Now Voyager - The Classic Film Scores of Max Steiner
Max STEINER (1888-1971)
Now Voyager (Warner, 1942) [5:51]
King Kong (RKO Radio, 1933) [7:16]
Saratoga Trunk (Warner, 1943) [2:30]
The Charge of the Light Brigade (Warner, 1936) [2:37]
Four Wives (Warner, 1939) [8:06]
The Big Sleep (Warner, 1946) [7:03]
Johnny Belinda (Warner, 1948) [5:05]
Since You Went Away (Selznick International, 1944)
The Informer (RKO Radio, 1935) [4:33]
The Fountainhead (Warner, 1949) [8:07]
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Gerhardt
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 2-3 February 1973
SONY RCA RED SEAL 88697 812702 [53:12]

This is another of the Classic Film Score series originally released in the 1970s. This one, devoted to Max Steiner scores, was originally RCA Red Seal LP, ARL1-0136. It includes music from his three Academy Award-winning scores.

Steiner scored some 300 films; of these, 155 written over thirty years, were composed for Warner Bros. The best of these are now committed to disc and this album includes some of his most impressive. Steiner was a master of the art of capturing a film’s atmosphere, heightening its drama and manipulating the emotions of its audience.

For those of us of a certain age, we are treated at the start of the Now Voyager music with the stirring Warner Bros fanfare heard behind their Shield logo before the film’s opening credits rolled. It is a shame we are not treated to this fanfare for today’s Warner films? Now Voyager concerns a repressed ‘ugly duckling’ (Bette Davis) who is encouraged to find her confidence and ‘flower’ by psychiatrist Claude Rains. She falls not-too-happily for married man Paul Henreid. This short effulgently romantic suite includes the dramatic ‘Main Title’, the ‘Love Scene’ with one of Max’s most inspired starry-eyed melodies, and the music that underlines that famous final scene when Davis tells Henreid, “Why wish for the moon, when we have the stars!” The Now Voyager score gained Steiner his second Academy Award.

The Warner Bros fanfare again announces a major Humphrey Bogart film The Big Sleep. In passing it is worth reminding ourselves just how skilfully Steiner always modulates his fanfare into the films’ Main Titles music. The Big Sleep suite comprises the dark sinister music for this Raymond Chandler private-eye melodrama, the slyly romantic material for the bookshop scene between Bogart as the world-weary Philip Marlowe and Dorothy Malone, and the oh-so-cynical love music for Bogart and Bacall. One of Max Steiner’s most remarkable and imaginative scores was that for the film version of Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel The Fountainhead about the struggles of Howard Roark, an idealistic uncompromising young architect (Gary Cooper). The imposing, surging ‘Main Title’ music is suggestive of Roark’s concepts of majestic towering structures. The femininity of ‘Dominique’s Theme’ forms a contrast. Dominique (Patricia Neale) is an heiress and architecture critic. One of the most extraordinarily evocative episodes is the scene where Roark, shown drilling into the side of a cliff, sees Dominique for the first time; extreme high strings, with flute and vibraphone create a vivid musical picture that is at the same time highly erotic.

King Kong was a truly groundbreaking score written when Steiner was at RKO Radio. It was his biggest project to date and Max delivered a thrilling score which used the Wagnerian leitmotif principle, deploying motifs for the main characters including a three-note descending theme for the giant gorilla, Kong. The suite opens ominously as the music evokes the ship approaching Skull Island through the fog. There is the accelerating wild native dance before huge gong-strokes announce Kong and tender material suggestive of Kong’s feelings for heroine Fay Wray. Finally there’s the music for Kong in New York where he is hounded to his death from the top of the Empire State Building.

From Four Wives Gerhardt has expanded its ‘Symphonie Moderne’ into the 8-minute symphonic poem heard here. Gerhardt’s transcription was heard and approved by Max Steiner shortly before his death. The composition is scored for piano (pianist Earl Wild) and orchestra. It’s hardly modern; more an impressive mix of the Late Romantic idiom - with a beguiling violin solo - and a mild touch of Gershwin. Saratoga Trunk, a filmed version of the Edna Ferber novel starred Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. Another lush romantic melody is heard here. The tune was later used for another big song hit, ‘As Long As I Live’. ‘Forward the Light Brigade’ came from The Charge of the Light Brigade, starring Errol Flynn. It is one of Steiner’s most stirring marches and Gerhardt’s reading is worth the price of this CD alone. Steiner’s sweeping romantic score for Since You Went Away won him his third Academy Award. The film was about wives and daughters left to win the home front when their husbands and fathers were away at war. The stunning ‘Main Title’ music packs a huge emotional punch in just 1:15. While at RKO, Steiner won the first of his three Academy Awards for The Informer. The story was set around the Irish Revolt of the early 1920s and it starred Victor McLaglen. The suite includes the dour Irish-inflected march, another of Max’s tender love themes and a soaring hymn as McLaglen seeks absolution in church. In an altogether different mood, innocence and poignancy inform Steiner’s sweetly sentimental score for Johnny Belinda, the story of a drab deaf-mute (Jane Wyman) whose bleak life is lightened by the compassion of Doctor Lew Ayres.

Spirited performances by the National Philharmonic recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall and produced by the great Kenneth Wilkinson. Very good sound enhanced by its re-mastering.

A fine tribute to one of the leading film music pioneers of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Ian Lace

A fine tribute to one of the leading film music pioneers of Hollywood’s Golden Age.