Devotion was a Warner Brothers film which had its wicked heedless way with
the story of the Brontë sisters. In the film the sisters were played
by Nancy Coleman, Olivia de Havilland and the delightful Ida Lupino. Other
familiar names included Paul Henreid (given short shrift by sleeve-note writer
Brendan Carroll) and Dame May Whitty.
Korngolds passionately romantic score for Devotion has been
known largely through the film soundtrack itself which, to the best of my
knowledge, has not been issued on CD. (Charles Gerhardt included the cue
Death of Emily Brontë in his Sea Hawk album The Classic
Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold; RCA GD87890) Here is the lions
share of the score omitting only the music by Lanner and the Strausses (all
conducted on the soundtrack by Korngold).
The score has its playfully naïve episodes (e.g. Packing Montage)
and the occasional chintzy moment. There is also no disguising that over
almost seventy minutes of music it has a few longueurs..
Otherwise the score has an invigorating saturated romanticism
(Farewell at end of track 4). Korngold was clearly influenced by
Stravinsky Firebird and de Fallas Nights in the Gardens of
Spain. The moors play an important role in any story of the Brontës
and here the Gothick sea-green waves of his music for The Sea Wolf seem
to be not all that far away. Explosively gale-plied music depicts Branwell
and the Horses while Brussels reaches out to the listener in an
evocation of a new minted morning: starched collars, dazzling sunlight and
crinoline. Charlottes Romance is rather ruminatively Baxian.
The music is on its toes in The Boat and high romance and tense mystery
stalk The Graves in a style similar to the music from the Private
Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
The orchestrators as opposed to his usual single collaborator (the angelic
musician Hugo Friedhofer) were a team of six including his friend Ernest
Toch (who wrote the music for the film The Cat and the Canary). The
history of the whole project was not a happy one and the film was panned.
Brendan Carroll is pretty dismissive still, although the music rises above
the other components of the film.
Authoritative extensive notes (English only) by Korngold authority Brendan
G Carroll. John W Morgans tribute to the film music luminary the late
Tony Thomas (1922-97) graces 2pp of the 32 pp booklet. The notes which come
with so many film music CDs (at least those of Marco Polo) must be counted
as legitimate and significant entries in the film music bibliography.
This is a luxury article in every aspect with the orchestra (much criticised
over its part in the Malipiero symphony project) shining through with the
exception of what sounds like rough and ready strings in (Branwells
Death). The orchestras standards are overall a credit to them and to
William Stromberg. The end result suggests many hours of preparation. A headline
Ian Lace adds:-
The title, Devotion, and the leading players Olivia de Havilland
(Charlotte), Ida Lupino (Emily) and Nancy Coleman (Anne) Brontë signal
that this is what we used to call a womans picture. Not surprisingly,
therefore, Korngold responds sensitively with a "feminine" score that sighs
and yearns and has many fluffy and decorative touches. These
manifest themselves profusely in such cues as The Girls and
Brussels. The girls sense of family devotion is heightened
in passionately Romantic climaxes in cues like Farewell and,
of course, in the glorious Devotion theme itself which is worth the
price of this CD alone. Even the wit of Branwells drunkenness is
restrained. It is as though it reflects sisterly tolerance and concern rather
than masculine vulgarity. Emilys nightmares and premonitions of death
hold a more womanly terror too.
The cue London Montage contains the most assertive music in the
score for the whirling presses as Charlottes book, Jane Eyre
is printed. This is wonderfully orchestrated by Hugo Friedhofer and the theme
that emerges from the mêlée was originally used in
Captain Blood, now used as an elegant minuet for Thackery. I was also
impressed with the witty evocation of a carriage ride In the Park.
Korngold writes music that vividly suggests the bleakness of the moors and
the wind searing the sparse trees and grasses. But, with the exception of
a few bars, this is not English pastoral music rather it is more
Devotion was one of Korngolds last assignments for Warner Bros. It
is not top- drawer Korngold; one has the impression that much of the inspiration
and material is being retreaded. Yet this is a major score and even second-drawer
Korngold reaches higher than a lot of top-drawer film music by lesser composers.
Again, John Morgan is to be congratulated on a first class job of reconstruction
and Bill Stromberg leads the Moscow players in a moving performance of this
unashamedly lush Romantic score.
A further comment from Jeffrey Wheeler
I agree with Mr. Barnett and Mr. Lace on many things, but I think they slightly
under-credit the power of this score.
It is one of Korngold's lesser efforts, that is true. Korngold repeats his
message numerous times. not solely from within the soundtrack proper, either,
but from previous scores. However, these ideas doubtlessly bear repeating,
and are such a fresh experience after reviewing a contemporary piece of film
scoring morass ("Stigmata") that anything with Korngold's brand of
sentimentality, skill, and beauty is almost shocking in its emotion, and
further proves just how noteworthy the score is till its very end. From those
terms, I garner a greater certainty about "Devotion's" magnificence.
The performances are, as my colleagues said, generally top-notch. As for
Stromberg and Morgan, they have not outdone themselves, but neither have
they degraded their efforts. This is a finely produced album; it shows the
interest, the love of the music, and, I must add, the good-natured humor,
from every person involved in its inception.
This is an elegant score, and deserves all of the accolades it can get. So,
it may take somebody a little 'getting into' to enjoy the score, but one
will probably find meeting Erich Wolfgang Korngold halfway is invariably
worth the endeavor.