Category Archives: Biographical Essays

DAVID RAKSIN.

David Raksin, passed away after suffering  heart failure at the age of 92, in August 2004. It’s hard to believe it is nearly twelve years since his passing. The composer held a unique place in in the film music fraternity and became an iconic part of Hollywood. His haunting music for the movie LAURA (1944), or at least the lingering and somewhat sensual sounding theme, became more popular than the movie it was written for and has achieved an almost cult status with collectors of film music and music lovers all over the world via the many performances it has received by various artists. In fact, the central theme from the movie has been recorded no less than 400 times. Raksin, scored some 200 motion pictures during his prolific and illustrious career, the majority of these were as composer, and some where he acted as either conductor or arranger. In 1951 after admitting being a member of the Communist party between 1938 and 1940 Raksin was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in Hollywood, which meant that he was unable to find work in movies television or radio. His blacklisting coincided with the release of THE BIG AND THE BEAUTIFUL, which was a success for actor Kirk Douglas. As the anti-communist crisis in Hollywood subsided the composer could return to a more settled working schedule and soon began to write for both TV and film. Providing the theme for the popular television series WAGON TRAIN in 1957 and penning the theme for the even more popular TV series BEN CASEY in 1961.

 

David Raksin was born in Philadelphia, his Father Isidore Raksin, owned a music-shop and would at times play woodwind with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and conducted the orchestras that accompanied movies in local cinemas. Raksin attended the Central high school in Philadelphia, at the age of just 12 years, he began to experiment with music and led his own dance band. When he was not performing he began to teach himself the craft of orchestration, it was at this time he went to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied music and gained a degree via the teachings of Arthur Schoenburg, who was a figure that influenced the composer throughout his career. Raskin financed his education by working with the band and doing arrangements for other bands, he eventually went to New York where he assisted at various radio stations and worked on arrangements for record companies. It was through an arrangement he had done of Gershwin’s I GOT RHYTHM, that Raksin was recommended by Gershwin himself to music publishers Harms and Chappell who were so impressed with the young musician that they recommended him to various Broadway producers. It was not long before the composer moved from Broadway to Hollywood, where in 1935 he met Charlie Chaplin, the actor asked Raksin to work on the score for MODERN TIMES, as an arranger.

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Chaplin was shall we say a difficult character and Raksin was at one point fired by the actor after a disagreement about the direction in which the score should take, only after the assistance of Alfred Newman was Raksin re-instated. However, Chaplin never gave the composer any credit for his work on the picture. After the 24-year-old composer’s involvement on the project he was assured regular employment in Tinsel Town. But his efforts were very rarely recognised or given any credit. He began to write music for various studios, Universal and Columbia to name but two, working on mainly horror movies, it was Columbia pictures that contacted Raksin asking him to instruct Stravinsky in the synchronisation of the music within film. This however never happened as Stravinsky refused to be schooled by anybody and eventually decided not to work in Hollywood full stop. Raskin became unhappy working at Universal he was not a fan of many other composer at the studio who seemed to rush through the composing process, so it did not take much persuasion for Raksin to re-locate to Warner Brothers under the supervision of musical director Leo Forbstein, working on movies such as THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, FOREVER AMBER, THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE, FALLEN ANGEL and many others that are now considered as classics. Raksin was asked to establish a collection of his manuscripts in the music division of the Library of Congress the first composer to be invited to do so. He also became a professor of film music at the University of Southern California.
David Raksin, was born on August 4th, 1912 and passed away on August 9th, 2004.

HENRY MANCINI.

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In the Aliquippa High School year book of 1942 there was an entry that spoke of one of the students that attended the school, it read:
“ A true music lover, collects records, and has also written a handful of beautiful themes and compositions. He wishes to continue his music studies and eventually to have his own orchestra”. The student that this refers to is the acclaimed but sadly late Henry Mancini who’s melodies, themes and songs have now become part of the musical establishment and are looked upon by many aspiring young composers as classics. Mancini was born in Little Italy, which was a neighbourhood located in Cleveland. The young Mancini was brought up in West Aliquippa near the steel town of Pittsburgh. His parents were immigrants and moved to the United States from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It was Mancini’s Father Quinto who was a steelworker that encouraged his son to become involved in music and also made him have Piccolo lessons from the age of just eight. From the age of twelve Mancini also began to take lessons for piano and after graduating from High School he attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York, these studies were cut short because Mancini was drafted into the army mid way through 1943 where he initially served as an infantryman, later in 1944 he transferred to the Army Band and was also present at the liberation of the Mauthausen Gusen concentration camp which was located in the south of Germany. After being demobbed Mancini returned to his music and became a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed GLENN MILLER BAND.

