In the 1930s, Hollywood put out the welcome mat for “serious” composers with promises of higher pay in comparison to what they could make writing for the concert hall along with the suggestion that films would be much better with these composers’ writing for film. Like anything else, there seems to be a variety of reasons for the composers who joined the Hollywood roster at the beck of the siren’s call.
Erich Korngold accepted director Max Reinhardt’s invite to the United States and Hollywood in 1934 as the Nazi regime was coming into its own. Korngold’s first film score was Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) and was well received by the critics. Aaron Copland saw an opportunity to broaden his audience and increase his reputation for his concert music. In the decade of 1939-1949, Copland composed the scores for five major films (Of Mice and Men, Our Town, The North Star, The Red Pony, and The Heiress) and two documentaries (The New City and The Cummington Story). It is probably safe to say that Copland achieved his “Hollywood objective.”
For Igor Stravinsky, however, there didn’t seem to be a comfort level with writing for “the movies” or for the Hollywood “magic,” despite the fact that he moved permanently to Hollywood in 1941. Soured by how his music (parts of Rite of Spring) was incorporated into the 1940 Walt Disney classic Fantasia (accompanying a sequence of dinosaur gyrations), Stravinsky didn’t embrace the call of cinematic scoring. Although, he continued to allow his concert music to be used by Hollywood as it did pay what were considered “tidy sums” for the time.
While Hollywood embraced the services of prestigious names of composers writing for the concert hall, the love was not always returned by “classical” audiences in the concert hall for those Hollywood writers. While Copland made it work for himself, composers such as Korngold and Giovanni Rota (a.k.a. Nino Rota) who “signed on” to movie music seemed to have their legitimacy of being a “serious” composer stripped for quite some time. How snobbish the “classical” music community can be.
Yet in the age of John Williams, Philip Glass, and John Corigliano, a greater acceptance of the composer who colors outside the lines and crosses the genre boundaries seems to be emerging. And the concert music of those who “sold out” to Hollywood’s early days are being rediscovered and embraced. Such is the case with the music of Erich Korngold and Giovanni Rota.
Giovanni Rota’s film work dates back to the early forties, and he worked with virtually all of the noted directors of his time. The first being Federico Fellini for whom Rota wrote the scores for all of the acclaimed director’s films from The White Sheik (1952) to The Orchestra Rehearsal (1979). More lovingly known as “Nino,” the composer is perhaps most well recognized for his work in The Godfather films II (Rota received the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Godfather II). But, Nino also has a wonderful catalogue of “serious” music that includes choral and vocal works, orchestral music, scores for opera, theatre and ballet, and chamber music.
On Saturday, the Saint Rose Camerata—The College of Saint Rose’s acclaimed faculty chamber ensemble—continues its 14th year with an exploration of chamber music that includes Rota’s Trio for flute, violin, and piano. It’s an engaging piece of music and wonderfully placed alongside Schumann’s song cycle masterpiece Dichterliebe and works by Poulenc, Bach, and American composer and Saint Rose faculty member Andrew McKenna Lee.
The program is to include:
- Francis Poulenc — Vocalise-Etude, Op. 89
- Robert Schumann — Dichterliebe, ‘A Poet’s Love’
- Francis Poulenc — Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon
- J.S. Bach — Prelude for Lute in D minor, BWV 999
- Andrew McKenna Lee — Suite from Five Refractions of a Prelude by Bach
- Giovanni “Nino” Rota — Trio for Flute, Violin and Piano
The Saint Rose Camerata performers for this program are:
- Margaret Lampasi, soprano
- Leroy Bynum, tenor
- Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough, flute
- Amanda Brin, violin
- Andrew McKenna Lee, guitar
- Young Kim, piano
While there is so much music going on over the next few days, I hope you consider discovering the cornered cinematic composer Nino Rota’s “serious” music with the Saint Rose Camerata’s concert at the Massery Center. While I hope to see you there, I do wish you much joy in your musicking adventures this weekend regardless of what you choose to take in!