Home > Reviews > SINCE YOU WENT AWAY – Max Steiner



Original Review by Craig Lysy

Legendary producer David O. Selznick wanted to make a film, which demonstrated his patriotic support for the war effort. However, he was adamant that he did not want to make a traditional war movie. As such he personally adapted the screenplay from the 1943 novel “Since You Went Away: Letters to a Soldier from His Wife” by Margaret Buell Wilder. Selznick hired veteran director John Cromwell with whom he had collaborated on nine prior films, and then assembled a quality cast including; Claudette Colbert (Mrs. Anne Hilton), Jennifer Jones (Jane Deborah Hilton), Joseph Cotton (Lieutenant Commander Tony Willett), Shirley Temple (Bridget ‘Brig’ Hilton), Monty Woolley (Colonel William G. Smollett) and Lionel Barrymore as Clergyman. The movie is set in a typical American town located near a military base, where people with loved ones serving in the armed forces struggle to cope with their absence. The main storyline concerns Anne, a housewife whose husband is fighting overseas. She struggles with his absence as she tries to meet the challenges of youthful romance from their two daughters who are growing into womanhood. The film overflows with sentimentality against the somber backdrop of families coping with grief, loneliness or fear for the future. I believe Selznick achieved his ambition, as the film was both a commercial and critical success, earning nine Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Score.

Selznick had a long collaboration with Herbert Stothart, who was his initial choice to score the film, but he had to reconsider given that he was already attached to four other films. He next turned to Bernard Herrmann, but Herrmann declined, as the subject matter did not interest him. So, Selznick hired Charles Previn as Music Director and Alexandre Tansman as composer. Yet this came to naught as Selznick rejected Tansman’s initial sketches. In desperation he bought Max Steiner’s services from Warner Brothers for an astounding $3,330 a week. Steiner took the assignment, but with some angst as Selznick was notorious for his intrusive micro-management of the scoring process.

The score is a complex one that features an amazing number of themes, several popular songs of the day, as well as interpolation of several of Steiner’s themes from other Selznick films. Anne and Tim Hilton are provided two themes, “Since You Went Away”, which is one of Steiner’s immortal themes; a sweeping heart-aching romance carried in classic Golden Age style by sumptuous violins. Then there is the popular song “Together” by Buddy De Sylva and Lew Brown, which he often expresses with violins romantic or piano. The Sister’s Theme is a youthful and carefree identity for the sisters, which flows with delicacy atop violins gentile. Jane and Tony’s Theme offers classic Golden Age violin laden romanticism. In this case, because of the age gap, idealized romanticism as the theme really speaks from her perspective. Jane and Bill’s Theme is overtly romantic and built upon repeating five-note phrasing by strings, harp and woodwinds, which in many ways is kindred in construct to the Since You Went Away Theme. Fidelia’s Theme offers classic blues, which sway to and from with easy and unaffected swing rhythms. It is classically Southern and perfectly captures Fidelia’s spirit. The Military Theme offers classic militaristic pomp, replete with trumpet accents. The theme has a dichotomous expression; personal and transpersonal. Firstly, it is a personal leitmotif for Colonel Smollett’s in that it assumes a formal and haughty identity, which perfectly captures his spirit. But Steiner also expresses the theme as a transpersonal leitmotif for the military itself. Soda’s Theme offers a simple and whimsical theme by solo oboe or kindred woodwinds, which perfectly captures the spirit of this playful dog.

Additionally, Steiner interpolated and infused his score’s tapestry with several contemporary songs and traditional works, which serve to firmly ground the story in 1940’s culture. These include; the traditional American ballad “Home Sweet Home” by Henry Bishop and John Howard Payne, the classic American military songs “You’re In The Army Now” by Tell Taylor and Ole Olsen, and “Caissons Go Rolling Along” by Edmund Gruber, “America The Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates and Samuel Ward, the iconic American ballad “My Darling Clementine”, the traditional hymn “How Firm The Foundation” by John Keith, the traditional English “Lullaby”, the swinging “The Dipsy Doodle” by Larry Clinton, classic music pieces such as “The Emperor Waltz” by Johan Strauss II, and “Here comes The Bride” by Richard Wagner, as well as several traditional Christmas Carols. So, let us begin our exploration of this marvelous score.

