Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS – Roger Edens, Georgie Stoll, Conrad Salinger

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS – Roger Edens, Georgie Stoll, Conrad Salinger

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Author Sally Benson wrote a series of popular short stories in the New Yorker Magazine under the title “5135 Kensington,” which were based on her own real-life experience. She later expanded into a novel titled Meet Me In St. Louis, which was published in 1942. MGM believed the family novel would translate well to the big screen and so purchased the film rights. Arthur Freed was assigned production with a $1.885 million budget, Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoff were hired to write the screenplay, and Vincent Minnelli was given the reins to direct. A fine cast was assembled, including Judy Garland as Esther Smith, Margaret O’Brien as “Tootie” Smith, Mary Astor as Mrs. Anna Smith, Leon Ames as Mr. Alonzo Smith, Lucille Bremer as Rose Smith, Tom Drake as John Truitt, and Marjorie Main as Katie.

The story is set in St. Louis in 1903, in the year leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair. It follows the life of Alonzo and Anna Smith, and their four daughters – Rose, Esther, Agnes and Tootie. The family loves St. Louis, but tension emerges when Alonzo reveals his company has transferred him to New York City just as Esther falls in love with new neighbor Johnny. The story follows the family through a series of seasonal vignettes, which culminates with the grand opening of the St. Louis World Fair. The film was a commercial success, earning a profit of $4.671 million. Critics praised the film and it earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song, and Best Music Score for a Musical Picture. A special Academy Award, Juvenile Award, was awarded to Margaret O’Brien.

Composer Roger Edens had acquainted himself well on a prior Judy Garland musical, “Strike Up the Band,” in 1940, and was brought in to provide the instrumental underscore with Georgie Stoll conducting and Conrad Salinger leading the orchestration team. Edens understood that for musicals, the underscore needs to link the various musical numbers and sustain the musical’s narrative flow, often incorporating some of the song melodies as leitmotifs. What was unusual about this latest musical was the fact that there were a significant number of crucial scenes in which a song was not centerpiece. As such Edens and Salinger composed a significant number of instrumental set pieces totaling nearly thirty-one minutes of music.

For their soundscape, the titular song Meet Me in St. Louis, music by Conrad Salinger and Kerry Mills, with lyrics by Andrew B. Sterling serves as the musical’s main theme with its melody incorporated into the underscore. The song “The Boy Next Door,” music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, serves as an aspirational Love Theme, which speaks to Esther’s yearning for her handsome next door neighbor John. Its melody is also infused into the underscore for scenes of intimacy between our young lovers. The grand Main Title fanfare also reprises throughout the film for dramatic statements highlighting important events in the Smith family’s lives. A number of folk songs and Christmas carols were also woven into the score’s tapestry including; “Skip to My Lou,” “Goodbye, My Lady Love” by Joseph E. Howard, “Little Brown Jug” Joseph Winner, “Turkey in the Straw,” “Down by the Old Bull and Bush” by Harry von Tilzer, “Home Sweet Home” by H. R. Bishop, “Auld Lang Syne,” “Aura Lee” by George R. Poulon, “Narcissus” by Ethelbert Nevin, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, and “The First Noel”. Cues coded (*) contain music not found on the album.

“Main Title” offers a wonderful score highlight, which perfectly sets the tone of the film. Grand fanfare declarations support the display of the MGM studio logo and usher in at 0:13 chorus singing the refrain of the titular song, which supports the film title and roll of the opening credits. At 0:40 we segue romantically into the melody from the song “The Boy Next Door”. At 1:30 warm familial fanfare takes us into the film proper as we see the Smith house, one of many on this tree lined street. Edens offers a happy, free flowing musical narrative as we see the street alive with children playing, people strolling, carriages and delivery wagons. “Meet Me In St. Louis” reveals little Agnes Smith arriving home from swimming and heading upstairs singing in an untrained child’s voice the refrain to the whimsical titular song. At 0:24 grandpa takes up a reprise of the refrain as Agnes waits for him to exit the bathroom. He exits and continues to sing as he merrily dances across the floor. At 1:08 the refrain is transferred to Ester and chorus as she arrives home from playing tennis.

