Laura (20th Century Fox, 1944) [5:52]
Forever Amber Suite (20th Century Fox, 1947) [23:51]
The Bad and the Beautiful Suite (MGM,1952) [15:53]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/David Raksin
rec. Walthamstow Town Hall, London, 18-21 August 1975
Of all the albums in this great series, this has to be one of my favourites. The music is simply glorious.
David Raksin’s film music album was one of the late entries in RCA’s 1970s Classic Film Score series - the original LP album was RCA Red Seal ARL1-1490. It was the only one not to have been recorded by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. David Raksin not only conducts his own scores but contributes the album notes. These essays are a fascinating and enlightening insight into the experiences of a composer working in Hollywood during its Golden Age. Raksin’s biographical details are also included as another erudite note by Christopher Palmer.
Raksin composed many film and television scores. One of his earliest assignments, in 1936, was to assist Charlie Chaplin in the composition of the music for Modern Times. He worked his way up, employed as arranger, adapter and collaborating composer on numerous 20th Century-Fox B pictures. He also composed concert works, and conducted. He was, for many years, a member of the faculty of theory and composition at the University of Southern California and gave courses in film music theory there and at UCLA.
Only three film scores are included in this album but all three brim with melody and acutely observed atmosphere and dramatic intensity. Raksin’s film music marks a turning away from the Late Romantic tradition of the Hollywood pioneers, Korngold and Steiner. It breaks free from this straitjacket and assumes a freer and more fluid style. In some ways his music anticipates the more severe style of Leonard Rosenman (East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause). But Raksin’s music is in essence tonal and the gift of melody is what makes him special.
David Raksin is probably best remembered for the haunting bitter-sweet melody for the film Laura. Johnny Mercer was later to add lyrics to the Laura theme and the resulting song became immensely popular. It was reckoned to be the second most-recorded song in history following only by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish’s Stardust. Raksin’s Laura score for this celebrated film noir turned out to be the turning point in his career. From this point onwards he was offered more major films. This CD opens with an extended refulgent performance of the Laura theme.
Kathleen Winsor’s historical novel which gained notoriety for its salaciousness, would be considered quite mild by today’s standards. The film version of Forever Amber, set in the period of the Stuarts, starred Linda Darnell in the title role, Cornel Wilde as her hero and George Sanders as Charles II. Raksin’s suite cleverly uses styles that could be recognised as being from the 17th century. It is not dissimilar to music by Purcell, and uses forms such as the chaconne or passacaglia. The five-movement sequence opens with an imposing flourish before the sweeping romantic theme for Amber is introduced. This is an eloquent character study that suggests not only vulnerability and poignancy but also strength and fortitude. The majestic ‘The King’s Mistress’ follows; it is written for scenes in King Charles’s palace. The extensive third movement follows Amber through Newgate Prison - sinister march-like rhythms - to scenes of the Great Plague and the birth of her child. The atmospheric plague music with its eerie high-pitched swirling strings and screechy woodwinds really chills. I doubt if any film music composer writing today with all the synths. at his disposal could write music as imaginative and impressive. ‘The Great Fire’ that follows is an equally awesome evocation giving a vivid sound-picture of the fire’s rapid spread. One can hear this in the orchestra’s upward leaps, swift and accelerating tempi and constantly shifting time signatures. The Suite ends with the film’s ‘End Title’ after Amber, as a result of her conniving, has lost her eminent position and has had to give up her son so that he might ‘have a future’. Consequently the music here is poignant and remorseful - yet defiant too, Amber’s spirit remaining undefeated.
The Bad and the Beautiful Main Title Theme: ‘Love is for the Very Young’ is a gorgeous long-breathed melody with a lovely sensuous and seductive saxophone solo. The second movement in this four-movement suite ‘The Acting Lesson’ is music for a sequence that was not used in the film. It was supposed to show Kirk Douglas - as the unscrupulous producer - coaching Lana Turner for an Anna Karenina-type of role. Accordingly Raksin came up with another ravishing sentimental melody for strings à la Russe as he described it; it is enhanced by its lovely violin solo. ‘The Quickies and Sneak Preview’ has busy bustling music - it’s the glamorous, sophisticated jazzy scherzo of this symphonic suite. ‘The Nocturne and Theme’ final movement is another gem. It’s modern in style and approach but wonderfully evocative and graced with sublime melody and a heartrending saxophone solo. This is film music at its very best.
Glorious film music. Not to be missed.
Ian Lace
Glorious film music. Not to be missed.