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Dimitri Tiomkin - Portrait
Score 169, 29 08 2012


The recent release of a CD with his music in concert has brought Dimitri Tiomkin back into the spotlight. The Russian-born composer was paid a tribute with music from his well-known scores from The Alamo, The High and the Mighty, High Noon, and many other films. The concert performed by the London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Richard Kaufman who admires the music of the Hollywood composer very much. He and other collaborators of the concert, Patrick Russ and Warren Sherk, remember Tiomkin and his music.

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) doesn't need any introduction to Richard Kaufman, conductor of the concert that took place at the Barbican in London on 27 October 2011. Kaufman more or less grew up with the many compositions of the flamboyant composer who belongs to the great film composers of Hollywood's Golden Age. Kaufman: ʽEver since I was very young I listened to film music and some of the first film music that I remember were films such as Friendly Persuasion, The Alamo, High Noon, and the television series Rawhide, and I became aware of the great themes that Dimitri Tiomkin had written. I started playing violin when I was seven years old. My parents would purchase records of soundtracks and I would put the records on and I would play along to them without any music to read but I would actually play, just make up my own notes and try to play what they were playing. And I remember doing that on a number of recordings and one of them was The High and the Mighty. I don't think I really knew the name Dimitri Tiomkin so much as I knew his themes and as I grew older I would then associate those themes with Dimitri Tiomkin the person.ʼ What made his music so special? ʽI think Tiomkin is extraordinary for several reasons. For one reason he writes great melodies. He writes music for so many different genres, different types of stories. And he seems to be able to catch the emotions whether it's a western, a comedy, Hitchcock suspense, or a film like The Sundowners, a western that takes place in the Australian Outback. And then I love his use of the orchestra and the colors of the orchestra, everything from the traditional instruments to harmonica, to accordion, harpsichord. As a conductor, when you're standing in front of a ninety piece orchestra and you're hearing all sorts of colors that the orchestra has to offer, that's truly amazing. One of the other amazing things about him is that, although he was born in Russia, he captures such an American feeling with the westerns and the march from Circus World that I think John Philip Sousa himself would have loved this march.ʼ


It's still one of the great miracles in the history of American film music: how a composer, born in Russia, became one of the great western composers in Hollywood. Kaufman (photo): ʽElmer Bernstein was once asked: What is the most important part of a film composer? And he said: Above all a great film composer must be a great dramatist, which means that a composer who can look at the screen without any music must sit with the director and then understand not only what the characters are doing but also the history of the environment from where those characters are living. For a western like High Noon the composer should be able to capture the suspense and at the same time the feeling of a western town. Tiomkin was able to capture the feeling of the old west and that's why he was able to capture the feeling at The Alamo which was one of the most important and tragic stories in the entire history of America. He was able to establish the characters who were there, for example Davy Crockett and then the battle that took place where he has the sounds of the Mexican army. Finally he wrote a song, Green Leaves of Summer, and that melody just touches your heart because of what the heroes at the Alamo went through. He's almost like a painter and his palet has every single color ever endeavored and he uses all of them.ʼ Is there any Russian influence in his film music? ʽI think the influence is in his technique, in the passion in his music that is inherent in the people in Russia and I think that what he does is he takes all of that and then applies it to the stories and to the drama. He's like someone who builds a house, he has all the tools to do it and he keeps building different kinds of houses, different styles using the same instruments and the same tools.ʼ

Tiomkin published a memoir in 1959. The title of the book was his famous catch phrase: Please don't hate me. Although Kaufman never had the chance to meet Tiomkin personally he knows to describe his character vividly: ʽHe was a great character, very fun and interesting and serious and he had a great sense of humor and unlike most of the composers he would be on different kinds of television programmes where he would be in a little piece of dramatic comedy skits with people like Jack Benny. I don't think you would find many other composers doing that.ʼ Referring to Tiomkin's hilarious phrase Please don't hate me, Kaufman says: ʽOne thing a composer must also be is a diplomat. Directors are very passionate about their films and they know what they want. When hiring a composer who is as great as Tiomkin who has incredible ideas that would help the film, the director may not so much want to hear what somebody else has to say, so the composer has to find a way to open the conversation and keep the director feeling that he or she is in charge. So when Tiomkin would say: Please don't hate me, he brings the sympathy on and then he goes for the idea.ʼ

