Home > Fathers of Film Music > ALFRED NEWMAN – Fathers of Film Music, Part 3

ALFRED NEWMAN – Fathers of Film Music, Part 3

Alfred NewmanArticle by Craig Lysy

Born: 17 March 1900, New Haven, Connecticut.
Died: 17 February 1970

Alfred Newman is remembered as one of the Titans of film music. Indeed the Newman family has collectively gained recognition as one of the most gifted ever to grace the recording studios of Hollywood. His two younger brothers, Emil and Lionel, were both composers, as are his sons David, Thomas and his nephew Randy. The Newman family legacy is nothing short of remarkable.

Alfred was born humbly of Jewish ancestry, the eldest of ten children. He quickly revealed an appetite for music and we are thankful that his mother, despite their poverty, somehow managed at age six, to secure him piano lessons for 25 cents a session. Everyday Alfred would walk the ten-mile round trip to practice on a neighbor’s piano. It became apparent early on that he was a prodigy and that his gift required tutelage beyond the skills of this local piano teacher. By age seven he began his public career by giving piano concerts, which was used to support his family and finance his musical education. It came to pass that friend of his family brought him to the attention of the great Polish pianist, Sigismond Stojowski, who recognized his talent and generously offered him a scholarship. Soon after, Newman won a silver medal and a gold medal in a competition, which included such distinguished judges as the German conductor Karl Muck and renowned composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni.

Because his father could not find work, Alfred took up the mantle of bread earner for his family by playing at local theaters and restaurants. At thirteen years of age his altruism was rewarded when friends intervened, finding him a job as piano soloist at the Strand theatre in New York City. These were challenging years for Newman as he tried to eke out a living as he drifted from one job to another. He traveled the theaters of Vaudeville with performer Grace LaRue, and was billed as “The Marvelous Boy Pianist”. In his spare time he continued his musical education by studying music composition with Rubin Goldmark. This hard work began to pay off and by the age of twenty he began a ten-year career on Broadway as the conductor of the great musicals of the day, including works by George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern. The stage was now set for a fateful encounter that would forever change his life, but it would not be due to his piano playing, rather his remarkable talent as a conductor. To this day people extol Newman’s supreme talent in conducting, with many asserting that he is the best conductor to ever wield a baton.

In 1930, he so impressed composer Irving Berlin that he was invited to join him in Hollywood. Newman, who was always looking for a big career opportunity instantly and graciously accepted the offer and never turned back. Upon arriving, private lessons were secured with the renowned expressionist composer Arnold Schoenberg, leader of the Second Viennese School. He began his new career working on Berlin’s film project, “Reaching For The Moon”. His success with this film resulted in an offer of employment by Samuel Goldwyn and United Artists Studio. He scored his first film for Goldwyn’s 1931 production “Street Scene”, for which he wrote a timeless song. The 1930s were very productive for Newman as he composed over 50 film scores, earning Academy Award nominations in 1938, for “The Hurricane” (1937) and “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1937). But 1938 was his breakout year, when he earned three Academy Award nominations for “The Cowboy and the Lady”, “The Goldwyn Follies” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, the later earning him his first Oscar. He finished off the 1930s with a banner year of eleven scores in 1939, which included such classics as; “Gunga Din”, “Drums Along the Mohawk”, Beau Geste, ”The Rains Came”, “Wuthering Heights”, “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” and “They Shall Have Music”, the last four all earning Academy Award nominations.

Newman’s stunning success in 1939 earned him a new job in 1940 when Darryl F. Zanuck hired him as Musical Director for the fledgling 20th Century Pictures, where he began an amazing 20-year career. Of note is that he composed the iconic fanfare that accompanies the studio logo at the beginning of 20th Century Fox’s productions, which to this day introduces the studio’s pictures. In his new role as Musical Director Newman fulfilled many roles including administrator, composer, conductor, arranger, recruiter and mentor. Indeed one of the most praiseworthy achievements of his career was his selfless hiring and nurturing of several composers who under his mentoring went on to become successful in their own right, including; Bernard Herrmann, David Raksin and Hugo Friedhofer. It is worth noting that John Williams also began his career under Newman as his pianist on “South Pacific” (1956).

