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DIMITRI TIOMKIN – Fathers of Film Music, Part 4

September 1, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dimitri TiomkinArticle by Craig Lysy

Born: 10 May 1894, Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
Died: 11 November 1979.

Dimitri Zinovich Tiomkin was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine during the wanning years of the imperial Russian Empire. His mother Marie was a music teacher who nurtured his nascent talent as a pianist and his father Zinovie, was a physician. At the urging of his wife, Zinovie enrolled Dimitri in the prestigious St. Petersburg Conservatory, which was overseen by renowned Russian composer Alexander Glazunov. Tiomkin’s native gifts allowed him to quickly gain prominence as a solo pianist under the tutelage of Felix Blumenfeld and Isabelle Vengerova.

The early 20th century was a rich time for music and the arts in Russia and Tiomkin would often visit the “Homeless Dog” café where he would enjoy the company of other rising artists such as fellow student Serge Prokofiev and dancer Mikhail Fokine. The café offered Tiomkin his first exposure to American ragtime, blues and jazz. The seeds of these experiences would later blossom; helping him lay the foundation of his American film music career. To supplement his income Tiomkin would provide piano accompaniment to Russian and French silent films as well as army post tours, which featured the prima ballerina Thamar Karsavina.

The overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the tumult of the Russian Revolution brought down a dark pall on the artistic community. He attempted to find a voice in the new socialist order and served as musical director of the reenactment of “The Storming of the Winter Palace” (1920). However, the Soviet insistence on expressing “Socialist” values in the arts and the suppression of romanticism as a discredited relic of the bourgeois past led Tiomkin to abandon his homeland. With a heavy heart he fled in 1921 to Germany where he rejoined his father and stepmother in Berlin.

In Berlin Tiomkin now 27 continued to refine his skills with pianist Ferruccio Busoni. He supported himself as a concert pianist and composed a myriad of popular and classical musical pieces. Fortune at last smiled upon him when his appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic for Liszt’s second piano concerto brought him public acclaim. New doors opened and opportunities called to him in France. He departed with his friend and fellow pianist Michael Kariton for Paris where they performed programs that featured two pianos. A premier performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto catapulted him to prominence in the Parisian artistic community. Fate would have it that he would meet another member of the Russian artistic diaspora, the renowned singer Feodor Chaliapin. Chaliapin regaled Tiomkin with wondrous stories of America, where opportunities abounded for enterprising European musicians. What followed in 1925 would forever change Tiomkin’s destiny as he accepted an offer to perform, as a pianist for a vaudeville tour in the United States from Broadway theater magnate Morris Gest, a fellow Russian émigré.

It came to pass that Tiomkin met his future wife Albertina Rasch, an Austrian-born ballerina and choreographer while he and Kariton provided piano accompiament for her ballet troupe. They married in 1926 and in 1927 embarked on a grand tour of America, which featured her as prima ballerina. He served as music director and arranger for the company. His rise to prominence in America began with a Carnegie Hall recital that introduced to American audiences the avant-garde works by Maurice Ravel and Alexander Scriabin. His first American composition Quasi-Jazz premiered in 1927. In 1928 the couple traveled to Paris where he performed a program at the Paris Opera House that included the Rhapsody and the European premiere of Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Upon their return to America they preceded on yet another grand tour, which featured works of French impressionistic music and American jazz. A hinge of fate occurred in 1929 with the stock market crash. As engagements for their tour evaporated Tiomkin eyes turned westward when he accepted an invitation to perform at a Hollywood film premiere. This fateful trip would serve as the catalyst, which propelled him into the new realm of film music.

Tiomkin introduction to Hollywood came in 1929 with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s world premiere of “Broadway Melody” at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. For the event he composed a prologue titled “Broadway Nights” and a program that included the work “Romantic Ballet” choreography by Rasch, and performed by her dance troupe. Additional collaborations by the couple led Tiomkin to be hired by Universal in 1931 to score the Russian-themed film Resurrection, his first effort to score a nonmusical film. After a few brief assignments for Broadway plays in New York, Tiomkin returned to Hollywood in 1933 to score Paramount’s “Alice in Wonderland”. This film offered Tiomkin his first chance at composing for a major motion picture. This led to a few new assignments, but it was hard for him to gain traction until a fateful meeting with director Frank Capra at a party. The two men instantly bonded and began a fruitful partnership from which Tiomkin would never look back.

