TIOMKIN: Red River (Inc. Betta International/ Moscow Symphony Chorus/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra/ William Stromberg) (Naxos: 8.557699)
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Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979)
Red River Film Score, 1948Howard Hawks produced Red River, a saga of thecattle drives of old. The star [was] John Wayne, whocan move in the grand style among cowboys andrustlers, a lord of the prairie. So there I was, musicallyin the middle of the West again. A fellow Russian saidto me: 'How can you, a Russian from the St PetersburgConservatory, write music for a Western?''Well,' I replied in Russian, 'Did Johann Strauss,when he wrote 'The Blue Danube,' know how toswim?
- Dimitri Tiomkin
Ever westward, from the banks of the wide Americanrivers--the Missouri, the Ohio, the Mississippi and theShenandoah--to the expanse of the Great Plains, to thesweeping vistas of Monument Valley, to the flatlandsof Texas and the Chisholm trail...
And then beyond lies a continent of legendaryscores for Hollywood Westerns, a topography of mythsand legends.
Some are signposts, Garden of Evil (1954), Tributeto a Bad Man (1956), Bite the Bullet (1975) and thetelevision mini-series, Lonesome Dove (1989). Thenothers are huge territories marked with towering mesasand massive cliffs--Max Steiner Territory, AlfredNewman Territory.
And Dimitri Tiomkin Territory, where the RedRiver T brand--T for Tiomkin--rules over anexpansive range of great film music that includes Duelin the Sun (1946), The Big Sky (1952), High Noon(1952), Giant (1956), Night Passage (1957), Gunfightat the O.K. Corral (1957) and Rio Bravo (1959).
Here on this frontier where longitude and latitudeintersect, three great scores triangulate as cornerstonesfor assessing any music for Hollywood Westerns: MaxSteiner's The Searchers (1956), Alfred Newman'sHow the West was Won (1962), and arguably thegreatest, Dimitri Tiomkin's Red River (1948). All otherscores for Westerns surely follow these three greatworks in both quality and cinematic application.
These scores are prime examples of music asnarrative literature. Proceeding from the premise thatall film music is linked to cinematic narrative, then allmusic for films works best as orchestral narrative. Straytoo far into the abstract and the music becomes ananonymous irrelevance when experienced away fromits source--or worse, it becomes a musical lampoon ofcounterpoint. On the other hand, a great film musiccomposer can wed the abstract to specific orchestraldescriptions and cinematic flow--mindful ofsymbolism and narrative--and create a truly rich,rewarding and exciting listening experience quite apartfrom the film.
An unabashed, self-admitted showman, eager toplease audiences, Dimitri Tiomkin became increasinglyadept at this--and in this respect, Red River is his firstreally great personal score, the first to truly bear hisbold stylistic signature as he became one of the mostrenowned maestros of Hollywood's Golden Age ofMotion Picture Music.... Tiomkin has always had the ability to composemusic which pulses and surges, and he has attemptedwhenever possible to be involved with his films whilethey were being made, rather than wait until theywere completed before writing his music. Hischaracteristic of writing powerfully accented rhythmsin the bass clef is virtually a trademark, and what isalso characteristic of Tiomkin is his love of being afilm celebrity ... if nothing else, it has helped bringattention to the otherwise somewhat neglected role ofbeing a film composer ...
- Tony Thomas
Film Score: The View from the Podium
Born in the Ukraine in 1894, Dimitri Tiomkinspent much of his boyhood at his mother's side at thepiano as she taught him the power and art of music. Byage thirteen, he had entered the prestigious StPetersburg Conservatory and studied piano with FelixBlumenfeld. There, Tiomkin came under the influenceof Alexander Glazunov, the renowned Russianclassical composer who taught the young mancounterpoint and harmony.
As a student, Tiomkin earned money playing pianofor silent films, an after-school job that surely had animpact on his later years in life as a film musiccomposer. What better way to understand therelationship between film, music and an audience thanby accompanying the silent images on that larger-thanlifesilver screen? It was an experience that stayed withhim the rest of his life--and gave Tiomkin a rareappreciation of that magical sublimation of sight, soundand music that can occur when each facet of thecinematic experience is melded into one memorableemotion.
Like so many Russians, he emigrated to WesternEurope after the wrenching violence and politics of theRussian Revolution. The young Tiomkin was featuredin a variety of playbills, including being a piano soloistwith the great Berlin Philharmonic. Traveling on toParis, the City of Lights, he became popular forperforming contemporary Russian, German and Frenchmusical works.
And in that extraordinary creative milieu of art andlife, Tiomkin first encountered a lifelong love--American jazz--and gave the brilliant Europeanpremi?¿re of Gershwin's Concerto in F major to ravesfrom critics and audiences alike.
Then Hollywood came knocking. Tiomkin soldseveral original jazz compositions to Metro GoldwynMayer. After playing Carnegie Hall and otherprestigious venues--as the Great Depression hit withfull force--Tiomkin and his first wife, Albertina Rasch,set out for Tinseltown, where they had been invited toproduce ballet numbers for films. But ever shrewd, hesoon saw an exceptional opportunity in film music, anew art for the new technology of talking motionpictures. Tiomkin composed a score for an earlyversion of Resurrection (1931) and a charmingadaptation of Alice in Wonderland (1933).Hollywood was still comparatively primitive. One dayI looked out my bedroom window and saw a manrunning along the street and a policeman chasinghim and shooting. The fugitive fell and a splotch ofred appeared on the pavement. Wonderful, Ithought--Hollywood realism. Then I noticed therewasn't any camera ...
- Dimitri Tiomkin
Tiomkin's first great opportunity as a filmcomposer came in 1937, when a short, rapid-firecinematic genius named Frank Capra took a chance ona Russian composer to score a major epic--theColumbia Pictures production of James Hilton'spopular book, Lost Horizon. It was a creativebenchmark for Tiomkin and the beginning of a specialassociation with Capra: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939), Meet John Doe (1941) and It's a WonderfulLife (1946). (Capra, however, hedged his hard-eightthrow of the dice on Tiomkin by hiring Max Steiner toconduct the Lost Horizon score.) The bet paid off--themusic for Lost Horizon remains one of the greatestscores ever written for a film.At the Hollywood premi?¿re [of Lost Horizon], I metGeorge Gershwin going into the theater. \They tellme, Dimi, you have something special here," he said... During the picture, I sat behind him and soon, heturned and nodded, and gave the Broadway-Hollywood sign of excellence--thumb and forefingermaking a circle. That, I felt, was tops in criticism ...
Lost Horizon brought me offers from variousproducers including Sam Goldwyn ...
- Dimitri Tiomkin
Capra's influence on Tiomkin was considerable.
The director loved American music standards and folksongs. It was a powerful way to connect an idea and anemotion with audiences. "Buffalo Girls" marks themain title of It's a Wonderful Life; American anthemsscroll through Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Theunused end titles composed for Meet John Doe are themusical blueprints for Duel in The Sun (as well asperhaps an indication of woes to come on It's aWonderful Life). Tiomkin learned a lot from Capra andgained an extensive working knowledge of America'sfavorite music and folk songs. Bu