BRONISLAU KAPER – Fathers of Film Music, Part 14
Article by Craig Lysy
Born: 5 February 1902 Warsaw, Poland.
Died: 26 April 1983.
Bronislau Kaper was of Jewish heritage, and at the very early age six took up the piano, soon demonstrating a remarkable musical talent. His family realized that he was a child prodigy and so enrolled him in the prestigious Chopin Music School to cultivate and refine his gift. By time of his teens he had blossomed creatively and was already writing original compositions. Although his heart was drawn to music, in deference to his father’s wishes he began studies in Law at Warsaw University. Yet, soon after he returned to his true love, and enrolled in the Warsaw Conservatory where he studied composition and piano.
Upon graduating Kaper relocated to Berlin, then a culturally vibrant metropolis, which abounded with countless theaters and cabarets. There he joined many aspiring artists from Eastern Europe, all seeking to make a mark on a world stage. He spent the 1920s and early 1930s working as a song composer for film and cabaret, and gained an increasing notoriety. His first film score was for Richard Oswald’s German sci-fi film Alraune (1930). Kaper’s canon in the early 1930s included approximately 17 French, German, and Austrian projects, providing scores for such films as Voyage de Noces (1932) and Madame Wünscht Keine Kinder (1933). After the 1932 German elections, which brought Adolph Hitler power, the dark pall of Nazism descended, creating an ever-growing repression of the arts, cabaret culture, and menace to artists of Jewish heritage. As such Kaper and his friend and lyricist Walter Jurmann, relocated to Paris in 1933, where for two years he continued his cabaret and film career. Success followed immediately with perhaps his most memorable score for Alexis Granowsky’s Le Nuits Moscovites (1934). Paris in hindsight was a hinge of fate for Kaper, which would forever change his destiny. It came to pass the his song “Ninon” caught the ear of studio executive Louis B. Mayer, who was so impressed, that he offered Kaper a seven year contract with MGM.
Kaper began his Hollywood years at the studio in the song-writing department where he acquainted himself well. His first success was for the film Mutiny On The Bounty (1935), where the composer Stothart tasked him with song writing. He responded with the now iconic love song “Love Song Of Tahiti”. His next assignment to the outrageous Marx Brothers comedy A Night at the Opera (1935) also yielded some fine songs, including the popular “Cosi-Cosa.” The following year he gained notoriety by joining with Jurmann to write the classic title tune for W.S. Van Dyke’s spectacular earthquake drama/romance San Francisco (1936). In addition, he provided two notable songs for the film, “San Francisco” and “Happy New Year”. Kaper went on to score another Marx Brothers classic, A Day at the Races (1937), which included the song “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”.
Kaper was not content being just a song writer and was determined to break in to scoring films. He boldly went to MGM management and insisted that he be given greater opportunities. Well, MGM blinked, and in 1940 Kaper successfully began receiving scoring assignments. He rewarded MGM with what I consider to be one of his finest decades. He began with the old-fashioned comedy The Captain Is a Lady (1940), composed the song “Blue Lovebird” for the musical Lillian Russell (1940), the satirical Comrade X (1940), and penned with great satisfaction, the score for the powerful anti-Nazi film The Mortal Storm (1940). 1941 proved to be the most productive year of his career, writing eleven scores, which included the splendid musical comedy The Chocolate Soldier (1941), which featured the wonderful song “While My Lady Sleeps” (Gus Khan’s lyrics). The score earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Musical Score. The George Cukor mystery Keeper Of The Flame (1942) followed, where once again Kaper’s soundscape beautifully enhanced the Director’s vision. With the world embroiled in WWII, several war and spy intrigue films followed, including The Cross of Lorraine, (1943) Bataan (1943) and Above Suspicion (1943). Yet Kaper was also writing wonderful music for comedies such as Slightly Dangerous (1943) and The Heavenly Body (1943).
