a pre-eminent pioneer composer of film music, worked at M-G-M
from 1929 until his death in 1949. At M-G-M, Stothart was responsible
for the scores of many of the studio’s most prestigious films
including: The Barretts of Wimpole Street, David Copperfield,
The Painted Veil, Anna Karenina, Mutiny on the Bounty,
Rose-Marie (and many other operettas), The Wizard of
Oz, Pride and Prejudice, Waterloo Bridge, Thousands Cheer,
National Velvet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mrs Miniver
and the two scores that are the subject of this album.
Stothart was the
first and only Golden Age film composer to straddle successfully
the line between screen musicals and dramatic scores. He was
nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won the Oscar for Best
Scoring for The Wizard of Oz.
Years before, Stothart
had composed, co-composed and/or conducted many successful Broadway
musical comedies of the 1920s – including Rose-Marie,
co-composed with Rudolf Friml with book and lyrics by Otto Harbach
and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Stothart was born
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin of Scottish and Bavarian descent. His
formative years as lead choirboy in the Episcopal Church would
later prove a great influence on his use of the choir in film
scores. He had a formal musical education in Germany and spent
some years as an educator at the University of Wisconsin while
writing music and conducting. He composed several concert works.
The film Random
Harvest, starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson, was based
on the novel by James Hilton whose other novels Goodbye Mr
Chips and Lost Horizon had already been successfully
filmed. Stothart’s UK heritage gave him a natural instinct for
setting music to English locales and British storylines. Random
Harvest’s storyline revolves around a World War I shell-shocked
soldier who escapes from an asylum, marries a music-hall singer
and is idyllically happy until a shock makes him remember that
he is the head of a noble family. His wife, whom he now does
not remember, dutifully becomes his secretary and years later
another shock brings memory and happiness back. A typical teary
romance of the period but it worked extraordinarily well, mostly
because of the inspired casting of the leads. Stothart created
a suitably saccharine score with string melodies to melt the
heart. Those quivering down-sweeping glissandos that passed
by without comment in the more innocent and emotional 1940s
would now be regarded with derision by so many orchestral players
of today. Woven into the score were hymn tunes, glamorous waltzes,
music-hall songs and folk melodies such as John Peel
contrasted with war marches and cold, remote material associated
with the asylum and the hero’s amnesia and wartime sufferings.
to modern ears, is the music for The Yearling based on
the novel by Marjorie Rawlings. The Yearling, starred
Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman and Claude Jarman Jnr. It was a story
about a young boy’s love for his pet fawn. It captured the beauty
of Florida’s wetlands, yet reflected the harsh realities of
survival for a poor farming family.
Quoting the notes
from the splendid 26-page booklet that accompanies this CD,
“To musically interpret the lush, untamed scrub of post Civil-War
Florida, Stothart saw no need to reinvent the wheel. He chose
to interpolate the work of British composer, Frederick Delius
(1862-1934), who had written a concert work for chorus and orchestra
in 1896 (developed further in 1902) inspired by his years living
in the Florida scrubs, called Appalachia: Variations on an
Old Slave Song. In the original Appalachia manuscript there
is a note in Delius’s hand that the work ‘mirrors the moods
of tropical nature in the great swamps bordering the Mississippi
In actual fact the
locale for The Yearling, along the St John’s River, is
practically the same as that where Delius worked at cultivating
oranges as an escape from his father’s oppressive wool trade.
Delius wrote of the savage beauty of the Everglades and, indeed,
the young farmer (Peck) of the story falls victim to a bite
from a deadly Cottonmouth snake.
Stothart’s own original
music for the film, is often joyous and innocently playful for
the scenes between the boy and his crippled friend, intimate
and homely for the family and darker for the ruination of the
family’s meagre crops by the fawn that has to be killed thus
giving the boy a sad but realistic life-lesson. But it is Stothart’s
sensitive and seamless integration of Delius’s Appalachia,
so apposite, to locale and story - a theme of so much Delius
was the transience of life and love - that makes the music for
The Yearling so affecting and memorable.
The music on this
CD has been reproduced from the actual optical film audio track
Approximately 50% of both these scores, alas, were lost but
that which survived is quite exquisite. They are here on this
album together with some tracks of additional or alternative
‘takes’ from the M-G-M archives that were not used in the films.
by one of the pioneers of film music during Hollywood’s Golden
Age and a notable example of how classical music can be intelligently
and sensitively integrated into a score.