KORNGOLD: Captain Blood / STEINER: The Three Musketeers / YOUNG: Scaramouche (Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Klaus Bischke/ Richard Kaufman) (Naxos: 8.557704)
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Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995)
The King's Thief 1955 Reconstructed by Christopher Palmer
Victor Young (1900-1956)
Scaramouche 1952 Reconstructed by William Stromberg
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Captain Blood 1935 Reconstructed by John Morgan
Max Steiner (1888-1971)
The Three Musketeers 1935 Arranged by John Morgan
It is entirely appropriate that this recording of musicfor epic adventure films should include Captain Blood(1935) because it was with that greatly successfulswashbuckler that the age of romantic symphonicmovie music in Hollywood began. Erich WolfgangKorngold, acclaimed for his operas and concert works,had arrived from Vienna the previous year to arrangeand conduct the Mendelssohn score for the WarnerBros. filming of A Midsummer Night's Dream andstudio executives were so impressed with his workthey asked him if he would be interested in writing anoriginal score for Captain Blood. Korngold wasintrigued with the idea and accepted, thus beginningone of the most influential careers in film musiccomposition.
Based on Rafael Sabatini's 1922 novel, CaptainBlood is set in the brutal reign of England's KingJames II (circa 1688) and tells of a young physicianwho is falsely accused of treason and shipped off toJamaica as a slave. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) leads arevolt among his fellow prisoners and, after seizing aship at Port Royal, becomes a pirate. By this time hehas also fallen in love with Arabella (Olivia deHavilland), niece of the Jamaican governor. Blood andhis crew plunder shipping in the Caribbean until suchtime as Blood receives a commission to serve in thenavy of King William - James having been ousted - tofight in England's war against France. After defeatinga French attack on Jamaica, Blood is elected thegovernor with Arabella his obvious bride-to-be.
Captain Blood was an immediate success andmade an overnight star of young Errol Flynn. With itssweeping score, full of romantic melodies and excitingdescriptive music, the film also made Korngold aHollywood star. He signed a contract with WarnerBros. and over the next dozen years wrote fifteenscores that proved film to be an avenue for seriouscomposition. Among those scores, Korngold composedwhat most consider to be two other classics inthe realm of swashbucklers - The Adventures of RobinHood (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940), both againstarring Flynn. Indeed, in the case of both Flynn andKorngold, Captain Blood was a matter of being in theright place at the right time with the right talents.
Besides igniting Korngold's career in Hollywood,Captain Blood made it clear to filmmakers forgenerations to come that, to truly succeed, swashbucklingfilms demanded athletic scoring from mastercomposers. The films required throbbing love themesfor heroines viewed from afar, orchestral fireworks forany amount of dueling and swordplay, proper pompand circumstance to accompany persons of rank andprivilege and, finally, a measure of humor to addhumility to the swashbuckling heroes themselves.
Some of the best swashbuckling scores fromHollywood composers include Alfred Newman'sBlack Swan (1942), Max Steiner's Adventures of DonJuan (1949) and Victor Young's Blackbeard the Pirate(1952). Ironically, Korngold was reluctant to take acomplete bow for Captain Blood, partially becausebrief bits of Liszt were employed when time ran shortin scoring sessions, plus a couple of engaging cues byKorngold orchestrator Milan Roder. In the end,Korngold insisted he be credited only with musicaladaptations, even though he scored nearly the entirefilm with original music. Such creative integritywould prove rare in this field.
Like Korngold, the Hungarian-born Miklos Rozsawas able to maintain his reputation as a composer ofconcert music and chamber works while alsobecoming a master of film music composition. Rozsawrote some ninety film scores of every kind but it waswith historical and biblical vehicles like Quo Vadis(1951), Ivanhoe (1952), Ben-Hur (1959) and El Cid(1960) that he excelled. In 1955, while under contractto MGM, he scored The King's Thief, which proved tobe yet another example of a score being better than thepicture for which it was written. Loosely based on theadventures of Captain Thomas Blood, the man whomanaged to steal the crown jewels from the Tower ofLondon in 1671, the hero (Edmund Purdom) elects toserve the cause of King Charles II (George Sanders)when he realizes the king's chief minister, the Duke ofBrampton (David Niven), intends to gain control ofEngland. Such plans are, of course, foiled but not withthe flair that might have made The King's Thief amemorable film. Be that as it may, Rozsa provided aperfect period setting and a suggestion of theexcitement that might have been.
Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers is themost filmed of all classic novels with more thanfifteen European and American versions to date. The1935 RKO production is not among the best, largelyowing to the miscasting of the unexciting Walter Abelas D'Artagnan and character actors too old to bemusketeers. The costuming and swordplay, however,were splendid. But what makes this film reallyworthwhile is the music score by Max Steiner, whosepioneering ways in film music pre-date evenKorngold, particularly in such RKO scores as KingKong (1933) and The Most Dangerous Game (1932).
The spirit of the musketeers and their 'All for One andOne for All' gallantry bristles in the music along withthe romance and adventurous action furnished byDumas. Steiner, who had won an Oscar for hislandmark scoring of The Informer in 1935, realisedthis filming of the durable classic needed all the helpit could get. Just how well he succeeded is cheerfullyapparent in this suite expertly put together by JohnMorgan after a thorough study of the Steiner score. Itis doubtful if any composer will ever capture the elanand bravado of Dumas' musketeers better than didMax Steiner with this music. The spirited, quicktempomarch used in the film's remarkable fencingsequence is but one shining example.
No apology needs to be made for MGM'shandsome 1952 production of Scaramouche, whichhas the most important of all qualities needed forswashbucklers - a sense of flair, in this case buoyedby a lilting music score by Victor Young. MGMpurchased the film rights soon after the Sabatini novelwas published in 1921. A year later the public flockedto see the popular Ramon Novarro in a silent filmingof this spectacular tale of the adventures of a dashingnobleman in the years of the French Revolution. Ageneration later they lined up to see an even moresplendid Technicolor version with Stewart Granger asthe hero and Mel Ferrer as the villain. The hero, AndreMoreau, is a lighthearted playboy, supported by thestipends of his unknown father. When the paymentscease he finds he is the son of the deceased Duc deGavrillac, which is a complication because he is inlove with the beautiful Aline de Gavrillac (JanetLeigh). He retreats, assuming her to be his sister, andshe in turn is courted by the elegant Marquis deMaynes (Ferrer), reputedly the finest swordsman inFrance. The two men run afoul of each other in anargument, with Andre forced to make his escapebecause he cannot fence. He vows one day to haverevenge. In the meantime he hides out with atheatrical troupe and assumes the disguise of amasked clown called Scaramouche, all the whiletaking fencing lessons from a master swordsman. Thetroupe's leading actress, Lenore (Eleanor Parker), fallsin love with Andre but finds his heart is set only onAline. Eventually Andre challenges the marquis to aduel and beats him, but for some reason hesitates tokill him. It turns out the marquis is his half-brother,that Andre is not a Gavrillac and can therefore marryhis adored Aline.
A beautifully balanced film of romance andheroism