Tag Archives: john morgan

UNIVERSAL HORROR.

 

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Recently I decided to revisit the movie VAN HELSING, and although it is a film that is basically nonstop action throughout, I personally did not consider this to be a particularly good motion picture, it kind of failed in places and was very OTT in others, the pump action crossbow for example. I was pleased however that the director paid homage to the horror films of bygone days with the opening sequence of the film. Composer Alan Silvestri also built his powerful sounding musical score around the original scores of those Universal Horrors that were produced during the 1930’s and 1940’s or at least every so often the Maestro would include a motif or a musical passage that was a gentle nod in the direction of composers such as Frank Skinner, Hans J Salter, Roy Webb, Franz Waxman and others that worked upon these timeless classics of American cinema. Even the opening logo was presented in black and white and turned into a fireball as the opening fanfare for Universal rang out.

 

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The film too contained certain references to these horror classics of yester-year that were directed by the likes of Tod Browning and James Whale. Films such as FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE WOLFMAN etc. For example, the inclusion of the famous windmill sequence from FRANKENSTEIN or at least a version of it, the angry villagers were also in tow complete with torches, pitchforks and inaudible shouts and comments as they made their way to the formidable looking castle to destroy the evil FRANKENSTEIN and his abomination of a creation, all intended as a tribute or salute to the age of Universal horror when it reigned supreme and attracted audiences in their droves to the cinema’s and picture houses to be scared witless. These classics because that is what they are, set the standards for many of the films that followed and were a blue print if you like for many movies that were produced years later.

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Think about it without the Universal horrors and the famous creatures, monsters, dark characters and storylines that they included and introduced to us there probably would not have been the successful movies as produced by the British film company Hammer, who themselves eventually ended up influencing other film makers and studios who specialised in horrors and supernatural tales, such as AMICUS, TYBURN and AIP. Although AIP would have probably found its own way within the horror market because of the presence of film makers such as Roger Corman and his like. American International Pictures also would be instrumental in introducing the weird and wonderful world of International Horror movies which were directed by the likes of Mario Bava to audiences Stateside. However, it was whilst halfway through VAN HELSING that I was prompted to unearth my classic horror soundtracks as re-constructed and re-recorded by John Morgan and conducted by William Stromberg for the excellent Marco Polo series of releases.

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The first disc I purchased included music from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN and THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS music courtesy of Universal pictures main stays Hans J Salter and Frank Skinner. It is surprising that much of the music that was on the soundtracks of these movies was in fact stock music that had been written by the composers for the Universal music library and indeed often showed up in films that were completely removed from the horror genre. So, as well as listening to the excellent soundtracks I also re-visited the movies, many of which I watched as a 15-year-old on the BBC late at night. Out of all the Universal horrors I think that it was the WOLFMAN films that made me feel uneasy, this was I think due to the acting talents and the wonderful make up of Lon Chaney and the way in which the movies were shot, fog shrouded woods, eerie looking sets, the monochrome look and of course the music. The earliest Universal horrors DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN both released in 1931 contained music that was a mix of original score, stock music and even some classical cues because the original score per-se was in its infancy, although that would alter soon in 1935 with the coming of another Universal Horror, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which had a completely original score by Franz Waxman, with one of his themes for the movie or at least hints of it surfacing in a famous musical some 15 years later when it premiered on Broadway. But I digress and I will leave that one for the solicitors and music copyright people.

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Universal’s DRACULA, which starred the mysterious and flamboyant actor Bela Lugosi, had a composer credit for Heinz Roemheld, although I think he was more a conductor and arranger for this particular project as opposed to being enlisted in his capacity as composer. Born May 1st 1901 in Milwaukee USA, Roemheld began his association with music at an early age, he commenced piano lessons when his was just four years of age, and by the time he had reached his teenage years he was already performing in various Vaudeville shows. He later attended the Wisconsin College of music and went on to study composition further in Berlin. After he finished his studies he became known for composing piano preludes, sonatas and various serious or classical pieces for concert hall performance. After being seen leading the orchestra for a screening of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1925 he was appointed the manager of Universal Theatres in Berlin and then later in 1929 was made musical director.

 

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After his time at Universal, Roemheld moved on to become the musical director at Warner Brothers studios between 1938 and 1945 and during that time acted as chief of film, theatre and music within the information control division attached to the American forces based in Europe during WWll. Roemheld then moved to United Artists in 1946 where he remained for two years. After which the composer went to Columbia pictures from 1948 to the latter part of 1950 after which he pursued a career as a freelance composer and arranger. He died on February 11th 1985.

