This is what I mean when I say that John Wilson has invaded every nook and cranny of my inner life. I hadn’t thought of Mamoulian in years until I recently came upon this excerpt of a concert conducted by John in Glasgow, September 2011. The program was “Music to be Murdered By” with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
“You know I directed Laura,” said Mr Mamoulian to me matter-of-factly one day as we sat in his alcove-cum-study.
Now, I had seen the movie Laura several times—on TV and in the art house—and I remembered practically all the credits, which included one for Otto Preminger, Director…but no Mamoulian. But here was The Old Man sitting knee to knee with me, announcing right out that he was (what’s the Variety word?) the helmer of that glamorous but nutsy picture with Gene Tierney.
So what did I do? I was twenty-three. I was on a job. I nodded.
He sat back, took a couple of puffs from that awful cigar of his and smiled wistfully. “You know, Gene introduced me to my wife.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I said. That would be Azadia, who Mamoulian called Zayde (a giggle, because zayde means grandfather in Yiddish); she was a woman I never saw except once. She was always in the Other Room.
Here‘s Sarah Willis’s 2016 interview with John and key members of his own eponymous orchestra where his technique in bringing out “The Hollywood Sound” is discussed. Discussion of his string technique with Sarah and JWO’s first violinist starts at 5:40.
Nice going Leopold, you really shot your wad (7:33). But what an overblown piece of music, worthy of its parodic use by Monty Python (“Knightsbridge” and “Dambusters” being other pieces of grand music parodied by the Pythons).
Don’t get me wrong, I adore most of Miklos Rosza. But it seems to be so typical of the JWO to end their show —”Hollywood Rhapsody” they called it—with another barn blaster. Still, you get to hear the Grand Organ.
Actually I’d like to have heard the other pieces on the program, particularly David Raksin’s quietly nuanced “Laura”. I did manage to find a clip of the JWO doing their rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s aria from the fictional opera “Salammbo” in Citizen Kane that introduced the incredible Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva (she hits that high D) to western audiences. So that’s good.
Wishing you two clean and ready handkerchiefs every concert day, John.
On what would have been my dad’s 113th birthday I’d like to remember one of the few times he and I actually went to the movies together. This time we went to see, first-run, the warrior epic Taras Bulba (1962, screenplay by blacklisted writer Waldo Salt) on the recommendation of my girlfriend Tamara’s mother, who emigrated from Lviv after the war and was a booster for All Things Ukrainian. (A survivor of Axis bombings, she had that in common with my mom.) Our neighborhood was made up mostly of first- and second-generation Ukrainians, Italians, Guatemalans, Poles, and of course Filipinos—Catholics all. Of course the Lutherans surrounded us but being mostly Swedes, they had their own heritage too. And at Christmas, all that pepparkakor—num.
As for Franz Waxman’s “Ride of the Cossacks”, there’s a rather thrilling ostinato toward the end.
John’s striving for “The Hollywood Sound” may be a new thing for his popular audience in England, but over here it’s been part of our musical history since before the Second World War. In 1939 when violinist Felix Slatkin and his wife, cellist Eleanor Aller Slatkin, founded the Hollywood String Quartet. Their uniquely American style of playing strings quickly won the HSQ recognition and praise from critics around the world when they essayed works from the classical repertoire.
Every member of the HSQ was also a member of one of the studio orchestras. Besides Slatkin, who was the concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra, Eleanor was first cellist with the Warner Bros Studio Orchestra; violinist Paul Shure was also assistant concertmaster at 20th Century Fox; Paul Robyn was also principal violist at Warner Bros; Alvin Dinkin was also violist with the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra; and Victor Aller, Eleanor’s brother, pianist, was also manager of the Warner Bros Studio Orchestra.
Said the Gramophone Classical Music Guide of their 1951 recording of Arnold Schoenberg‘s piece: “This was the first ever recording of ‘Verklärte Nacht’ in its original sextet form and it remains unsurpassed.”
In the liner notes of one of their other recordings, Paul Shure remembered: “Dynamics were a very big part of our work. Our discussions were always about dynamics and a little bit about tempi, and nothing else. We played with vibrato except where there was a particular effect to be had—no dead left hands were allowed.” This sounds so similar to what JWO concertmaster John Mills said in the web series Sarah’s Music (above): “John asks us, the strings, to play with so much vibrato that people’s family photos should fall off the TV sets. We’re effectively trying to recreate the sound of the studio orchestra.”
Steiner’s suite (written score here) is clearly patched together from various melodies in the film Casablanca, including the Nazi drinking song “Die Wacht am Rhein” (Schneckenburger/Wilhelm, 1853); “La Marseillaise” (de Lisle, 1792); and, of course, “As Time Goes By” (Herman Hupfeld, 1931). And is that a little of Steiner’s own King Kong? The Warner Bros Pictures music theme at the beginning is entirely Steiner’s composition.
I feel an aching, raging, unchaste tenderness for John when he conducts schmaltzy pieces like this which sort of makes up, as I say, for the times his wrongheaded musicianship annoys the hell out of me.
Click here to get to John and the JWO. Once again, from the 2013 BBC Proms.
Saw this first run in New York in 1976 with my boyfriend, who was another huge Brian De Palma fan. The loopiest, nuttiest romance in all of moviedom. In fact I like this movie better than Vertigo, another nutzoid Bernard Herrmann-scored love story. This one’s much more sexually transgressive, always a sure-fire turn-on for me.
Here’s the giddily overwrought ending. If you haven’t seen Obsession it’s not going to make any sense, so just close your eyes and listen to Herrmann’s score, the next-to-last one he ever wrote before his death at the age of 64. It’s a masterpiece.