Their first collaboration was on Lost Horizon (1937), which featured a grand symphonic score full of choral wonder. The score earned Tiomkin his first Academy Award nomination. Future collaborations included “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), “Meet John Doe” (1941), and the classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1947). During World War II Tiomkin was hired by Capra to score the “Why We Fight”, a series of training and indoctrination films produced by the Army Signal Corps. In addition, Tiomkin provided music for a dozen documentaries, including The Negro Soldier (1944) and The Battle of San Pietro (1945).

Tiomkin’s association with these patriotic efforts brought him national acclaim, which served to open new career opportunities. Producer Stanley Kramer hired him and they went on to a stunning collaboration of films, which included “So This Is New York” (1948), “Champion” (1949), “Home of the Brave” (1949), “Cyrano de Bergerac” (1950), and “The Men” (1950). However, it was the film “High Noon” (1952), that forever changed the course of Tiomkin’s career. This was a most unorthodox effort, where Tiomkin infused his score with a song with the lyrics, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin”. The song’s popularity led to the film gaining seven Oscar nominations and he securing dual wins for Best Score and Best Song. It thus became a standard practice for Tiomkin to create a title song or ballad for nearly every picture he scored, often collaborating with the likes of Ned Washington and Paul Francis Webster. Among his many Oscar-nominated songs are: “Thee I Love” from Friendly Persuasion” from “Wild Is the Wind” (1957), “Strange Are the Ways of Love” from “The Young Land” (1959) “The Green Leaves of Summer” from The Alamo” (1960), “Town Without Pity” from “Town Without Pity” (1961) and “So Little Time” from “55 Days at Peking” (1963). Tiomkin’s songwriting talent set the standard in Hollywood and often contributed powerfully in emoting a film’s dramatic narrative.

In addition to Capra and Kramer, Tiomkin established fruitful partnerships with other filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock where he scored “Shadow of a Doubt” (1942), “Strangers on a Train” (1951), “I Confess” (1953), and “Dial M for Murder” (1954). His 20-year collaboration with Howard Hawks include “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939), “Red River” (1948), “The Thing” (1951), “The Big Sky” (1952), “Land of the Pharaoh”s (1955), and “Rio Bravo” (1959). Over time he became indelibly associated with the genre of the American West. Scores such as “The Westerner” (1939), “Duel in the Sun” (1946), “Red River” (1948), “High Noon” (1952), Giant (1956), “Friendly Persuasion” (1956),Rio Bravo” (1959), “The Alamo” (1960) as well as the main theme for the television series Rawhide earned him the title of the ‘Master of the Western’.

In the 1950s Tiomkin achieved a career apogee when he received four Academy Awards in the six-year period from 1952 to 1958; Best Original Score (Drama/Comedy) – High Noon (1953), Best Original Song – Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling from High Noon (1953) Best Original Score (Drama/Comedy) – The High and the Mighty (1955) and Best Original Score (Drama/Comedy) – The Old Man and the Sea (1959). His renown and fame as a film score composer earned him unprecedented praise and he continued to be a major force in film through the early 1960s. Among his notable accomplishments in his fourth decade of composing for film were the large-scale scores of “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), and Circus World (1964).

Sadly in 1967, Tiomkin suffered a heart-rending blow when his beloved wife of 41 years, Albertina Rasch died. Adding insult to injury, upon returning to his home in Los Angeles after the funeral he was attacked and beaten by robbers. A traumatized Tiomkin put his house up for sale and returned to Europe. He ended his long career with a life affirming final project, which allowed him to return to his beloved Russia after 42 years in exile. He produced and arranged the music for “Tchaikovsky” (1969), which was nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language film category. In 1972 Tiomkin wed Olivia Cynthia Patch in London. The couple maintained residences in London and Paris, and Tiomkin lived out his final days enjoying his first love – playing classical music at the piano. He died in London on November 11, 1979, ending the career of one of the Titans of film score music.