It was very apparent that Kaper was poised for a seminal breakout score, and 1944 proved to be that year. Director George Cukor, who loved Kaper’s score for his film Keeper Of The Flame (1942), tasked him with scoring his latest film, Gaslight (1944). Well the rest is history as this award-winning mystery thriller catapulted Kaper into the ranks of tier one Hollywood composers. The suspense music he provided for this classic Film Noir perfectly was a prime contributor to the film’s glowing accolades. Further success followed with Orson Wells’ riveting The Stranger (1946), which tells the story of a war crimes investigator Edward G. Robinson’s relentlessly hunting down a Nazi war criminal, professor Charles Rankin, played by Orson Wells. Throughout the film Kaper’s score penetrates Well’s faux façade and alludes to his sinister past. The climatic and macabre finale where Wells is murdered by a cloaked figure is one of the finest marriages of score and film of his career. For me, the score demonstrates Kaper’s mastery of his craft in supporting the mystery, the hunt and emotional drivers motivating both men. Another film score milestone was achieved with Green Dolphin Street (1947) where Kaper wrote what has turned out to be a Jazz score classic. He closed the decade with That Forsyte Woman (1949), where his music informs us of the indictment of the tragic gold-digging propensity of the Victorian class system.
The 1940s proved to be a fine decade for Kaper and he began the 1950s in good form, writing five wonderful scores, for diverse genres; the Errol Flynn adventure drama set during the British Raj, Kim (1950), the Clark Gable action romance, To Please a Lady (1950), the Lana Turner romantic drama, A Life of Her Own (1950), the comedy, The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950), and the Clark Gable romantic comedy, Key to the City (1950). He gained critical acclaim the next year for his Red Badge of Courage (1951) where he was afforded extended film segments for his score to carry the scene. Kaper provided the requisite militaristic elements, but he correctly understood that the heart of the story dwelled not on the battlefield, but instead within Henry Fleming who struggles with the carnage. The banjo informs us of a boy longing for his home and family, which Kaper juxtaposes with the brutality, fear and pathos of war. His big break through finally came from a most unexpected effort, the intimate fantasy film Lili (1953). Kaper chose “Lili” explaining that its demands as a musical for songs and ballet were challenges he had always sought. In retrospect Kaper felt “LiLi” was the favorite of his canon and an enduring example of what music can do for a film. He related, “As immodest as this may sound, my score became the life of the movie.” For me this score is the road less traveled. Lili was a challenge in that it was a musical, a fantasy, a comedy and a romantic drama. Kaper responded with a wondrous versatile main theme that fully captured the film’s emotional core, songs, ballet music, carnivalesque tunes and romantic drama. Scene after scene his music enhances and is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and emotional narrative. In my judgment Kaper clearly demonstrated mastery of his craft in creating this fine Golden Age score and merited the Academy Award.
Kaper’s next stellar effort came from an unexpected source the science fiction film Them! (1954). This genre was a departure for Kaper and I believe he succeed brilliantly. He introduces his Ant Theme in the main title, and perfectly establishes the tone of the film. He provides low register rumbling by two pianos that are joined by a swirling and chromatic descending four note figure by strings, which resolves in an eerie dissonant chord! The theme sows unease and unsettles in that it never seems to coalesce into a cogent melodic statement. Kaper cleverly uses chromatic ascents and descents of the figure to support movement in the film, often achieving unnerving climaxes. It suffices to say that Kaper’s score is largely responsible for providing the aural terror needed for the film’s narrative. In the following year we bear witness to a trio of fine film scores; the period piece adventure Quentin Durward (1955) where he infuses his soundscape with authentic Scottish colors, and provides the sweep, adventure and wit this swashbuckling film required. Next came the Glass Slipper (1955) that retells the classic fairy tale Cinderella, where once again Kaper was tasked to compose extended ballet sequences, as he did earlier Lili (1953). His iconic main theme waltz ”Take My Love”, is timeless, and fills us with heartache. It suffices to say that his wondrous score is magical and testimony to his genius. Lastly we have the biblical effort The Prodigal (1955), where Kaper unleashed his orchestra to provide a truly grand, sumptuous and exquisitely beautiful score of uncommon lyricism.