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FRANKENSTEIN (1931) also contained a score that was a mix of library or studio stock music and original score plus strategically placed snippets of classical music which was supervised and arranged by composer Bernhard Kaun. Kaun, who was of German family background was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin, USA on April 5th 1899. The composer began his musical career as a conductor and often directed the orchestra in several theatres but predominantly was resident at the well-known Alhambra Theatre in Milwaukee. In 1930 he began to work in Hollywood and was employed by various studios, Universal, Warner Brothers and Paramount among them, where he would often act as an orchestrator and compose and arrange original music for horror movies. Which was invariably re-used in other movies that were produced at that time. He passed away in January 1980 in Baden-Baden Germany.

 

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Every horror or indeed every Universal movie in those early days opened with that ever familiar proud and robust sounding fanfare which quickly and seamlessly segued into the opening theme of the score that was played over the credits. The most familiar opening logo theme must be the one which was composed by Jimmy McHugh and arranged by Frank Skinner but there was also a Universal opening fanfare prior to the McHugh composition which was the work of Heinz Roemheld. On each opening the logo music just became part of the score for the movie a starting point if you will for any composer to take his cue from. Wistful strings and urgent brass being the order of the day for most the Universal horrors, with booming percussion and a tense and taught undercurrent adding its support, creating an atmosphere that was exciting, anxious and filled with a dread and nervous expectancy that would engulf the watching audience, preparing them for the untold horrors that were about to be unleashed.

I think that the decade of the 1940, s was the most fruitful for Universal as in output terms, but it was also the decade that in my humble opinion and one which is just a personal view, marked the decline of the classic horror with the studio feeling the need to introduce movies such as ABBOT and COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in 1948, which was directed by Charles Barton and starred Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney jnr, it was and again this is just a personal opinion, a period in the studios history where they had basically reaped the benefits of the horror movie and now the horror was being relegated to second or even third position taking a back seat to the slapstick comedy purveyed by the likes of Abbot and Costello.
I am however, not implying that the movies were not entertaining because they were they must have been because Universal released many of them and they did in fact serve a purpose because not only did they get people into the picture houses and kept the horror genre in the cinema goers eye, just about the mainstay characters in Universal movies of the horror variety. It seemed a little sad that the studio was having to resort to comedy to sell the pictures, which is what happened during the 1970,s with the Hammer studio, after they had a very successful run with movies as in DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF tales and pictures involving MUMMYS and other horrors and subsequent spin off’s of the original DRACULA and friends etc, but the studio in a similar way to Universal seemed to lose their way slightly and deviate from the path of true gothic horror and began to introduce not comedy into the storylines but, nudity, lesbianism and sex. This was also seen as an opportunity to entice a younger audience into the cinemas and acquaint them with these dark and fearsome characters, because the world of cinema and the world as a whole was changing, becoming more and more permissive and in a desperate attempt not to be left behind Hammer experimented with this somewhat volatile and risky concoction, in some cases it worked but in most it failed and because of the studios attempt to become “hip” their productions began to be looked upon as somewhat clichéd and dated even though these were current releases and looked upon as mediocre and tired by an ever more critical audience. One of the things that tied both Universal and Hammer together was the production of quality horror films and also the decline in their quality as tastes changed both studios then attempting to regenerate the once popular horror film by adding another genre to them or having horror as a sub-genre within the actual films they were producing. The other tie was the use of music, both Universal and Hammer maintained a high level of musical richness even when the standards of the films began to dip, so for example Universal’s ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN may not have been Oscar material but its score by Frank Skinner still did its job and worked wonderfully underlining and supporting the comedy and the horror or the watered down comic horror that the film contained.

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This too can be said for Hammer for example DRACULA AD 1972 was a dire attempt to update the DRACULA cycle, bringing the infamous count into the bustling, far out and groovy 1970, s. It failed and failed quite miserably, but the score by Mike Vickers was still infused with the quality that one expected from a Hammer production, this was probably down to the influence and expertise of Hammers musical director Phil Martell.

 

 

