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Album Title:The Hollywood Cello: Concert works by film composers from "The Golden Era"
Artist:Gregory Hamilton
Performers:Kate Hamilton, Robert Hamilton
Item Code:ALBUM-00327
Label:Soundset Recordings
Performance Type:   Studio Recording
Sub-Genre:Chamber Music, Film Music, Strings


One day, as we were searching for duos to play together, my wife and I discovered a sonata for viola and cello by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. It had been published almost 50 years ago and there were only a few copies to be found in libraries around the world. Reading through the piece, we realized its significance and wanted to give it the attention it deserved. At about the same time, I was planning my first commercial recording and decided to include a movement from this piece. Little did I know that when Tedesco wrote the viola and cello duo he was living in California in the midst of a successful career composing music for over 200 films! In my research of Tedesco and his fellow Hollywood film composers of that era (the 1940s and 1950s), I discovered that the majority were European, not American, and that many had built successful careers as composers of "serious" classical music before coming to the United States to write music for movies. Offering concert works by film composers of the Golden Era, I thought, would make an interesting collection for a CD.

The Golden Era of American cinema - the end of silent filmmaking to the early 1960s - took place during a time when European and American history converged, especially in the arts. These Europeans were primarily refugees from the years leading up to and during World War II, many of them German and Austrian Jews. In the film industry, screen stars Peter Lorre, Hedy Lamar, and Paul Henreid, writer Billy Wilder, and the directors Fritz Lang and Erich Pommer are just some of the famous names that worked together in the German cinema, only to leave their homeland when their work was censored and it became unsafe for them to stay. The same circumstances existed for composers. Some found a new and unexpected career in Hollywood, which meant sacrificing some of their accustomed autonomy in order to work within the more controlled environment of Hollywood film.

Two Child Prodigies:

The life and career of Erich Wolfgang Korngold is well documented in numerous biographies. A child prodigy and a brilliant composer, he left a life of fame in Vienna just before Hitler occupied Austria. Korngold made a lasting mark on film music with his characteristically lush and grand orchestrations in a late-Romantic style. Kathrin Korngold Hubbard comments on the difficulties her grandfather faced once in California: "Fifty years ago, Erich Wolfgang Korngold died in Hollywood, brokenhearted - believing himself a forgotten man. Happily, in the last decade, his music appears to be undergoing a true renaissance." The unpublished Romance Impromptu was conceived for a scene in the film-noir melodrama Deception (1946) starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. It was a natural choice, as the film's plot is centered upon a concert cellist. The scene was eventually cut, though, and this music was never heard, apparently because they couldn't achieve the proper camera angles to make Henreid look like a believable cellist in the close shots. Thankfully, a cello concerto written by Korngold did make the cut and is in fact heard throughout much of the movie. Tanzlied des Pierrot is a transcription of an aria from Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt, completed when he was 23 years old.

Holland native Richard Hageman is known for his work as an actor, pianist, and conductor as well as for his film scores. Most of the music in the John Ford films in the 1930s and 40s were composed by Hageman, earning him an Oscar for Stagecoach in 1939. Hageman conducted at the Metropolitan Opera for many years and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra summer season for six years. This forgotten Recitative and Romance was published in 1961 by G. Schirmer.

The Russian Nationalists:

Lazare Saminsky was a conservative Jew, defending the importance of old synagogue music in his adopted (and more progressive) home, the United States. This Meditation is in the style of a cantillation, reminiscent of the nigun, an improvisatory tune, often wordless, sung as a prayer or lament. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Saminsky immigrated to America, and in 1923 he collaborated with Hugo Riesenfeld to compose the film score to The Ten Commandments.

Joseph Achron, violinist and composer, was also committed to the preservation and promotion of Jewish folk music (both Achron and Saminsky were early members of the St Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music). In 1934 he moved to California and became part of the many émigré composers and performers, residing there until his death in 1943. Achron had limited success as a film composer but spent much time playing in various studio orchestras and composing violin pieces for Jascha Heifetz. Fragment Mystique is based on a theme recorded by Zinovy Kisselgoff during his 1914 expedition to collect Jewish folk songs deep within the Russian countryside.

The Birthday Tributes:

As his grandson, Lawrence Weschler, describes in his excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly, Ernst Toch and his fellow émigrés "used to regale one another with a story about two dachshunds who meet one evening out on the Palisade. 'Here it's true,' one assures the other, 'I'm a dachshund. But in the old country I was a Saint Bernard.' " This quote could easily apply to any of the displaced composers on this CD--they made the best of their circumstances but never lost sight of what they left behind. Speaking of dachshunds, the Variations on Peter's Song (an unpublished manuscript) seems to refer to Toch's many dogs of that breed that he named Peter. It is a whimsical birthday tribute to "Bobby, from Uncle Ernst," and the melody and lyrics of the song are apparently the composer's own:

"Ev'ry being has its spouse,
Human, monkey, cat and mouse,
Scotty, Doberman and Chow,
wow wow wow, wow wow wow."

Jewish composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's music was banned by Mussolini's fascist government, and, when in 1938 the "Manifesto of Race" was adopted by that country, Tedesco (with the help of Arturo Toscanini) immigrated to California where he first worked for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and eventually all the major film studios. For the 70th birthday of celebrated Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti¬--Tedesco's teacher at the Conservatory in Florence--the Sonata in C Minor for Viola and Violoncello was presented as a gift.

The Silents:

Music for silent films was typically a compilation of pre-existent music (known in the industry as "stock" music) and usually drawn from both popular and classical music repertory. However, a year after the wildly successful premiere of Birth of a Nation (1915), cellist and composer Victor Herbert was commissioned to compose a complete original score for its sequel, Fall of a Nation. True to the style of the 1920s, Herbert's concert works often invoke the popular music of that time period. In the Romance you can almost hear Rudy Vallée singing along, and Pensée Amoureuse might easily have found a place as a parlor song in one of Herbert's popular operettas.

Many people might not think of Charlie Chaplin as a composer, but he did indeed write all of the music heard in his films. He actually could not read music so he "composed" with the help of an arranger. A quote from his autobiography sums up how he achieved this: "I really didn't write it down, I la-laed and Arthur Johnston wrote it down. It is all simple music, you know, in keeping with my character." Chaplin actually had his own music publishing company for a brief time, of which Oh That Cello! and Peace Patrol (both composed in 1916) were early products. Smile, perhaps his most recognized song, is from the movie Modern Times (1936). - Gregory Hamilton


With the amount of time and research that went into this recording project, there are many people to recognize. First and foremost, I am grateful to Kate, my wife, for recording with me and helping at every stage of the process, my daughters Samantha (choosing edits), Olivia (choosing artwork), and Kiki (giving her opinions on everything), my father for his patience during the recording sessions, and my mother for all her insight and editing help. I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with a brilliant sound engineer, Charles Szczepanek, and to an equally gifted artist, Leanne Koonce, both of whom I was lucky to find.

I also recognize my student Kyra Sommerfeld, whose research was tenacious and thorough, and wish to thank my friend and fellow cellist, Hans van Ditmarsch, for his editing advice. I am thankful as well for the support and guidance I received along the way from my Concordia College colleagues Jay Hershberger, David Worth, and Russell Peterson. Finally, I wish to offer my deepest gratitude to the relatives and estate trustees of the composers featured on this CD, especially Kathrin Korngold Hubbard, Dina Ormenyi, and Lawrence Weschler. A big thank you goes to Rhys Thorn, librarian at the University of Otago, for ordering music and corresponding with these estates.

Special thanks goes to Provost Mark Krejci and Concordia College, whose sponsorship was invaluable to this project.