The 1940’s were a prolific decade for Newman as he scored over 90 films, including such classics as; “The Mark of Zorro” (1940), “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “Brigham Young” (1940), “How Green Was My Valley” (1941), “Tin Pan Alley” (1941), “The Black Swan” (1942), “The Song of Bernadette” (1943), “My Friend Flicka” (1943), “The Keys of the Kingdom” (1944), “State Fair” (1945), “The Razor’s Edge” (1946), “Dragonwyck” (1946), “Captain from Castile” (1947), “Twelve O’Clock High” (1949) and “Prince of Foxes” (1949). Three of his efforts earned him Academy awards; “Tin Pan Alley” (1941), “The Song of Bernadette” (1944) and “Mother Wore Tights” (1948).

The 1950s were also prolific and successful as he scored over 40 films including such classics as; “All About Eve” (1950), “David and Bathsheba” (1951), “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1952), “What Price Glory” (1952), “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953), “The Robe” (1953), With A Song in My Heart” (1953) “The Egyptian” (1954), “Call Me Madam” (1954) “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954), “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” (1955), “A Man Called Peter” (1955), “Anastasia” (1956), “Carousel” (1956), “The King and I” (1956) “A Certain Smile” (1958), “South Pacific” (1958) and “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959). He added four more Oscars with three musicals; “With A Song in My Heart” (1953), “Call Me Madam” (1954), “The King and I” (1956) and the dramatic score “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing” (1956). By any objective standard, the 1950s were a sterling decade for Newman who had now reached the pinnacle of success.

Yet all things come to pass, and his final film score under his Fox contract was “The Best Of Everything”. Beginning in 1960, Newman only freelanced for the remainder of his career. He was less prolific, but still provided exceptional quality with classic scores like; “Flower Drum Song” (1961), “How the West Was Won” (1962), “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965), “Nevada Smith” (1966) and “Camelot” (1967). He earned his 9th and final Oscar for “Camelot” (1967) to cap off an amazing 37 year run. Newman’s stellar career came to an end with his final score, “Airport” (1970). As was his practice, he conducted the recording sessions for the music heard in the film, but was unable to conduct the commercial release due to failing health. He retired from film scoring immediately after completing the score and died shortly there after on February 17, 1970, at his home in Hollywood. Newman had been a heavy smoker throughout his life and succumbed from complications of emphysema.


Newman, like his contemporaries Steiner and Korngold believed in melodrama, an unabashed and effusive expression of emotion. He believed in providing a high degree of expression, which at times earned him criticism for his scores being “overdone”.

The following three scores are masterful examples of his genius. In The Song of Bernadette (1944) Newman’s approach to the crucial scene of the first vision demonstrates mastery of his craft. He chose not to take the obvious route and speak directly to a divine revelation; rather, he chose instead to express a wondrous experience by a young girl who lacked the intellect and sophistication to fathom her circumstances other than a vision of beauty. As such he used the orchestra to emote the pastoral sounds of nature. He created an impressionistic milieu consisting of fluttering flutes for the breeze, an oboe for bird song, strings for rustling leaves and wordless human voice to inform us of Mary’s presence. This nuanced approach was sheer genius!

The Robe (1953) was a Biblical epic, a love story and a tale of a man’s struggle for redemption. To animate the tale Newman created his primary Christ Theme, which resonates with a profound spiritual power. This theme and Marcellus are intrinsically bound together and both change over the course of the movie, reflecting Marcellus’ evolution as a spiritual being. The theme opens the film with solemnity and reverence, yet it becomes discordant and tormenting as Marcellus’ struggles with guilt from his role in the crucifixion. Ultimately the theme becomes refulgent and transcendent as Marcellus finds forgiveness and spiritual liberation with his embrace of Jesus Christ. This approach demonstrates Newman’s insight and profound ability to correctly understand and interpret a film’s narrative. How The West Was Won (1962) explores through a family’s generational story, the long held American precept of “Manifest Destiny”, which speaks to God’s favor and blessings to America and the inevitability of its dominion over the continent. Newman fully captured the indomitable spirit of “Go West young man, go West!” as families set off in search for a new life. To emote this classic American optimism and confidence, he created a stunning Main Title piece that to this day echoes through time. Forthrightly and boldly expressing classic Americana bravado, this rousing horn laden and choir-supported piece is simply astounding and perfectly sets the tone of the film. Bravo!


Bernard Herrmann once stated; “Newman’s great achievement was that he was the first composer to match in his music the highest technical finish of film performance. This perfectly proportioned and scrupulously varnished element is one which commands admiration”. It suffices to say that Newman’s contribution to raising the film musical to an art form cannot be understated. He created what has come to be called the “Newman system”, which may be described as the time synchronizing of the movie score recording with the film itself. This system used a special print of the film that is played for the conductor’s reference. It was specially marked with punches or tiny marks in the film (two of every ten frames) that provided a standard beat to help the conductor keep in synch with the tempo. In addition, to synchronize both music and action, he used streamers, or horizontal lines which moved across the screen at a regular pace. This system is still in use today!

