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William PERRY (b.1930)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1985) [18:26]
Pudd’nhead Wilson (1984) [2:16]
Life on the Mississippi (1980) [10:57]
The Innocents Abroad (1983) [15:40]
The Private History of a Campaign That Failed (1981) [7:39]
The Mysterious Stranger (1982) [15:05]
Slovak Philharmonic Choir (Pudd’nhead Wilson); Vienna Boys’ Choir (The Mysterious Stranger); Richard Hayman (harmonica), Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Pudd’nhead Wilson; Life on the Mississippi; The Private History of a Campaign That Failed); Vienna Symphony Orchestra (The Mysterious Stranger); Rome Philharmonic Orchestra (The Innocents Abroad)/William Perry
rec. 1980–1986, Bratislava, Vienna, Rome. DDD Re-issue of Premier Recordings PRCD 1015
NAXOS 8.570200 [70:16]


Experience Classicsonline

William Perry was born in Elmira, New York and began composing and conducting at the age of fifteen. He studied at Harvard University with Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. Although he has written in most forms, and his works have been performed by the Chicago, Saint Louis and Detroit Symphony Orchestras, amongst others, it is as a composer for film that he is best known.


Perry has written more than a hundred film scores, many of them for the silent film collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, including The General, Orphans of the Storm, Blood and Sand, The Mark of Zorro and other classics. He also received two Tony Award nominations for his score for Broadway’s Wind in the Willows


If that wasn’t enough, he is also a television producer, his series The Silent Years (1971 and 1975), with Orson Welles and Lillian Gish, won an Emmy Award. Thereafter he produced a poetry series for PBS (1976/1978) called Anyone for Tennyson? with Clare Bloom, Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Vincent Price and William Shatner, and the four part DVD series The Poetry Hall of Fame, which he also hosted.


These six films based on the works of Mark Twain were sponsored by PBS and, rather refreshingly, the producer didn’t choose only the most obvious works to dramatise.

First of all, let me say that anybody expecting to find music of the calibre of Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein or Lalo Schifrin – to name but three of Perry’s close contemporaries – or even Roy Webb, Bernard Herrmann or Alex North, from a generation earlier, will be disappointed. This music has neither the sweep nor the overall strength of those composers. What it does have is a pleasant down-home Americana feel to it. It’s Film of the Week TV Movie music, and it’s quite pleasant, but there isn’t much variety to it.

Best of all, perhaps because it comes first, is the score for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There’s ten pieces from the score which feature the harmonica and it’s what people like to call “feel good” music; little substance but nice sounds. Thereafter it all sounds the same. I don’t feel either a strong musical personality at work nor am I involved with the music. It’s all very four-square with nothing to relieve the sameness. The booklet tells us that Perry has “created music completely appropriate to the subject matter … His use of wordless chorus and unusual orchestration gives a special sense of color to the writing.” Certainly the opening title music for The Mysterious Stranger uses a tambourine and double reed instruments to create an eastern flavour, but I wonder why when the film is set in a castle in the Alps! The following track is pure Americana again, with annoyingly obvious cadences and a boys’ choir la-la-ing its way through the piece.

Not all film music can live outside the film and it is more than likely that this music works perfectly when heard within the film. I haven’t seen the films so I don’t know but what I do know is that, for me, this is not a successful venture. The music is too unvaried and ordinary to hold the attention.

This is small beer indeed. I wonder at its inclusion in Naxos’s Film Music Classics series for this issue sits poorly by the side of previous releases of music by composers of the stature of Herrmann, Steiner, Shostakovich, Salter and Alfred Newman.

Bob Briggs


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