But, back to UNIVERSAL and the Marco Polo records compact disc release THE MONSTER MUSIC OF SALTER AND SKINNER. Like the films the CD opens with the familiar strains of the Universal Pictures logo music, which slips nicely into Frank Skinners opening music for THE SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, which has a highly tense and urgent beginning, but soon moves into a more subdued mood although still maintaining an atmosphere that is taught and apprehensive. The composers use of woodwinds combined with strings and further supported by jagged brass and punctuated by percussion is wonderfully alluring and sets the scene perfectly for the remainder of the compilation. This is as one might expect grand and fully symphonic material, dark and foreboding in places but also possessing a sense of calm within in certain passages and brief interludes. Track two segues seamlessly into THE MESSAGE which is certainly less aggressive and urgent than its predecessor, the composer utilising an almost reverent and heavenly sounding organ within the cue, this slightly subdued aire continues within track number three THE GENERAL, but as the track progresses a slightly darker persona emerges as does a martial sounding theme which although short lived is affecting. Track number six THE EXAMINATION/LOOKING FOR A MONSTER is one of the longest cues on the album, clocking in at 8 minutes 29 secs, it is at first a brooding piece which builds and grows Skinner utilising woodwind and underlying strings initially, then introducing percussion laced with brass to create a more urgent and threatening aura. The cue then reverts back to relative calm with strings and woods once again taking centre stage, the mood is mysterious and edgy until the cue is in its final stages when again percussion supported by brass makes an appearance. Track number eight is classic horror or monster fare, MONSTERS RAGE is a combination of taught and jagged brass and sinewy but at the same time swirling strings punctuated and heightened by more pronounced brass stabs. The final cue from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is THE CAST, this is triumphant and almost anthem like with again brass taking the lead as the score and film reaches its conclusion.

 

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THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, is next in the compilations running order and this opens with the Universal logo music but a version that is a slightly more up tempo arrangement than the one which opened the album. Music for this motion picture was courtesy of Hans J Salter, and the opening theme is wonderfully lush and filled with a lavish and rich sound purveyed by the string section. Its opening bars are given to the brass which establishes the cue straight away laying down a foundation that the composer then builds upon as his main theme soars and develops. Salters score for THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS is for a horror score very melodic, I am not complaining as the music is excellent and there are enough moments which are slightly apprehensive and chilling to ensure we are suitably made to feel uneasy, again the music is of a high quality as one would expect from such a distinguished and talented composer. The performance by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is also superb under the direction of William Stromberg. THE WOLF MAN comes next, opened by the Universal logo theme, the score launches headlong into action, and I must say is still one of my favourite Universal Horror scores with the writing talents of both Hans J Salter and Frank Skinner being utilised. This is the stuff from which classic horror scores are made from, dramatic, romantic, melancholy and filled with tense and hostile stabs and jolts this in my very humble opinion is the stand out soundtrack featured on this compilation and that is something of a grand statement as all three scores are powerful examples from the early Universal days. THE WOLF MAN, also has about it an abrasive, aggressive and raw sound, something that is wild and untamed every so often is let loose within the music then it reverts to a more serene or calm persona, mirroring the central character’s struggle with his inner self as his attempts unsuccessfully to contain the savage and evil creature that lurks within him as the full moon awakens it to hunt and savagely kill indiscriminately. This is purveyed perfectly within the track THE KILL, which in the movie underlines and supports superbly the rampage of the WOLFMAN as he claims yet another victim. I remember feeling sorry for the WOLF MAN as the powers of the full moon drive him to kill the thing he loves the most.

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The score by Salter and Skinner is a haunting and iconic work and one from which many other composers drew inspiration. The recording is a masterpiece with some sterling work carried out on the re construction of the scores by John Morgan, who is also a composer himself and well known in the film music collecting fraternity for his passion, enthusiasm, knowledge, and talent.

 

 

THE WOLF MAN was Universal’s most lucrative release of 1941 but this was not the studios first foray into the legend of the Werewolf, they had earlier produced THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON in 1935, which starred the actor Henry Hull in the title role, Hull was not a horror actor or at least was not as well-known as Lugosi or Karloff within this genre and this is probably why the move did not fare as well as FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA at the box office. It was also the first sound motion picture that dealt with the Werewolf legend. The screenplay was not based upon one single story or incident, but instead was compiled from numerous tales that had been described and passed down from generation to generation within folklore. The musical score for THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON was by Hungarian composer Karl Hajos who was born in 1889 in the Austro-Hungarian-Empire. Hajos emigrated to the United States and began to work in Hollywood writing music for films. He started to write film scores during the silent era of the movies and worked on over a hundred films, he was one of nine composers who created the score for the 1931 western THE FIGHTING CARAVANS and in 1934 worked for Cecil B Demille on FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE. His last film score was in 1949 when he wrote the music for SEARCH FOR DANGER which was directed by Jack Berhnard. He passed away in 1950. Although THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, contained many interesting points and was to be fair an entertaining piece of cinema within the horror genre, it was outclassed and overshadowed by the studios 1941 production of THE WOLFMAN with Lon Chaney in the lead role. It was THE WOLFMAN that provided Universal with its fourth classic monster and came at a time when they were in the process of giving its original trio of horrors something of a revival. In 1931 Robert Florey had provided Universal with a screenplay that was destined to be THE WOLFMAN but starring Boris Karloff in the title role based upon his success in FRANKENSTEIN, however the studio did not think it was a viable project at the time so the script was rejected.

