestral twists and turns mirror Mitchell’s career mentality and his passion to bring awareness of air power to disbelieving brass hats. The narrative slowly emerges as Mitchell realizes that he must sacrifice himself to prove what he knows is true. This score falls within the parameters of The Gunfight At OK Corral and Last Train from Gunhill and more. The quality of the score is absolute, yet it lacks the enormous energy oft, say, Old Man and the Sea. Partly, it’s the film itself, a stagebound play that offers Tiomkin very little opportunity to open up the orchestral narrative. Still, The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell is filmusic classic by arguably the greatest stylist of the Golden Age of Filmusic. Produced by Craig Spaulding and Ray Faiola who also mastered the score from mono masters. * The Classic Filmusic of Georges Auric 4: La Symphonie Patorale; Valese et Tango Macao, Riffi, and The Wages of Fear conducted by Adriano (Marco Polo8.225136). This is the best re-recording by Adriano ever. Auric is a great composer and these performances hit the mark, especially Riffi and that extraordinary main title from The Wages of Fear. Adriano displays a real talent for more dramatic scores and I wish that he would move in that direction. This is a wonderful CD.

* Con Passionae composed and conducted by Mark McKenzie (Promo MAIE1000) An impressive selection of music from a number of films including The Disappearance of Garcia Lopez, Dr. Jekeyll and Ms. Hyde, Frank and Jesse as well as suites from My Family/Mi Familia and The Lion and the Mouse. McKenzie is an impressive talent and the music here showcases his significant credits. And it makes for good listening.

* The Three Musketeers, composed and conducted by Dave Arnold (Decca 400-014920-2) Heroically robust score for yet another remake of the Dumas novel (not that anyone reads in Hollywood but have producers there heard that Dumas actually wrote other books equally as good as that one about the musketeer?) There’re touches of Williams and Goldsmith woven throughout and the rest is solidly Arnold.

* The Wings of a Film, the Music of Hans Zimmer, composed and conducted by Zimmer (Decca 289 467 749-2) After the rush of accolades from Gladiator, this new age maestro has assumed a cult following truly dedicated to his moody filmusic– sure to please so many, but not me, thank you.

* Turner Classic Scores from Rhino: Don’t waste time shuffling through your Hand-Made Rhino press releases and e-mails. You won’t find out what you’ll read here. A manufacturing snafu has held up the release of Bad-Day at Black Rock by Andre Previn. Also, the long-awaited 2CD set (about 140 minutes of music) of Miklos Rozsa’s masterwork, King of Kings is being readied for a sales push not only in America but world-wide. The release is considered that important and prestigious. The campaign will, alas, delay the release of the score. Expect it closer to Easter next year rather than Christmas. An elegant book will be included. And coming up soon from Turner, one of Miklos Rozsa’s great medieval epic scores. The formal announcement will be made very soon. And lastly, Raintree County is still on the way– and finally (!) hope for a deluxe release of a long-sought after Bronislau Kaper classic is closer than ever to a reality… more as I hear the news.

* Filmusic Confidential: Hush-hush and definitely on the QT, expect major shakeups in the business world of filmusic after the first of the year. The biggest threat to the releases of filmusic– personal feuds and animosities– will finally take its toll with the all the tawdry drama of a noontime soap opera. If it all happens, no one wins, especially those who love the music. You heard it here, first, but keep it to yourself; you didn’t hear it from me.

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One Response »

  1. RE: The Three Musketeers, composed and conducted by Dave Arnold (Decca 400-014920-2)
    This film (and CD) is actually titled “The Musketeer.”

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