Home > Reviews > LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING – Alfred Newman


December 10, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

loveisamanysplendoredthingMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Buddy Adler, the Production Head of Fox Studios saw money to be made by the hit novel “A Many Splendored Thing” by Han Suyin. He purchased the film rights an hired trusted screenwriter John Patrick to adapt it for the big screen. The story offers a potent commentary on an inter-racial romance set in Hong Kong during the waning days of the 1940s. American reporter Mark Elliot (William Holden), who is estranged from his wife, falls passionately in love with widowed Eurasian doctor Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones). For a short time they manage to find happiness together, but events soon overtake them. Mark’s wife refuses his request for a divorce, and their romance precipitates a palpable prejudice from both her family and Hong Kong society. Han is eventually ostracized from the community and loses her position at the hospital. As Mark ships out to cover the Korean War they desperately write each other in hope of maintaining a connection and salvaging their relationship, but alas, it is to no avail as Mark gets killed during the war. Han does not relent in her love and the story ends with her visiting the green hill where they used to meet. The film was both a commercial and critical success, earning eight Academy Awards nominations, winning three for Best Costume Design, Best Song and Best Score.

Alfred Newman, the Music Director at Fox decided to personally take on the project. Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster were tasked with writing the film’s title theme and they wrote one for the ages. Newman quickly realized that the melody could easily be translated into a song and so hired a lyricist and the rest is history. “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” achieved the honor of being one of the first songs written for a movie to become number one in the charts in the same year. Newman used the sumptuous romanticism of this main theme to animate the film, expressing it in a number of different renderings. He also provided three superb secondary themes of his own; Suyin’s Theme like her, evolves over the course of the film. Early in the film its gentile woodwind carried identity is clearly Chinese in sensibility, yet as she falls in love its articulation assumes a more classical occidental romanticism, being born by lush strings. The Family Theme, which speaks to her familial ties emotes with a classic Chinese sensibility. Its lyrical and gentile woodwind carried line is kindred in construct to Suyin’s Theme. Lastly, there is the Courtship Theme, a romantic string laden identity that fully emotes Mark’s captivation with Suyin. Lastly, for setting ambiance, Newman provided a Chinese Motif, rich in its exotic percussive beauty.

“Main Title” is a magnificent score highlight, which features an unabashed sumptuous expression of the romantic Main Theme. We are just swept away by this lush melody as the film’s opening credits plays, providing us with a stunning aerial panorama of Hong Kong. In “The Moon Festival” Mark takes Suyin out for dinner during the Moon Festival. As they drive through town Newman supports the journey with a danza orientale, which provides an exotic and free flowing Chinese ambiance. “Destiny” is a superb score highlight with beautiful interplay of the score’s primary themes. For me it is one of the finest passages Newman ever wrote, one where he bathes us with the lush lyricism of his eloquent writing for strings and woodwinds. The scene reveals Mark and Suyin enjoying a dinner together. He is clearly enamored by her, but she knows that he is married and although fascinated by him, remains aloof. Newman supports the scene with the longest cue of the album, which introduces Suyin’s Theme by woodwinds delicato and lush strings. Firecrackers from the harbor disrupt the melodic flow as nativist Chinese percussion intrudes, but the ambiance is restored with an exquisite rendering of the Main Theme on solo violin, which joins in sumptuous interplay with the Courtship Theme. Both of these themes achieve climaxes of breath-taking beauty, which for me makes this a masterpiece cue. Bravo!

“Waking the Sleeping Tiger” offers another score highlight. We open with a pop rendering of the Main Theme as Mark and Suyin dance together on the patio of her friends. As they take a boat back he confesses to her that he has fallen in love. We transition on woodwinds into a sumptuous string laden expression of the Main Theme, which features an extended interplay with Suyin’s Theme on woodwinds. This cue is sublime! “Give Me Your Hand” reveals Suyin who finds herself falling in love meeting Mark atop a hill that overlooks the harbor. Newman supports our lovers with an extended rendering of the Main Theme – a perfect joining of music and screen imagery. In “Departure” Suyin and Mark quarrel when she says she needs time away from him and departs to visit her family on the Chinese mainland. Mark storms out and Newman supports her departure with a plaintive rendering of her theme. For “Chung-King” Newman provides a local ambiance using the Chinese Motif as Suyin’s plane lands and she travels to meet her family.

“Third Uncle” reveals Suyin meeting the head of the family and her relatives. They relate that her sister had disgraced the family by taking up residence with a foreigner. Suyin out of love for her sister, agrees to intercede. Newman provides the Family Theme, a woodwind carried line kindred to her theme in construct. Its gentility, grace and eloquence are so beautiful. “The Eurasians” features the two sisters meeting. Suchen begs Suyin to help her secure a passport so she could leave China and like her live a life of her choosing. Suyin agrees on condition that she leaves the foreigner and rejoins the family. A tender, yet sad rendering of Suyin’s Theme supports the scene. “Gifts of Jade” is a score highlight with Newman’s writing of the highest order. Mark has arrived and his presence as a foreigner is awkward to her family. In a private meeting he proposes to Suyin and she accepts, pending permission from her uncle. The family with hesitant politeness grants permission and each member gives her a parting gift of jade. Newman scores the proposal with the Main Theme, which is emoted with romantic tenderness. As they meet with the family, the Family Theme joins with tenderness that is tinged with sadness, as they know they will never see her again as the communists will soon take the town.

