A film, radio & television music researcher since 1982 when the Herrmann Papers first became available to the public, Bill Wrobel actively researches the film and televsion scores of major composers, particularly Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, Jerry Goldsmith, and many, many others. Bill Wrobel is a frequent contributor to the Talking Herrmann forum since its inception in early 1999, located within the official Bernard Herrmann Society. He wrote a reference paper for The Journal of Film Music (Vol. 1, No. 2/3) titled, “Self-Borrowing in the Music of Bernard Herrmann.” His educational website, Film Score Rundowns has been online since January, 1999.
The following interview with Mr. Wrobel was first posted in May 2001.
Q: Mr. Wrobel, tell us about your collaboration in researching the film music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold?
My research of Korngold’s scores at the Warner Brothers Archives at USC began in the spring or summer of 1989. That was the period when the CBS Collection at UCLA was first available. So I was particularly busy that year researching the scores Bernard Herrmann composed for CBS, and shortly after with research at USC when Leith Adams was in charge of the W/B Archives. Leith is a terrific, accomodating gentleman, and he now works as a Corporate Archivist at Warner Brothers. He would pull the fully orchestrated scores I requested, sometimes several at one week’s sitting.
My first research involved Max Steiner scores such as “The Boy From Oklahoma” and “Lion and the Horse.” Over the years I researched at least 30 Steiner scores (and scores by other composers such as Kaper’s “Them,” Waxman’s “Silver Chalice,” etc). Within that period, I also managed to study several Korngold scores.
The first research into a Korngold score was actually quite accidental. I was busy hand-copying portions of a Steiner score in the Special Collections Reading Room on an upper floor of the Doheny Library in the center of USC campus. You see, all W/B Archive materials can only be studied at the on-site USC library facilities, specifically the Cinema-Television Library. I happened to see Korngold’s “Sea Hawk” full score resting on a nearby shelf behind the room monitor (usually a student employed part-time by the Library). Someone else had pulled it, and I asked Leith if it was okay to study the score since it was due to be returned to storage. I was immediately captivated by the virtuosic intricacies of the written score. So the next time I visited, I took along my Walkman audio cassette player, and listened to the tape of the movie as I read the score. I had already received written permissen from Al Kohn at Warner Bros. Music (licensing chief at the time) which gave Leith permission to xerox from the Archives at my expense (usually 50 cents per 11X17 page, or $1 per full page, so it can get pretty expensive to xerox, especially if you wanted to xerox the complete “Sea Hawk” score of nearly 640 pages!). So I wrote down which pages I wanted (totaling about 80-90 pages) and marked them on the official Order/Request form, and placed long white strips of paper within the pages I wanted so as to easily signal the person xeroxing later on. I would also hand-copy select cues or portions of cues which were not quite so heavily congested or busy with notes! Such hand-copying is an excellent method of learning how these Hollywood composers wrote, becoming deeply embedded in one’s subconscious. I also hand-copied extensively (almost exclusively) the Bernard Herrmann scores at UC Santa Barbara and also at UCLA (when xeroxing was no longer allowed after the first year or less of availibility due to policy changes). But hand-copying takes a great deal of time and patience which most people do not have, I’ve discovered! It’s too much work, but I think it’s worth it.
“The Sea Hawk” is perhaps my favorite Korngold film score (and I think most fans’ favorite). Truly a classic score for a classic Errol Flynn movie. I could imagine Max Steiner scoring that film, but I really think Korngold was a perfect match for that pic. The orchestrated pages were about 13 X 18 inches in size (usually 24-33 staves, depending on the blank sheets used), so in order to xerox the complete page, one would have to xerox first the top of the page then the bottom half with 11 X 17 sheets. Some studios however have special large xerox machines which can xerox a complete, long orchestrated page.
