Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



Dimitri TIOMKIN Lost Horizon   Complete Original Motion Picture SoundtrackConducted by Max Steiner  BYUFMA (Brigham Young University Film Music Archives ) FMA/DT103 [69:14]

Limited Edition: BYU Film Music Archives, 5030 Harold B Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602

Lost Horizon is a film to bring back memories. For this reviewer this involves rainy Sunday afternoon TV matinees (black and white era of course). Those memories are rekindled by this disc.

The film’s initial release ran to 132 mins but successive copies shrank and shrank down to 95 minutes for the latest TV releases. Fortunately the full article has been reconstructed.

This is the first appearance of Tiomkin’s complete score. As such this is both an historical and an historic recording.

Charles Gerhardt included a substantial Lost Horizon suite in his Tiomkin instalment of the RCA Classic Film Music series. I recall rather warming to the technicolor exoticisms of that LP although in terms of the music I always considered that disc by no means a peak amongst the twelve LPs. I have not heard the CD reissue of the Gerhardt but am sure that its BMG/RCA incarnation preserves the impressive close-up wonders of the wide-stage sound-picture from the mid-1970s.

This recording is in all ways complementary to the Gerhardt. Gerhardt’s modern (well 1970s anyway!) in-depth stereo is a joy to hear whereas the sound direct from 1930s 78s, while high in atmospheric magic, is both mono and low-fi. The casual collector will want the Gerhardt. The dedicated Tiomkin hunter will grab this disc and bless those wonderful people at the Brigham Young University Film Music Archive for their necromantic work in breathing life into a fabled score.

The Gerhardt is a 23-minute suite whereas BYU offers the full article including sections never used in the film. I wonder if the suite is the same as the suite performed at the Hollywood Bowl on 16 August 1938 and conducted by Tiomkin.

The film was directed by Frank Capra and had Ronald Colman as its tragic-debonair lead. The only other big name we might remember now is character actor Edward Everett Horton. The story of Shangri-La is tremendously well handled.

James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’ (on which the film is based) had been published in 1933 to modest attention and sales. When Hilton’s next novel ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ came out it was a runaway success. ‘Lost Horizon’ was republished in 1935 and was soon selling 6000 copies a week.

The story of a remote and exotic land of the ever-young had a powerful pull. There must have been many in the film’s audiences who recalled the lost youths (either their own or their children’s or lovers or friends) of the Great War only 20 years previously. The spell cast by images of a world of simple pleasures was enthralling. This was accentuated by the fact that this was still a world where Tibet was a genuinely remote place known if at all from the pages of National Geographic.

Capra’s choice for the music fell on the shoulders of Dimitri Tiomkin. This was the first time the two had collaborated. Tiomkin was assisted by a team of nine orchestrators. The team included some names famous from both concert hall and film studio. These included Hugo Friedhofer, Robert Russell Bennett and William Grant Still.

There are two distinct Tiomkins in this music. There is the mystic seer and the naively playful innocent. The seer offers (especially in the first five tracks) a pretty apocalyptic brew of exuberant sunrise piled repeatedly on dramatic sunset in music which has escaped from a late (very late) romantic symphony by Scriabin. If you know Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy you will know what to expect. There is also a touch of the French composer Florent Schmitt and Holst’s Planets. Mysterious harp washes deck out the arrival of the caravan (7). The Entrance to Shangri-La and Nocturne (8/9) are quite Delian with the choir’s ecstatic contribution well put across. The choir (Hall Johnson Chorus) appear relatively infrequently although they are also used in Shooting Sequence (12).

The playful Tiomkin who evokes children’s nursery songs and playtime jingles can be heard in Swimming Sequence (11), Valley of the Blue Moon (14), Lovett and Barnard (17) and Sow a Wild Oat (18).

Romance is taken to excess in The Cherry Orchard which is appallingly sentimental and ‘gloopy’ but this is the only track ‘blighted’ by sentimentality. Of course the violins are called on for the glycerine from time to time and they do this, trouncing all competition, in Conway and Sondra (20). George and Maria (19) reminded me of the weary march music from Delius’s music for Hassan mixed with the silvery beauties of Strauss’s Rosenkavalier music (Presentation of the Rose). Strauss’s Alpine Symphony can be heard in Snow Sequence (24). The oriental march of Funeral Procession perhaps leans slightly towards Ketèlbey territory but it is played with taste and the music is a cut above Victorian syrup. The final track (26) Toast to Robert Conway (the Colman character) marries the valedictory (Auld Lang Syne) with elements of Korngold, a fluttering ambience and the sunrise music of Delius’s Appalachia.

The CD is exhaustively documented and well designed although I did initially wonder about the cover art until I realised that it was taken from an original cinema release poster. As for everything else the level of detail offered in the (English only) notes is massive. I would have liked more of an introduction to Tiomkin but otherwise no reservations. The booklet runs to 32 pages with 41 photos, actor portraits and stills from the filming plus half a dozen poster repros. Full cast and technical credits are listed with tech notes from the digital editor (Ray Faiola), Jack Smith’s track by track plot line, Rudy Behlmer’s essay on the film and its backgrounds and James V D’Arc’s introduction including the fascinating story of the finding of a well preserved set of 78 discs used for this major event.

Recommended to the film music fanatics everywhere. The sound is what it is: 1930s vintage, but pretty good given its 60+ years youth. There is no beating its completeness, authenticity and tingling atmosphere.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

Return to Index