A shorter suite from Max Steiner’s All This And Heaven Too
and the Main Title music from A Stolen Life were recorded by Charles
Gerhardt conducting the crack National Philharmonic Orchestra, in his ground-breaking
Classical Film Scores Series back in the 1970s, and released on an album with
the virtually the same title ‘Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis’ RCA Victor
GD80183. But now we can enjoy much more of the music of both films, especially
that from A Stolen Life.
Some of Max Steiner’s best music was written for Bette Davis
vehicles and she in turn appreciated its worth and developed a close working
relationship with Warner’s leading composer. Max used to appreciate the fact
that his romantically dramatic music was featured more strongly in Davis films
to underline the strong emotional elements of the stories, whereas his more
masculine, action material was often lost under sound effects.
John Morgan’s restorations provide 45 minutes of All This
And Heaven Too score whereas Gerhardt’s suite spanned less than 8, but included
beautifully played excerpts, with nicely romantic and tasteful rubati and portamenti:
Main Title (a more musically satisfying performance than that on the
new Marco Polo recording); Henriette and the Children; Love
Scene; Finale and End Cast.
Concentrating now on the new recording, once past the slightly
over-enthusiastic rendering of the Main Title the Moscow players sparkle. The
score of All This And Heaven Too is dominated by a lovely theme that
underlines the sweet, compassionate and stoical nature of Henriette Deluzy-Desportes
(Bette Davis) the governess of the many children of the Duc de Choiseul-Praslin
(Charles Boyer). Steiner’s score very cleverly evokes her caring relationship
with the children, motherly, playful and consolatory. In contrast there is tradition
and dignity behind the Duc’s music, and sour distorted material for his spoilt,
difficult and unreasonably obsessively jealous wife whose madness at length
provokes the Duc to murder and suicide (see the short article on the true background
of All This And Heaven Too appended to this review).
Restrained music – reminiscent of that of the 18th
Century, the Age of Elegance – informs the non-consummated love that grows between
Henriette and the charming, understanding Duc. One of the most impressive tracks
(and one on which John Morgan has done such a fine job working on such slim
reference material) is the eerie, stormy of ‘All Hallows Eve’ with the female
voices of the Moscow Choir. The same cue also contains a realistic evocation
of the excitement and fairground fun of ‘The Carousel’ as seen through the children’s
eyes. The score also contains some delightful cues that, without resort to mickey-mousing
are very descriptive of scenes like ‘Carriage Ride’. The recording features
one charming piece of source music – Gluck’s Overture to Armida - heard here
in full and used for a scene at an opera house.
A Stolen Life (1946) was a story about twins (Davis in a dual
role) – one good, the other evil (a popular theme of films of that era). The
setting is the coastal region of New England and consequently much of Max Steiner’s
music has a nautical flavour. The magnificent Main Theme (again slightly over-emphatically
performed) is strongly dramatic and bracing – you can sense the tang of the
sea and the strength of the two protagonists. As if to underline the mood a
hornpipe follows that cleverly turns feminine, into Barcarolle, a beautiful
waltz theme to illustrate the fun-loving, outgoing nature of Kate and then there
is a hint of a slinky allure for Pat the other sister. There is some "oily"
material for the unsympathetic Dane Clark character and suitably tender romantic
music for the romance between Kate and the put-upon husband of evil sister Pat
played by Glenn Ford. Interestingly Steiner reprises his moody fog music from
King Kong for the sea storm sequences when Pat dies and the good Kate
assumes her identity – a stolen life.
Two of Steiner’s most memorable scores beautifully and enthusiastically
[ Note: Charles Gerhardt’s Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis
(RCA Victor GD80183) recording is recommended as a cornerstone film music repertoire
choice. It comprises music from: Now, Voyager; Dark Victory; A Stolen Life;
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; Mr Skeffington; In This Our Life;
All About Eve; Jezebel; Beyond the Forest; Juarez; The Letter and All
This And Heaven Too. ]
All this and Heaven Too -
A Mendelssohn’s Link to Murder, Suicide and the Downfall
of a French King
This month Marco Polo releases a new recording of Max Steiner’s
superior score for the classic Warner Bros. "woman’s film" of 1940,
All This And Heaven Too, based on the best-selling novel by Rachel Field.
The film, based on a true story, cast Bette Davis, somewhat against type
as the caring, passive Henriette Deluzy-Desportes governess to the many children
of the French Duc de Praslin. There is a link between the Mendelssohn family
and this story –
The ‘founder’ of the Mendelssohn dynasty, Moses Mendelssohn
was born in poverty in 1729, in the Jewish ghetto of Dessau. Small and humpbacked,
he walked, at the age of 14, the eighty miles to Berlin where by dint of hard
work in the silk business and diligent study he rose to become the most celebrated
Jew in 500 years. He found fame as a leading philosopher and litterateur. He
wrote Phaedon a philosophical tract after Socrates, but with Moses’s
own thoughts in favour of immortality. It became the best-selling book of its
day. Moses also set forces in motion which, although he did not intend them
that way, led to a modernisation of Jewish religious practises.
Moses’ son Joseph later aided by Abraham, the composer Felix
Mendelssohn’s father, were to found the prosperous Mendelssohn and Company bank
that remained in existence until Hitler extinguished it in the late 1930s. Moses’
daughters were in the forefront of the women’s liberation movement of their
day. One daughter, Dorothea Mendelssohn whose Berlin salons were a magnet for
artists, scandalised Europe with her writings and amours. She left her dull
businessman husband, Simon Veit, for the more intellectually stimulating and
passionate Frederick Schlegel.
Another daughter, Henrietta, was equally independent-minded
and adventurous. She shied away from men all her life. Her only interest in
them was intellectual. She was no beauty. She settled in Paris and opened a
school for the daughters of the wealthy but was ultimately persuaded to devote
herself to becoming the governess of Fanny, the young daughter of one of Napoleon’s
generals, Sebastiani, an extremely wealthy man. Sebastiani installed Henrietta
in his household - a lavish house abutting the Elysee Palace. Henrietta converted
to Catholicism and brought Fanny up strictly. Fanny, was lovely but empty-headed.
Her marriage to the Duc de Choiseul-Praslin was disastrous. The relationship
between Henrietta and her young ward was raised in the horrendous fate that
overtook the Fanny. Fanny grew fat and flabby and madly jealous - especially
when her husband began to seek solace with the young governess of their numerous
children. In a rage he battered Fanny to death with a heavy brass candlestick.
Two days later he swallowed arsenic. The murder-suicide caused a sensation.
It contributed to the fall in 1848 of King Louis-Phillipe whose government was
accused of having permitted Praslin, a member of the peerage, to commit suicide
to escape trial and punishment. In one article that followed Henrietta Mendelssohn
was practically accused of being a lesbian whose influence helped make Fanny
Sebastiani incapable of having an emotionally stable marriage.