Newman demonstrated time and time again that he could write for any period and any genre. His style was versatile, adaptable and sophisticated enough to master whatever project was thrown his way, from ancient epics “The Egyptian” (1954), religious tales “The Song Of Bernadette” (1944), musicals “State Fair” (1946), comedies “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) and classic love stories “Wuthering Heights” (1939). What I cherish from Newman was his unabashed and forthright expression of emotions. In all his scores we are informed clearly and without ambiguity of a character’s feelings and the film’s underlying narrative. Most notable was his defining attribute – the “Newman strings.” He was a master of the string section and throughout his career in score after score you could always count on superb impassioned writing for strings. Lastly, it is important to note that Newman was in his heart of hearts more a conductor than a composer, as remarkable as that sounds. He had often stated that he preferred conducting over the tedium of “sitting in a room, wearing out pencils” as he composed in lonely seclusion. Had he chosen, he could have easily achieved greatness as a conductor on the world stage. Lastly, he embraced a style of conducting called rubato, which composer David Raksin describes as “A way of varying the time value of notes and the stress upon them. The purpose is to achieve a high degree of expressiveness.” In summation, within Newman’s canon there are treasures to be found in many decades and across the entire spectrum of genres. While contemporary critics may criticize his “rubato” music as excessive in its expression, there is no doubt that you will remember his melodies long after you have stored the CD.

I will close with a definitive quote by renowned producer and director Nick Redman; “The legacy of Alfred Newman and his influence on the language of music for the cinema is practically unmatched by anyone in Hollywood history. As an executive, he was hard but fair. As a mentor to his staff he was revered. The orchestras under his baton delighted in his abilities as a conductor. The music he himself composed, often under extreme emotional duress, is among the most gorgeous ever written. […] Not big in physical stature, he was a giant in character, a titan in of the world he loved and dominated. He was a true musical force, and one that cannot in any sense be replaced.”


Newman received 44 Academy Award nominations, winning 9. Only John Williams (45) has received more nominations, but Newman retains the honor of having secured the most wins.

Academy Awards Best Original Score Wins:

  • 1968 (Adaptation of Treatment) – Camelot
  • 1957 (Musical) – The King and I
  • 1956 – Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing
  • 1954 (Musical) – Call Me Madam
  • 1953 (Musical) – With A Song in My Heart
  • 1948 (Musical) – Mother Wore Tights
  • 1944 (Dramatic/Comedic) – The Song of Bernadette
  • 1941 – Tin Pan Alley
  • 1939 – Alexander’s Ragtime Band

Academy Awards Best Original Dramatic Score Nominations:

  • 1971 – Airport
  • 1968 – The Greatest Story Ever Told
  • 1964 – How The West Was Won
  • 1960 – The Diary of Anne Frank
  • 1957 – Anastasia
  • 1952 – David and Bathsheba
  • 1951 – All About Eve
  • 1949 – The Snake Pit
  • 1948 – Captain from Castile
  • 1946 – The Keys of the Kingdom
  • 1945 – Wilson
  • 1943 – The Black Swan
  • 1942 – Ball of Fire
  • 1942 – How Green Was My Valley
  • 1941 – The Mark of Zorro
  • 1940 – The Rains Came
  • 1940 – Wuthering Heights
  • 1940 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • 1940 – They Shall Have Music
  • 1939 – The Cowboy and the Lady
  • 1939 – The Goldwyn Follies
  • 1938 – The Hurricane
  • 1938 – The Prisoner of Zenda

Academy Awards Best Original Musical Score Nominations:

  • 1962 – Flower Drum Song
  • 1959 – South Pacific
  • 1956 – Daddy Long-Legs
  • 1955 – There’s No Business Like Show Business
  • 1952 – On the Riviera
  • 1949 – When My Baby Smiles At Me
  • 1946 – State Fair
  • 1945 – Irish Eyes Are Smiling
  • 1944 – Coney Island
  • 1943 – My Gal Sal

Academy Awards Best Original Song Nominations:

  • 1960 – “The Best of Everything” from The Best of Everything
  • 1950 – “Through A Long and Sleepless Night” from Come to the Stable


1960s and 1970s:
Airport (1970), Firecreek (1968), Camelot (1967), Nevada Smith (1966), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), How the West Was Won (1962), The Counterfeit Traitor (1962), Flower Drum Song (1961), The Pleasure of His Company (1961), The Mark (1961).