Dimitri Tiomkin 2TIOMKIN’S COMPOSITIONAL STYLE

Tiomkin’s wife Albertina Rasch was his muse and it was within the balletic form of her dancing from which arose his scoring sensibilities. The graceful flowing movement, which defines ballet, inspired him. From this inspiration he adapted this balletic sensibility to the flow and movement of people within the film as though they were dancers on a stage. He married this sensibility with a rich and robust orchestral sound. Like the present day James Horner, Tiomkin viewed a film through a prism from which he applied ‘musical color’ to impart mood and ambiance. As such we often hear him employ non-traditional and unusual combinations of instruments that flow around the on screen dialogue. He provided a remarkable nuance and subtlety so that his instrument choice interacted and joined synergistically with the range and timbre of the actor’s voice. Indeed, he would be on set during filming and would speak personally to each actor to hear the timbre of his or her voice.

Film historian David Wallace states that despite his European training and sensibilities he found a way to fully capture the spirit of Americana in his music. He goes on; “His trademarks, huge, noisy cues, propulsive adventure themes that seemingly employed every brass instrument ever invented, and melting, emotionally wrought melodies accompanying romantic scenes also became the stock-in trade of just about every film composer since.”

Tiomkin’s affinity for Americana was actually grounded in his Russian heritage of life on the steppes in his native Ukraine. The rugged and expansive beauty of the vast steppes mirrored the old West and its Cossacks shared similarities with the American Cowboys. Tiomkin stated in his biography; “A steppe is a steppe is a steppe. . . . The problems of the cowboy and the Cossack are very similar. They share a love of nature and a love of animals. Their courage and their philosophical attitudes are similar, and the steppes of Russia are much like the prairies of America.”

Production manager Henry Henigson informed us that Tiomkin, as an artist, was guided by his gut and instincts, and his success validates this approach. Worth noting, Henry Henigson stated that when meeting with the Director “He yesses everybody but does what he believes.” We are thankful of these beliefs.

Masterful examples of his genius are found in Lost Horizon (1937), which tells the tale of the legendary Shangri-La, an idyllic land whose people enjoy lives of astounding longevity. Tiomkin resolved on an ingenious approach with his Main Title. After a dramatic opening statement and segue into a brief statement of the Love Theme, we flow into an oriental monody, a melodic self-regenerating perpetuo that transcends traditional Western time meters in that it is self renewing, flowing seemingly without beginning nor end. His music captures the wonder, the serenity and mystery of Shangri-La. It is truly and astounding film score accomplishment. Red River (1948) is vintage Americana, an epic tale in the finest traditions of the old West. Tiomkin was able to fully capture the animating spirit of the tale as the first frames of the film run. We hear a stunning call by unison horns from which bursts forth his spirited Main Theme with its unabashed and glorious orchestral splendor, which fully captures the vastness of the expansive prairie with its vaulted cobalt blue skies. His ability to fully capture a film’s essence demonstrates his mastery of his craft. High Noon (1952) was deemed a bust at its preview and the studio was inclined to not release it. But when Tiomkin’s score was added, something unforeseen and wondrous occurred. Within the simple lyrics of his song was the film’s entire narrative – a tale of cowardice and conformity. His unorthodox approach to build the score around the title song, to eliminate strings and add a folksy harmonica served to ground the music in the rustic, unrefined culture the old West and underpin the anti-heroic actions seen in the film. The earning of two Oscars and the smash hit of the song in popular culture affirmed Tiomkin was a master of this craft.

TIOMKIN’S LEGACY

Tiomkin’s most enduring legacy comes from the fact that he was the first Hollywood composer to compose both a title song and score for a film. “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin”, the title song for the film “High Noon” (1952) was a seminal event in film score history. Its stunning success in popular culture and Oscar win served to potentiate a theme-song craze in film scores. Henceforth songs written specifically for films – as opposed to using preexisting source songs – came to dominate modern film. To this day studios attempt to add a “hit song” to the soundtrack to enhance the movie experience and profits should the song resonate with popular culture.

Tiomkin also infused and adapted “source music” in his scores, which many experts assert were derived from traditional Russian folk songs. We see time and time again a special ability to use the orchestra to emote the broad and sweeping landscapes of the American West. His success in the genre of the American West is another of his finest legacies. He was masterful in infusing chorus and folk songs to animate and capture the down to earth folksy simplicity of the old West.