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Marco Polo released a handful of music compilations from the Universal horrors and indeed issued numerous compact discs of the classic scores of Hollywood by the likes of Herrmann, Newman, Steiner, Waxman and Korngold, these were either in the form of compilations or full soundtrack projects and included scores such as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CAPTAIN BLOOD,THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, KING KONG, SON OF KONG, THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO etc.

 

 

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THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which had music by Hans J Salter and Paul Dessau (uncredited) was released on its own with 35 tracks of music and not part of a compilation. The music as always was impressive and inventive and if you listen carefully one can hear certain musical passages that maybe acted as inspiration for composer James Bernard when he came to write his now famous DRA-CU-LA theme for the Hammer Films production some 14 years later. THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a movie that was in a word “strange”. Ok yes, I know it’s a horror but this one had a rather interesting or should I say a you have to see this to believe it plot, it was however different and appealed to a wider range of audience. The film certainly was not short of star power, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, J.Carrol Nash and Lionel Atwill all pitched in for this one directed by Erie C. Kenton which included appearances from DRACULA (John Carradine), THE WOLFMAN (Lon Chaney) and FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER( Glen Strange). An evil Scientist Dr Niemann portrayed by Boris Karloff escapes from prison accompanied by his assistant Daniel a hunchback played by J.Carrol Nash. The Doctor plans revenge on the people who put him in prison and enlists the aid of the terrible trio to do his dirty work. However, the Doctors grip over the three monsters is not strong enough to contain them and their own agendas and ultimately this proves to be his downfall. The composer Hans J Salter was born in Vienna on January 14th 1896, he had always shown an interest in music and shortly after he completed his education the young musician started to become involved with conducting orchestras in some of the many theatres in Vienna. It was at this point in his career that Salter gained the talent of producing music that would accompany any type of scenario within the theatres and of course this too would give him a good background when it came to writing music for motion pictures. In his early twenties, a film company employed Salter to conduct the musical accompaniment for operettas that had been filmed and were then screened in theatres which was his introduction to adapting music and directing it to film. A few years later Salter found himself in Germany where he gained more experience in the actual scoring of films for UFA in Berlin.

 

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The composer then returned to Vienna as the Nazi,s in Germany were beginning to come to power, but he found that the same thing was happening in Vienna and decided to leave Europe and travel to the United States. In the latter part of 1937, Universal pictures engaged Salter to compose, arrange and conduct music for movies, this was a collaboration that endured for over twenty years, the composers first significant scoring assignment came in 1942 when he provided the score for THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN which contained a soundtrack that was nearly fifty minutes in duration, the film running for 1 hour seven minutes so Salters music was almost continuous throughout the movie.
Many assignments for Horror movies followed, THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) being among them. The Universal studio often re-using his music from one movie within others that they released. Salter became known for his work on the horror films of Universal but this was just a small part of his output as the composer worked on a staggering amount of westerns and scored numerous movies of varying genre.

Stepping away from the music for a while lets head back to FRANKENSTEIN, many believe Universal were the first to produce a motion picture on the subject of Mary Shelley’s creation, however, there were others before Universal got to stamp its own particular brand and style upon the classic tale. One of the earliest versions of the story to be committed to celluloid was in 1910, when the Edison company produced a movie. Then in 1915 another take on the story was filmed and was released under the title of A LIFE WTHOUT SOUL. Then five years later in 1920 there was MASTER OF FRANKENSTEIN which was an Italian production. When it came to the appearance of the monster in the first Universal production, it is said that director James Whale was inspired by a figure that was depicted in Goya’s drawing LES CHINCHILLAS, and Whale sketched his own ideas for the monster and passed them to creative make-up artist Jack Pierce, who in turn added his own ideas and created the now iconic look of Frankenstein’s monster, a look that would be imitated and inspire many make-up artists that would follow. Pierce not only thought about the face of the monster but considered the fact that it was made up of body parts stolen from graves and the like, thus these would have been misshapen or stretched and withered, so the monsters body would have been out of proportion.

 

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Pierce also studied anatomy and discovered the then six methods that a surgeon could cut a human skull. He concluded that Frankenstein would have probably opted for the simplest method, which meant removing the top of the head and then after inserting a brain closing the skull and the top of the head into a square shape as opposed to rounded.
Pierce also utilised rubber around Boris Karloff’s eyes, which reduced the showing of emotion or indeed any expression whatsoever, this was a masterful stroke of genius by Pierce. The movie was often censored after its initial release and in 1937 some six years after it was first unleashed upon cinema audiences the film was edited further when it was re-issued. The scene where the monster without knowing it is wrong throws the small child into the water thinking she will just float was trimmed, and thus audiences were convinced that the monster had attacked and killed the girl for no reason.
Which probably altered the audience’s opinion of the creature drastically. This scene was however restored during the 1980, s, which would allow audiences to realise that the monster was not aware what he was doing would harm the child. This and other dialogue parts and sequences were restored when the film was re-issued. The original release ran for approx.; 70 mins.