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The rest as they say is history, Mancini went onto become one of the worlds most prolific and respected composers of music for film and television. Working on numerous box office hits during the late 1950,s through to the 1970,s. His career for film music composition however began in 1952 when he was signed up by Universal Pictures and contributed music for some of that studios movies that have since attained something of a cult or classic status. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, TARANTULA, THIS ISLAND EARTH and THE GLENN MILLER STORY. After working for Universal Mancini decided to strike out on his own as an independent composer and soon penned a theme for a television series that endures to this day, PETER GUNN was the first time that the composer worked with filmmaker Blake Edwards and as we all are aware it was not the last time that this creative duo collaborated.

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They worked together for the following thirty five years and in that time Mancini scored thirty movies for the Producer/director, THE PINK PANTHER, THE GREAT RACE, 10, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR,THE PARTY, VICTOR VICTORIA and most notably BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S which included the evergreen classic song MOON RIVER and THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES which also included a haunting song and melancholy theme that began with a faraway sounding horn which for me established straight away a feeling or atmosphere of loneliness, which related to the movies main characters, lyrics of course were courtesy of Mancini’s long time collaborator and friend Johnny Mercer. The composer also collaborated with a number of A listed directors such as HOWARD HAWKS, STANLEY KRAMER, GEORGE ROY HILL, NORMAN JEWISON, MARTIN RITT, VITTORIO DE SICA and STANLEY DONEN to name but a handful.

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Sadly his music for Alfred Hitchcock’s FRENZY in 1972 was rejected by the director and replaced with a soundtrack written by British composer Ron Goodwin. Mancini was as busy working on projects for the small screen and was a master at creating highly infectious opening themes for TV productions establishing the theme in an instant or so it seemed. MR. LUCKY, THE THORN BIRDS, NBC MYSTERY MOVIE, WHATS HAPPENING, TIC TAC DOUGH, NEWHART, REMINGTON STEELE, HOTEL, CADES COUNTY and RIPLEYS BELIEVE IT OR NOT.

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Mancini also became particularly active in the genre of easy listening music and released over 60 albums on the RCA label which included big band sounds, standard instrumentals, Latin flavoured collections, film themes and arrangements of pop songs all of which were etched and infused with that unmistakeable Mancini touch. I remember buying a number of these compilations, LOVE STORY AND OTHER THEMES, for example which included the themes from movies written by Mancini and other composers such as Francis Lai, Stelvio Cipriani and Nino Rota. Although we associate Mancini with light and romantic or melancholy music for film, the composer also wrote his fair share of dramatic and powerful pieces for the cinema, these include CHARADE (which many consider to be a light sounding score, when in fact it is highly dramatic apart from its rather sugary sounding song),

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LIFEFORCE, WAIT UNTILL DARK, THE NIGHT VISITOR, the excellent THE MOLLY MAGUIRES and the equally as riveting THE HAWAIIANS (MASTER OF THE ISLANDS). One of my favourite scores by Henry Mancini is THE GREAT RACE as I think this showcases perfectly the versatility of the composer, he was able to adapt his style and composing skills to almost every situation and scenario and this was shown to the full in THE GREAT RACE.

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The score also produced another great Mancini/Mercer song THE SWEETHEART TREE, which when I saw the film in the cinema even encouraged the audience to sing along with the words displayed on screen, as well as madcap chase music, romantic themes and grand fanfares and regal and luxurious sounding waltzes.

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It’s a pity that a more fuller soundtrack album was not released, the score was initially issued on RCA VICTOR on a long playing record, then years later it received a CD release, and in 2001 as part of Mancini soundtracks collection was paired with THE PARTY another Blake Edwards movie on one compact disc. THE GREAT RACE is also one of my favourite movies, ok yes I know I am easy to please I hear you say, but it just appealed to my sense of humour and even now I find myself giggling when I think of the erroneous but hap- hazard and disaster laden Professor Fate played by Jack Lemmon with his much slapped and kicked assistant Max portrayed brilliantly by Peter Falk. Who’s chaotic slapstick was underlined by the masterful scoring of Henry Mancini as in PUSH THE BUTTON MAX. The Mancini soundtrack collection also included pairings of classics such as HATARI and HIGH TIME, CHARADE and EXPERIMENT IN TERROR and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and ARABESQUE.

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Mancini was also regarded as an easy listening artist, which was probably why he was so successful because his music from film crossed over to fans of this genre of music and vice versa, because film music collectors would very often go out and buy the latest Mancini album even if it was not film music related.
His music for SANTA CLAUS THE MOVIE was greeted with mixed feelings, but since its original release has become a must have Mancini score for collectors. Mancini passed away in LA on June 14th 1994 after suffering from pancreatic cancer, his music is played daily on TV radio stations and in homes all around the world and for me he is the ultimate composer, conductor, arranger and entertainer.
He is still sorely missed.