In “The Cablegram” Suyin gets news that Mark’s wife has agreed to a divorce. Her theme, now born by strings joins in beautiful interplay with the Main Theme to mark the joy of the moment. As she later greets him at the airport he relates that his wife had changed her mind. As they struggle to absorb this bitter reality, the melodic flow darkens, ending the cue with a potent sadness. “The High Hill” reveals our lovers at their favorite meeting place, under the large hilltop tree that overlooks the harbor. We open with a resplendent offering of her theme on strings, which is joined with interplay of the Main Theme. The marriage of music and scene is superb. In “Macao”, Suyin joins Mark for a trip to Macao. Before departing she is warned by Adeline of gossip and a growing scandal regarding her blatant affair with a married man. Newman uses his Chinese Motif to weave an exotic oriental ambiance for the port. As she is taken to her hotel room we hear her theme born by strings, which swells and joins with the Main Theme as Mark arrives and they embrace.

“Viendras Tu Ce Soir” offers dance music with a classic 1930’s elegance as our lovers dance together at the restaurant where they are dining. All is well and bright with the world and they could not possibly be happier. For me, this is testimony to Newman’s mastery of his craft in how his music captured this perfect moment. In “The Fortune Teller” Mark and Suyin inquiry as to whether they will have a long and happy life together. They feel joy when he advises that they are fated for a long happy life together. Newman provides an extended rendering of his Chinese Motif to support the scene. “Mark and Han Suyin” reveals Mark who is leaving to cover the Korean War saying goodbye to Suyin at their special hilltop place. We open romantically with her theme on lush strings, now adorned with harp, which is then joined by the Main Theme. Pensive woodwinds inform us that he has to depart and as she watches him leave the Main Theme crowns this touching romantic moment.

In “Mark’s Letter” Suyin reads the latest of Mark’s letter as we also in a scene change see him typing the letter at the front. For this tender scene Newman provides his Main Theme, which is now rendered with woodwinds moving to the forefront. Her theme joins in wondrous interplay to make this an exceptional joining of imagery and music. Sadly, the loving moment is lost as the orchestra descends brutally into dissonance and we see Mark perish in a bombing attack. We conclude with “God Has Been Good (Finale)” a sublime score highlight! Suyin learns of Mark’s death and she cannot absorb the news. She is over wrought, and we see her flee across the city desperate to find refuge in her and Mark’s special hilltop vista. We open grimly with her theme emoted as a lamentation, which joins with the Main Theme in heart aching communion. We see the pathos of her journey through Hong Kong’s crowded city streets. As she ascends the terraced hillside steps her theme also ascends, becoming refulgent. Newman’s music carries us ever upwards passionately as we see her visualize her heart’s desire, Mark as in the days of old standing tall atop the hill, waiting to again offer his warm embrace. Yet this stirring romantic torrent dissipates as she realizes that it is all an illusion as his image vanishes, taking with it her last vestige of hope. From out this unbearable moment arises the Main Theme now emoted by chorus as a song, which achieves a stirring, tearful and sublime climax! Bravo!

This is a superb reissue of Alfred Newman’s Academy Award winning score. The restoration, mastering and resultant sound quality is excellent. This may be the most romantic score Newman ever wrote. He provides with his trademark “Newman Strings” a lush, sumptuous score with an unabashed lyrical expression. The evolution of Suyin’s Theme and its resultant interplay with the Main Theme achieved moments of exquisite and rare beauty not often realized in film scores. The infusion of the score with oriental sensibilities perfectly supported the film’s setting and biracial narrative. This score is one of the finest achievements of Newman’s career and offers glorious testimony to the eloquence and stunning aural beauty of the Golden Age. I highly recommend this score as essential to all who profess to love film score art.

Buy the Love is a Many Splendored Thing soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (1:34)
  • The Moon Festival (1:42)
  • Destiny (9:09)
  • Waking the Sleeping Tiger (6:08)
  • Give Me Your Hand (3:33)
  • Departure (0:48)
  • Chung-King (0:56)
  • Third Uncle (2:00)
  • The Eurasians (1:24)
  • Gifts of Jade (5:00)
  • The Cablegram (2:37)
  • The High Hill (1:38)
  • Macao (3:24)
  • Viendras Tu Ce Soir (2:19)
  • The Fortune Teller (2:29)
  • Mark and Han Suyin (4:01)
  • Mark’s Letter (3:31)
  • God Has Been Good (Finale) (5:36)
  • Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (2:11)
  • House of Bamboo [Source] (written by Leigh Harline) (2:49)

Running Time: 62 minutes 49 seconds

Kritzerland KR-20023-7 (1955/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Alfred Newman. Orchestrations by Edward Powell. Score produced by Alfred Newman. Album produced by Bruce Kimmel.

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