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Bernard HERRMANN (1911–1975) and Alfred NEWMAN (1900-1970)
The Egyptian (1954) (Restored and reconstructed by John Morgan) [71:31]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir/William Stromberg
rec. March and April 1998, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow. DDD
re-issue of Marco Polo 8.225078
NAXOS 8.557702 [71:31]

It was Alfred Newman who brought the American musical vernacular into the cinema, and Bernard Herrmann who brought a new idea of how to use the orchestra in film scoring – and how to record it. Between them, in their own ways, they set about moving music for film away from the predominantly late-romantic European scores the émigré composers, who had come to Hollywood in the 1930s, were writing. They were dragging the film score, kicking and screaming, into the modern age.

Newman and Herrmann shared a friendship which endured through the years – no easy thing considering Herrmann’s outspokenness and general irascibility. John Williams has said that "Friendship is a difficult word to use with Benny, because there were always adversarial aspects in every Herrmann relationship. If they weren’t there he put them there." (Steven C Smith: A Heart at Fire’s Center (University of California Press, 1991). When Newman retired as head of music at 20th-Century Fox, Herrmann’s longest professional association came to an end, and he lost a valuable ally. Fred Steiner believes that Newman was responsible for Herrmann’s Hollywood career (after the first Orson Welles films). Alfred Newman was succeeded at Fox by his brother Lionel, who had an entirely different view of Herrmann, "…he couldn’t write a tune to save his ass.". One only has to think of the Scène d’Amour in Vertigo (1958) to see this as an incredibly wrong-headed assessment of the composer. Just listen to the gorgeous lines for the woodwind and strings in track 11 on this disk – Nefer-Nefer-Nefer – to hear one of Herrmann’s long unfolding melodies.

Alfred Newman was supposed to score The Egyptian alone but when the studio allowed only five weeks for composition he knew that it was an impossible task. Hearing of this, Herrmann suggested that they collaborate. After deciding who would score which section they met only twice during the period of composition but sent each other what they wrote so as to ensure a smooth transition from one composer’s style to the other. Herrmann wrote most of the music and on this disk there are 19 cues by Herrmann (mostly in the first half of the film) and 11 by Newman. Despite their trying to keep a similarity in style Herrmann’s fingerprints are all over his cues – there’s the low bass clarinets in unison, the menacing stopped horns and the long, almost endless, melodies - eat your heart out, Lionel Newman! Oddly, I heard several references to other Herrmann scores – there’s a moment from Marnie (1964), two reminders of Cape Fear (1962) (both yet to come) and a wonderful sonority straight out of Citizen Kane. I’ve never noticed anything like this in any of his other scores, but they are mere moments and shouldn’t be thought of as self-quotation. There’s also little concession to writing exotic music - some colourful percussion, and augmented intervals is all we get. Herrmann gives us a magnificent Danse Macabre (track 26) – 90 seconds of his most barbaric and frightening music.

Newman’s contribution is more sober and conventional, sometimes in the manner of his music for The Robe (1953) but also finding deep feeling and tenderness, as in Death of Akhnaton (track 28).

The booklet is, as usual with these Film Music Classics issues, excellent: Jack Smith gives detailed notes on each music track, and John Morgan explains bow he came to make his selection of 70 from the 100 minutes of music written for the film. The chorus and orchestra couldn’t be bettered and the recorded sound is rich and full, with a terrifically sumptuous bass. A most valuable addition to this series.

Bob Briggs


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