While he mulled through thousands of prospects, hundreds of callbacks and dozens of tests for the role of Scarlett in his planned production of Gone With The Wind, there was never any doubt as to who David O. Selznick would hire to write the score. Max Steiner was his first and only choice.
Steiner and Selznick had worked together at RKO during the producer's brief tenure there as studio head. It was Steiner who suggested that the missing ingredient in Symphony Of Six Million just might be good
symphonic music and that Bird Of Paradise would fly better with flutes and strings. The composer's score for Marian C. Cooper's King Kong did much to make this RKO mini-epic of man against mechanical miniature suspenseful and believable.
She, another Cooper epic at the behest of Selznick, was also scored by Steiner. It opened at Radio City Music Hall on July 27, 1935. The New York Times review of She concluded " . . . the picture fades into a series of eye-filling spectacles so dear to the heart of Hollywood: huge sets jammed with massive gongs, Roman centurions and Egyptian dancing girls; weird incarnations, incense, ceremonial dances and curt orders in a barbaric tongue; the haughty queen who has been in love with the English scientist - or with his great, great, great grandfather - for 500 years and the trader's daughter who is only mortal but loves the young man in a non-eternal way; the scene in which the girl is to be sacrificed, the rescue, the fight, the chase, the escape . . . the film cannot be accounted much more than a King Kong edition of 'Lost Kingdom' melodramas . . ."
Mercifully, there is no mention of the music in the New York Times review. But based on the soundtrack transcriptions and scratchy acetates I heard in the 1950's, Steiner's score for She needs no apology.
The Times gave Gone With The Wind a mostly favorable three-column review when it opened in New York four years later. ". . . The most ambitious film-making venture in Hollywood's spectacular history . . . although we still feel that color is
hard on the eyes for so long a picture . . ." (Are you listening Ted Turner?)
With all the space given over to the cast, crew, director, screenwriter, set decorator, wig makers, costume designer, extras, horse trainers, location managers, Technicolor, talent scouts, ballyhoo surrounding production and premiere," national emergency over finding a Scarlett O'Hara, "the producer (Selznick is mentioned five times), sub-plots and mayhem (the KKK gets two nods), the New York Times review makes no mention of the music for Gone With The Wind nor the composer. Imagine.
In 1967, when Gone With The Wind was enlarged for 70 mm screens (with the top of a head or two sliced off here and surgery on an extra or
so there), the paper took another look and gave another listen, ". . . a six track soundtrack which was not on the original (!) expands the tonal quality of the conversations and Max Steiner's celebrated (not in some papers) score . . ."
All this reference to reviews is meant to convey what many of us know already; the public often chooses its favorites without help. Gone With The Wind's music on the soundtrack - and away from it - has been a favorite of moviegoers since the film's initial release, eclipsed in popularity only by Margaret Mitchell's book and the film itself. Steiner's stirring, evocative (and every other adjective) score is so essential and so much a part of the movie that hearing the opening strains of Tara's Theme immediately calls the film to mind.
The Steiner trademarks that would become so familiar to moviegoers in the
next thirty years are all present in his Gone With The Wind score: separate
motifs for each leading and many supporting characters; source music of the period incorporated into the scoring; solo instruments rising out of the screen; strong melody lines; musical reaction for nearly every cinema action; symphonic touches (theme/counter-theme/development); heavy spotting of instruments alien to the modern symphonic orchestra (in this case banjo, dobro, melodeon, harmonica and squeeze-box accordion); minor key signatures that reincarnate into Major scrawls and the obverse. Mind you, this was in the days when all this stuff was pretty new, if not invented by the great Steiner.
Many contemporary film composers refer to Gone With The Wind as a training school. Not only is there an awful lot of music in this nearly four hour epic, but there is every kind of variation of nearly every tune. With five top orchestrators (Bernard Kaun, Hugo Friedhofer, Adolph Deutsch, Reginald Bassett and Maurice dePackh) working from Steiner's precise, annotated and diagrammed four stave scores, the possibility for invention was endless, and met.