Lastly, Tiomkin’s unlike his contemporaries eschewed long term contracts that were the customary practice under the studio system. In a magazine article he said, “If I have some success it is all on account of independent film.” Because he was not beholden to any studio he was able to negotiate contractual terms to his benefit, which in turn served to benefit other composers. He also aggressively sought to control his music publishing rights and formed his own ASCAP music publishing company, Volta Music Corporation. Indeed he once told publicist Dave Epstein, “My fight…is just for certain amount of dignity. Not only for composer, but for all artists responsible for picture.” Most notable and laudable is the fact that he was one of the earliest and consistent advocates for the hiring of African-American musicians in orchestras.

AWARDS

Academy Award Best Original Score and Song Wins:

  • 1953 Academy Awards – (Drama/Comedy) – High Noon
  • 1953 Academy Awards – (Song) “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling” from High Noon
  • 1955 Academy Awards – (Drama/Comedy) – The High and the Mighty
  • 1959 Academy Awards – (Drama/Comedy) – The Old Man and the Sea

Academy Award Best Original Dramatic Score and Song Nominations:

  • 1938 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – Lost Horizon
  • 1940 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  • 1943 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – The Corsican Brothers
  • 1944 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – The Moon and Sixpence
  • 1945 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • 1950 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – Champion
  • 1955 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “The High and the Mighty” from The High and the Mighty
  • 1957 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – Giant
  • 1957 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “Thee I Love” from Friendly Persuasion
  • 1958 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “Wild is the Wind” from Wild is the Wind
  • 1960 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “Strange Are the Ways of Love” from The Young Land
  • 1961 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – The Alamo
  • 1961 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “The Green Leaves of Summer” from The Alamo
  • 1962 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – The Guns of Navarone
  • 1962 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “Town Without Pity” from Town Without Pity
  • 1964 Academy Awards – Best Original Song – “So Little Time” from 55 Days at Peking
  • 1964 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – 55 Days at Peking
  • 1965 Academy Awards – Best Original Score – The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • 1972 Academy Awards – Best Original Song Score – Tchaikovsky

FILMOGRAPHY

1930s:
Our Blushing Brides (1930), Lord Byron of Broadway (1930), Resurrection (1931), Alice in Wonderland (1933), Roast-Beef and Movies (1934), I Live My Life (1935), The Flame Within (1935), Naughty Marietta (1935), The Casino Murder Case (1935), Mad Love (1935), The Road Back (1937), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Spawn of the North (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939).

1940s:
The Westerner (1940), Lucky Partners (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), Blonde Menace (1941), The Corsican Brothers (1941), Flying Blind (1941), Forced Landing (1941), Harmon of Michigan (1941), Twin Beds (1942), A Gentleman After Dark (1942), The Moon and Sixpence (1942), The Battle of Russia (1943), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Divide and Conquer (1943), The Unknown Guest (1943), When Strangers Marry (1944), The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944), The Impostor (1944), Ladies Courageous (1944), China’s Little Devils (1945), Two Down and One to Go (1945), The Battle of San Pietro (1945), Dillinger (1945), Forever Yours (1945), Duel in the Sun (1946), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), The Dark Mirror (1946), Angel on My Shoulder (1946), Black Beauty (1946), Pardon My Past (1946), Let There Be Light (1946), Whistle Stop (1946), The Long Night (1947), Red River (1948), Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948), The Dude Goes West (1948), Portrait of Jennie (1948), So This Is New York (1948), Champion (1949), Canadian Pacific (1949), Home of the Brave (1949), Red Light (1949).

1950s:
The Men (1950), D.O.A. (1950), Champagne for Caesar (1950), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Dakota Lil (1950), Guilty Bystander (1950), Peking Express (1951), Strangers on a Train (1951), Drums in the Deep South (1951), Mr. Universe (1951), The Thing From Another World (1951), The Well (1951), Angel Face (1952), Bugles in the Afternoon (1952), The Four Poster (1952), The Crimson Pirate (1952), High Noon (1952), My Six Convicts (1952), Mutiny (1952), The Big Sky (1952), The Happy Time (1952), Lady in the Iron Mask (1952), The Steel Trap (1952), Cease Fire (1953), Return to Paradise (1953), Blowing Wild (1953), His Majesty O’Keefe (1953), I Confess (1953), Jeopardy (1953), Take the High Ground! (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), The Command (1954), The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954), A Bullet Is Waiting (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954), Strange Lady in Town (1955), The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), Giant (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Tension at Table Rock (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Night Passage (1957), Search for Paradise (1957), Wild Is the Wind (1957), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), The Young Land (1959), Rio Bravo (1959), Rawhide (1959), Last Train from Gun Hill (1959).

