Thursday, November 12, 2015

Columbus Symphony Takes us to the Movies

Rossen Milanov conducts the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in music for the Cinema by  Max Steiner, Bernard Hermann, Maurice Jarre and Elmer Bernstein. The program includes Prokofiev's cantata Alexander Nevsky based on Prokofiev's score for Sergei Eisenstein's film of the same name. 

Pre-concert talks by yours truly one hour before each performance. Ohio Theater, 8 pm.
November 13 and 14. (Talks at 7)

What was your first movie? I mean the first time you went to a movie theater complete with popcorn. Mine was Lawrence  of Arabia and had I paid my way in I certainly would have gotten my money's worth. Alas, it was 1962, I was five years old and the baby sitter cancelled. A night out was a night out and I was brought along. Five is too young to appreciate a three hour plus movie filmed in Technicolor-Egyptian splendor, and I can't say I recall the first run of Maurice Jarre's music, much less Peter O'Toole. I do remember a scene where a young man drowned in quicksand.Not much else.

I can catch up this weekend, at least with Maurice Jarre (1924-2009). He was born in Lyons, and had a gist of color in music necessary for his Oscar-winning scores to Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India and Mad Max, Beyond the Many. I was ready to say Jarre was not interested in simple romance when he could have the pyramids, the gulag or outer space, but it is Maurice Jarre's music featured in Ghost. Love music got complicated in his scores to Fatal Attraction, The Mosquito Coast and The Year of Living Dangerously. 

Bernard Hermann's (1911-1975) scores Psycho for Alfred Hitchcock. He went on to compose for Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone.  Hermann was a staff conductor for CBS in New York by 1935. As conductor of the CBS Symphony, Hermann introduced music by Franz Liszt, Charles Ives, Herman Goetz and Niels Gade. He worked with Orson Welles during that star's radio years -including The War of the Worlds  broadcast that panicked America. Other film scores by Bernard Hermann were for Citizen Cane, Jane Eyre, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, North by Northwest and Taxi Driver.

Max Steiner (1888-1971) became the Haydn-Mozart-Wagner of Hollywood. He won Oscars for his scores to The Informer, Now Voyager, and Since You Went Away. Born in Austria, Steiner outgrew his child prodigy years and went to Hollywood in 1929-just in time for the talkies! (singies?). Steiner's godfather was no less than Richard Strauss. He had success composing and conducting operettas, but sound was coming in and for young Max operetta was going out. How much do you need to know about the man who wrote the music to King Kong?

Steiner joined Warner Brothers in 1937, and wrote film scores for that studio's reigning diva. Jack Warner told the composer, "When Bette Davis walks into a room, I want audiences to know that Bette Davis had walked into a room."   It was good advice. Steiner wrote the scores for The Letter, Dark Victory, A Stolen Life and Now Voyager.

But Steiner had already immortality when he wrote this score, which still has people nearly saluting the flag:

Sergei Prokofiev didn't need much from Hollywood. In fact I doubt he would have fared well on the coast. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner had European cred to match Prokofiev when they went to Hollywood and Sergei pursued a parallel career composing and performing.  

In 1937  Stalin's Soviet films turned to Sergei Eisenstein, who had flopped on Hollywood, for a film base on Russian history. Said film must have relevance, use to 1937 audiences. The choice of Prince Alexander Nevsky was brilliant. Alexander had routed the German Teutonic knights out of old Rus'. Stalin was still making nice with the fuhrer, but one never knew. Eisenstein's German knights wore sinister metal helmets. The Russian people were a great unwashed, winning a glorious battle on the ice

When Germany and the Soviet-Union signed a non aggression pact, Alexander Nevsky was taken out of circulation. Not for long. The are jubilant choruses exhorting the Russian people on to victory, either in 1242 of 1937. And a magnificent prayer for solo contralto, The Field of the Dead. 

The Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Sarah Mesko, mezzo -soprano in Classic Film Scores November 13 and 14 Ohio Theater.


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rbonotto said...

Someone should think about showing "Vampyr" (1932) with an orchestra for Halloween: the Wolfgang Zeller score was found a few years ago, it's only a chamber orchestra (using mostly strings and single winds), and the movie is nearly all silent. Also, since the original negative was lost, the sound isn't much better than, say, for Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" (another translucent score, but with a much larger orchestra).