Franz Waxman Legends of Hollywood Vol.4

Untamed; On Borrowed Time; My Geisha; The Devil Doll; My Cousin Rachel; The Story of Ruth; Dark City; A Christmas Carol.

Varese Sarabande VSD 5713

Franz Waxman - Legends of Hollywood Vol. 4 Cover In 1933 Franz Waxman , a Jew, was beaten by Nazi thugs on a street of his homeland Germany. A year later, with a firm Hollywood offer, Waxman emigrated to America, as did, within a few months, Erich Korngold, an Austrian, but also a Jew. The exile of the latter was sealed by the Nazi annexation of Austria, but Waxman was by then already settled in as all-purpose composer at MGM. After two years as music director at Universal In 1943, and after a fruitful apprenticeship with MGM, for whom he created, in addition to 40-plus scores, the fanfare for Leo the Lion's roar, Waxman joined Warners' music department, where he found Korngold and another Jewish expatriate, Max Steiner. Though he never attained the renown of his Austrian colleagues, Waxman was, as The Absolute Sound recently observed, the most versatile of the famous Warners trio. His background as jazz pianist in 1920s Berlin, studies at Berlin Conservatory and Dresden, and forays into popular music - most famously, the orchestrating and conducting of Friedrich Hollaender's songs for The Blue Angel (remember Marlene Dietrich's signature, Falling in Love Again?) - made him the ideal Hollywood composer. But where Steiner had chosen freely the advantages of America, Waxman, like Korngold, found himself permanently exiled by the unforeseen exigencies of WW2.

Whether due to genes, Teutonic training, the pain of his uprooting, or a combination of all these factors, Waxman's music is characterized by density, habitual disquiet -- seriousness -- which, together with consummate craftsmanship, gives even his least inspired work interest and resonance. This collection, the fourth of a series now extending over a decade, brings us music never before recorded commercially. Though some is hardly top drawer Waxman, those interested in the evolution of film music will be fascinated by the quarter century overview of Waxman's work -- which period happens to coincide with the Golden Age of Hollywood Music, 1936-1962. All three periods of Waxman's career are represented - the early apprenticeship at MGM (Devil Doll, Christmas Carol, On Borrowed Time), the confident maturity of postwar freelancing (Dark City, Untamed, My Cousin Rachel) and the composer as elder statesman (Story of Ruth, My Geisha). Waxman's Universal and Warner stints have been covered elsewhere by Varese and Silva Screen. Of particular interest to filmmusic esotericists: the second number of the Souvenir of Paris waltz sequence (Devil Doll ) shows up in the hotel sequence of Waxman's 1940 masterwork Rebecca, and so do, in the Manderley scenes from that film, snatches from On Borrowed Time. This last work convinced David Selznick to hire Waxman for Rebecca. The composer's mysterious/romantic evocation of Daphne Du Maurier's Cornwall made him the logical choice for the 1952 version of her My Cousin Rachel. The later score is not quite in the league of its predecessor, but then few film scores are. Dark City is one of Waxman's excursions into film noir. Underworld USA, come to think of it, may not be too distant from Berlin 1933. Those who would know firsthand what a real composer could do with the gutter milieu without resorting to synthesizer sludge or rap/rock cribs should check out Waxman's scores for Crime in the Streets (jazz combo), or (symphonic) Night and the City, and Night unto Night, where electric violin eerily penetrates the orchestral gloom . All have been available on Varese, and the latter was also plangently rendered by John Mauceri on Songs of the Earth.

This CD's most profound music is 1960's Story of Ruth, its least potent the 1938 A Christmas Carol. Neither film was up to its source, but for obvious (?) reasons Waxman doesn't seem to put his heart into Xmas, as it were. There is some invention, but there is the whiff of mildew, not dispelled by borrowings from Mendelssohn and Handel (the same sarabande used by Leonard Rosenman for Barry Lyndon). Richard Addinsell did much better by Dickens with his hearty, haunting music for the 1951 Alastair Sim version. But The Story of Ruth, despite its film, has biblical stature. It seems Waxman could relate to the ageless tale of family torn asunder, old and new loyalties, and messianic hope in the aftermath of senseless sacrifice. Whatever the relation to the composer's own life, this music should not have taken thirty-six years to reach us.

Rebecca, Rachel, Ruth. Franz Waxman was never to escape the long shadow of the mothers of Israel. His best scores have the symmetry and significance of the history of his people. Rebecca, who knew the pain of families sundered; Rachel, weeping for her children that are no more; Ruth, escaping the rubble of the old world for a new land and hope. In scores like A Place in the Sun, Rebecca, even The Bride of Frankenstein, Franz Waxman illumined the pain of the eternal outsider, the man, the woman and the "monster" who have no place to lay their heads in this world.

-- David Aspinall