In “John Truett” (*) Rose comes home and alerts Agnes the handsome young man she likes is on his front lawn. Strings tenero offer a yearning musical narrative as they gaze at the lad, however the music dissipates in disappointment as he turns and walks into his house. “The Boy Next Door” offers a wonderful romantic highlight. It reveals Esther, who is smitten by the handsome boy, thinking of John and singing an aspirational song so full of longing. At 2:09 we flow into a string borne rendering of the song, which flows as a danza romantico as she dances, closing tenderly with her singing a reprise of the last stanza.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” reveals sisters Rose and Esther happily singing a duet of the titular song, accompanied by Rose playing the piano. Their enjoyment however is shutdown by their father who arrives home tired and angry from work. “Getting Ready for the Party” reveals Rose inviting John to a party for her brother Alonzo Jr., who is leaving to go to Princeton. Edens offers a playful passage by spritely strings and bubbly woodwinds. The musical narrative is sustained as Rose and Esther chit chat upstairs. Strings romantico join at 0:55 as Esther sees John below. And as she descends the stairs to join the party prancing strings animato carry her progress. She feigns knowing him, introduces herself, and the steals him away carried by mischievous strings. Inside Ida plays “Narcissus” on trumpet (not on the album). “Skip To My Lou” offers a wonderful festive score highlight. We open with a live band playing the spirited folk song “Turkey in the Straw,” which ushers in at 0:11 Lon singing the playful, bouncy song “Skip To My Lou”. Soon he is joined in singing by Esther as she and John begin dancing happily. As they dance the two songs entwine for a lively musical narrative full of fun. “Under The Bamboo Tree” reveals Tootie awakened by the party noise and coming downstairs, insisting on singing with her sister. With Rose accompanying on the piano the two sisters sing the playful song, concluding at 1:11 with a Vaudvillesque dance.

“Saying Goodnight” offers a beautiful romantic score highlight. It reveals Esther clearly smitten with John. She entreats him to accompany her turning off the lights as she is afraid of mice. Edens supports the intimacy with strings gentile and woodwinds delicato draped with subtle romantic auras sparkling adornment synced to turning off the gas switches. At 1:47 a harp glissando supports Esther humming the melody of “The Boy Next Door” song, which ushers in a more romantic musical narrative. We flow seamlessly into “Over The Banister” as Esther sings this tender romantic song on a stair landing as she and John gaze lovingly at each other. “The Trolley Song” offers the score’s legendary song highlight, one of the finest performances in musical cinematic history, and a shining gem in Judy Garland’s crown. We see Esther anxiously waiting for John to arrive to accompany her on the trolley ride to the fairgrounds. Quentin escorts her up as the trolley must depart. Strings energico launch the trolley and usher in the iconic song performance, which features Esther and chorus.

“All Hallow’s Eve” reveals a still shot of the Smith house with the caption “Autumn 1903”. Edens and Salinger sow a misterioso of uncertainty replete with subtle lurking danger. At 1:05 pizzicato strings support the costumed kids’ footfalls as the scare Katie in the kitchen. The misterioso resumes with mounting tension as the girls walk outside. At 2:13 a crescendo of terror shrieks as we see people tossing wood and old furniture on a large street fire. At 2:33 the kids all turn and begin to slowly back away as Agnes and Tootie approach wearing their costumes and masks. At 3:01 sliding strings support the two removing their masks and identifying themselves. The music surges with energy and aggression as the kids set off for a night of mischief.

In “The Most Horrible One” Tootie is ordered by the kids to ‘flour bomb’ the Braukoffs, which she departs to do reluctantly supported by a playful bassoon and eerie tremolo violins. The musical narrative’s tension and plodding pace accelerate as she walks to the Braukoffs, replete with scary stingers as everything she passes, including a horse frightens her. At 1:01 grim horns sound as she reaches the Braukoff house, carrying her walk to the front porch, building on a crescendo of fear as she peers at 1:37 through the window to see the Braukoff’s inside. Tension slowly builds as she reaches the door and rings the doorbell, swelling at 2:08 as Mr. Braukoff opens the door and shouts “Well!” Tension crests and a string stab at 2:18 supports her saying she hates him as she throws flour in his face. A comedic musical narrative follows as Mr. Braukoff laughs off the prank as his dog licks up the flour. Desperate strings of flight carry Tootie as she scurries away, subsiding at 2:58 as she reaches the safety of Agnes and the other kids. She is praised as “The Most Horrible One” as she ‘killed’ someone alone, single-handed, and at 3:29 a fierce celebratory crescendo erupts as she tosses a chair into the fire, having vanquished her personal banshee. Later at the Smith house at 3:33 Esther and Rose hear Tootie scream and a descending contour of desperate strings of flight carry their search, until they find her at 4:03 and carry her home with warm comforting familial strings.