Tiomkin started a new trend in 1952, that has lasted until today, with his song Do Not Forsake Me (with lyrics by Ned Washington) from High Noon. The song was - to no one's surprise - performed during the London concert. One of the other songs performed that night was the title song from Wild is the Wind, again with lyrics by Ned Washington. Kaufman's daughter Whitney Claire sang Wild is the Wind in a new arrangement by Nan Schwartz. About this song Kaufman says: ʽI think a song like Wild is the Wind is ageless because it has to do with a very basic emotion of love that someone has. And I think when you're dealing with human emotions, they don't tend to change over the years: there is love, there is anger, there is hate, there is passion. But when you get scores such as Rawhide and High Noon, they are period pieces so they are reminders of a specific time in history. On the other hand there is The High and the Mighty. I think if you're hearing the music from this film you look out at 35,000 ft. and see the clouds. The music applies as much today as it did back then.ʼ

The concert

Patrick Russ is a well-known orchestrator from Hollywood who served as lead orchestrator for the London concert. What exactly was his role? ʽOver the years I have prepared a series of concert suites of the film scores of Tiomkin, either on my own or based on the work of my mentor, British orchestrator and author Christopher Palmer. As a job description, the symphonic orchestrator uses a composerís sketch and arranges that music for a full symphony orchestra. Often, Christopher had arranged one or two selections for a recording like The Alamo and Giant, but those pieces were not always enough to stand on their own for a concert, or were created for an ensemble different from our standard orchestra. So, sometimes I was adapting or expanding Christopherís work, while at other times I was starting from Tiomkinís original sketches.ʼ According to Russ, ʽThe London Symphony Orchestra had almost no note questions in 84 minutes of music, thanks to the meticulous proofreading of Paul Henning, Warren Sherk, and Daniel Chan. All the rehearsal time was spent learning the new music and shaping performances. The London Symphony Orchestra are world-class sightreaders, and Iíve orchestrated a number of current film score recordings with them, so there were many familiar faces.ʼ Warren Sherk, one of the proofreaders, also edits along with Patrick Russ the official website on Tiomkin ( Looking back at the concert he observes: ʽI attended all of the rehearsals and the concert. The London Symphony Orchestra did a fantastic job. The conductor, Richard Kaufman, provided unerring interpretations with impeccable tempos that served the music well. For me, having the opportunity to experience, live and in person, a concert solely of Tiomkin's work served to reaffirm his genius as a composer. His stylistic consistency, together with his enormous diversity, melodic inventiveness, and never-ending sense of purpose, made for a singularly unforgettable evening. It's a composer's dream to have an entire concert devoted to his works. That this was the London Symphony Orchestra and the fact that Tiomkin loved to record in London and lived the last years of his life in the city only heightens the significance of this event. It is a concert I will never forget.ʼ

It has been 33 years now since Tiomkin has passed. Where does he stand among the great Hollywood composers? Russ: ʽTiomkin was one of the great composers of The Golden Age of film music. His score to High Noon started the use of a theme song in films when Do Not Forsake Me sold over six million copies. Although many other composers have written one or two hit songs with their scores, none have matched the sheer number of hits enjoyed by Tiomkin. But Tiomkinís work is about more than just strong themes - his orchestral writing was incredibly rich and multi-layered.ʼ Kaufman: ʽThere are so many really extraordinary composers of that period: Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner, Hugo Friedhofer, Franz Waxman, the list goes on and on. I think that a good indication of where he stands came thirteen years ago. The US Postal Service issued commemorative stamps, honoring whom they felt were the six greatest film composers of all time and among those six was Dimitri Tiomkin.ʼ

The CD The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin appeared on the LSO label (LSO0720). It contains 16 tracks, the total playing time is 77m 05s.


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