Kaper sustained his momentum by penning one of the best scores of his canon, The Swan (1956), Grace Kelly’s final film. This remake of the 1925 film, where Kaper was again provided a fairy tale, once more brought out his best. He wrote an extended Viennese waltz very much in the style of Johann Strauss, and interpolated Liszt’s famous Rakoczy March to infuse his soundscape with the requisite pomp and circumstance. For the romantic tale Kaper perfectly captured the regal splendor of the court, and provides a supremely melodic score that is sweet, tender and filled with heartache. Kaper closed the decade with a trio of exceptional and varied efforts; The Brothers Karamazov (1958), the tragic tale of a hedonistic father and his four sons was a story Kaper had long sought to score. Kaper used his intimate knowledge of Russian and gypsy folk songs to infuse his soundscape with an authentic Russian flavor. Often channeling Prokofiev, Kaper expertly created a multiplicity of musical mosaics to support each character’s developmental arcs, and to enhance the film’s compelling and dramatic narrative. He offers the religiosity of tolling bells, a fateful waltz, melancholia, heartache and stunning passages of orchestral frenzy. For Auntie Mame (1958), Kaper again demonstrated mastery of his craft. It would have been obvious and conventional to provide the irrepressible, fast-talking Mame with a comic theme; instead he offers a wonderful valzer regale, which informs us of how Mame feels about herself. The theme underpins the film and is rendered in a multiplicity of expressions, which mirror Mame’s mecurial nature. In one of the finest efforts of his career Kaper blends elegance, comedy, farce to create a score, which froths with life and just sparkles. We conclude with Green Mansions (1959) where Kaper came in late after Heitor Villa-Lobos left the project. He chose to incorporate much of Villa-Lobos’ music within the tapestry of his score, which baths the listener with wonderful passages of pastoral woodwinds, as well as nativist South American sounds and rhythms. In all ways Kaper captured the film’s emotional core with his dreamy Main Title song (lyrics by Paul Francis Webster). He also brought forth the entrancing Venezuelan rain forest setting, as well as the romance, offering one of the finest love themes of his canon.
The 1960’s saw the collapse of the studio system and the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Modernism, shifting public sensibilities and a new generation of directors portended the demise of the kind of movies that called for the large-scale melodic scores, in which Kaper thrived. Never the less, Kaper remained true to himself and trudged on, beginning the decade with two superb scores. In Butterfield 8 (1960), Kaper rises to the contemporary sensibilities of the film, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and infuses it with some very cool jazz and sultry blues. We see in the film’s opening scene Taylor waking up in a man’s apartment and realizing she has been mistaken as a call girl. There is no dialogue and Kaper’s music perfects captures Taylor’s shifting moods and inner conflict. Taylor says nothing, but Kaper’s music speaks volumes! In Home from the Hill (1960) Kaper was presented with a potent and sad drama of a southern family falling inexorably into a crucible of pain and conflict. For this complex narrative and its multiple interconnected character arcs Kaper was tasked with speaking to the film’s tension, violence, familial love, and romance. He responded with a masterpiece in which he perfectly captured the fillm’s emotional core and tragic narrative. Actor George Peppard paid Kaper a supreme compliment regarding his score;
“There’s a long scene in Home From The Hill where the camera stays on me. . . People are always saying what a fine piece of acting it was. Actually, I didn’t do anything but walk and stare ahead. All the acting was done by Kaper.”
