CD: Captain from Castile – The Classic Film Music of Alfred Newman, The (1973)

April 4, 2011 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: RCA Red Seal/ Released: October 19, 2010

Tracks & Album Length: 10 tracks / (43:40)


Special Notes: n/a.


Composer: Alfred Newman




Alfred Newman was a perfect combination of composer, conductor, producer, music department executive, and a colleague who recognized the brilliance of others and provided them with opportunities to shine (Bernard Herrmann, Hugo Friedhofer), but his music is perhaps less familiar to contemporary film fans than audiences of the fifties, a decade when he also released film and concert music compilations, some of which were recorded for Capitol Records.

There was also an Angel album in the sixties, but portions of the material were previously released (and scattered) across the older Capitol LPs, so when Charles Gerhardt and George Korngold released a Newman volume in their Classic Film Score series in 1973, it was an important recording featuring newly recorded music.

Twentieth Century-Fox were smart when they had Newman compose a fanfare for their inimitable logo in 1935, but they were doubly-smart when they asked Newman to extend the piece into the new CinemaScope logo in 1953, making the first seconds of any Fox film extra special. (Paramount’s Vista Vision had music, too, but while the logo boasted “Motion Picture High Fidelity,” the term was a cheat, as High Fidelity didn’t yield actual stereo or surround sound, as was the case with CinemaScope.)

The Robe (1953) was Fox’ first ‘scope production, but for its second production, the studio had fun and added a musical prologue that had nothing to do with How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), but showed off the format’s true high fidelity sound. MGM later did the same with separate ‘scope music vignettes, but for the first, Newman had a grand chance to be filmed conducting the studio’s superb orchestra on a wide stage, performing his Gershwinesque theme from 1931’s  Street Scene (which was actually a Samuel Goldwyn production, but who cares?).

Musically, it’s all jaunty and wry, with a slight sexual musical curves that evoke a city awakening and going through the motions of day to day rigors. The main melody gracefully unfolds on strings with later trumpet solo, and the melodic line is first broken up by agitated brass fanfare, a slight pause with a relaxed sax solo, and a B-section with rambunctious brass extolling the virtues of Big Architecture, Traffic Jams, and Masses of Busy People. Newman would integrate his famous theme in later ‘scope productions as source music, generally making it fit the scene quite well.

Newman had recorded a prior series of suites and theme versions from Captain from Castile (1947), and it’s still one of the finest Hollywood scores ever written. “Pedro and Catana” blends Spanish harmonic exoticism with Newman’s patented use of high register notes to establish passion, romance, and inner turmoil, and the piece eases into a quick rendition of the “Conquest” theme, a raucous march for the Spanish conquistadors who’ve braved war, in-fighting, poor supplies, and pesky natives thinking they’re still masters of the New World.

The Robe also gets a suite, spanning 8 mins. (the album’s longest) with orchestra and chorus evoking ancient Rome with the weighty fifties gravitas often applied to Biblical epics. Robe deals with a struggle to find faith, and Newman applies a simple theme which lends itself to a stirring main title (as well as the arc lights scanning the Fox logo), and the quiet “Elegy,” with restrained strings and delicate woodwinds; and a concluding section with solo violin and distant bell chimes.

The suite concludes with “Caligula’s March” and once again shows Newman’s knack for writing wonderful march music – a skill that reached some measure of popular embrace when his nationalistic theme from How the West Was Won (1962) became – and remains – a parade favourite). “The Map of Jerusalem” is another tender theme which morphs from a quiet intro to high strings, concludes with full mixed chorus, and brass recapping the march fanfare.

Newman had several opportunities to evoke the passion of faith, but The Song of Bernadette (1943) is his best, largely because his theme is meant to capture various levels of conflict affecting a young girl who believes she’s experiencing holy visions: the priests struggling with issues of faith, delusion, and heresy; townsfolk confused and terrified; poor folks wanting desperately to believe in a miracle; and Bernadette’s family trying to cope with a possibly delusional daughter, the fracturing of their family unit, and unwanted public (media) attention and scorn.

Newman’s take was to create a theme that invoked the kind of wide-eyed faith a child would cuddle and display with no inhibitions. The main theme changes guises as she sees her spiritual figure and struggles with public persecution, but what’s remarkable about the theme is its completeness: within its flowing stream of beatific harmonics Newman tells us her journey from innocence to possessed, and of her parting and final sainthood.

While the chorals may evoke the story’s theological elements, everything else is about Bernadette and her effect on others, and certainly the easiest reason the score still wallops listeners in spite of the inherent schmaltz factor is the interplay between high and low notes: in “The Vision” the strings eventually reach the near-harmonic breaking point, but after what seems like an unbearable suspension of high notes, Newman brings in soothing low tones for relief, and mid-tones to finish off the theme’s B-part to give us closure. Seemingly simple mechanics, but the payoff is a score that forces viewers to reach for the hankies.

The rest of the album’s program consists of theme showcases, such as the lush romanticism of “Cathy’s Theme” from the Goldwyn-produced Wuthering Heights (1939) which sounds harmonically more contemporary than the film’s 19th century setting, and the fiddle-heavy theme from Down to the Sea in Ships (1949).

From the ‘scope films, Gerhardt picked the main titles from The Bravados (1958) which is ostensibly another march with a rapid snare drum, and a slight Spanish-tinged melody that captures the sense of a dogged pursuer going across fields and over mountains to get his man; and the clanging melodrama of Anastasia (1956), where Newman again focused on character rather than directly mimicking the film’s roots in Russian history. Anastasia is effective in spite of being quite drippy, but it’s also one of Newman’s most repetitive themes – an occasional problem when a film score was based around one theme.

The most grating example is Newman’s The Best of Everything (1959), which was blessed with a simple, sweet theme, but in terms of score, Newman beat audiences over the head with it, even having the score and a radio in a scene play the same tune one after the other. That film perhaps indicated the low point for composers by not only being disallowed from creating multiple themes, but saturating their movie with the hit tune when their instincts were compelling them to write material of greater depth.

By the time Newman scored Airport (1970), he was still capable of writing a snappy wry theme that musically unfurled like a title sequence with character headshots. The film’s credit music reflects the busy activities within a sleek modern setting, as well as the soap opera dramas that have characters sometimes crashing into each other – not unlike situations in Street Scene. This was Newman’s final score, and it’s a bubbly orchestral salute to modern melodrama, with plenty of brass, a jazzy rhythm, and bongos (which, amazingly, work beautifully.)

Unlike most of the other Film Score Series entries, there are a few audio anomalies in the original recordings (slight hotness in Bravados and Anastasia), but the performances and orchestrations remain tops.

All of the original scores have been released on CD, but this album provides a sampling of both Newman’s multi-thematic and mono-thematic scores, helping listeners decide which additional recordings are worth indulging for themselves.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Anastasia (1956) — Best of Everything, The (1959)  — Captain from Castile (1947) — Song of Bernadette, The (1943)


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography — RCA Classic Film Score Series Links: 1 / 2 / 3


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