Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman (1906-1967)

September 29, 2011

Franz Waxman (1906-1967) scored 188 films for Universal, MGM, Selznick, Warner Bros and other studios in the 30 plus years he worked for Hollywood. Composing at the same time that other Golden Age Masters such as Steiner, Korngold, Tiomkin, Newman and others  he received two Oscars, 12 Oscar nominations, Golden Globe and Grammy consideration. In addition he premiered over 80 works by such composers as Walton, Stravinsky, and Vaughan Williams through the Los Angeles Music Festival which he founded and was head of for 20 years. He also composed some extremely good classical music which is sadly neglected.  As part of a series of recordings for RCA, Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic present eight of his films. This new re-release from Sony/BMG uses the original master tapes that the LP’s were made from. The Dolby Surround CD’s designed for listening with a surround system was avoided. This is not to say that there is anything wrong the Dolby masters at all, only that they produce inferior sound on a traditional stereo system.

Prince Valiant (1954) offers frantic strings to begin the first of seven cues in this 9 minute suite as the rousing main title is introduced. The melody is cleverly orchestrated to have the melody shared by the brass and the strings. This arrangement makes it quite clear in subtle motifs it is indeed British and we’re in for swashbuckling entertainment. The brass gets quite a workout having to play as quickly as the strings in some parts. The brass is what separates this from a Williams or Korngold arrangement with a trademark Waxman featured. It ends with a lush romantic love theme enhanced with a church bell, a delicate touch.

A Place In The Sun (1951) further shows his versatility as the Oscar winning jazz score is dissonant with staccato brass chords,  time changes, lush strings, and a wonderful alto sax solo which has the sound of being improvisational. Jazz had entered Hollywood through Waxman, North, and Bernstein and took full advantage of the style for many years. This score has become somewhat of a template for other material.

The groundbreaking Bride of Frankenstein (1935) was something audiences had never heard before and looking back 75 years it was truly years ahead of its time. It was eerie sounding with the Odnes Martenot, twisted sounding brass, swirling strings, and a constant timpani is still frightening today and this includes the love theme which is quite unusual even today. He also introduced the monster motif, one which Hans Salter expanded upon and used for all of the remaining Frankenstein films.

Sunset Boulevard (1950), his first Oscar winner had a fresh modern sound to it. It is filled with melodies including a tango that you’ll remember. It was part jazz, part romantic, and part dissonant making this an ear tingling experience not to be forgotten once you hear it. I can’t say enough good things about Gerhardt and his handpicked orchestra. If you don’t like this track you won’t like Waxman but like the Billy Wilder movie you come back for more.

The “Elegy for Strings” from Old Acquaintance is soft, dreamy and melodic giving the brass a holiday which they certainly needed after playing some of the previous tracks!

Rebecca (1940) his first effort with Hitchcock enhanced a great picture/story with just the right amount of romance, tension, and scary moments. The yearning tenderness in his theme like so many of his other melodies is unforgettable.

Philadelphia Story (1940) is a fun and upbeat theme offering nice piano work harmonizing with the melody being carried by the strings.

Taras Bulba (1962) the concluding piece takes a somewhat complex Cossack melody and slowly builds upon it in intensity and orchestration. There is counterpoint upon counterpoint as it builds to a rousing conclusion that Rimsky-Korsakov, composer of Scheherazade, would have looked upon favorably.

I encourage you to add this CD to your collection along with any of the other CD’s in the series that you can afford. The sound quality is excellent for a 1974 recording as the mike placement and engineering is top notch. These are treasures that you’ll return to often. Highly recommended.

CD# is 88697 81265 2 Sony/BMG

Charles Gerhardt conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra

Track listing


Prince Valiant (09:46)
Prelude / King Aguar’s Escape / The Fens / The First Chase / The Tournament / Sir Brack’s Death and Finale


A Place In the Sun (08:29)


The Bride of Frankenstein (07:17)
The Creation of the Female Monster


Sunset Boulevard (07:44)
Main Title / Norma Desmond / The Studio Stroll / The Comeback / Norma As Salome


Old Acquaintance (03:29)
Elegy for Strings


Rebecca (07:45)
Prelude / After the Ball / Mrs. Danvers / Confession Scene / Manderley in Flames


The Philadelphia Story (03:34)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Fanfare / Main Title / The True Love


Taras Bulba (04:53)
The Ride to Dubno

Total Duration: 00:52:57

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