Korngold’s “Adventures of Robin Hood” was also a truly inspired work, and so I had that score pulled next. After that, I researched (to a far lesser extent than the other two scores) “The Prince and the Pauper,” then briefly worked on “Kings Row,” “The Sea Wolf,” and “The Constant Nymph.” I also did work on “Captain Blood,” Korngold’s “first” major score for Warner Brothers (in terms of a score completely his, not adapted by another source as he did from Mendelssohn for A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’s DREAM). In fact, John Morgan requested my services sometime in 1993/4 to hand-copy the Main Title sequence for his then upcoming Marco Polo release which included a fabulous suite of “Captain Blood” music. He knew of my work at USC, and since no fully orchestrated pages existed of the Main Title (and the immediately following “horseman” cue), he wondered if I could help him by hand-copying from the orchestral parts into a composite whole. It was a pleasure doing this, but unfortunately USC at the time only allowed me to use large index cards (rather than standard blank music sheets) which I stenciled/xeroxed staves unto. So it was quite a task under the limiting circumstances! But John is a professional with a keen eye as a music score reconstructionist. He later spotted some copying errors I made on a clarinet line, I believe, which I later corrected on a return trip. By the way, he is also an excellent composer in his own right, his style somewhat a mixture of Steiner & Herrmann (although the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!). I later worked (for my own) on other parts of the score which interested me, but very sparsely. For instance, I was interested in cue #27, “Isle of Virgen Magra,” a very beautiful, effective, rather calming cue which begins with the strings playing the D maj 2nd inversion (A/D/F#) half note chord to the Bb min half note chord to the D maj root full note chord in the next bar. The vibe sounds softly with the flutes and clarinet (harp is arpeggiando). I also liked the Slave Market cue (cue 5) and “Slaves At The Wheel” (cue 8), etc. Hugo Friedhofer orchestrated the music. Usually H.W.F. was the principal orchestrator, but also Milan Roder’s orchestrating services were used a lot. In fact, I preferred Roder’s work because his writing was far more readable than Friedhofer’s! Larger and clearly notated, and rather pretty to look at (his almost calligraphy-oriented style of writing). But Friedhofer was a master. John Morgan pointed out to me in a recent post that, according to Friedhofer, Korngold’s sketches to “Captain Blood” were not complete, and that Korngold would play on the piano and shout out specific instructions when needed. Apparently his sketches were basically unreadable, so a German friend of Korngold’s would step in and recopy the sketches (in a more readable version) for Friedhofer and Roder. But it is important to understand that ALL of “Captain Blood” is pure Korngold. Friedhofer did not ghost write part of the Main Title, for instance. He simply was invaluable as the orchestrator, translating Korngold’s music into the final Hollywood version, so to speak (since Korngold at the time was new at the Hollywood game). This is not unusual for an orchestator to help out. Powell helped out Alfred Newman, for instance.
Q: What was the reaction of people at Warner Bros.?
The reactions of the archivists at W/B Archives/USC are quite helpful and professional. These musical treasures are there for the asking, to be tapped for research! All you have to do is simply give them enough time to pull the material (play it safe by giving them at least a week to two weeks notice). Noelle R. Carter is the Acting Director now, with Stuart Galbraith IV helping out as the Curator. I was there just last year when I had a few scores pulled such as Steiner’s “Springfield Rifle,” and Buttolph’s “Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.” Currently the Doheny Library is being given an earthquake retrofit, so the temporary location of the Reading Room/Cinema-TV Library is just north of campus at University Village. Ned Comstock is the principal archivist there. He is also a terrific, helpful person, who in the past pulled many scores for me, including scores from the Dimitri Tiomkin Collection there, and Herrmann’s “Joy in the Morning” copyist score, and Alfred Newman scores such as “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Q: What were the difficulties in your project?
It is not difficult finding scores and legal papers and other documents. Warner Bros. Archives has perhaps the biggest collection of studio documents (including full scores/parts/conductor scores/cue sheets etc) held anywhere. They also can pull scores past 1968 (when W/B was sold to Screen Gems), but generally I focus on the Golden Age or early Silver Age scores. You might occasionally find a missing cue, or perhaps the fully orchestrated cue may not be available, but generally it’s pretty complete. Most of the time, you do not have cue titles marked on the fully orchestrated pages, so you might want to have the autograph sketch score pulled (if available) or at least the W/B piano-conductor sheets, and also the cue sheets. But I would not rely solely on the p-c music sheet version. The most complete version of the music is of course the fully orchestrated pages. Still, you have to realize that these are usually the FINAL version, and may not incorporate all the originally intended score sketched by, say, Korngold. But sometimes you also find little gems of discovery, such as short cues never used in the final picture, or fragments of cues. This has happened many times especially when I researched Steiner thoroughly. There was, for instance, a long sequence at the end of “Hanging Tree” when Elizabeth pleads for Frail’s life that was never used.