1962 brought Kaper the assignment of a lifetime, where he at last achieved the apogee of his remarkable career. MGM studio had decided to invest in a lavish retelling of Mutiny on the Bounty, and Kaper was assigned the project after Miklos Rozsa declined. This was a high profile assignment, Kaper’s last with MGM, and he took to it with a passion. The score is epic in scope, and underpinned by three primary themes; the inspiring and grandiose nautical theme for the Bounty carries her as much as the trade winds, the Mutiny Theme, which is dark, menacing and festers for most of the early film before erupting, and the wondrous romantic Love Theme, one of Kaper’s finest. Kaper incorporated classic British references such as Rue Britannia, which he juxtaposed with the richly ethnic Polynesian auras and rhythms of the South Seas. As he did with the earlier 1935 version of the film, he penned a song for the ages – “Follow Me”, with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. The film was a critical and commercial disaster, which usually meant the score would be summarily dismissed by the Academy. Remarkably this was not the case and the score was nominated for an Academy Award, an acknowledgment to the brilliance of Kaper’s handiwork. Although it lost out to Jarre’s masterwork Lawrence Of Arabia, the score stands to this day as one of the greatest scores of the 1960s.
Despite his success with Mutiny On The Bounty, the new generation of directors was not hiring Kaper as his vintage sound was increasingly seen as anachronistic. As such, film assignments were becoming increasingly difficult to secure. In 1965 Kaper finally got a film, which was perfectly suited to his style, the film I speak of is Richard Brooks’ Lord Jim (1965). The screenplay was adapted from Joseph Conrad’s epic novel about a disgraced British seaman (Peter O’Toole) who seeks redemption in the remote reaches of Southeast Asia. Lord Jim stands as Kaper’s final masterwork, a remarkable score that is transcendent and provides stirring emotive power. Kaper juxtaposed his classic western orchestral score, which emotes from Jim’s perspective, with the nativist colors and rhythms of Malaysia, which features extensive use of Javanese gamelan. The optimistic, forthright and nautical sounding Main Theme is transcendent with wondrous spiritual auras. A progression of both major and minor modal chords in its articulation provides complexity and an uncommon beauty. Worth noting is how the theme’s innate optimism slowly dissipates, and assumes a minor modal expression as Jim falls from grace and becomes tortured by guilt. Secondary themes of his spiritual quest for redemption, and love for a native girl round off a score for the ages.
1967 featured two wonderful late career efforts by Kaper. With Tobruk (1967) Kaper was offered an opportunity to once again score a WWII drama. He rose to the challenge and his main title and prologue opens dramatically with the score’s potent and dominating eight-note main theme that has a distinctly Rozsa-esque quality to it. It is an energetic march carried by blaring fanfare, snare drums with interestingly enough, flowing harp accents. The cue ends with the theme slowly fading away like the warmth of day in a desert sunset. This eight-note theme dominates the entire score and appears throughout much of the film in many different renderings, indeed it is the prime thread that holds the tapestry that is Kaper’s score together. Much of the score’s expression is devoted to evoking tension and suspense given that the film involves a secret mission. Kaper employs subtlety, dissonance and at times minimalism to expert effect, which are quite effective in keeping the audience unsettled. In The Way West (1967), Kaper writes his final grand orchestral score, which makes an indelible contribution to the Western genre. He again provides a classic main theme, which fully captures the pioneering spirit of the American west. Set on a trek along the Oregon Trail, Kaper infuses his music with classic Americana auras using accordion, harmonica, banjo and do-si-do strings. His music made this film better, and expertly enhanced its pioneering narrative.
By the late 1960s Kaper had become increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood filmmaking and left the industry after scoring A Flea in Her Ear (1968), although he was lured back one last time for The Salzburg Connection (1972), after which he retired from cinematic scoring. Kaper was not finished however as he remained active by writing extensively for television. His canon included two series, The F.B.I. (1965 – 1974) for which he wrote 219 episodes and Arrest and Trial (1963 – 1964) for which he wrote 30 episodes. He also wrote a number of TV movie scores before retiring in 1974. Kaper filled his days after retiring by serving as member of the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He succumbed to cancer nine years later on 26 April 1983 in Beverly Hills, California. After his death, the Los Angeles Philharmonic created the Bronislau Kaper Awards, which it awards annually to gifted piano and string musicians.
