“The Night of the Hunter”: Excerpts from Walter Schumann’s Classic Film Score

Charles Laughton’s 1955 film noir thriller, The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, tells the story of a serial killer who poses as a minister in Depression-era West Virginia. Based on a novel by Davis Grubb, the plot centers around two children who are rendered parentless. With ten thousand dollars, stolen by their father who is executed for his crime, the children flee down the Ohio River and …

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Korngold’s “The Sea Hawk”: Excerpts from the Film Score

With the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), Viennese Romanticism faded into a rich, shimmering twilight. As a child prodigy, Korngold attracted the attention of Gustav Mahler (who declared him a “musical genius”) and of Richard Strauss. Der Schneemann (“The Snowman”), a ballet Korngold composed at the age of 11, became a sensation when it was performed by the Vienna Court Opera in 1910. Later, came the 1920 opera, Die tote Stadt …

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Copland’s “The Red Pony” Suite: Film Music of the American Frontier

Aaron Copland was the quintessential city dweller. Born in 1900 to Lithuanian-Jewish parents, Copland grew up amid the brownstones of Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 21, he set sail for Paris to study with the legendary composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger. Returning to the United States four years later, Copland settled in a studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Although his maternal grandfather had lived on the Illinois prairie in …

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Stephen Sondheim’s Homage to Ravel

Artistically, a strong kinship exists between Stephen Sondheim and Maurice Ravel. In the music of Ravel, we often get a sense of cool detachment. Distance and irony open the door to the most intimate expression. Stravinsky alluded to the pristine craftsmanship of Ravel’s music when he called the composer “the most perfect of Swiss clockmakers.” As a student, Stephen Sondheim learned “that art is work and not inspiration, that invention comes with craft.” Perhaps …

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Miklós Rózsa: Seven Great Film Scores

Beginning in the 1930s and 40s, the soaring, majestic sound we associate with the golden age of Hollywood films was created largely by Eastern European emigres—composers such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner. Another significant name from this list is the Hungarian-born Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995), who wrote scores for nearly 100 films between 1937 and 1982, earning 17 Oscar nominations. Rózsa’s introduction to film scoring came in 1934 during a …

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Remembering Ennio Morricone

The Oscar-winning Italian film composer Ennio Morricone has passed away. He was 91. Morricone scored more than 500 films, including the suspenseful spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone. His scores include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Days of Heaven (1978), The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), and The Hateful Eight (2015). Almost obsessive repetition, slowly driving rhythm, the deep voice of the contrabassoon, and (in the final moments) a bass line …

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Louis Kaufman and the Sound of Hollywood’s Golden Age

While you may not recognize his name, chances are good that you have heard American violinist Louis Kaufman (1905-1994). Kaufman has been called “possibly the most recorded musical artist of the twentieth century.” In addition to making around 125 classical recordings, his rich, chocolatey sound is etched into as many as 500 film soundtracks. His singing tone, with its generous use of portamento and fast, shimmering vibrato, is the distinct sound we …

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