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will celebrate the musical legacy of songwriter Johnny Mercer with a gala centennial tribute featuring film clips of many of his timeless classics, and personal performances and appearances by friends and colleagues, on Thursday, November 5, at 8 p.m. at the AcademyÕs Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Performances by program host Michael Feinstein and Monica Mancini (daughter of MercerÕs longtime friend, Henry Mancini) will bring some of MercerÕs most beloved songs to life on the AcademyÕs stage. This event is sold-out, but standby tickets may become available. Pictured: Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer at the 1962 (35th) Academy Awards ceremony.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will celebrate the musical legacy of songwriter Johnny Mercer with a gala centennial tribute featuring film clips of many of his timeless classics, and personal performances and appearances by friends and colleagues, on Thursday, November 5, at 8 p.m. at the AcademyÕs Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Performances by program host Michael Feinstein and Monica Mancini (daughter of MercerÕs longtime friend, Henry Mancini) will bring some of MercerÕs most beloved songs to life on the AcademyÕs stage. This event is sold-out, but standby tickets may become available.
Pictured: Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer at the 1962 (35th) Academy Awards ceremony.

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BERNARDO SEGAL

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Composer Bernardo Segal was born in Brazil on August 4th 1911. He made his first professional appearance as a pianist at the age of just 9, in 1927 Segal travelled to the United States where he began to study music with Alexander Siloti, aged 21 Segal made his American debut at the New York town hall and later went on to perform in well known orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic. As well as being a competent pianist Segal ventured into composing and wrote music for ballets, theatre productions and later films and television. His career as a film music composer led to him scoring films such as THE GREAT ST LOUIS BANK ROBBERY in 1959 which included an early role for actor Steve McQueen. Segal also worked on THE LUCK OF GINGER COFFEY in 1964 and in 1967 composed the score to CUSTER OF THE WEST with Robert Shaw in the title role, it is probably true to say that it is his music for this movie which still remains one of the composers best known works for cinema. He also worked on a number of episodes of COLUMBO and AIRWOLF, the composer passed away in 1993.

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MONGOLS, VIKINGS AND DUSAN RADIC.

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Dusan Radic is not a name that would be that familiar with collectors of film music, unless of course you began to listen to soundtracks during the 1960,s. Radic who was responsible for writing a great deal of concert music as well as music for movies produced out side of western Europe was also the composer responsible for the scores to two historical adventure movies, both of which were very different. I personally first noticed the composers music in the Richard Widmark movie THE LONG SHIPS. Then later in the fairly fictitious biopic GENGHIS KHAN (1965), which starred the late Omar Sharif as the Mongol leader.

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This was a European production, although at times one would have thought it came from Hollywood. This English, Yugoslav and German movie had many well established stars within its cast, Robert Morley, Telly Savalas, James Mason, Stephen Boyd, Eli Wallach, Francoise Dorleac and even Kenneth Cope (Randall and Hopkirk deceased). The movie generated much interest at the box office but this was probably due to the impressive cast rather than the movie itself, critics at the time basically panned it calling it, far too brutal, laughable and not historically correct. Which to a degree is I suppose correct, but it was still an entertaining piece of cinema and how can a movie about the rise of the Mongol nation be seen as too brutal ? It was a movie that had a considerable budget compared with other non American productions and this shone through via its lavish and impressive sets and beautiful location shots plus the cast. Dusan Radic,s epic sounding score certainly helped the storyline, fully symphonic and filled to overflowing with expansive and heroic themes that were intermingled with romantically infused compositions made this one of the more interesting soundtracks of the 1960,s and too a degree rivalled the music of Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa and their like. It has always baffled me why Radic did not receive more assignments and how could Hollywood producers not see his potential for American movies after the success of his scores for both Genghis Khan and The Long Ships, but that’s show biz I guess.

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THE LONG SHIPS (1963) too had many stars in its cast that were well know in both America and Britain, starring alongside Widmark there was Sidney Poitier, Russ Tamblyn, Lionel Jeffries, Oscar Homolka and the beautiful Rosanna Schiaffino, again this was a European production with the finances being provided by English and Yugoslavian studios. It told the story of a huge golden bell which Widmark,s character a roughish Viking claimed to know the whereabouts of. After being overheard telling his tale in a market place he is captured by the Moors and taken to their King (Sidney Poitier) who is obsessed with the legend of the golden bell and wants it for himself.

