KINGS ROW – Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Kings Row continued Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s late career transition from period piece and swashbuckling adventure films to adult dramas whose darker tones and complex narratives, which lent themselves well to his operatic writing. Hal Wallis of Warner Brothers saw a powerful social narrative after reading Henry Bellamann’s stunning novel Kings Row (1940) and immediately secured film rights. The story follows Parris Mitchell of small town America circa 1900 as he sees the idyllic and pristine veneer of his Midwest town slowly stripped bare before his eyes with a grim and damning commentary, which included sadism, suicide, homosexuality, insanity, euthanasia, and murder. When compared to the novel, the film is tame, as the Hays Code censored most of the more sordid and controversial elements of the plot. Nevertheless the film did find its day in the sun both commercially and critically, earning three Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography.
Korngold’s Warner Brothers contract gave him first choice of new projects and he was very much attracted to the psychology and complexity of this character driven drama. What resulted was one of the finest scores he ever composed, which was at once sumptuous, melodically rich, and full of heartache and nostalgia. What is remarkable is that he wrote twelve themes, one for each character, as well as numerous secondary motifs. The manner in which he weaves his themes together, varies their expression, and joins them with exquisite contrapuntal writings offers testimony to his compositional gift and mastery of his craft. In many ways Kings Row is, from a compositional standpoint, perhaps the most satisfying, and best score he ever composed.
The rousing heraldic fanfare of the “Main Title” by horns nobile – clearly the inspiration for John Williams’s main title from Star Wars! – may perhaps be the greatest film opening ever, is iconic and has passed into legend. It represents the town itself and the way Korngold varies its orchestrations, and articulation in regards to tempo and key is masterful. The theme also concludes the film, with its inspiring melody achieving a truly sublime communion with the poem “Invictus”. Also noteworthy is that Parris’ grandmother’s theme offers a warm and tender beauty, which incorporates within its construct, phrasing from the Main Theme. Both the town and his grandmother are deeply important to Parris, and Korngold making them melodically kindred, is genius. This score epitomizes the heights that film score art can achieve. With our current state of affairs we are thankful if we even get a main theme, Korngold provided twelve, each with beautiful melodies. Their interplay, variation and juxtaposition are masterful an illustrative of compositional brilliance. I thank Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly for the wonderful restoration, and I highly recommend this score as an essential part of your collection.
For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the rousing and now iconic Main Title, which is included in a suite performed under the baton of Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJwa9mX0bxA
Buy the Kings Row soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title/The School/Parris and Cassie/Grandmother/Cassie’s Party/Louise’s Party and Drake/Icehouse (10:19)
- Operation/Farewell – Parris Returns/Parris Goes to Dr. Tower (4:57)
- Winter/Grandmother’s Last Will/Parris, Cassie, Drake and Louise/Dr. Gordon/Drake’s Exit (6:02)
- Seduction/Drake’s Home/Dreaming Voices (3:52)
- Grandma and Anna/Orchard – Dr. Tower (5:09)
- Poco Agitato (Cancer)/Love Scene/Grandmother Dies/Sunset/Parris Packing/Cassie/All Is Quiet/Next Morning (11:39)
- Dr. Tower’s House/Dr. Gordon (2:25)
- Farewell – Randy/Flirt/Vienna – Happy New Year/Randy and Drake/Louise (7:45)
- Drake Is Mad/Bank/Sale – Newspaper/Randy’s Father/Railroad Station (6:54)
- Randy/Accident/Poco Adagio (Amputation)/Dr. Gordon and Louise/Drake Awakes/Vienna University (6:09)
- Vienna/Letters Across The Ocean (4:59)
- Parris Comes Back/Poco Solemne (Kings Row I)/Mrs. Gordon/Louise’s Bedroom/Dissolve (4:21)
- Kings Row II/Elise/Beethoven’s Pathetique/Randy Weeps/Parris’s Letter/Parris – Elise/Invictus/End Cast (9:38)
Running Time: 84 minutes 33 seconds
Film Score Monthly FSMCD-10-15 (1942/2007)
Music composed and conducted by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Orchestrations by Hugo Friedhofer, Ray Heindorf, Bernhaud Kaun and Milan Roder. Score produced by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Leo F. Forbstein. Album produced by Lukas Kendall.