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Take a musical journey through the greatest film scores from the 1930s to the 1950s, including iconic movie soundtracks such as Paul Dukas's Fantasia, and Max Steiner's Gone with the Wind.
Still a firm favourite military band number at flypasts, Eric Coates’ popular theme to the classic British war movie from 1955 is a great example of a piece of music that has become just as famous as the film it comes from. Despite the piece’s success, Eric Coates had a profound disliking of composing for film, and in fact his son Austin claimed in a radio interview that the Damnbusters March was not actually written for the film and had in fact been completed a few days before he was contacted by the producers. Classic FM listener Tessa Cross's mother was one of those who worked behind the scenes on preparations for the Dambusters raid. She actually helped to build scale models of the dams. These models were used in the famous 1954 movie. Here is a still from the film, showing the models.
Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains all starred in this swash-buckling adventure from 1938. The film was groundbreaking for its time as it was the first colour film for Warner Bros. Erich Wolfgang Korngold would win an Oscar for the film’s music, which included the very popular love theme of Robin and Marian.
Perhaps the most iconic image from Disney’s Fantasia is Mickey Mouse conjuring an army of walking broomsticks. This sequence, set to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, was originally made as a stand-alone short film intended as a comeback role for the Mickey Mouse character who had declined in popularity. As production costs for the short grew higher than what it could earn, Walt Disney decided to include the short in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces.
A Classic FM Hall of Fame favourite, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite first became a popular choice for film after it was used to accompany a segment in Disney’s classic Fantasia. Selections from Tchaikovsky's ballet suite underscore scenes depicting the changing of the seasons from summer to autumn to winter.
The most famous use of Mussorgky's masterpiece is in the final sequence of Disney’s Fantasia which stars a devil called Chernabog who uses his powers to raise all sorts of ghosts, monsters, and demons all through the night. The version heard in the film is actually Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's popular version of the piece, completed a few years after Mussorgky's death.
Jerome Moross received an Oscar nomination for his score for The Big Country, a classic American Western directed by William Wyler and starring Gregory Peck, Charlton Hesten and Carroll Baker. According to Moross, he composed the main title after recalling a walk he took in the flat lands around Albuquerque, New Mexico, shortly before he moved to Hollywood in the late 1930s.
Alfred Newman (father to American Beauty composer Thomas Newman) was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on this 1939 adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, starring Laurence Olivier. Alfred Newman has won nine Academy Awards in total, more than any other composer in Oscar history.
Kenneth Alford’s Colonel Bogey march was first heard on film when Alfred Hitchcock included it in The Lady Vanishes in 1938. However the piece’s most famous cinematic outing was during David Lean’s classic Bridge Over the River Kwai, whistled by the POWs as they enter the camp.
On the Waterfront not only featured a classic Oscar-winning turn from Marlon Brando, but it also featured the first and only Leonard Bernstein score that wasn’t adapted from a stage production with songs. Bernstein was nominated for an Academy Award for the score, however he was beaten by Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for The High and the Mighty.
Austrian composer Max Steiner was one of the most in demand composers of his time, penning music for such Hollywide classics as King Kong, Cassablanca, and Little Women. In 1939 Steiner was hired to write for Gone With the Wind, a film which has gone on to enter the annals of the real all time greats. Steiner was given only three months to compose a large amount of music for the film, whilst at the same time scoring We Are Not Alone, Dark Victory and Four Wives for Warner. The hard work would pay off – not only did he earn an Academy Award nomination, but the music has gone on to endure as much as the film itself - in 2005, the American Film Institute ranked Max Steiner's score for the film the second greatest of all time.
Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky was the third film that Prokofiev had worked on. The film became a labour of love for the composer – not only did he immerse himself in to both the composing and the recording of the score, experimenting with microphones in the studio, but he also went on to rearrange the music in the form of a cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra.
By 1993, Carl Davis had established himself as the number one choice for scoring silent films. His crowning achievement is arguably his brilliant score for Ben-Hur, a 1925 silent film produced for the newly merged MGM studios. The film may have been slightly overshadowed by the Charlton Heston-starring remake of 1959, but Ben-Hur was a real blockbuster in its day, and was the most expensive silent film ever made.