I was on a plane a few months ago during which the choice of in-flight viewing didn’t immediately excite, but my eye was caught by a film about Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968). Naxos and its affiliated labels have released numerous recordings of the composer’s works which, to be honest, I find much more engaging than I did the film. In fact, we chose a clip from his Cello Concerto Op. 72 as the intro and outro music for our occasional Sounds Interesting podcasts. The film impressed upon the audience Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s force as a teacher of composition. Today, then, we’ll focus not primarily on the master’s output, but on the achievements of his students. And if a by-product of this is to acknowledge the power and importance of the teaching profession, then all the better. To get us started, however, here’s a complete performance of the second movement from the Cello Concerto referred to just now.
Cello Concerto Op. 72 (8.573820)
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s career was divided equally between Italy and America. His departure from Italy was precipitated by one event brought on by the rising tide of Italian Fascism: the passage of Mussolini’s Manifesto of the Race. Not only did this proclamation prohibit future performances of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s compositions but, more devastating, it instituted a ban prohibiting Jewish children from attending public schools. Consequently, the Castelnuovo-Tedesco family left for America in 1938.
After settling in California, Castelnuovo-Tedesco became a prolific writer of film music between 1940 and 1956, in the same period composing more than seventy concert works. As a teacher at the Los Angeles Conservatory, he numbered among his pupils Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn and John Williams. Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein also came under his tutelage.
Where to start in that illustrious assembly of names? I’ve chosen André Previn (1929-2019), who was both a composer, performer and conductor. I’ve chosen two clips of his music to introduce his skill and versatility as a composer. The first is his boogie version for piano duet of Three Blind Mice.
Three Blind Mice (9.81084)
And now for something completely different, as they say. Previn wrote the film score for It’s Always Fair Weather, a 1955 musical satire starring Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse and Dolores Gray; it also featured dancer/choreographer Michael Kidd in his first acting role. Although well received critically at the time, it was not a commercial success, and is viewed now as the last of the major MGM dance oriented musicals. In recent years it has been recognised as a seminal film because of the inventiveness of its dance routines. Here’s one of Previn’s numbers that conjures the atmosphere of that milieu of the day: Stillman’s Gym. I’ll leave you to work out the scenario for yourself.
Stillman’s Gym (8.120846)
Like Previn, Henry Mancini (1924-1994) was a composer, conductor and pianist; additionally he was an accomplished flautist (like his father) and became recognised as one of the greatest ever composers in the history of film. Perhaps predictably, I’ve chosen his song Moon River (with lyrics by Johnny Mercer) that featured in the 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song; also the 1962 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. As a nod to Mancini’s skill as a flautist, we’ll hear it in an arrangement for flute and orchestra.
Moon River (8.570389)
Masada was a 1981 American television miniseries. It was advertised by the ABC network as a ‘Novel for Television’ and presented a fictionalised account of the historical siege of Israel’s Masada citadel in AD 73 by legions of the Roman Empire. Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) composed the music for Parts I and II (the latter winning an Emmy Award) but was forced to abandon completion of the project because of numerous production delays. Hence it fell to Morton Stevens to write the music for Parts III and IV, which was based on themes and motifs that Goldsmith had already written. Goldsmith also wrote the scores for what are no doubt infinitely more widely known productions (think Planet of the Apes, Alien, The Omen), so I hope you enjoy the experience of coming to his overture music for Masada, possibly for the first time.
Overture to Masada (C10469)
Nelson Riddle (1921-1985) was an arranger, composer, bandleader and orchestrator. Active from the late 1940s to the mid-1980s he was celebrated as one of the leading 20th-century arrangers of popular music whose services were enjoyed by star singers such as Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee and Johnny Mathis. Here’s an example of those arranging skills in his version of the songs that comprise the 3-movement Ambulatory Suite by George Gershwin. I’ve selected the final movement, Fidgety Feet.
Fidgety Feet (SCD1152)
Finally, we come to the composer, conductor and pianist John Williams (b. 1932) who continues to enjoy his status as one of the most popular composers of iconic film scores, a recognition he has earned and sustained throughout a career spanning some sixty years. He has won 25 Grammy Awards, seven British Academy Film Awards, five Academy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards. In 2005 the American Film Institute selected Williams’ 1977 score for Star Wars as the greatest American film score of all time.
I’m going to end today, however, not with music from that particular blockbuster, but with an arrangement of the main theme and the love theme, Can You Read My Mind, from his score for Superman, which I hope we might interpret as a nod to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the super man at the root of this blog edition’s collective progeny.