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Thursday, February 27. 2014
We do not seem to have very many Olympics fans, or even TV-watchers, among our commenters here. However, the closing ceremony music was by Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin*, a Russian Jewish composer who emigrated to America and became one of the most distinguished and best-loved music writers of Hollywood. He won a hallowed place in the pantheon of the most successful and productive composers in American film history, earning himself four Oscars and sixteen Academy Awards nominations.
The music was composed for a movie celebrating independent capitalist values as they developed and matured over 25 years in rural Texas. The movie was Giant with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Carol Baker. You can listen to some of the theme in the trailer below. Think Vlad Putin knows?
*Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin was born on May 10, 1894, in Kremenchug, Russia. His mother, Marie (nee Tartakovsky), was a Russian pianist and teacher. His father, Zinovi Tiomkin, was a renowned medical doctor. His uncle, rabbi Vladimir Tiomkin, was the first President of the World Zionist Union. Young Dimitri began his music studies under the tutelage of his mother. Then, at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he studied piano under Felix Blumenfeld and Isabelle Vengerova. He also studied composition under the conservatory's director, Alexander Glazunov, who appreciated Tiomkin's talent and hired him as a piano tutor for his niece. Soon Dimitri appeared on Russian stages as a child pianist prodigy and continued to develop into a virtuoso pianist.
Like other intellectuals in St. Petersburg, Tiomkin frequented the club near the Opera, called Stray Dog Café, where Russian celebrities, including directors Vsevolod Meyerhold and Nicolas Evreinoff, writers Boris Pasternak, Aleksei Tolstoy, Sergei Esenin, Anna Akhmatova, Nikolai Gumilev and Vladimir Mayakovsky, had their bohemian hangout. There Tiomlkin could be seen with his two friends, composer Sergei Prokofiev and choreographer Mikhail Fokin. At that time he also gained exposure and a keen interest in American music, including the works of Irving Berlin, ragtime, blues, and early jazz.
Tiomkin started his music career as a piano accompanist for Russian and French silent films in movie houses of St. Petersburg. When the famous comedian Max Linder toured in Russia, he hired Tiomkin to play piano improvisations for the Max Linder Show, and their collaboration was successful. He also provided classical piano accompaniment for the famous ballerina Tamara Karsavina. However, the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia caused dramatic political and economic changes. From 1917 to 1921 Tiomkin was a Red Army staff composer, writing scores for revolutionary mass spectacles at the Palace Square involving 500 musicians and 8000 extras, such as "The Storming of the Winter Palace" staged by Vsevolod Meyerhold and Nikolai Yevreinov for the third anniversary of the Communist Revolution.
In 1921 Tiomkin emigrated from Russia and moved to Berlin to join his father, who was working with the famous German biochemist Paul Ehrlich. In Berlin Tiomkin had several study sessions with Ferruccio Busoni and his circle. By 1922 Dimitri was well known for his concert appearances in Germany, often with the Berlin Philharmonic. Among his repertoire were pieces written for him by other composers. He also concertized in France. There, in Paris, Feodor Chaliapin Sr. convinced Tiomkin to emigrate to the United States. In 1925 Tiomkin got his first gig in New York: he became the main pianist for a Broadway dance studio. There he met and soon married the principal dancer/choreographer, Albertina Rasch. He also met composers George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern. In 1928 Tiomkin made a concert tour of Europe, introducing the works of Gershwin to audiences there. He gave the French premiere of Gershwin's "Piano Concerto in F" at the famed "L'Opera de Paris."
His Hollywood debut came in 1929, when MGM offered him a contract to score music for five films. His wife got a position as an assistant choreographer for some musical films. He also scored a Universal Pictures film, performed concerts in New York City and continued composing ballet music for his wife's dance work. He also continued writing American popular music and songs. He received further Broadway exposure with the Shuberts and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.. He produced his own play "Keeping Expenses Down," but it was a flop amidst the gloom of the Big Depression, and he once again returned to Hollywood in 1933. When he came back he was on his own. By that time Tiomkin was disillusioned with the intrigue and politics inside the Hollywood studio system. He already knew the true value of his musical talent, and chose to freelance with the studios rather than accepting a multi-picture contract. He became something of a crusader, pushing for better pay and residuals.