Q: Why did Korngold trust the orchestration of film music to other composers? Was the orchestration close enough to his idea and style?
As for the orchestration of Korngold’s films, I’ve already discussed his in part. Korngold did not orchestrate his own music for films. He relied on his orchestrators for that, which was the standard practice for Hollywood. Bernard Herrmann was about the only composer who orchestrated his own works. Sometimes a composer may step in and orchestrate some of the cues, but usually they have complete faith in their preferred orchestrators (eg., Murray Cutter for Max Steiner). I think Friedhofer helped tremendously in this respect for Korngold, as discussed earlier, since Korngold was rather new at the game in the mid-Thirties. I think Tiomkin also was helped tremendously by his principal orchestrators as well since Dimitri often wrote in a virtuosic piano style that did not always translate very well orchestrally, so the orchestrators would lend a hand, and at the recording sessions adjustments would also have to be made in terms of balance and colour. As to links to Korngold’s classical works, I must defer that question to qualified researchers who have specialized in his classical works (I haven’t). Perhaps Robert Glaser could be of assistance here! Give him this question!
Q: What do you believe that today’s soundtrack listeners owe to E.Korngold’s music and technique?
First-time listeners to Korngold usually are those watching the swashbuckler Errol Flynn films he composed for. One has to remember that Korngold, born May 29, 1897, was a child prodigy who played his “Gold” cantata at age nine to Gustav Mahler (who pronounced him a genius). At age 11 he composed his ballet “Der Schneemann,” and so forth. He completed his opera “Die tote Stadt” when he was 23. Max Reinhardt brought him to Hollywood where he pioneered the symphonic film score, which had a tremendous effect (influencing Williams’ score to “Star Wars”). The best term I can associate with Korngold is “virtuosic.” His scores are richly romantic, highly leitmotif-oriented, fully contrapuntal, intricately textured. Of course he wrote phenomenal music in the elaborate, late-Romantic framework or style which simply reinforced, in a bigger or more virtuosic Hollywood sound, the Russian-Germantic romantic idiom already established by the likes of Max Steiner and others.
Korngold had a restless part of his nature with a quick and active mind, needing lots of variety and intellectual stimulation and challenge. So I sense an impatience with that accelerated thinking processs which could easily grasp the Big Picture, yet have some difficulty with handling of minute details in relation to the overview. So I can understand why his sketches were unreadable! He struggled with trying to faithfully reproduce the great, restless creativity within, inspiration which flashed through his mind like a lightning bolt. But I feel that his individuality was slighted and he was deeply wounded personally and artistically by the neglect he largely suffered in latter life.
I think, for those truly interested, one must research Korngold’s music more fully to truly understand his exceptional contributions. Reading the written music is a primary tool to fuller understanding. It is one thing enjoying Mom’s apple pie (eg., listening to a Korngold cd), but it is another thing having a recipe to that apple pie (eg., the written score). With the recipe, you begin to learn how the master cook of music whipped up his delicious aural treat! That is why I have a Film Score Rundowns site (http://www.filmscorerundowns.net) so that I can help show, in small part, these many recipes. The laborious verbal descriptions are inadequate because one look (of a written music page) is worth a thousand words! However, I’ve already worked on a few Korngold scores, the latest being “Prince and the Pauper” exclusively for this Korngold site! Next may be a mini cue rundown of “Captain Blood,” perhaps, or “Kings Row.” But it will be a minor, cursory analysis since I did not research these scores very adequately. Time, like my wallet’s contents, is quite limited! I enjoy to share with those who appreciate such technical information. But I am not a musicologist, just a researcher who has real fun devoting some of his spare time on film music as an avocation. I happen to be living in the mecca of film music (southern california) so it would be wise to take advantage of such good fortune, studying the treasures of such Romantic composers as Korngold and Steiner.
Originally posted May 2001 — reformatted June 2012