October 30, 2019
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.
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