“Esther Runs To John” (*) reveals Esther running urgently to John after Tootie says she was injured fighting him off. Pizzicato strings energico propel her run to his house. She finds him on the porch, accuses him of bullying her sister and repeatedly hits him. Edens unleashes a torrent of orchestral violence, which subsides and returns to the pizzicato strings motif as Esther runs back to her house, leaving an incredulous John wondering what the hell just happened. In “The Truth Revealed” (*) Esther returns home and learns the truth that John was only trying to protect Tootie and Agnes after they put a cloth stuffed mannequin on the trolley tracks to derail the trolley. Esther is appalled and grieving strings carry her back to John to apologize. Runs of pizzicato strings support him one by one revealing his battle wounds from her. As they reconcile the musical narrative warms and gains tenderness led by a solo violin d’amore. We evolve into a romance for strings with harp adornment as he asks her to help him turn off the lights. Yet instead, he grasps her and suddenly kisses her, which causes her to melt in his arms and then depart, clearly overwhelmed. Back home swooning strings support her dreamy eyed state of romantic bliss as her family takes notice.

“You And I” offers a heart-warming romantic score highlight. Alonzo Smith Sr. announces he has accepted a new position in the company and will be moving the family to New York City, a disclosure vociferously opposed by the rest of the family. After the kids depart a saddened Anna goes to the piano to diffuse the tension and begins playing their love song “You and I”. “Winter In St. Louis” reveals a still shot of the Smith house with the caption “Winter 1903” supported by horns full of familial warmth. At 0:11 a musical narrative full of delight and adorned with sleigh bells supports the sight of the Smith family playing in the snow as horse-drawn sleighs pass by the house. In “I Hate Basketball” John comes by saying he has to cancel as he lost track of time playing basketball and the shop closed before he could pick up his tuxedo. Esther is despondent and strings tristi join with an aching flute to offer a musical narrative full of heartbreak and disappointment leading Esther to run to her bedroom sobbing. At 1:20 playful strings enter as Rose suggests their brother escort both of them. She refuses and Rose departs to speak to their mother. At 1:56 warm and soothing paternal strings enter and join with the melody of the heartfelt Civil War song “Aura Lee” as Grandpa arrives and takes the sobbing Esther in his embrace. At 2:41 a great burden if lifted and fanciful strings flow with delight as grandpa advises that he has a tuxedo and that he will escort her to the dance.

“Under The Anheuser Bush” reveals a festive social with everyone having a great time as we see a parade of dance tunes propelling the scene with Rose and Esther dancing with a variety of partners. The parade of songs includes the happy go lucky “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” at 0:39 we flow into the waltz-like “Down at the Old Bull and Bush”. “The Dance Continues” (*) with the festive “Little Brown Jug,” the tender “Home, Sweet Home” rendered as a valzer gentile, and closing with a wistful Auld Lang Syne also rendered as a waltz. Grandpa and Esther waltz around a large Christmas tree, yet when she reappears from behind, she is joyous as we see her dancing with John as the melody blossoms. “Esther Accepts” offers a score highlight full of romantic longing. Outside after the party quivering woodwinds and strings tristi offer a musical narrative full of love’s longing with a romance for strings as Esther weeps to John. She is in heartache, as this will be her last day in St. Louis, and she does not want to leave him. The “Boy Next Door” melody joins as he fills her with happiness by proposing, which would allow her to stay as his wife as they begin a life together in love. Slowly the reality of the situation enters as she is not yet of age to marry and sadness slowly seeps into the musical narrative joined by ethereal chorus and Christmas chimes at 3:28 as they wish each other Merry Christmas, embrace and Esther departs supported by the melody of “The First Noel”.

“Tootie’s Music Box” reveals Esther’s return home supported by a music box rendering of the Christmas carol “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. She finds Tootie awake grinding the music box while waiting for Santa Claus, supported by warm strings tenero taking up the carol melody as the two sisters share a tender moment together. At 0:59 the melody from the Christmas carol “The First Noel” joins. We close as we began with a tender string borne rendering of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. In “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” the tender and intimate moment shared by the sisters becomes heartfelt as Esther begins singing the carol to Tootsie supported by the music box. In Tootie’s Grief” she runs off in tears carried by the melody of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which becomes impassioned as she runs outside and begins destroying all the family’s snow people. Yet at 1:13 the melody slowly warms and becomes hopeful as Esther assuages Tootie’s anxiety of leaving the world she knows in St. Louis as their father listens from the open upstairs window. We close with ethereal glockenspiel as a contemplative Mr. Smith closes the window and ponders his family’s future.