 

 

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The film of course starred Boris Karloff who was originally an actor in theatre, Karloff was born in Dulwich England in 1887. He began to venture into motion pictures during the early part of the 1920’s but went almost unnoticed until film maker James Whale saw that there was something about this tall unassuming man that maybe audiences would like. Karloff became associated with the horror genre and specifically with the FRANKENSTEIN cycle as produced by Universal, but there was far more to this talented and eloquent actor than portraying a mute and violent creature, as we would see in the coming years and future productions. Between 1932 and 1944 Karloff seemed to be on screen almost permanently and added his ample talents to films such as, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE MUMMY, THE BLACK CAT, THE RAVEN, THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN which would be his final appearance as the Monster in 1944. His career continued through the 1950, s and into the 1960’s when he made appearances on television in England in COLONEL MARCH OF SCOTLAND YARD, plus he was in demand on recordings because his voice was so distinctive and later made appearances in films such as THE COMEDY OF TERRORS etc during the 1960, s. The director James Whale was also British, and was born in Dudley Staffordshire in 1896. His first foray into acting came when he was a prisoner of war during the first world war, after being de mobbed he joined the Birmingham Rep company and later took on the duties of stage manager at the Savoy theatre in the heart of London.
He soon became known to many within theatre-land and was asked to travel to New York with a production of JOURNEYS END which starred Colin Clive in 1929. He then worked in several areas of production etc and was asked to direct WATERLOO BRIDGE for Universal in 1931 and in the same year helmed FRANKENSTEIN. A film was released in 1998 which told the story of his often quirky and eccentric life, GODS AND MONSTERS which starred Sir Ian McKELLEN enjoyed some success at the box office.

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James Whale returned to the story of FRANKENSTEIN in 1935 with THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This was a more humorous approach to the story which was still based upon original characters created by Mary Shelley. In THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Whale seemed to be trying to parody the style and convention that he and his collaborators had created a few years previously. This was successful due to the over the top Gothic sets and also a musical soundtrack that was not only highly dramatic but at times highly intrusive, but still the formula worked.

 
The music was by Hollywood giant Franz Waxman. Waxman, was born in Upper Sielesia in Germany on Christmas eve 1906. Waxman was the youngest of six children and came from a family that was not musical in any way, His Father was a successful industrialist who felt that Franz would be better suited to a career in banking as he was of the opinion that no one could make a living out of music. The young Waxman however did have piano lessons from the age of 7 yrs, when he started working he went into banking as his Father wanted and worked as a clerk for some two and a half years using his wages to fund his lessons in piano, composition and counterpoint. After this period, Waxman resigned from the banking job and moved to Dresden but stayed there for only a short time, he eventually moved to Berlin to study music proper. His musical education was paid for by money he earned from playing the piano in nightclubs and also from working with a band called the Weintraub Syncopaters who were very popular jazz ensemble at the time. Waxman also began to do arrangements for the band and this led him into orchestrating some early German musical films. Fellow composer Frederich Hollander, who had written music for the band gave Waxman his first significant scoring assignment, this was to perform the orchestrations and to conduct his score for THE BLUE ANGEL. The film’s producer Erich Pommer was impressed with the way in which Waxman orchestrated the score and he offered the composer work at UFA Studios in Berlin.

 

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Waxman’s first job there was to score Fritz Lang’s version of Liliom (1933), which again was successful for Waxman. Pommers next movie was Jerome Kern;s MUSIC IN THE AIR which was for Fox films in 1934, this meant that the producer had to travel to the United States and he asked Waxman to accompany him to work on the arrangements for the film. Waxman soon became noticed by other filmmakers and in 1935 he worked on James Whale’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which was his first Hollywood film score. This assignment led to a two-year contract with Universal studios as head of their music department. He worked on more than 50 movies during this time as music director and composed the scores to at least 15 of these. Among the best known of these are THE INVISIBLE RAY and MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. In 1936 aged 30, the composer was offered a long-term contract with M.G.M. as a composer, during this time Waxman scored approx; seven movies a year and whilst with M.G.M. he worked on movies such as, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS and WOMAN OF THE YEAR.

