April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Invitation / A Life of Her Own  
Music composed by Bronislau Kaper
Conducted by Johnny Green
Recorded at MGM Scoring Stage
Invitation (1950)
Orchestrated by Robert Franklyn, Wally Heglin, and Peter Rugolo
IA Life of Her Own (1952)
Orchestrated by Robert Franklyn, Leo Arnaud, Andre Previn, and Wally Heglin
  Available on Film Score Monthly (FSM – vol.8 no.17)
Running Times: [Total]: 76:07
Invitation: 46:36
A Life of Her Own: 29:10
As this item is unavailable from amazon.com, online soundtrack specialty outlets like moviemusic.com are probably worth trying here.

See also:

  •  Lili
  • The Glass Slipper
  • The Swan
  • The Brother’s Karamazov 
  • About six or seven months ago I had my first chance to listen to a Bronislau Kaper score. It was Quentin Durward. And while I certainly appreciated the score, it was a score I gave a high rating to because I approved of its structure, its intent, its spirit, slightly more than I liked it as a listening experience. And since then I’ve turned up the opportunity more than once of purchasing a Bronislau Kaper score, choosing instead to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ in modern score collecting with occasional dips into some of my preferred Golden Age mainstays – Newman, Rozsa, Waxman… Goodness knows there’re so many scores on the market these days, it’s hard to get a quarter of the releases you’re interested in.

    Anyway, the chance came up to review FSM’s late 2005 release of the paired Bronislau Kaper scores for Invitation (1952) and A Life of Her Own (1950), and I took it, because I really don’t know anything about this composer’s style, and as he’s such a crucial part of the late Golden Age scoring scene, I’d like to know more. This album features quite an unusual pairing as it turns out, Lukas Kendall’s typically excellent (if highly film-focused) liner notes pointing out what linked the two works in the composer’s canon:

    “Kaper used one of his most indelible tunes twice: first as the theme to A Life of Her Own (1950), then as the theme to Invitation (1952). Why this happened is unclear today, but A Life of Her Own quickly vanished from theatres and it is likely that Kaper and M-G-M simply considered the tune too good to go to waste. Invitation turned out to be dramatically just as good a home…”

    Having seen neither film, I can’t say which of the two was more deserving of the Kaper theme. Invitation (1952) was a ‘woman’s picture’, speaking to the marital insecurity of the age perhaps, as Dorothy Maguire’s Ellen uncovers that her loving husband (Van Johnson) was secured financially by her protective father. Meanwhile, two years earlier, A Life of Her Own (1950) ‘sank like a stone’ (Kendall’s phrase) in its ill-advised attempt at a melodramatic telling of the perspective of ‘the other woman’ (played by Lana Turner). Whichever is the better film, and both seem a bit suspicious in their summarized form, the theme is certainly a stunner. I can well understand why Kaper re-used it: it is simply that good.

    And it’s a hard theme to describe. It’s certainly a product of its time, but that says nothing in the romantic high tide of Golden Age scoring. The A and B sections of the theme are well developed, resulting in a long line theme with many phrases for the underscore to draw on. If anything, both the theme and its many variations remind me of David Raksin’s theme for Otto Preminger’s Laura. ‘Not exactly classical, but sweet’, as the Vincent Price character says of that film’s titular character on hearing her theme, and the same could be said of the Kaper theme. Something about the progressions (jazz-influenced) brings Laura to mind. Like the Raksin theme, the Kaper theme appears as both underscore and source music within the score, and the score, while it departs from the chief melody, is largely monothematic. It’s also a profoundly ambivalent theme in dramatic tone, like Laura – it’s hard to know whether it’s inviting tears or laughter, and quite possibly that one aspect of it that’s helped it to hold up over time.

    Invitation is my preferred of the two scores, both longer and more adventurous in its handling of the theme both scores share. ‘Main Title’ rapturously thunders to life with a prelude almost worthy of a Rachmaninov piano concerto, before sentimental strings carry the melody through the cue, with woodwinds strongly featured towards the end. After the elegant strings/harp/woodwind underscore of ‘Five-Eighteen’, solo piano carries the theme in the source cue ‘How is Maud’. The highlight of the score is undoubtedly ‘Ellen visits Maud’, a five minute set-piece that carries the theme through many variations, some questioning, some foreboding, some affirming. It’s masterful dramatic underscoring. The rapturous ‘End Title’ for full orchestra isn’t quite so subtle, but you certainly know the score has come to an end, and Kaper’s skills of orchestration are so broad that the theme feels fresh even at the end of the score.

