The Composer in Hollywood


Christopher Palmer

Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd (July 1, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0714529508
ISBN-13: 978-0714529509
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches

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Christopher Palmer’s book is very much a paean to the music from the Golden Age of Hollywood and, as such, is highly recommended. It is aimed at the general reader as well as the enthusiast and is mercifully free of technicalities. It covers similar ground to Tony Thomas’ Music for the Movies, which remains the definitive book on the subject. Palmer is more analytical and scholarly than Thomas although he does not impart to the reader quite the same infectious enthusiasm for the subject that Thomas did.

The book concentrates on the life and work of the seven most talented composers to have worked in Hollywood – Miklos Rozsa, Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Dimitri Tiomkin, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner. Included amongst this august body is a chapter on Roy Webb whom Palmer obviously considers to have been unjustly neglected. As a coda he touches on the work of Alex North, Elmer Bernstein and Leonard Rosenman as instigators of a new wave which spread into Hollywood film music in the fifties – breaking away from the nineteenth century influenced romantic tradition. The book is particularly valuable in its detailed analysis of specific scores. No less than seven pages for example are given to discussing the music of CITIZEN KANE alone. Palmer is fortunate in having known some of the composers featured and he is able, to provide much anecdotal information, particularly in the case of Bernard Herrmann

Palmer makes few observations about modern film scores but he obviously has little regard for those created artificially by means of electronics. Of composers working today he praises John Williams for having carried on the Korngold tradition of swashbuckling, romantic adventure scores such as STAR WARS. Palmer makes the point that the Golden Age composers thrived in the conditions of the time. The studio system and the type of films being made in the thirties and forties ensured that their work was in demand. The studio system created composers such as Max Steiner and Alfred Newman as surely as it created stars such as James Stewart or Gary Grant. In today’s film industry there is no place for a Max Steiner or James Stewart. We are all the poorer for that.

Doug Raynes


  • Karoly Mazak on said:

    Are there any sheet music excerpts for the main themes (either transcriptions or full score reproductions) of a given film in this book?
    Or is the music described just by words?

    American Film Music: Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915-90 by William Darby covers the same topic, and that book has many transciptions.

    • Doug Raynes on said:

      It’s not that sort of book. There are no sheet music excerpts or detailed descriptions of the music.

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