Film and the Philharmonic Sound Off in The Art of the Score: Film Week at Avery Fisher Hall

By Harry Haun
September 17, 2013

Playbill.com offers a look at the stories behind the songs featured in The Art of the Score: Film Week.  



April Fool's Day came a little late in 1968 for Alex North. April 3, the film composer settled into his seat at the Loew's Capitol for the New York premiere of "2001: A Space Odyssey," expecting success. It was his first score for Stanley Kubrick since providing "Spartacus" with its lush and lusty Oscar-nominated music.

In an opening downbeat, North's spirits went south. What he heard filling the film's first wordless 24 minutes was the rudest of awakenings, and it will be reprised Sept. 20-21 when that landmark sci-fi classic is unreeled at Avery Fisher Hall, to the live accompaniment of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Alan Gilbert.

Instead of the original score he commissioned, Kubrick retained the temporary track of classical music that he used to edit the picture. Behind North's back, that music married the images — the spinning motion of satellites in the extended space-station docking and lunar landing sequences dipping and gliding gracefully to waltzes — Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube" and Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra."

(Originally, Kubrick set the space-station sequence to the Scherzo from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's "Midsummer Night's Dream," but a friend suggested "The Blue Danube" might work better, and Kubrick re-edited the sequence accordingly.)

North was never notified of this game change, but Kubrick did head him off at the pass by telling him only sound effects would be used for the second half of the film.

Only 32 minutes of music were written for the 160-minute film, and North subsequently recycled them in his score for "The Shoes of the Fisherman," "Shanks" and "Dragonslayer." His "2001" score went unheard for 25 years until a friend — fellow composer Jerry Goldsmith — re-recorded it in 1993 for "Varese Sarabande."

John W. Waxman, whose Themes and Variations company has the world's largest library of film scores and makes sheet music available to orchestras for live performances with films, said North's 32-minute score has been performed live only once — a few years ago by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing tribute to film critic Roger Ebert.

"They asked him what his favorite films were, and '2001' was on the list," recalled Waxman, "so Richard Kaufman, who conducted a 'Friday Night at the Movies' series, arranged to give Alex's music an airing at last. It came as a total surprise to Roger, who had not heard of Alex's '2001' contribution."

In addition to Kubrick's "2001," scores for the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the Coen brothers will be spotlighted in The Art of the Score: Film Week at the Philharmonic, a program for which Alec Baldwin served as artistic advisor. Baldwin will host the first of the two Hitchcock evenings (Sept. 17), and Sam Waterston hosts the second (Sept. 18). Constantine Kitsopoulos will conduct the Philharmonic in a series of Hitchcock scenes scored by Lyn Murray ("To Catch a Thief"), Dmitri Tiomkin ("Strangers on a Train," "Dial M for Murder") and Bernard Herrmann ("Vertigo") — plus a scene titled "Hitchcock: By Himself," accompanied by Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette," the theme music from the director's television series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

Baldwin will conclude the series by moderating a Saturday afternoon program called "The Mind, the Music, and Moving Images" (Sept. 21 at 4 PM) at John Jay College's Gerald W. Lynch Theatre. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, composer Carter Burwell and neuroscientist Aniruddh D. Patel will explore the relationship between music, film, the brain and human emotion, and the creative process behind the choice and composition of film music and how it impacts the mind. A handy Coen case-in-point: "Inside Llewyn Davis," premiering at the New York Film Festival.

On the surface of it, Alfred Hitchcock films don't appear to be a vast reservoir of rich film music, but look again. One of his films, "Spellbound," introduced the eerie sound of the instrument the theremin to movie scores, and its haunting (to say the least!) love theme won Miklos Rozsa an Academy Award. It is so insistent, it upstages background music.

Another, "The [Second] Man Who Knew Too Much," provided Doris Day with a signature song, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans' Oscar-winning "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)." Of course, doing it in a Hitchcock context meant she had to sing it at the top of her lungs to alert her kidnapped son help was on the way.

Marlene Dietrich got herself a signature song from a Hitchcock film, too: "The Laziest Gal in Town," composed by none other than Cole Porter! And only Hitchcock could make "The Merry Widow Waltz" and "And the Band Played On" seem sinister, pointing the way toward murder in "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Strangers on a Train."

Music publisher Waxman likes to refer to himself as "a 'Rebecca' baby" since he happened to be born the same year his father, Franz Waxman, composed a memorable, Oscar-nominated score for Hitchcock's "Rebecca." His other Hitchcock scores: the also-nominated "Suspicion," "The Paradine Case" and "Rear Window."

Without a doubt, the most memorable musical flourish in a Hitch flick would have to be the shrieking strings of Bernard Herrmann that cued Anthony Perkins' jab-and-stab rampages in "Psycho." Like John Williams' hammering "Jaws" theme, it became a kind of musical shorthand in movie scores to indicate imminent danger ahead.

Herrmann was Hitchcock's composer of choice for eight consecutive films, from 1956's "The Trouble With Harry" to 1964's "Marnie" — his longest association with a composer. He was the on-camera conductor waving the baton over "The Storm Clouds Cantata" and cuing the cymbal crash that would drown out an assassin's gunshot in the climactic Royal Albert Hall sequence in the 1956 remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Australian composer Arthur Benjamin penned that piece of music for the original 1934 movie, and Hitchcock duplicated the scene shot for shot.

Technically, Herrmann did a ninth Hitchcock score (for 1966's "Torn Curtain"), but the director dumped it, substituted another and shunned the composer thereafter. The composer got the last laugh, posthumously for both him and Hitchcock, with the reissue and reassessment of "Vertigo." Herrmann's brooding masterpiece of a score was suddenly hailed as the true star of the film. Initially knocked when first released in 1958, the picture was critically cheered as one of the great ones. In fact, the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of critics ranked it the greatest film of all time, unseating "Citizen Kane," which had occupied the top spot since the poll started in 1952.

The composer of "Citizen Kane," not so incidentally, is Bernard Herrmann.