“Main Title / Returning Home” offers a magnificent score highlight, which features a parade of Steiner’s themes. The score opens with Alfred Newman’s famous chimes and fanfare, which he wrote for Selznick International Pictures. From this introduction Steiner launches his immortal theme for Anne and Tim, “Since You Went Away”, which plays, as the famous prologue appears “This is the story of that unconquerable fortress – the American home”, which in turn yields to a majestic statement of “Home Sweet Home”. Our story opens on a shot of Soda, the Hilton dog, for which Steiner animates with his whimsical oboe theme. A camera pan of family memorabilia ushers in a medley of themes and songs from popular culture, including; “Since You Went Away”, “You’re In the Army Now”, “Here Comes the Bride” and Brahms’ “Lullaby”. A sad Anne Hilton returns home from the train station where she has seen Tim off to active duty. As she reminisces over photographs of Tim, their love song, the lush and supremely melodic “Since You Went Away” supports the moment. Their secondary theme ”Together” joins on piano in sterling interplay. The entry of the Hilton girls is carried by the youthful and carefree Sister’s Theme, which interplays with an exquisite rendering of “Since You Went Away” on solo violin, as they all share their sadness over their dad’s deployment. We conclude as we began atop a comic rendering of Soda’s Theme. Bravo!

“Fidelia” is an emotional dichotomous cue, which abounds with sadness and regret. We open with clock chimes, which usher in a wonderful extended rendering of Fidelia’s Theme. She has has been let go, as the family cannot afford a maid with Tim deployed. We see regret in her eyes and feel her regret in the notes. In a scene change we see Anne reading a note left at her bedside by Tim – “Wherever I am – Always – I’ll be kissing you goodnight”. A distraught and tearful Anne is overcome and leaps into Tim’s bed. Steiner supports the heartache moment with beautiful interplay of his “Since You Went Away” and “Together” themes. This cue is exquisite! “Colonel Smollett / Hauling Fish / A Bed For Soda” is a ternary cue. Anne has taken in a border, retired Army Colonel Smollett, to help make ends meet and to do their part for the soldiers. His haughty and formal theme carries his presence and his consternation when he discovers of a government-issued pamphlet on rental courtesy. This elicits the voicing of his displeasure to an unsuspecting Brig, who disarms him by enlisting his aid in moving her fish tank. The sight of the women’s garments hanging over the bathtub creates a comic moment. Steiner supports the scene with a carefree theme that abounds with a wonderful lightness of being, which he had originally written for the honeymoon sequence of Selznick’s “A Star Is Born” in 1937.

“Fidelia Comes Home” offers a reprise of Fidelia’s Theme to support her return each night to the Hiltons instead of boarding with her new employers. “The Restaurant / Jane Moons Over Tony” reveals Anne dining with old flame and family friend Tony Willette. Steiner interpolates music from “A Star Is Born” which flows as a wondrous romantic waltz. We transition to home where a smitten Jane moons over Uncle Tony’s photograph. We segue atop “Here Comes the Bride”, which ushers in their theme on lush violins to support the moment. In this multi-scenic quaternary cue there is a perfect marriage of characters and themes. We begin with “A New Bed For Soda”, where we see Soda take up residence on the Colonel’s bed. Steiner supports the moment using comic woodwinds to render Soda’s Theme. At 0:24 we segue into “Goodnight Girls” where we see Jane lying in bed thinking of Tony, which Steiner supports with her and Tony’s theme. At 1:00 we segue into “Wetookit” where we see Brig and the Colonel searching for a map with the town mentioned in her father’s latest letter. A playful and spritely rendering of the Sister’s Theme carries the scene. The melodic flow is severed at 1:28 by dark bassoons, which herald someone at the door in “Colonel’s Grandson”. Steiner uses a solemn rendering of Colonel Smollett’s Theme to support the arrival.