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Best of Everything (1959), A Certain Smile (1958), The Bravados (1958), South Pacific (1958), April Love (1957), Anastasia (1956), Bus Stop (1956), Carousel (1956), The King and I (1956), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), A Man Called Peter (1955), The Egyptian (1954), Hell and High Water (1954), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), Tonight We Sing (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Destination Gobi (1953), The Robe (1953), Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953), The President’s Lady (1953), Kangaroo (1952), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Night Without Sleep (1952), O’Henry’s Full House (1952), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952), What Price Glory (1952), On the Riviera (1951), David and Bathsheba (1951), Half Angel (1951), Fourteen Hours (1951), The Guest (1951), Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), All About Eve (1950), The Gunfighter (1950), No Way Out (1950), Panic in the Streets (1950), The Big Lift (1950), Under My Skin (1950), For Heaven’s Sake (1950), Two Flags West (1950), When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950).

Twelve O’Clock High (1949), Thieves’ Highway (1949), Pinky (1949), Come to the Stable (1949), Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), Alias the Champ (1949), Down to the Sea in Ships (1949), Everybody Does It (1949), Mother Is a Freshman (1949), Prince of Foxes (1949), The Snake Pit (1948), When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948), Cry of the City (1948), Sitting Pretty (1948), Call Northside 777 (1948), Chicken Every Sunday (1948), The Iron Curtain (1948), That Lady in Ermine (1948), That Wonderful Urge (1948), Unfaithfully Yours (1948), The Walls of Jericho (1948), Yellow Sky (1948), Captain from Castile (1947), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), The Foxes of Harrow (1947), Mother Wore Tights (1947), The Late George Apley (1947), The Homestretch (1947), I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947), The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), The Razor’s Edge (1946), Margie (1946), Centennial Summer (1946), Dragonwyck (1946), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), State Fair (1945), A Bell for Adano (1945), A Royal Scandal (1945), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), Wilson (1944), The Fighting Lady (1944), Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944), The Purple Heart (1944), The Sullivans (1944), Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944), The Song of Bernadette (1943), Coney Island (1943), The Moon Is Down (1943), Claudia (1943), December 7th (1943), Heaven Can Wait (1943), My Friend Flicka (1943), Wintertime (1943), Roxie Hart (1942), The Battle of Midway (1942), Son of Fury (1942), Song of the Islands (1942), The Black Swan (1942), China Girl (1942), Girl Trouble (1942), Life Begins at Eight-Thirty (1942), Orchestra Wives (1942), The Pied Piper (1942), Rings on Her Fingers (1942), Springtime in the Rockies (1942), Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942), This Above All (1942), To the Shores of Tripoli (1942), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Remember the Day (1941), Weekend in Havana (1941), A Yank in the RAF (1941), Man Hunt (1941), The Great American Broadcast (1941), That Night in Rio (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), Belle Starr (1941), Blood and Sand (1941), Charley’s Aunt (1941), Wild Geese Calling (1941), Tin Pan Alley (1940), The Mark of Zorro (1940), They Knew What They Wanted (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Earthbound (1940), Lillian Russell (1940), Johnny Apollo (1940), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Little Old New York (1940), Vigil in the Night (1940), The Blue Bird (1940), Brigham Young (1940), Hudson’s Bay (1940), Maryland (1940).

Barricade (1939), Beau Geste (1939), They Shall Have Music (1939), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Wuthering Heights (1939), Gunga Din (1939), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Rains Came (1939), The Real Glory (1939), The Star Maker (1939), The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), Trade Winds (1938), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Hurricane (1937), You Only Live Once (1937), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), When You’re in Love (1937), 52nd Street (1937), Slave Ship (1937), Stella Dallas (1937), Come and Get It (1936), Ramona (1936), Beloved Enemy (1936), Dodsworth (1936), The Gay Desperado (1936), These Three (1936), Clive of India (1935), The Wedding Night (1935), Barbary Coast (1935), Cardinal Richelieu (1935), The Dark Angel (1935), The Melody Lingers On (1935), Metropolitan (1935), Splendor (1935), Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934), We Live Again (1934), One Night of Love (1934), The Cat’s Paw (1934), Our Daily Bread (1934), Born To Be Bad (1934), The Affairs of Cellini (1934), Moulin Rouge (1934), The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The House of Rothschild (1934), The Last Gentleman (1934), The Mighty Barnum (1934), Nana (1934), Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round (1934), Advice to the Lovelorn (1933), Blood Money (1933), The Bowery (1933), Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933), Gallant Lady (1933), Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (1933), I Cover the Waterfront (1933), The Masquerader (1933), Roman Scandals (1933), Secrets (1933), Rain (1932), Sky Devils (1932), Cock of the Air (1932), Cynara (1932), The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932), Mr. Robinson Crusoe (1932), Night World (1932), Okay, America! (1932), Arrowsmith (1931), City Lights (1931), Corsair (1931), Kiki (1931), Street Scene (1931), Tonight or Never (1931), The Unholy Garden (1931), The Devil to Pay! (1930).