His independent personality was reflected in his music and business life: he was never under a long-term studio contract. Though MGM was the first to be acquainted with his services, Tiomkin next turned to Paramount for Alice in Wonderland (1933), another fine example of making music that he liked. Hollywood's most prominent independent composer, Tiomkin, thanks to his free-agent status, negotiated contractual terms to his benefit, which in turn benefited other musicians. He aggressively sought music publishing rights and formed his own ASCAP music publishing company, Volta Music Corporation, while remaining faithful to France-based performing rights organization SACEM. In Tiomkin's own words: "My fight is for dignity. Not only for composer, but for all artists responsible for picture." He also fought for employing qualified musicians regardless of their race.
As a composer classically trained at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Tiomkin was highly skilled in orchestral arrangements with complex brass and strings, but he was also thoroughly versed in the musical subtleties of America and integrated it into traditional European forms. His interest in the musical form resulted in his next score, for the operetta Naughty Marietta (1935), a popular musical that teamed Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. He also did his fair share of stock music arranging. Among his most successful partnerships was that with director Frank Capra, starting with Lost Horizon (1937), where Tiomkin used many innovative ideas, and received his first Academy Award nomination. The association with Capra lasted through three more famous films, culminating with It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
In 1937 Tiomkin became a naturalized American citizen. The next year he made his public conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. During the WWII years he wrote music for 12 military documentaries, earning himself a special decoration from the US Department of Defense. After the war he ventured into all styles of music for movies, ranging from mystery and horror to adventure and drama, such as his enchanting score, intricately worked around Claude Debussy's "Girl with the Flaxen Hair," for the haunting Portrait of Jennie (1948) and the energetic martial themes for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950). He scored three films for Alfred Hitchcock, perhaps the most inventive being for the tension-building Strangers on a Train (1951) with its out-of-control carousel finale.
He also worked with top directors in that exclusively American genre: the western. His loudest success was the original music for Duel in the Sun (1946) by King Vidor. For that film, Tiomkin wrote a lush orchestral score, trying to fulfill writer/producer David O. Selznick's request to "Make a theme for orgasm!" Tiomkin worked for several weeks, and composed a powerful theme culminating with 40 drummers. Selsnick was impressed, but commented: "This is not orgasm!" Tiomkin worked for one more month and delivered an even more powerful theme culminating with 100 voices. Selznick was impressed again, but commented: "This is not orgasm! This is not the way I f..k!" Tiomkin replied brilliantly, "Mister Selznick, you may f..k the way you want, but this is the way I f..k!" Selznick was convinced, and after that Tiomkin's music was fully accepted. In 1948 he wrote the score for one of the westerns with John Wayne, Red River (1948) by Howard Hawks. Wayne had Tiomkin's touch on five more movies into the 1960s.
Posted by Gwynnie in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 13:42 | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)
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To tell you the truth, what I remember most about the movie Giant is how badly they botched the state flag of Texas. The studio was (apparently) too cheap to actually buy large flags, and too smart to bother researching what the flag looked like. The music was probably the only thing that Texans liked about the movie.
Giant was a terrific movie. I remember not being impressed as a kid. It was too big for me to grasp all the themes.
It plays much better with age. It does stand out as a movie which captures the American spirit in ways Hollywood is incapable of doing anymore.
Tiomkin also did,among many others, Rio Bravo. The music over the opening credits is wonderful
"We do not seem to have very many Olympics fans, or even TV-watchers, among our commenters here"
Thank you for the fine compliment.
BTW, The Guns of Navarone was another fine effort, but for real "classic" movie fun, give a listen to his work on the original "The Thing" (From Another World). It takes talent to jump from genre to genre with such excellence...
His best-known work, except maybe "Navarone", was for the Duke.
Many of those scores ("Rio Bravo", "The Alamo", etc) are still in print.
As we speak, Putin's staff is being bundled up into large military transport trucks for the long, cold journey to the camps.
"Whaddaya mean, his name sounded Russian?! You didn't check?!! He's a damned American!!"