KAPER’S COMPOSITIONAL STYLE
Kaper was masterful pianist and it is from this amazing instrument and his gift for song writing that his scoring sensibilities arose. His greatest strength was his extraordinary talent in providing melody as evidenced by the success of his legacy of songs. As a Hollywood composer Kaper relates;
“I caught on very quickly. It would be required that I write a wide range of melodies. Perhaps bridges that called for a little French nuance; the film might call for a Celtic air, or some militaristic bravado; composing these various themes enabled me to begin to catch the flavor of this country. Understand that the great Spanish Opera “Carmen” was written by a Frenchman; Rimsky-Korsakov wrote “Capriccio Espagno”; Ravel, a Basque, wrote French and Spanish music; Gershwin, an American of Jewish ancestry, wrote “An American in Paris”. A composer is intrigued by adjusting his style. So here is a Polish Jew writing some tense dramatic music for Bataan.”
Kaper often said that he believed that one of his strengths lay in his deep understanding of harmony, which he attributed to his classical education. Indeed if you assess Kaper’s scores the trained ear will discern consistent harmonic writing of the highest order. Also defining was that time and time again Kaper quickly gained understanding of the film’s narrative, and was able to with his music capture its emotional core. Unlike his contemporaries, Kaper did not conduct the recording sessions. Guest conductors often commented on Kaper’s gift, his skill at capturing a film’s rhythms, of finding synergy in complex dialogue rich scenes such as in Auntie Mame (1959) or lengthy dialogue absent scenes such as in The Red Badge Of Courage (1951). Had Miklos Rozsa not had a contract with MGM that gave him exclusive first rights to any picture, Kaper’s career may have found greater voice and bigger projects. Never the less, it suffices to say that when listening to any Kaper score, one immediately feels the film’s pulse and the grace of his beautiful melodies. Kaper correctly understood that melody is the beating heart of music.
Kaper, unlike most of his fellow European émigrés did not compose for the concert hall. He was quite content with film composition and often marveled at its subliminal power in the dark cinema. In an interview he was asked if he felt that after writing film music for more than 40 years, if everything had been said and done, he replied;
“No. If you’re excited by something, you’ll come up with new ideas. How many women have you known in your life? Then along comes another and you love her. It’s the same with film. All you need are a few little things and off you go again. If I were bothered by the clichés of the past, I couldn’t live. Not just music. Life is also full of clichés. Don’t fall for them.”
Although he lived in the shadow of contemporary Titans such as Newman, Rózsa, Tiomkin and Herrmann, Kaper never the less was able to find his voice and succeeded in scoring some of the biggest MGM films of his day. He also leaves a legacy of popular songs not rivaled by any of his contemporaries. He collaborated with some of the finest lyricists of the Golden Age including Sammy Cahn, Walter Jurmann, Gus Kahn, Ned Washington, and Paul Francis Webster. Kaper had many hits on the Billboard charts with songs such as “Someone to Care for Me”, “You’re All I Need”, “A Message from the Man in the Moon”, “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm”, “Follow Me”, “Tomorrow is Another Day”, “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, “Just for Tonight” and “Take My Love.” He also had one score for Broadway, Polonaise (1945). I close by saying that when all is said and done, Bronislau Kaper’s gift for song and melody lives on in his films and ensures his immortality.