therobeTHE ROBE (1953)

This score is my personal favorite and I believe his Magnum Opus. It is a Biblical epic, a love story and a tale of a man’s struggle for redemption. Newman created a rich tapestry of beautiful themes, which unfolded with wondrous interplay. His ternary Love Theme earns him immortality with its masculine A Phrase that consists of a primary horn line, emblematic of Marcellus military bearing as a tribune of Rome, its feminine B Phrase as a gentile woodwind and harp line, emblematic of Diana, and its culminating C Phrase of lush and swelling lyrical strings emoting their joining. The score resonates with a profound spiritual power and demonstrates Newman’s insight and profound ability to correctly understand and interpret a film’s narrative. Newman’s score was recently re-released as a lavish collector’s edition by La La Land Records.

captainfromcastileCAPTAIN FROM CASTILE (1948)

This 2 CD complete score is an absolute treasure. For this period piece Newman created a stunning musical tapestry that fully captured the wonder and majesty of 16th Century Spain. We are provided with a full array of exciting themes including the Love Theme, one of Newman’s finest, which unfolds in all its sumptuous splendor in “Pledge for Love”, the stand-out action cue “De Vargas Family Escape”, which just brings the house down, and the superb “The Shores of Cuba”, which features an exquisite passage for solo violin. But folks, what ultimately brings this score to greatness is the astounding March featured in the cue “Conquest”, which I believe stands out as not only one of the greatest marches of all time, but also one of the greatest cues in film score history. Bravo! The recommended release of the score is on the Screen Archives Entertainment label,a  2-CD set released in 2003.

diaryofannefrankTHE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (1959)

Newman found that he was most touched by the spirituality of the story. He states’ “ I didn’t try to illustrate, except in a few places, what was happening on the screen, so much as invoke in the music the remembrance of happier times, and the longings for the future – the longings of an oppressed people.” For the score Newman provides four themes; Anne’s Theme, which speaks to her innocence, her yearning for freedom as well as her playfulness as a young girl. The Faith Theme a solemn yet impassioned statement, which emotes the spiritual essence of the story. The Hope Theme, which speaks to the kindled romance that arises between Anne and Peter as well as their yearnings for a normal life in a better world. Lastly, we have a Waltz Theme, which speaks to Anne’s romantic yearnings with Peter. The score is a masterful example of the beauty of simplicity. The best release of the score is on the Real Gone Music label, 38 minutes in 2013.

howthewestwaswonHOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962)

This was a late career masterpiece and one of the finest western scores ever written. Newman created a multiplicity of fine themes, which joined in sterling interplay. He also incorporated traditional American songs, which firmly grounded the film in the frontier fabric of 19th century America. But what makes this score timeless is the classic American optimism and confidence he created in the stunning Main Title piece that to this day echoes through time. This masterpiece of a theme forthrightly and boldly expresses classic American bravado. It is a rousing horn laden and choir-supported piece that is simply astounding and perfectly sets the tone of the film. Rhino issued a complete score on two CDs in 1997, and I highly recommend it as essential for your collection.


Charles Gerhardt conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra

The re-recordings by Charles Gerhardt are a godsend for collectors and offer you a number of suites that are an excellent way for you to begin your journey. This compilation CD provides main themes and suites from some of his most exceptional scores, including Captain From Castile, Wuthering Heights, Down to the Sea in Ships, The Song of Bernadette, The Bravados, Anastasia, The Best of Everything, Airport and The Robe.


1. Burlingame, Jon. Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks. New York: Billboard books, 2000.
2. Alfred Newman – Wikipedia
3. Alfred Newman at the Internet Movie Database
4. Alfred Newman at the Internet Broadway Database
5. David Raksin Remembers His Colleagues at AmericanComposer.org

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