Max Steiner's score for Gone With The Wind changed for always the way film scoring was to be perceived by film producers, and his continuing partnership with the flamboyant Selznick gave us such diverse films as The Garden Of Allah, Since You Went Away, Little Lord Fauntleroy and A Star Is Born.
Had Steiner never written Gone With The Wind, his reputation as the Big Daddy of Film Music would still be secure. Additional Steiner scores include Saratoga Trunk, Young Man With A Horn, They Died With Their Boots On, Johnny Belinda, The Life Of Emile Zola, The Glass Menagerie, Marjorie Morning-star, Dark Victory, The Letter, The Fountainhead, Beyond The Forest, So Big, Cimmaron, Spenser's Mountain and Tovarich.
All This And Heaven Too, Mission To Moscow, Dive Bomber, City For Conquest, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet and on and on. In 1947 alone he scored Deep Valley and seven other films. It was Steiner working at RKO who adapted all the songs and music for the Astaire/Rogers films including Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee.
At Warner Bros. he was as much at home with action and swashbucklers (15 scores for Errol flicks) as melodrama. Nearly all of the Bette Davis films made during his Warner period came complete with "Music By Max Steiner," though in those days he seldom got a separate screen credit. He was the first composer of film music to receive three Academy Awards... for The Informer (1935), Now Voyager (1942) and Since You Went Away (1944).
Exactly twenty years after his Gone With The Wind music became so famous, spawned so many recordings and guaranteed him fatter and fatter ASCAP checks every year, he enjoyed just as big a success with the Percy Faith recording of his theme from A Summer Place. That recording topped the charts worldwide for months. All in all, Max Steiner is credited with scores for more than 300 films. Some of those films may have been of little
consequence but it's a safe bet that Steiner's music didn't go unnoticed.
Steve Hoffman's digital re-engineering of this suite of Steiner's music, recorded in 1961 by Muir Mathieson and approved by the composer, is extraordinarily well realized. While there was some compression in one or two spots, Steve has managed to open the tape up without any noticeable distortion. The overall stereo sound is excellent for the period and the channel separation is discreet, though not all it could have been. Steve managed to extend the upper range of the strings without any sacrifice of a good solid symphonic bass. The bowing of double basses and viols during some of the low passages has wonderful depth and - unlike the LP - is equal from left to right.
As familiar as I am with this recording, I confess to hearing much that is new to me now that Steve Hoffman has performed his digital mumbo-jumbo (God knows what) with the master tapes. This is particularly true in the subtler parts of the suite and in Melanie's Theme. Incidentally, Hoffman was among the first recording engineers and historians to begin rescuing and restoring tapes of film scores from studios and vaults, bringing them to the digital medium. His work includes scores from Universal/MCA and the old Todd AO storage facilities. His restoration of Victor Young's out-of-print Around The World In Eighty Days, from the old Decca vaults, is especially noteworthy.
In order to take full advantage of compact disc playing time, five additional tracks of film music have been added to this disc. They include Victor Young's powerful theme from For Whom The Bell Tolls and the lovely Stay With Me from Jerome Moross' underrated score for The Cardinal, both conducted by Ray Heindorf. Steve's reconstructive work is particularly evident in the Moross piece, one of his personal favorites.
Miklos Rozsa's haunting Main Title from Spellbound and two themes from Manos Hadjidakis' lyrical writing for America, America are reprised here, again conducted by Ray Heindorf.
From my own canon I've chosen The Overture from The Prime of Miss Jean Brody. This arrangement by Arthur Greenslade contains the major themes from my score. It was played live in London's Odeon theater after the Queen Mother's arrival at the Royal Command Premiere of the film. It was a pretty big deal for me, I can tell you. This recording was made the day after the event. The Ondes Martenot solo is by Sylvett Allart.
Rod McKuen / 25. October, 1988