Month: October 2019

  • Here Comes the Bride!

    Two scores in early Hollywood would be instrumental in shaping the importance of music in film.  The first of these is Max Steiner’s King Kong (1933).  The other is undoubtedly Franz Waxman’s stunning effort for James Whales’ The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  Now, thanks to the loving work from La La Land’s Mike Matessino we have a chance to hear this music on its own in this new limited edition, part of the label’s Universal Heritage series.

    Waxman was a recent arrival in Hollywood having played in bands and written scores for a host of German films as the decade began.  He had more recently completed Liliom (1934) which had gotten the attention of some, notably director Whale who wanted to employ him for his sequel to the successful Frankenstein (1931).  A lot had happened with music and film in that five year span.  The first film had stock main and end title music, but the new film would need a much more intricate score.  Waxman obliged and the result is a moment in film history when many things lined up to create one of the classics of early cinema.

    It is hard to believe that this 84-year-old score still has the sort of power it has.  With thematic motives that run through the score and create connections to characters and a longer unity, the listener here can follow the storyline fairly well even with what has survived to be included here.  The music for the “bride” is a stunning, rich ultra-romantic approach then very much in vogue back in Europe (the likes of composers like Zemlinsky, Richard Strauss, and Korngold were all dabbling in).  With this score, Waxman charted a line of orchestral writing that would continue to impact Hollywood for decades to come.  The “Prologue-Minuet” sets us up with music that is delicate and casts back to an earlier genteel age while still staying mostly rooted in a later harmonic sensibility.  The comic touches and subtle sinister qualities of Pretorius also come across (“Introducing Pretorius”).  “Danse Macabre” gives us some equally fine off-kilter music that matches well what we are seeing and adds its own quirkiness.  But it really is in the extended eleven-minute sequence of “The Creation” where Waxman’s score really demonstrates the power of music and image.  Timpani heart beats run as a slow ostinato through the sequence that begin to add a sense of tension with such great simplicity.  The little motivic shimmers that begin to appear add to the intensity of the scene until, eventually, all will come crashing down.

    Orchestrally, the use of organ helps add a rather macabre religious quality to the music which further connects with the themes of science as a new religion in the modern era.  Blending this with harp is a rather fascinating color as well.  As the score plays out here, one is also struck by the quality of the musicians sitting on that soundstage reading this new music.  Perhaps most were just glad to be employed, but you have to wonder if they did not still feel something unique and special was in their hands.  Of course, all of this means nothing without the sort of painstaking restoration that has been undertaken here to give us a truly crystal clear audio of the score that does not show its age.  As a remastering demonstration, this is really as good as one could hope.

    Not all of the recorded score survives, but the half-hour that does is well worth every moment.  La-La Land includes four additional “bonuses” that were unearthed that give a slight glimpse into the alternate takes of key moments (“Pastorale-Village-Chase”, “Danse Macabre”, and some excerpts from “The Creation”).  It is certainly one of the label’s finest releases that is a gift to any serious lover of film music.  This is a limited release of 3000 units.

  • Time to Get Back on the Plane!

    Perhaps no president will be faced with the sort of action hero needs of Harrison Ford’s in Air Force One (1997).  Wolfgang Petersen’s (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) was intended to cap the summer blockbuster season with its tale of Communists overtaking and hijacking the President’s plane with Glenn Close playing a Vice President tasked with determining whether or not to negotiate to save the important hostages.  Originally, the film had Randy Newman (!) set to provide a score for the film, but he was the first to get off the plane when his music was rejected.  And in classic Hollywood fashion, with 12 days at his disposal, Jerry Goldsmith was brought in to provide a new score.  The tight schedule meant that even the master had need of an additional composer for help and he asked Joel McNeely to write music for several sequences using themes Goldsmith had prepared for the film.  The resulting score was recorded over three weeks with both composers often working nights to add additional music or changes to existing cues.  When Varese released music from the film, they were in the midst of addressing growing frustration with their playing time for CDS, most barely hitting the 30-minute mark.  With a new Goldsmith score, this often made fans apoplectic with frustration and even doubly so under the circumstances of this particular project.  So, it is with some fanfare that Varese now corrects this with a more complete edition of the score with its broad, engaging theme and high-octane action music.

    The score is spread across two discs and items are clearly marked to delineate the music that was on the original soundtrack release (though in some cases, these 8 tracks are now not edited together and receive new titles).  Goldsmith’s primary action cue kicks things off right from the start in “The Parachutes” with its blend of his finest martial and patriotic styles.  The counter to this is the Russian music that appears in the following “Parachute Attack”.  From here we are on our way through a host of thematic variants that require a constant build of tension in the enclosed space of an airplane.  Of course, this builds very early on in the superb action cue, “The Hijacking, Part One & Two”.  (It is worth noting that there are two versions of this sequence.  The initial one on disc one is the one heard on the OST.  The other on disc two is the film version which incorporates some of McNeely’s work as well.)  This moment is certainly one of the highlights of the score and a mark how Goldsmith works to build tension by shifting orchestral colors, adding different ostinatos, and moving things constantly forward.  That this happens early in the film is what will make the rest of this score an even more fascinating listen as Goldsmith then must regroup and begin the larger arch of building up the sequences that move us to the even bigger denouement of the film.  Along the way, there are moments of relaxation but the slightest hint of either the President’s or the Russian music makes the journey all the more interesting.

    About 20 minutes or so of “extras” pad out disc two.  The general score presentation focuses on presenting mostly Goldsmith’s music with the cues McNeely contributed clearly marked.  The extras are film and alternate takes that allow some comparison to how some cues changed.  The notes for the album mostly review the different tracks and the score and a plot overview of the film.  Fans of Goldsmith will certainly hear many familiar tropes here from so many of the master’s earlier work brought in to help bolster an engaging theme that still makes one want to stand a salute.  The two-disc release is available with a 4000 copy run.