Academy Award Wins:
- 1954 Lili – Best Film Score
Academy Award Nominations:
- 1942 The Chocolate Soldier – Best Film Score
- 1954 Lili – Best Film Score
- 1963 Mutiny On The Bounty – Best Film Score
- 1963 Mutiny On The Bounty – Best Song “Follow Me”
1930s: Laubenkolonie (1930), Alraune (1930), Marriage with Limited Liability (1931), His Highness Love (1931), The Big Attraction (1931), Seitensprünge (1931), Her Majesty Love (1931), Voyage de Noces (1932), The Man Who Doesn’t Know to Say No (1932), Three on a Honeymoon (1932), Die Zwei vom Südexpress (1932), Schuß im Morgengrauen (1932), Ein toller Einfall (1932), Right to Happiness (1932), Skandal in der Parkstraße (1932). Things Are Getting Better Already (1932), Abenteuer am Lido (1933), Tout pour l’amour (1933), Une femme au volant (1933), Kind, ich freu’ mich auf Dein Kommen (1933), A Song for You (1933), I Will Teach You to Love (1933), Heut’ kommt’s drauf an (1933), No Children Wanted (1933), Honeymoon Trip (1933). Madame Wants No Children (1933), Madame Wünscht Keine Kinder (1933), Moscow Nights (1934), A Sensitive Lad (1934), Man Stolen (1934), Mariage à responsabilité limitée (1934), Le chant du destin (1935), I Stand Condemned (1935), Escapade (1935), A Night At The Opera (1935), San Francisco (1936), Three Smart Girls (1936), A Day At The Races (1937)
1940s: Comrade X (1940), Dulcy (1940), We Who Are Young (1940), The Captain Is a Lady (1940), The Mortal Storm (1940), I Take This Woman (1940), Johnny Eager (1941), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), Two-Faced Woman (1941), When Ladies Meet (1941), Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day (1941), Whistling in the Dark (1941), I’ll Wait for You (1941), A Woman’s Face (1941), Barnacle Bill (1941), Rage in Heaven (1941), Blonde Inspiration (1941), White Cargo (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), A Yank at Eton (1942), Somewhere I’ll Find You (1942), Crossroads (1942), The Affairs of Martha (1942), We Were Dancing (1942), Fingers at the Window (1942), Nazi Agent (1942), The Cross of Lorraine (1943), Bataan (1943), Above Suspicion (1943), Slightly Dangerous (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944), Maisie Goes to Reno (1944), Gaslight (1944), The Heavenly Body (1944), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), Bewitched (1945), Without Love (1945), The Secret Heart (1946), Three Wise Fools (1946), Courage of Lassie (1946), The Stranger (1946), High Wall (1947), Green Dolphin Street (1947), Cynthia (1947), Act of Violence (1948), The Secret Land (1948), Homecoming (1948), B.F.’s Daughter (1948), Malaya (1949), That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Great Sinner (1949), The Secret Garden (1949).
Kim (1950), To Please a Lady (1950), A Life of Her Own (1950), The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950), Key to the City (1950), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Mr. Imperium (1951), Three Guys Named Mike (1951), Grounds for Marriage (1951), Shadow in the Sky (1952), Invitation (1952), The Wild North (1952), Saadia (1953), Ride, Vaquero! (1953), Lili (1953), The Naked Spur (1953), Her Twelve Men (1954), Them! (1954), Quentin Durward (1955), The Glass Slipper (1955), The Prodigal (1955), The Power and the Prize (1956), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), The Swan (1956), Forever, Darling (1956), Don’t Go Near the Water (1957), Jet Pilot (1957), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), Auntie Mame (1958), The Brothers Karamazov (1958), The Scapegoat (1959), Green Mansions (1959).
1960s and 70s:
Butterfield 8 (1960), The Angel Wore Red (1960), Home from the Hill (1960), Ada (1961), Two Loves (1961), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Kisses for My President (1964), Lord Jim (1965), Counterpoint (1967), Cosa Nostra (1967), Arch Enemy of the FBI (1967), The Way West (1967), Tobruk (1967), A Flea in Her Ear (1968), The Salzburg Connection (1972).
Kaper also wrote extensively for television. His canon included two series; The F.B.I. – 219 episodes (1965 – 1974), and Arrest and Trial – 30 episodes (1963 – 1964). In addition, he wrote the title theme for several other television series including; Deadly Ambition (1974), The Lost Man (1974), Confessions of a Madman (1974), Survival (1974), The Vendetta (1974), Birds of a Feather (1964), Those Which Love Has Made (1964), He Ran for His Life (1964), The Revenge of the Worm (1964), and Tigers Are for Jungles (1964).