In “Waltz At The Soldier’s Dance” Selznick had Steiner replace his vision of using the waltz from “A Star Is Born”, “The Dipsy Doodle”, “Together” and a Conga number, with Strauss’ “Emperor Waltz”. I must say, that this waltz is remarkably Steineresque and perfectly matched to the narrative flow of Steiner’s score. We next come to a multi-scenic ternary cue. We begin with “Mumps” where we see a distraught Jane suffering from the mumps. A dissonant variant of Jane and Tony’s Theme speaks to her circumstances. At 0:32 we segue into “Portrait Of Fidelia” where we see Fidelia assisting Tony pack for his departure. Tony makes her blush when he presents her with a beautiful sketch. Overcome, and grateful, she personally carries his bags downstairs for him. We are treated to an extended delightful rendering of her theme, which becomes ecstatic after his gift. As Tony says goodbye to the Colonel, Colonel Smollett’s Theme and “You’re In the Army Now”, is heard. We conclude at 2:10 with “Tony And Jane” where Tony goes into Jane’s room to say goodbye, and sweetly whispers to her that he wished he were 17. Steiner uses the waltz from “A Star Is Born” with interplay from their theme on solo violin to support the tender moment. Once again each scene is perfectly supported thematically.

In “Tony’s Departure” he says his goodbyes to the rest of the family. Steiner supports the farewell with Fidelia’s Theme and the Sister’s Theme. At 2:01 we shift upstairs where we see Ann writing in her diary; “So Jane’s in love with Tony, Bill is in love with Jane, and I’m in love with you.” Steiner support the tender moment with an extended orchestral rendering of the Together and Since You Went Away Themes. This was nicely done! “The Ice Cream Parlor” reveals Jane and the Colonel’s grandson Bill futile visit to an ice cream parlor that has no ice cream due to rationing. They order sodas, but the conversation is awkward, so they decide to return to her house. Steiner melds his themes to carry the encounter, offering the Sister’s Theme, Colonel Smollett’s Theme and finally the Together Theme. The lyrical flow of this cue is wonderful. In “The Porch” Bill opens up to Jane and relates how he has disappointed his family by not carrying on the West Point tradition. Jane scolds Bill for allowing his grandfather to dictate how he should live, and that he should choose his goals. We begin to discern a growing attraction between Bill and Jane. Steiner offers sterling interplay of his themes, including; the Sister’s Theme, a sad rendering of Colonel Smollett’s Theme, the Together Theme. What a wonderful cue!

For this ternary cue, we begin with the delightful “Walk, In The Fog” where we see Jane and Bill strolling in the night air as he jokes of being wounded or even killed in combat. He takes comfort from Jane concern for his welfare. Steiner offers his Jane and Bill Theme, which are joined by the Together Theme for a splendid statement. At 1:44 the melodic flow is severed with “Rushing To Meet Pop” when Brig interrupts the moment with urgent news that dad’s train will have a short layover as he heads to deployment overseas. Steiner interpolates his Dearest Theme, from “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, as a classic agitato that underscores the excitement and propels their rush to the train station, as well as the Together Theme. This is cleverly conceived. At 2:03 we conclude with “Supply Train”, for which Steiner a brief statement of “Those Caissons Go Rolling Along” as an army supply train prevents them from reaching their father. In “Letter At The Hotel” Anne and the girls arrive after Tim has departed. His note, obtained from the hotel clerk, offers little solace as he has now deployed. Steiner captures Anne’s sadness and the girl’s disappointment by offering a minor modal expression of the Since You Went Away Theme. This was nicely conceived. For “Jane’s Inspiration” Steiner reuses music from his 1937 medical drama film “Green Light” to support Jane asking her mother if she can get a job as a nurse’s aid to support the war effort.

“A Letter From Pop” is a beautiful score highlight, which offers up exquisite romantic writing. Anne reads a letter from Tim to the girls and the Together Theme supports the heart-felt moment. The Since You Went Away Theme joins for a sumptuous performance as Anne reads the portion of the letter meant just for her. The cue concludes with interplay of a lush Dearest Theme and the Since You Went Away Theme. Bravo! “Soda Water” offers a comic moment with Soda’s Theme a she is given a sudden splash by the lawn sprinkler. The next ternary cue is an emotional powerhouse. We open with “Missing In Action” where Anne collapses after reading a telegram, which discloses that Tim is missing in action. Harsh chords join a tragic rendering of the Since You Went Away Theme to support Anne’s anguish. At 0:29 in “Prayers For Pop” Brig offers prayers at her bedside and Steiner uses refulgent strings to create a stirring religioso ambience. We conclude at 1:00 with “The Album” where we see them looking through the family photo album and we bear witness to a superb joining of the family’s primary themes in wondrous interplay. Steiner perfectly marries his music to the film’s imagery! Bravo!

