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Herbert STOTHART (1885-1949)
Random Harvest - film score (1942) [37:31]
The Yearling - film score after Appalachia (1906) by Frederick DELIUS (1862 -1934) [40:43]
from the original soundtracks
FILM SCORE MONTHLY Vol. 9 No. 13 [78:31]


Herbert Stothart, 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.

More interesting, 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 River.’”

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.

Affecting scores 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. 

Ian Lace



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