“Father Ponders the Future” (*) reveals him descending the stairs carried by strings full of regret as we see the family’s packed belongings. Glockenspiel adornment carries Esther and Tootsie upstairs as Alonzo continues his walk. A wistful musical narrative unfolds as he sits and lights a cigar. Slowly, yet with increasing strength the melody for “Meet Me in St. Louis” swells as his eyes light up in realization that St. Louis is their true home. The music stops as he yells for Anna and all the other family members to come join him. He informs them that he has decided that the family is going to stay in St. Louis. Warren then enters the house and declares to everyone that he and Rose are getting married.

“Merry Christmas” (*) reveals the family realizing it’s Christmas and they decide to open presents supported by a heartfelt rendering of the Christmas carol “The First Noel”. “Spring 1904” (*) reveals a still shot of the Smith house with the caption “Spring 1904” supported by the film’s opening fanfare. We see the sisters all dressed in white with Rose and Esther boarding a carriage with their beaus as a fanciful, musical narrative of happiness unfolds. The rest of the family, who are also wearing their finest clothes, board a separate carriage. “Finale” reveals Tootsie giving the coachman their destination; the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. Strings animato joined by trumpet bravura propel them on the journey. At 0:08 we see the fairgrounds supported by a festive, carnivalesque musical energy. At 2:23 grand fanfare reale resound as the massive exhibition is illuminated in an awesome lighting display. As Esther and John watch with amazement the fanfare dramatico ushers in an elegant, sweeping statement of the “Meet Me In St. Louis” melody rendered in splendid waltz form, which culminates in a grand orchestral flourish to conclude the film.

I would like to thank George Feltenstein and MGM Records for the premier release of the wonderful Hollywood musical, “Meet Me In St. Louis”. Although 21st century audio standards were not achieved, the mastering and stereophonic restoration was well done and the album offers a wonderful and rewarding listening experience. The composer team of Edens and Salinger were tasked with the usual challenges that face composers writing the underscore for a music – sustaining the film’s musical flow and pacing by weaving the many songs into a cohesive narrative. The song composers and lyricists created seven songs for the 112-minute film, which required nearly thirty-one minutes of score to create a cogent, free-flowing musical narrative. The heartfelt and folksy titular song was masterfully conceived, perfectly capturing the film’s emotional core. “The Trolley Song” has become a cinematic legend with its infectious energy and happiness, offering one of Judy Garland’s most iconic moments in her career. Folks, Edens and Salinger composed eleven set pieces for extended scenes, which perfectly aligned with the seven songs offered, providing the necessary romance, happiness familial warmth, and mystery needed for this classic American tale. Judy Garland’s sterling vocals are timeless and when she sings you feel her very essence in every note. I consider this Oscar nominated score one of the finest Hollywood musicals of the Golden Age and I highly recommend you purchase this premier recording for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the iconic “The Trolley Song”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwP6kNIDg30

Buy the Meet Me in St. Louis soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:02)
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (written by Kerry Mills and Andrew B. Sterling, performed by Joan Carroll, Harry Davenport, and Judy Garland) (1:24)
  • The Boy Next Door (written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, performed by Judy Garland) (3:28)
  • Meet Me in St. Louis, Reprise (written by Kerry Mills and Andrew B. Sterling, performed by Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer) (1:56)
  • Getting Ready for the Party (1:36)
  • Skip To My Lou (traditional, performed by Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer) (2:25)
  • Under the Bamboo Tree (written by Robert Cole, performed by Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien) (1:37)
  • Saying Goodnight (3:31)
  • Over the Bannister (traditional, performed by Judy Garland and Tom Drake) (1:26)
  • The Trolley Song (written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, performed by Judy Garland) (4:04)
  • Boys and Girls Like You and Me (written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, performed by Judy Garland) (2:16)
  • All Hallow’s Eve (4:19)
  • The Most Horrible One (4:25)
  • You and I (written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, performed by Arthur Freed and Denny Markas) (2:40)
  • Winter in St. Louis (0:44)
  • I Hate Basketball (3:24)
  • Under the Anheuser Bush (1:40)
  • Esther Accepts (3:51)
  • Tootie’s Music Box (1:46)
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, performed by Judy Garland) (2:37)
  • Tootie’s Grief (1:57)
  • Finale (3:32)

Running Time: 57 minutes 40 seconds

MGM Records 305123 (1944/1994)

Music composed by Roger Edens. Conducted by Georgie Stoll. Performed by the MGM Studio Orchestra and Chorus. Orchestrations by Conrad Salinger, Sidney Cutner, Robert Franklyn, Wally Heglin and Joseph Nussbaum. Additional music by Lennie Hayton and Calvin Jackson. Recorded and mixed by Frederick Herbert and M. J. McLaughlin. Score produced by Georgie Stoll. Album produced by George Feltenstein.

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