It was also whilst at M.G.M. that Waxman came into contact with David O Selznick and in 1937 worked on YOUNG AT HEART for the filmmaker, which was a score that the composer received two Academy Award nominations for, for best original music and best score. Four years later Waxman was again loaned to Selznick by M.G.M. this time to work on REBECCA for which he was again nominated for an Academy Award. The composer left M.G.M. in 1943 and began a long and fruitful collaboration with Warner Brothers films. In 1947 the composer founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival, which he was head of for some 20 years. In 1950 he won the Oscar for his music to Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD and again in 1951 for George Stevens, A PLACE IN THE SUN. The 1950s and 1960s proved to be a busy time for the composer and it was also during these decades that Waxman produced some of his most memorable works for the cinema, CRIME IN THE STREETS, TARAS BULBA, THE NUNS STORY, SAYONARA, PRINCE VALIANT, THE SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS and PEYTON PLACE being just a few titles from his impressive assignment list. It was also during this period that Waxman re-invented the way in which he wrote music progressing from the romantic to at times hard hitting jazz infused scores and also big epic sounding works. He passed away on February 24th 1967 in Los Angeles at the age of just 60.

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Waxman’s score for THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was reconstructed and re-recorded in 1993 and released on Silva Screen records. An earlier reconstruction of a composition from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was available within the CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF series on RCA Records which was conducted by Charles Gerhardt. The series of film score from the Universal horrors on Marco Polo still to this day remain enticing and attractive, I leave the last word to John Morgan who was responsible for bringing them to life via his reconstruction work.

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“Those Universal horror scores by Skinner and Salter have been favorites since I first saw the films on television in the fifties. I just loved the music and it really became part of me and my musical taste. I was so happy we could do these as I am convinced no others in the music world would tackle them as the films, for the most part, were considered B material. But they had A scores. It was difficult too, as none of the orchestration survived, so I had to use the abbreviated piano-conductor sheets and orchestrate the music from top to bottom. I was glad Hans Salter was still alive when we started on his project”.

John Morgan.

john morgan 2John Morgan’s love and passion for the great scores of Hollywood’s golden age has led him to the arena of arranging and reconstructing many classic scores for new recordings. He has embarked on a long series of film music recordings for Marco Polo (Naxos), BMG Classics his own label with Anna Bonn and William Stromberg, Tribute Film Classics.

John Mansell: Where and when were you born?
John Morgan: Los Angeles, California. October 21, 1946

John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
John Morgan: Received my Masters in Music Composition from San Diego State University.

John Mansell: Were any of your family musical at all?
John Morgan: My mom and dad loved music. We had a piano in the house and they loved opera, classical music and generally all types. They weren’t really “musical”, other than loving it. I was able to take piano lessons just about as early as I can remember.

 

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John Mansell: What attracted you to film music?
John Morgan: In the mid fifties KING KONG (1933) came on television and I was about 10 years old and noticed how effective the music enhanced the drama. Since then I always listened to the music scores and began associating styles with particular composers.

John Mansell: What was your first soundtrack album?
John Morgan: I really don’t remember. Probably the earliest I remember is getting 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Band of Angels.

John Mansell: When did you first realise that you would make music a career
John Morgan: I knew music was the main thing in my life from the beginning. Like all kids, I went through phases related to music. First, big shot pianist playing Rachmaninov with a big orchestra, then teaching music and finally moving to Los Angeles and knowing I had to compose for films.

 

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John Mansell: I know that most collectors associate you with the excellent restoration work you have carried out on vintage scores but you have also composed film scores of your own. What do you prefer to work on: your own scores or restoring past works or do you have the same amount of fondness for both?
John Morgan: Well, there is nothing like writing your own music and having a 90 piece orchestra play it. But with restoration and reconstruction I only have to answer to myself and not worry about a tin-eared producer not liking this or that. And I think by these re-recorded classic scores, I have done something that will outlive me.

John Mansell: Rome Adventure is a wonderful score by Max Steiner; do you think in the future this could be a work that you would look at to re-record?
John Morgan: Certainly. Almost any Max Steiner score is worth re-recording. It has some beautiful themes. Max probably has 100 scores that are worth re-recording that no one has touched yet.
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John Mansell: I was hooked on the Marco Polo re-recordings that you did with William Stromberg. I think I heard one and went out and just got the whole lot. I particularly enjoyed the Horror material i.e. – THE WOLFMAN, DRACULA etc. Wonderful atmospheric movies, with great scores. I think their appeal was that nothing had been available before, like the Hammer material in the UK; were these works that you yourself were particularly fond of?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Morgan: Thanks for supporting our efforts. I think we have done about 30 albums for Marco Polo/Naxos. Those Universal horror scores by Skinner and Salter have been favourites since I first saw the films on television in the fifties. I just loved the music and it really became part of me and my musical taste. I was so happy we were able to do these as I am convinced no others in the music world would tackle them as the films, for the most part, were considered B material. But they had A scores. It was difficult too, as none of the orchestration survived, so I had to use the abbreviated piano-conductor sheets and orchestrate the music from top to bottom. I was glad Hans Salter was still alive when we started on his project.

