WAXMAN: Rebecca (Adriano/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Viktor Simcisko) (Naxos: 8.557549)
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Franz Waxman (1906-1967)
Rebecca Film Score, 1940
When asked which of the 144 films he scored inHollywood was his favourite, Franz Waxman alwaysreplied Rebecca. It was a challenging and rewardingassignment for the composer and his second film forproducer David O. Selznick. As with his first film forSelznick, The Young in Heart (1938), for whichWaxman received his first two Academy Awardnominations, he was 'on loan' to Selznick Internationalby Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to whom he was undercontract from 1936 to 1943.
Rebecca (1940) was the second of three films thatWaxman would score for Selznick (Alfred Hitchcock'sThe Paradine Case would follow in 1947) and the firstof four collaborations with the director (Waxman wouldagain be 'on loan' the following year to RKO forSuspicion, Joan Fontaine's next vehicle, and finally forRear Window in 1954).
Waxman's score for Rebecca was a milestone. Itsimpact on his musical style was so profound thatthroughout the rest of his 26-year career in Hollywoodhe would compose the music for at least half-a-dozenfilms of similar Gothic background, from Suspicion toElephant Walk as well as My Cousin Rachel (based onanother Daphne du Maurier bestseller).
At the request of the Standard Symphony (aforerunner of the popular Bell Telephone Hour radioseries) Waxman arranged his score from Rebecca intoa concert suite. The radio broadcast was one of the firstopportunities composers and producers had to exploitthe music from a film to publicise a motion picture.
This was the first of dozens of concert arrangementsthat Waxman completed of his music from films. TheRebecca Suite has achieved a world-wide concert-hallfollowing during the past half-century.
When Adriano first approached me regarding thisproject I thought how fortunate it was that the originalscores and parts had been preserved as part of the FranzWaxman Collection in the George Arents ResearchLibrary at Syracuse University New York, and the DavidO. Selznick Collection in the Harry Ramson HumanitiesResearch Center of the University of Texas at Austin.
Through the magic of the copying machine, the samescores and parts that were used on 8-10 March 1940 inCulver City, California to record the original soundtrackwere again on music stands on 8-11 November 1990 and30 January to 7 February 1991 in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Rebecca's running time is 2 hours and 12 minutesand the film contains 71 musical 'cues' (pieces ofmusic). Owing to time limitations only 72 of the 124minutes of music have been newly recorded. Whereproducer Selznick inserted music by other composers,such as Max Steiner's Little Lord Fauntleroy, those cueshave not been included. However where Selznick rerecordedWaxman's music from previous Waxmanscores it is represented here. Reel 4 Part 2 Mrs Danversis the best example. Scores and parts did not exist forthis cue, only notes in the original score that the musicwas taken in part from Waxman's scores for The Youngin Heart, \George Ann"; Trouble For Two (1936), "HeGoes to Court", and On Borrowed Time (1939), "Brinkis Back". Since this is such a key scene in the filmSteven R. Bernstein reconstructed the score from theoriginal soundtrack and the composer's notes. Adrianotranscribed the parts from his computer.
Conversely, the music for Beatrice, Reel 5 Part 3 onthe film's soundtrack, is not by Waxman; Selznick substitutedsubstitutedmusic by Steiner, but for this recording Adrianohas recorded the cue exactly as composed by Waxman.
The orchestrations are by Leonid Raab, JosephNussbaum and Waxman.
In his book The Composer in Hollywood, ChristopherPalmer discusses Rebecca:She is never seen, for she is dead: only maligninfluence can be felt, and the music helps us to feel it.
We are enveloped from the moment the main title opens- an ominous tread in the bass over a repeated note,string and woodwind figurations writhing in quasiimpressionisticmists, an imperious horn summons.
Then, as the credits come up over a series of dissolvesfrom one dream-like distorted view of the Manderleyestate to another, the 'Rebecca' theme is heard for thefirst time. Joan Fontaine's opening narration begins,'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again'.
Romantic-impressionist music creates a dream-like auraas the camera tracks forward up the deserted, overgrowndrive on which 'Nature had encroached in her stealthyinsidious way with long tenacious fingers.'This passageis based not on the 'Rebecca' theme but on anothershorter but pregnant motif associated with Manderleyalone and not with Rebecca.
For the 'Rebecca'problem does not really arise untila third of the picture is over, and Joan Fontaine isinstalled in Manderley as second wife to Max de Winter(Laurence Olivier). How to suggest the potency of thepast, of the evil and ghostly presence of the deadRebecca? Waxman's solution is the use of thenovachord, an electronic keyboard instrument with asound not unlike that of a Hammond organ. Now indisuse, it enjoyed huge popularity in the Golden Age.
Employed in a certain way its sound had supernaturalovertones. Every time Rebecca's name is mentioned, orher presence is invoked - almost invariably by thefrightening Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) - the'Rebecca' theme sounds on the novachord, its peculiarlyspooky sonority pointing us ever in the direction of theworld beyond the veil. (Mrs Danvers)When Joan Fontaine first stumbles across thedeserted beach house, the 'Rebecca' theme - as it werea musical monogram - overwhelms, telling us straightawaythat everything here is a relic of the dead woman,all preserved as it was at the time of her death. Andbecause the malevolent spirit of the drowned Rebeccalives on in Mrs Danvers, the novachord comes to standas a musical symbol for the latter also; its sinister purrseems to deepen the undercurrent of lesbianism andnecrophilia through which the past contrives to poisonthe present. It is a wonderful moment when the newMrs de Winter first penetrates the (implicitly forbidden)west wing of the mansion. This is Rebecca's wingwhere, again, everything has been left as she left it.
There the second Mrs de Winter encounters MrsDanvers, who tells her of Rebecca's bedroom, 'the mostbeautiful room in the house' with its windows lookingdown across lawns to the sea. We focus on the largedouble doors leading into Rebecca's quarters, and lyingthere in front of them is Jasper, her pet spaniel. Over asoft timpani pedal soft unmuted trombones (in themanner almost of a low growl) and novachord soundthe 'Rebecca' theme, and the effect is one of sotto vocetriumph: gloating, sadistic, sweet as honey.
Quite different is the transformation this sametheme undergoes in the finale. As de Winter andCrawley are driving home after establishing the realcause of Rebecca's death, they see a glow in the skythat they quickly surmise must be Manderley ablaze.
We close in on the burning building. The de Winters'love theme pulses through the orchestra as Max searchesfor his wife, reaching a climactically triumphant Amajor (one of the brightest of keys) as he finds her withJasper on a lead. Then we see Mrs Danvers still insidethe blazing west wing, darting wildly from one room toanother; as she does so the orchestra picks up the'Rebecca' theme and races ahead with it in the mannerof a mad waltz. But there is no escape for Mrs Danvers;and as she resigns herself, like Brunnhilde, to follow hermistress in death, the low brass in octaves proclaim the'Rebecca' theme tutta forza in broad augmentation.
The camera closes in for a final shot of the pillow slipwith the embroidered 'R', and a massive chordaltreatment of the musical 'R' has the last word.
[From: Christopher Palmer, The Composer in Hollywood,Marion Boyars, New York and London, 1990. Reprint