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Like Genghis Khan this is a rip roaring adventure, all action and entertaining with a capital E. Again Radic’s score is vital to the movie underlining the many adventures and battles that happen along the way to finding the bell, with its rousing and haunting central theme at times outshining Mario Nascimbene‘s famous opening motif for THE VIKINGS. The storyline pits Vikings with their brutal and savage methods against the somewhat more philosophical and disciplined Moors and although the film is filled with numerous flaws and mistakes it still did well at the box office and is screened regularly on TV in the UK, one of its highlights being the battle between Vikings and Moors on the beach, where Widmark’s merry band of raiders are washed up after being shipwrecked by a storm. Considering the success of Radic’ scores for these two movies alone there is very little information about him readily available, we do know that he did work on other film scores but only in Eastern Europe working with director Andrzej Wajda on SIBIRSKA LEDI MAGBET in 1961 and scoring MACAK POD SLJEMOM for film maker ZORZ SKRIGIN in 1962. One year later he composed the score for the German/Yugoslav co-production DIE FLUCHT which told the story of two brothers during WW ll, one being a prisoner in a concentration camp who escapes and goes on the run, the other brother is a Nazi who is given the task of chasing his sibling. The two production companies that worked on this movie also produced jointly GENGHIS KHAN.

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On re-visiting both GENGHIS KHAN and THE LONG SHIPS I personally am of the opinion that GENGHIS KHAN is probably the more substantial work and also the score that is more developed in the cinematic sense musically speaking, but maybe the composer looked to Hollywood composers of such scores for his inspiration on this assignment ? Dusan Radic was born in Sombor Serbia, on April 10th 1929, as I have stated he was a composer who mainly concentrated on what can be called serious music, classical or music for concert hall performance, with numerous works to his credit including, THE BALLAD OF THE VAGABOND MOON ballet, the opera LOVE,THAT’S THE MAIN THING, choral pieces such as GUNGULICE and Sinfonietta’s and sonata’s. He was also a University Professor, he completed his high school education in his birthplace and also attended the music school of the Serbian Church Singing society. In 1941 Radic relocated to Belgrade where he continued his musical education at the STANKOVIC music school, he also attended the Belgrade Academy of Music and was tutored by Milenko Zivkovic who was to be his mentor until the latter part of 1954.

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From 1957, Radic continued to study in Paris under the guidance of Darius Milhaud and Oliver Messiaen where upon he returned to Serbia and completed a masters degree with Milenko Zivkovic as his advisor. Previous to this however the composer had gained public attention with his SONATA LESTA which was premiered by concert pianist Mirjana Suica during the summer of 1952. Plus his SINFONIETTA in three parts was performed in 1954 by the Belgrade Philharmonic. Radic was a freelance composer for twenty five years between 1954 and 1979, after which he took up a professional composition position at the Academy of Arts at the University in Novi Sad, where he remained until his retirement. Dusan Radic passed away in Belgrade on April 3rd 2010.

MARIO NASCIMBENE.

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Born in Milan, Lombardy Italy as Mario Ernesto Rosolino Nascimbene on November 28th 1913. Mario Nascimbene as he became known was to become one of the most successful Italian film music composers of the 20th Century. He studied composition and conducting at the Guiseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan under Ildebrando Pizzetti, after which he began to write various pieces of chamber music and ballet’s, he began to write music for Italian motion pictures in the 1940,s, his first assignment being L‘AMORE CANTA(LOVE SONG) in 1941. He was certainly one of the most original composers to come out of Europe during this period as he was not frightened to experiment with sounds and created a unique electronic process where he enhanced the sound of everyday things turning them into musical instruments of sorts, items such as bicycle bells and typewriters would feature within his soundtracks and even the sound of clocks. The utilisation of this type of experimental writing would be passed on to composer Ennio Morricone who worked with Nascimbene on a handful of film scores, most notably BARABBAS in 1961.

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The composer also incorporated non-orchestral instruments such as the harmonica and jaws harp into his works thus attracting film makers from out side of Italy to his somewhat quirky but effective style of scoring. Nascimbene however also wrote more conventional sounding film scores which were highly melodic the composer creating lush and lavish works that were sublime and romantic sounding, which included THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, ROOM AT THE TOP and the superb and memorable music for THE VIKINGS.

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Nascimbene was not restricted to scoring Italian or European productions, in many ways he still remains one of the most successful Italian composers because he would very often work out side of his native Italy his style and sound easily crossing over to American and also British productions, during the 1960,s he produced some effective soundtracks for The Hammer studios in the United Kingdom, these were for the companies prehistoric dramas, ONE MILLION YEARS BC, CREATURES THE WORLD FORGPOT and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. Nascimbene also provided Hammer with the mysterious and haunting score to THE VENGEANCE OF SHE which was tinged with jazz elements in the form of a theme for tenor sax and strings, which would accompany the young girl at the centre of the films storyline. All of Nascimbene’s Hammer scores were recorded in Rome under the baton of famous musical director Franco Ferrara who also conducted many of his other film soundtracks including SOLOMON AND SHEBA in 1959, ALEXANDER THE GREAT in 1956 and ROMANOFF AND JULIET in 1961, he was the recipient of numerous awards these included THE DAVID DI DONATELLO AWARD and NASTRO D’ARGENTO AWARD. He died on January 6th 2002 in Rome Lazio.

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