In “Lunch With The Colonel” Anne offers to make lunch for Colonel Smollett, who is polishing his shoes. The Since You Went Away Theme opens the cue and is joined by a comic rendering of the Military Theme. In “The Colonel’s Conflict” Anne informs the Colonel that Bill has been ordered to deploy. He asks Anne to wish the boy good luck for him if he is unable to attend. We segue atop a chord sustain into “Bill And Jane On The Farm”, another of the score’s highlights. We see Bill and Jane out in the country and bear witness to their realization that they are in love. Steiner offers just sumptuous romantic writing for this passage, where we hear interplay of the Military Theme, the Together Theme, and Bill and Jane’s Theme, which is now rendered playfully, but also fully romanticized in celebration of their love. This is a wondrously romantic cue, which offers a perfect joining of music and imagery! For “The Depot / Late Arrival” Steiner’s score achieves its apogee. We see a heartfelt declaration of love by Bill and Jane as he departs aboard a train. We bear witness to a sumptuous expression of refulgent love as the Since You Went Away Theme and Bill and Jane’s Theme. Steiner uses the orchestra to simulate the train’s mechanized departure with masterful effect. Colonel’s Smollett’s late arrival at the train station is marked by dissonance.

In “Tragic News / Shared Grief” Anne informs Jane that Bill has been killed in action at Salerno. Jane is unable to accept and process the news, but Anne guides her daughter. For this terrible scene their shared grief is carried by anguished expression of Bill and Jane’s Theme. Later Anne consoles the Colonel, who in his grief offers Jane, Bill’s West Point cadet photo for a keepsake, for which she is very grateful. This very emotional scene is powerfully expressed by interplay of several of Steiner’s themes, including Military Taps, the Military Theme and the Bill and Jane’s Theme. Once again, Steiner demonstrated mastery of his craft in capturing the emotions of this poignant scene. Bravo! In “The Hospital” the tragic news about Bill leads Anne to reflect upon her own grief over Tim. Steiner offers the Military Theme, the Bill and Jane’s Theme and fleeting references of the popular songs “You’ll Never Know” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” to capture Anne’s inner torment. At 1:30 a camera pan to an adjacent golf course breaks the gloom with a spirited free-flowing line, which decrescendos to a scene of Jane working with an injured Danny Williams. Tremolo strings open with a fleeting reference of the “America The Beautiful”. From here the scene is supported by a sad and extended deconstructed passage of Bill and Jane’s Theme, which underscores the burden of the war now weighing heavily on Jane’s heart.

“Tony’s Return” reveals a birthday celebration for the colonel. Tony arrives, offers his condolences and gifts to the family. This cue sparkles, and Steiner uses Jane and Bill’s Theme expressed as a waltz to support the moment, with references of the Military Theme. In “Mutual Admiration / Anne’s Regret” Tony and the Colonel share some Scotch and good company as they discuss the war effort with Anne, whom they commend for doing a wonderful job keeping things together at home. A lighthearted variant of the Military Theme joins with the Bill and Jane’s Theme and the Since You Went Away Theme, which is tinged with regret. A rendering of “Home Sweet Home” supports the men’s praise of Anne in keeping her family strong. At Selznick’s insistence “Shipyard / The Immigrant” opens in jarring and dissonant fashion as he wanted a metallic and modernist sound to the shipyard where Anne is training as a welder. The Since You Went Away Theme plays amidst the cacophony. The waltz from “A Star Is Born” returns with Russian accents as coworker Alla Nazimova, a Russian émigré, relates her thrill at seeing the Statue of Liberty. Steiner perhaps goes over the top here by offering a sparkling expression of “America the Beautiful” with a coda of the Together Theme to crown the scene.

“Christmas Gift / Charades” was dialed out of the film. We see the family celebrating Christmas, exchanging gifts and then playing charades. Steiner supports the scene with the Bill and Jane’s Theme and a happy upbeat variant of the Military Theme. In “Coffee & Sandwiches” Anne calls the guests to join in coffee and sandwiches. Steiner interpolates his happy and playful theme from the film “Slim” (1937) to support this light-hearted and festive moment. Later, in a private moment Tony compliments Anne by telling her that none of the women in the world can come close to her. Steiner uses his sparkling waltz from “A Star Is Born” to support the tender moment. “Party’s End / The Christmas Tree” Steiner uses a fleeting reference of “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor” to cleverly signal the end of the party. Danny, who is attracted to Jane, asks if he can write her as he departs. A nascent violin melody emerges that speaks to Danny’s attraction. As the Colonel departs upstairs with Soda the Military Theme sounds warmly as Soda’s Theme flitters. We see Fidelia placing gifts under the tree, which she says were bought by Tim before departure. Her theme supports the moment and is joined by the Since You Went Away Theme as Anne inspects the gifts and picks up hers. When Anne opens hers and finds a music box, which plays the song “Together”, she is overcome by grief and collapses.