I offer these five scores as a diverse cross section of Kaper’s canon, which fully illustrate his talent and skill. All are exceptional, and I believe, worthy of your exploration;
1962 brought Kaper the assignment of a lifetime, and I believe this to be his Magnum Opus. The score is epic in scope, and underpinned by three primary themes; the inspiring and grandiose nautical theme for the Bounty carries her as much as the trade winds, the Mutiny Theme, which is dark, menacing and festers for most of the early film before erupting, and the wondrous romantic Love Theme, one of Kaper’s finest. Kaper incorporated classic British references and sensibilities, which he juxtaposed with the richly ethnic Polynesian auras and rhythms of the South Seas. As he did with the earlier 1935 version of the film, he penned a song for the ages – “Follow Me”, with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. This score stands to this day as one of the greatest scores of the 1960s. The three-disc release of the complete score by FSM is essential for Kaper enthusiasts and collectors alike.
Lord Jim stands as Kaper’s final masterwork, a remarkable score that is transcendent and provides stirring emotive power. Kaper juxtaposed his classic western orchestral score, which emotes from Jim’s perspective, with the nativist auras and rhythms of Malaysia, which features extensive use of Javanese gamelan. The optimistic, forthright and nautical sounding Main Theme is transcendent with wondrous spiritual auras. A progression of both major and minor modal chords in its articulation provides complexity and an uncommon beauty. Worth noting is how the theme’s innate optimism slowly dissipates, and assumes a minor modal expression as Jim falls from grace and becomes tortured by guilt. Secondary themes of his spiritual quest for redemption, and love for a native girl round off a score for the ages.
In Home from the Hill (1960) Kaper was presented with a potent and sad drama of a southern family falling inexorably into a crucible of pain and conflict. For this very complex narrative, Kaper had to tap into and catalyze the emotional drivers of its multiple and interconnected character arcs. He had to capture the traditional culture of southern charm and hospitality, as well as to speak to the film’s underlying tension, violence, rebellion, familial love, and romance. He responded with a masterpiece in which he perfectly captured the film’s emotional core and tragic narrative. Kaper’s score offers enduring testimony to his genius and mastery of his craft. Bravo!
Kaper chose “Lili” explaining that its demands as a musical for songs and ballet were challenges he had always sought. In retrospect Kaper felt “LiLi” was the favorite of his canon and an enduring example of what music can do for a film. He related, “As immodest as this may sound, my score became the life of the movie.” For me this score is the road less traveled. Lili was a challenge in that it was a musical, a fantasy, a comedy and a romantic drama. Kaper responded with a wondrous versatile main theme that fully captured the film’s emotional core, songs, ballet music, carnivalesque tunes and romantic drama. Scene after scene his music enhances and is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery and emotional narrative. In my judgment Kaper clearly demonstrated mastery of his craft in creating this fine Golden Age score and merited the Academy Award.
Auntie Mame was a challenge to Kaper, and in the final analysis he demonstrated mastery of his craft. It would have been both obvious and conventional to provide the irrepressible fast-talking Mame with a comic theme; instead Kaper offers a wonderful valzer regale, which informs us of how Mame feels about herself. This was a brilliant masterstroke. The theme underpins the film and is rendered in a multiplicity of expressions, which mirror Mame’s mercurial nature. A tenderer theme is provided Patrick, which offers a fine juxtaposition. And it goes without saying that the rousing foxhunt brings the house down! In one of the finest efforts of his career Kaper blends elegance, comedy, and farce to create a score, which froths with life and just sparkles. Bravo!
1. Burlingame, Jon. Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks. New York: Billboard books, 2000.
2. Bronislau Kaper – Wikipedia
3. Bronislau Kaper, Biography, New York Times; http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/96724/Bronislau-Kaper/biography
4. Bronislau Kaper at the Internet Movie Database
5. Bronislau Kaper Biography, All Music; http://www.allmusic.com/artist/bronislaw-kaper-mn0000624071/biography
6. The Film Music of Bronislaw Kaper. Pacific Palisades, California; Delos Recirds, Inc. 1975
7. American Popular Song Composers: Oral Histories, 1920s-1950s
8. My Files: http://www.mfiles.co.uk/composers/Bronislau-Kaper.htm
9. The Song Writers Hall Of Fame: http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/notable_writers/C5020