The Music for No Sad Song For Me by George Duning
Originally published in Film Music Notes Vol. IX/No.4, 1950
Official publication of the National Film Music Council © 1950
NO SAD SONGS FOR ME is the story of a happily married woman, with a good husband and little daughter, who suddenly discovers that she is dying of cancer and has about eight or ten months to live. Being a woman of unusual fortitude, she does not tell her husband of the imposing tragedy but makes plans which she hopes will lessen the grief of her death. Meanwhile, a young woman, a war widow, goes to work in the husband’s office, and the husband suddenly finds himself attracted to the girl. The wife, at first greatly hurt, gradually realizes that this girl, because of her qualities, would make a logical successor, It can be readily seen that the background score called for quite an emotional treatment.
There were several problems encountered in the preparations of the score. First, the story called for a symphonic excerpt which was one of the favorite works of the wife and later turns out to be a favorite of the other girl. This music was to be heard twice as a phonograph recording and then as the End Title, The problem involved in the choice of this excerpt was the fact that in both scenes it had to be played under very low dialogue. After much deliberation, the Horn solo section of the Brahms First Symphony, Fourth Movement, was chosen because of its great warmth and quiet beauty. It was found that the original orchestration of Brahms dubbed beautifully except for the high flute answer; also the statement of the chorale by the trombones. Being a great worshipper of Brahms it was with extreme reluctance that I reset the high flute solo an octave lower and doubled with an oboe, My orchestrator, Arthur Morton, who did a magnificent job on the orchestration of the score, devised an excellent setting of the chorale with a combination of four horns overlade with woodwinds. Other than these two sections, the Brahms was quoted verbatim on the recordings.
The situation which exists at the end of the picture required that a two-piano version be made of the Finale to the Fourth Movement, but again the orchestra was playing from the original score behind the pianos. Regarding the original music in the background score, the main theme, had to be a long tune that could be played unaccompanied or with very little underpinning, because of the low husky quality of Miss Sullavan’s voice. In one scene, where Miss Sullavan is writing to her husband regarding her impending death, the violins play this theme muted over a single pedal note with occasional entrances of two flutes in their low register. Considerable use was made of fragments of the main theme, especially the jump of the minor seventh found in the first two notes. The Doctor’s theme required a quiet warmth and was generally played as a horn solo or in the violas. The character of Chris, the other girl, required a somewhat cool and out-of-doors flavor and was generally played as a clarinet solo. Only one typically motion picture device was used in this NO SAD SONGS FOR ME score, namely a reiterated ‘G’ natural on harp, vibes and celeste – which was played over the background scoring whenever reference was made to the wife’s impending death. This device was always heard on the same note ‘G’ regardless of the tonality of the underscoring at the moment. Most of the orchestral settings of the score were typically symphonic with great dependence on the strings, woodwinds in twos and horns; practically no brass.
NO SAD SONGS FOR ME. Columbia: Margaret Sullavan, Wendell Corey, Viveca Lindfors. Director, Rudolph Mate. Music by George Duning.