John Mansell: Why, after so many years with Marco Polo (1993-2007), did you choose to start a new label? Have you parted ways with Marco Polo for good?
John Morgan: It was time to go. Our first several years with Marco Polo, we did about 4 CDs per year. And the last few years we were barely doing 2 CDs every 2 years. Bill and I saw the handwriting on the wall. The Marco Polo releases shifted to the budget Naxos label, which I doubt a new recording could ever recoup its costs with the retail price. We were doing more elaborate scores and didn’t have the freedom of picking what we wanted to do like we used to. I have nothing but thanks for Marco Polo and Klaus Heymann for backing our series for so long, but we wanted to do more and have more control and own what we did – so that was our basic reason for striking out on our own. We would have been happy to continue with Naxos but they thought differently when they found out about our new company. We practically worked free for Naxos to just get this stuff done. We got tired, and never got a raise in the 15 years we were with them. And when the music was licensed we never shared in that revenue. So that, in a nutshell, is our reasoning.

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John Mansell: For me the new CDs do sound different from the Marco Polo recordings. Is it because of a different recording technique or maybe different placing of microphones etc?
John Morgan: I think The Adventures of Robin Hood was the first release we did in 5.1 sound. We felt the recording was much better with finer detail, so we have done all our subsequent recordings in 5.1 sound, although most are released in normal CD format. The SACD and DVD-A market is just too small to justify the added expense of releasing them in multiple editions… but we have the masters in that form, so whatever format comes along, we will be ready.

 

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John Mansell: What are the realities of re-recording classic film music – artistic restrictions and concessions?
John Morgan: Not really. If we think the music holds up on its own, away from the film, we have no qualms. So far, no artistic restrictions. The only thing that may restrict us if no written materials exist along with no in-the-clear music track. A couple of cues I had to reconstruct by listening to the original music tracks but if there are too many sound effects or other intrusions, it is impossible to authentically reconstruct it. The Roy Webb and Hans Salter/Universal stuff was tough because the conductor books were so skimpy I had to do a lot of intense listening to hear all that was in the music… or most all!
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John Mansell: Why have so many Steiner scores been re-recorded, is it simply because the composer is more popular, or maybe his scores are more readily available, or is this a personal choice? There are so many composers, Roy Webb, Frank Skinner, George Dunning etc. who are not well represented on recordings?
John Morgan: His scores are not more readily available but he is popular. And of the greats and the amount of scores he has done, he is very under-represented. His music is very difficult to prepare, even if the full scores exist; lots of extra instruments and other difficulties. Many scores have missing music but I have a good relationship with James D’Arc at BYU, who has the Steiner material, and have his sketches to help me in reconstruction. The musicians probably love playing Steiner more than most film scores. His music is very difficult but is written well and they enjoy the challenge. I remember our engineer when we were recording KING KONG saying, “Mahler easy, Steiner, difficult!” Actually, Steiner, Korngold and Herrmann are our best sellers. But we love almost all the golden age composers, so hopefully we can continue doing the better known ones along with the more obscure ones. We were able to do that with Naxos/Marco Polo.

 

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John Mansell: Would you consider recording other material not film related, like music from radio shows, for example Bernard Herrmann’s HAPPY PRINCE (a fairy-tale by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Orson Welles). I think this was performed in concert?
John Morgan: I guess we would consider anything, but right now, I think film-related music is our main focus. Hopefully, we fill in a niche in this big world. If it was a perfect world, I would love to include some classical music these composers have done. I know Bill would very much enjoy conducting a new recording of Herrmann’s MOBY DICK cantata.

John Mansell: Would you also consider re-recording non Hollywood scores, maybe a re-recording of ROCKET TO THE MOON by John Scott, or even music by composers such as Clifton Parker, Francesco Lavagnino, John Barry and even Frank Cordell (CROMWELL)?
John Morgan: As you may know, we did Philip Sainton’s MOBY DICK and a Malcolm Arnold CD with DAVID COPPERFIELD and THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN. I would love to do a complete recording of Parker’s CURSE OF THE DEMON, as well as the wonderful music of Easdale. So much to do.

 

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John Mansell: What do you do when you begin to restore a score, and maybe you get midway through and you realise that sections are missing; is it a case of then watching the movie and listening to the score?
John Morgan: Yes, we certainly do that. I had to reconstruct (orchestrate) all of SHE, KONG, SON OF… MOST DANGEROUS GAME, as well as a great deal for CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Also, CAPTAIN BLOOD, all the Roy Webb – Val Lewton music, and of course, the Universal horror music. So much of this music is simply missing and was dumped many years ago. Sad.

