55 Days At Peking/Tiomkin
November 17, 2011
Toward the end of his composing career one of the epic projects Tiomkin tackled was the Samuel Bronston production 55 Days At Peking. Bronston had burned bridges with Rozsa and ended up using Tiomkin for his last three major pictures which also included Circus World and The Fall Of The Roman Empire. All three pictures were Golden Globe/Oscar films for the talented Russian born composer. La-La Land has released a limited edition 2500 unit 2 CD release consisting of 114 minutes of material. Included are many previously unreleased tracks and six mono 45RPM recordings. Included is the Andy Williams pop version “So Little Time.” Nominated for best score and song this was the year of Tom Jonesand “Call Me Irresponsible,” the winners. The film starred Charlton Heston, Ava Gardener, and David Niven and dealt with the Boxer Rebellion which took place in China in 1900.
“The Overture” introduces the major melodies of the film in a three minute compilation. The Rebellion theme is offered in an easily recognizable Tiomkin style. The pace is very presto with the trombones of the Sinfonia of London orchestra giving it a dissonant feel. The trombone players had to do a lot of doubling tonguing! This Rebellion theme is going to appear in many disguises and orchestrations. The overture switches to the Natasha theme also offered at a presto pace. The love theme “So Little Time” is played in an easy listening style, a song designed
For the popular charts, something Tiomkin did on a somewhat regular basis. Don’t confuse this song with the Henry Mancini “Too Little Time” from the Glenn Miller Story, something I did. “The Main Title” introduces a 4th theme called “Moon Fire,” one in the tradition of a lush romantic offering Tiomkin is famous for. This is the theme for Theresa and is used throughout the score. Included in the bonus selections is a 45 RPM version that was on the ‘B’ side of “So Little Time.” “Welcome Marines is a band parade military march that has a classic style with an interesting twist. Its counterpoint is the strings playing the “Moon Fire” theme as well as a reference to the “Yankee Doodle Theme.” “Dance at the British Embassy (The Belfry Two-Step) is a waltz this time source music, a tune called “Mosquito Parade.” It features a smaller ensemble of brass, percussion, and woodwinds in an appropriate period track as it was written in 1899. “Natasha’s Waltz” is the Natasha theme with variations performed to sound like the time period, somewhat Strauss Jr. like. There is a short reference to “So Little Time” at the end of the track. “So Little Time” is an instrumental version and the rhythm from the percussion gives it a feeling of somewhat Oriental. I can only say somewhat because the theme is really a modern one. “Children’s Corner” is an arrangement of the Arthur Pryor “The Whistler and the Dog” song, a happy uplifting cue that sounds like a Leroy Anderson composition. “Hotel Blanc” offers the Natasha theme on solo violin and bayan. “So Little Time,” also known as the Peking theme is arranged very easy listening style with reverberation for the voice and elevator orchestration. “Death of Natasha” begins with solo harmonica of the “So Little Time” theme followed by a small chorus singing the words also without orchestra. Both parts are very soft and delicate and the tempo is quite Largo. “Help Arrives” features the percussion, lots of drums, and a compilation of majestic material including bagpipes, which represent the Allied nations. “Attack on the French Legation” is a variation of the Rebellion theme with counterpoint being the Natasha theme. Tiomkin switches the themes back and forth with the Rebellion theme also becoming counterpoint. It ends with the Natasha theme. There are six bonus selections included, all mono and arranged for the easy listening crowd. If one had not seen the film and recognized the melodies the listener would have no idea the kind of film it came from if a movie at all.
Historian/writer Frank DeWald provided 20 pages of excellent material about the making of the film, Tiomkin, and a track by track analysis of all the music. Once I warmed up to this score I found it to be every bit as good as any material he has ever written. This is a complex score with true classical ideas such as counterpoint, a scherzo, waltzes, and harmonies. In addition there is popular, military, and some new to the ear source material. As long as you remember that this is material from 1963 the sound is fine although there is a bit of switching between mono and stereo sources, all clearly noted in the track listings. This score has something for everyone who has an interest in Tiomkin or golden age material. This release has to be given consideration for re-release of 2011. It is that good.
Total Duration: 01:54:09
** Tracks from original Columbia CS8828 release from 1963