    A Life of Her Own is the shorter of the scores, and it feels a bit like its inclusion is as an oddity mostly of interest to collectors, for the theme isn’t presented in any form radically different from Invitation. The theme appears throughout as a series of piano source cues called ‘Champagne Room’, as well as underscore in ‘It’s All Over / Extension’ and other cues. The score has original material of its own – the ‘I Know, I Know Muzak’ (“how good does muzak sound when you hear it?” as the conductor was heard to ask Kaper on the master tapes); the somewhat mood-jarring-but-well-written suspense music of ‘Way Up High’ and ‘No Place to Go, Part 1’; and of course a range of source cues ranging from a jitterbug to slower beat jazz.

    A long series of source cues from Invitation separate the two scores, and while their separation from the main score is appreciated by this reviewer, some may prefer to program them into their proper places in the original score (the correct sequence is suggested in the liner notes) so as to recapture the complete narrative of the film’s use of music. Of most interest is the alternative version of the highlight cue ‘Ellen visits Maud’, though the track only differs in the opening minute.

    Another excellent release from Film Score Monthly, with their characteristic excellent production values. Though the album does run out of steam somewhere in the source cues between the two scores, the theme is one of my favourite from any of their releases to date. It’s worth wondering though how the recently ceased print magazine run by the label maintained such antipathy towards James Horner based on his reuse of melodic material from one score to the next, when here Bronislau Kaper is celebrated for exactly the same practice. Is Kaper’s use of a familiar melody to push audience buttons really so different from Horner’s approach to scoring emotion? It’s apples and oranges perhaps, but it’s possibly double standards too.

    This qualm aside, the music on its own terms is fine indeed.

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 3.5

    Film Score Monthly News Release:

    Bronislau Kaper was a composer of classic film songs as well as film scores -- "Lili," "On Green Dolphin Street" and "All God's Chillun Have Rhythm" are among his most famous works. One of his loveliest melodies he actually used in two "women's pictures": first in A Life of Her Own (1950), then in Invitation (1952), presumably because the first film did not perform well and the theme was too good to let it go to waste. This CD features the complete score to Invitation (plus source music), followed by the surviving tracks to A Life of Her Own.

    Invitation starred Dorothy Maguire as a married woman who discovers that her perfect husband (Van Johnson) might have been "purchased" for her by her overprotective father, and that she might have a fatal illness. Kaper's "Theme From Invitation" dominates the score as a haunting expression of Maguire's anxiety, love and heartbreak, but the soundtrack also features beautiful, transparent writing for her family life, and dark currents for her obsessive search for the truth.

    A Life of Her Own starred Lana Turner as a New York City model embroiled in an affair with a married man (Ray Milland). Although directed by George Cukor, it soon disappeared from theaters -- spurring Kaper to reuse his theme later. The surviving tracks consist mostly of source music, along with a few cues of Kaper's dramatic score, similar to Invitation and interpolating the gorgeous melody as a recurring source cue for piano.

    Many cues from Invitation are presented in rudimentary stereo, due to the prominent use of piano which was recorded on its own channel; the balance of the CD is in mono.

    At last, one of cinema's loveliest melodies -- which became a veritable "standard" of popular music -- is fully documented in this premiere FSM CD.

    Track Listing:

      Invitation:
    1. Main Title 1:41
    2. Five-Eighteen 2:23
    3. Maud/How is Maud 1:33
    4. Ellen Visits Maud 5:07
    5. Hello Father 1:07
    6. I Want to Marry You/Honeymoon 3:13
    7. Lovely/Invitation 2:24
    8. Research 2:11
    9. You Wanted to Know 0:48
    10. Agnes 2:17
    11. Oh Dan 2:14
    12. Now/I Went 1:43
    13. I Came Home/Goodbye Dan/That's His Story 3:06
    14. Gardener0:43
    15. Dan's Upstairs 1:24
    16. End Title 1:00 Total Time: 33:36

      Bonus Material:
    17. Greenwich Village (Lennie Hayton) 1:01
    18. Piano Improvisation of Theme 0:54
    19. Wedding Reception (Johann Strauss Jr.) 1:17
    20. All I Do Is Whistle (Nacio Herb Brown) 0:10
    21. Tyrolean Waltz (traditional) 1:14
    22. I Read Your Letter 2:58
    23. Ellen Visits Maud (film version) 5:07 Total Time: 13:00

      A Life of Her Own:
    24. Champagne Room #1 2:30
    25. I Know, I Know Muzak 2:39
    26. Way Up High/Mary's Kitchen 2:22
    27. All God's Chillun Got Rhythm 3:26
    28. Champagne Room (excerpt)/Dinner for Three 3:15
    29. Margarite Montage/Champagne Room #2 2:26
    30. Lana's Jitterbug (Andre Previn) 1:37
    31. Lana's Jive (Lennie Hayton) 2:26
    32. It's All Over/Lily's Extension 3:14
    33. Champagne Room #5 1:48
    34. No Place to Go, Part 1 1:28
    35. End 1:34 Total Time: 29:19

    Total Disc Time: 76:07

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