“Anne Despondent” reveals her devastation as she ascends the stairs to her bedroom. The Together Theme supports her anguish. In “The Cablegram / End Title”, as the telephone rings, tremolo strings sound as Anne answers the phone. It turns out to be a cablegram, which to her astonishment informs her that Tim is safe and is on his way home. Anne calls for the children and they all join in joyous celebration. Celebratory trumpets herald their joy, and as the film ends with a camera pan out for a parting shot of the Eternal Fortress, the carol “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” brings the story to a most happy ending. A bonus track “Lou Forbes Suite”, a score highlight, is a most welcome addition! Selznick, who was extremely happy with the score, instructed studio musical director Lou Forbes to fashion a suite for radio stations so as to promote his film. I must say, that Forbes acquainted himself well, as all of Steiner’s themes are offered in all their resplendent beauty. The suite offers testimony to Steiner’s genius as we seamlessly flow from the Opening Chimes on a stunning parade of some of the finest Golden Age music ever written. Bravo!

Well please allow me to offer my heartfelt gratitude to James d’Arc, Ray Faiola, and Craig Spaulding for this magnificent two CD release of this classic Golden Age score. On balance the score’s restoration has been successful, but there are a few instances of sonic distortion and tape hiss. These were not sufficient to detract from the listening experience. The score reveals Steiner’s renowned melodrama in all its sumptuous glory. While some may describe this effort as schmaltz, I believe the score was perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and poignant narrative. This was a story that needed to be felt and Steiner tugs at your heartstrings the whole journey with timeless, sumptuous, and heart aching melodies. The sheer number of themes, source music and songs he infused into the score is simply astounding, as is their superb interplay. “Since You Went Away” justly earned its Academy Award, offers one of the finest scores in Steiner’s canon and is a timeless classic of the Golden Age. I highly recommend this score for your collection.

Buy the Since You Went Away soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/Returning Home (8:03)
  • Fidelia (3:57)
  • Colonel Smollett/Hauling Fish/A Bed for Soda (3:12)
  • Fidelia Comes Home (0:29)
  • The Restaurant/Jane Moons Over Tony (3:51)
  • A New Bed for Soda/Goodnight Girls/Wetookit/The Colonel’s Grandson (2:21)
  • Waltz at the Soldier’s Dance (2:19)
  • Mumps/Portrait of Fidelia/Tony and Jane (5:18)
  • Tony’s Departure (4:14)
  • The Ice Cream Parlor (3:04)
  • The Porch (5:04)
  • Walk in the Fog/Rushing to Meet Pop/Supply Train (2:19)
  • Letter at the Hotel (1:10)
  • Jane’s Inspiration (0:29)
  • A Letter From Pop (3:28)
  • Soda Water (0:19)
  • Missing in Action/Prayers for Pop/The Album (3:36)
  • Lunch with the Colonel (0:49)
  • The Colonel’s Conflict/Bill and Jane on the Farm (6:59)
  • The Depot/Late Arrival (4:13)
  • Tragic News/Shared Grief (5:04)
  • The Hospital (5:28)
  • Tony’s Return (2:15)
  • Mutual Admiration/Anne’s Regret (3:39)
  • Shipyard/The Immigrant (3:28)
  • Christmas Gift/Charades (1:40)
  • Coffee & Sandwiches (3:12)
  • Party’s End/The Christmas Tree (4:01)
  • Anne Despondent (0:29)
  • The Cablegram/End Title (2:17)
  • Lou Forbes Suite (11:49)

Running Time: 108 minutes 36 seconds

Screen Archives Entertainment/BYU Film Music FMS-MS-119 (1944/2012)

Music composed and conducted by Max Steiner. Orchestrations by Gilbert Grau, Jerome Moross, Leonid Raab, Frank Perkins and Frank Skinner. Score produced by Max Steiner. Album produced by James d’Arc, Ray Faiola and Craig Spaulding.

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