1960s:
The Alamo (1960), The Unforgiven (1960), The Sundowners (1960), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Gunslinger (1961), Town Without Pity (1961), Without Each Other (1962), 55 Days at Peking (1963), 36 Hours (1964), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Circus World (1964), Great Catherine (1968), Tchaikovsky (1969).

RECOMMENDATIONS

greatestscorestiomkinTHE GREATEST FILM SCORES OF DIMITRI TIOMKIN

If you are looking for a good compilation CD to introduce you to the Maestro, then this one is a good place to start. Newly issued by the LSO, the sound quality is exceptional. Fifteen outstanding selections are provided, including pieces from Cyrano de Bergerac, The Alamo, The Old Man and the Sea, The Four Poster, Giant, The Fall of the Roman Empire, High Noon, Rawhide, The High and the Mighty, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Strangers on a Train, Wild is the Wind, The Sundowners, Circus World, Land of the Pharaohs and Friendly Persuasion. Richard Kaufman conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices.

thealamoTHE ALAMO (1960)

This late career gem is in my judgment Tiomkin’s Magnum Opus, a score filled with a multiplicity of themes that are perfectly attenuated to the film and supportive of its narrative. The juxtaposition of the primary Americana identity, the Alamo Ballad against the primary Mexicana identity the El Degüello Theme demonstrated Tiomkin’s mastery of his craft. The expert use of chorale, heart felt ballads and traditional folk instruments enriched the scores soundscape. The final battle cues offer some of the finest battle music ever written and we bear witness to complex contrapuntal action writing that is brilliantly conceived and of the highest order. This score is a classic an essential component for lovers of film scores. Nic Raine conducts the City Of Prague Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus

falloftheromanempireTHE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1963)

This effort is also a late career gem. Tiomkin employed a massive orchestra that featured 46 violins, 24 violas, 20 celli, 10 basses and a double horn section! Folks this is one of the most complex, ornate and multi-thematic scores ever written and enduring testimony to Tiomkin’s genius. The score demonstrates an epic power rarely heard in films today, is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and displays consistent fidelity to the story’s emotional narrative. The film’s primary identity, The Fall Of Love Theme, is one of the finest ever written. Conceived as a binary modal melody (A phrase minor modal and B phrase major modal) it speaks of the love between Livius and Lucilla that will never be realized. I cannot understate the magnificence of this film score, which gains Tiomkin immortality. Again, Nic Raine conducts the City Of Prague Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus

highnoonHIGH NOON (1952)

The film was at its preview deemed a bust and the studio was inclined to not release it. But when Tiomkin’s score was added, something unforeseen and wondrous occurred. Within the simple lyrics of his song was the film’s entire narrative – a tale of cowardice and conformity. His unorthodox approach to build the score around the title song, to eliminate strings and add a folksy harmonica served to ground the music in the rustic, unrefined culture the old West and underpin the anti-heroic actions seen in the film. The earning of two Oscars and the smash hit of the song in popular culture affirmed Tiomkin was a master of this craft. The recommended release of this soundtrack is the one that came out in 2007 on the Screen Archives Entertainment label.

redriverRED RIVER (1948)

This recording is another triumph. It is a stunning and exceptional rerecording of a Tiomkin classic. The sound quality is again superb as is conductor Stromberg’s mastery of Tiomkin’s style. The film is vintage Americana, an epic tale in the finest traditions of the old West. Tiomkin was able to fully capture the animating spirit of the tale as the first frames of the film run. We hear a stunning call by unison horns from which bursts forth his spirited Main Theme with its unabashed and glorious orchestral splendor, which fully captures the vastness of the expansive prairie with its vaulted cobalt blue skies. His ability to fully capture a film’s essence demonstrates his mastery of the American genre. William Stromberg conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Burlingame, Jon. Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks. New York: Billboard books, 2000.
2. Dimitri Tiomkin Biography, Dimitri Tiomkin Official Website
3. Dimitri Tiomkin – Wikipedia
4. Dimitri Tiomkin at the Internet Movie Database
5. Dimitri Tiomkin at the Internet Broadway Database
6. Dimitri Tiomkin at AmericanComposers.com

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  1. August 22, 2016 at 9:46 am

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