John Mansell: What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
John Morgan: To enhance the drama of the film. But when we re-record a score, I feel it must work as music away from the film as a listening experience… even if the listener hasn’t a clue what the film is about. When music is written for a film it belongs to the art of film, when you separate it from the film; it becomes a music art and must be enjoyable as music. I think there are lots of wonderful scores that simply would not work well away from the film. And there are lots of scores that may not work with the film but is terrific music on its own.

John Mansell: Who would you say were your influences musically – this can be classical, modern or film music composers?
John Morgan: Too many to really list. So many, actually. Mostly classical composers, but Richard Strauss, Mahler, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Puccini, Wagner, Vaughn-Williams and on and on. For film, I love the golden agers… Steiner, Herrmann, Waxman, Korngold, etc. And of the more recent ones, Bernstein, Williams, Goldsmith, etc.

 

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John Mansell: THE ALAMO is a score that is crying out to be re-recorded; do you think that this will ever get the Morgan/Stromberg treatment, or maybe a full version of Tiomkin’s 55 DAYS AT PEKING or THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE?
John Morgan: Well, THE ALAMO is a first rate score, however all the music stems survive in stereo and I hope FSM or some other group can work it out so they can be released someday. We try to steer clear of things that we feel there is a good chance of original materials in great shape survive.

John Mansell: Are there composers who’s scores you would not attempt to re-record, and if so why?
John Morgan: No, but there are scores that we would not attempt to re-record. Scores that have elaborate electronic overdubs or tape manipulations we would shy away from as it is impossible to replicate those today. In cases such as Jerry Goldsmith, many of the overdubs were not written down and the electronic instruments he used then are mostly obsolete now. Also, scores that the original tracks survive in great sounding stereo sound, would be another category of scores we probably would not do. There are so many scores that have not had any kind releasable recording; I don’t think there is a big point in re-recording things like BEN-HUR, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, etc. And finally, scores that rely on musical personalities such as character singing, special jazz interpolations, special overdubs such as many of Henry Mancini 60s scores, we would also put on a back burner. Not that they aren’t worthy, but we feel we couldn’t do justice to with a re-recording.

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John Mansell: What would you say has been the most daunting or difficult project you have worked on, and why?
John Morgan: All of them have been difficult to try and get right. For me personally, the ones I have to reconstruct-orchestrate are the hardest, but most rewarding. Things like KING KONG, the ROY WEBB music, Victor Young’s THE UNINIVITED, Friedhofer’s THE LODGER, the Universal horror music were difficult because of the music I had to recreate in full score form.

 

John Mansell: How do you think composers of today compare with, the likes of Korngold, Steiner, Newman, North, Bernstein, Goldsmith, Barry and Morricone?
John Morgan: Every era has had first-rate, brilliant composers writing scores. The big difference today is not in music talent, but producers making films. Of course there are always exceptions, but on the whole, music’s place on the soundtrack has moved to third place, behind dialogue and sound effects. The big operatic approach is considered old-fashioned. Producers want music to be hovering in the background as wall paper, rather than contributing to the drama in specific ways. The use of temp-tracks and the insistence of composers to ape the temp track has ruined creativity to a large extent. Having almost all orchestral scores being prepared on synth ahead of time for demos restricts a composer as what sounds good on a synth may not sound good with orchestra and vice-versa. Producers should go to the golf course and leave composers alone.

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John Mansell: What is next on your agenda?
John Morgan: I have a couple of films I am up for to compose the music. We just got back from Russia where we re-recorded Steiner’s complete THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, as well as Korngold’s THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. We will soon be starting orchestration work for our next Tribute recordings which will include ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN by Frank Skinner, as well as a comedy album for two Warner Bros scores… Waxman’s THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT and Steiner’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.

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John Mansell: Have you given concerts of your own music or the music you have re-constructed?
John Morgan: That is a dream we have; to do a big concert of some of the music we have re-recorded. Bill Stromberg did conduct a 25 minute suite from Steiner’s ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN back in the mid 90s in Berlin. It was very exciting hearing that music live, and the audience so receptive.

John Mansell: What non Hollywood score would you say is your favourite and for what reasons?
John Morgan: Impossible for me to name only one. The reasons are always the same, really fine music that is a joy to hear away from the film. So many, but off the top of my head, here are a few: Auric: Beauty and the Beast, Sainton: Moby Dick, Easdale: The Red Shoes, Bliss: Things to Come, Parker: Night (Curse) of the Demon among many, many more.

 

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John Mansell: Many thanks…