DPO to perform Franz Waxman’s musical score synched to film The Bride of Frankenstein
By Joe Aiello
From the movie industry’s beginning, filmmakers realized the critical necessity for music as a storytelling element of motion pictures. That’s why almost all movie theaters during the Silent Era had a resident pianist to provide mood music with which to drive the on-screen plot, underscore the human emotions being portrayed and heighten the audience’s participation on a visceral level.
With the invention of sound recording for films came the need for composers to create musical scores. Enter German immigrant composer, conductor and impresario, Franz Waxman, who — along with other refugee composers — created what became known as the “Hollywood sound.”
“Prolific” is only one way to describe Waxman’s film score output. Yes, he wrote more than 140 film scores and scored three television series, notable among which are the scores of Night & The City, The Furies, Destination Tokyo, The Silver Chalice, Blue Angel, Captains Courageous, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Suspicion, Rebecca, The Spirit of St. Louis, Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun, the last two earning him Academy Awards for Best Film Score in two successive years.
Waxman, however, was far from one-dimensional. He also composed instrumental, orchestral, chamber and choral music for the concert stage and established the Los Angeles International Music Festival, helping other composers — among them Vaughan Williams, Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky — premier their works.
In 1935, Waxman wrote the score for the film The Bride of Frankenstein, which reprised Boris Karloff’s role as the monster Frankenstein with British actress Elsa Lanchester as the bride.
Here’s a thumbnail of the film: Henry Frankenstein wants to stop making living people out of dead ones. To prevent that, Dr. Pretorius (Henry’s old adviser) has the Monster kidnap Henry’s wife to force Henry to create a wife for the Monster.
Henry caves and brings the bride to life, and Dr. Pretorius keeps his word and returns Henry’s wife, all to no avail. The bride rejects the Monster and it begins to demolish the lab, setting Henry and wife free, but keeping Pretorius and his bride. In a bizarre twist, it is she who pulls a lever and destroys the lab and tower, killing them all.
The film score has 12 segments, each of which has a different structure that evokes differing emotions. How to describe the music? Depending on which of the 12 segments of the film you are watching, it might be ominous, foreboding, delightful, dark, agitated, mournful, pleasant, mysterious, ascending, toy-like, pastoral, race-like, flourished, idyllic, macabre, satirical, romantic, tense or scintillating.
Main themes, which reprise frequently, are the Monster theme (five notes harmonized with sharp discords) and the Bride theme (three dreamy notes). Waxman uses standard classical forms and Romantic-era harmonies to portray normal, and the whole-tone scale for abnormal scenes.
On Saturday, Oct. 29 at 8 p.m. in the Schuster Center, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present Bride of Frankenstein with Orchestra, this season’s first Special Event concert. The orchestra will perform Waxman’s original film score live, synching the music to the film, from which the music track has been removed, projected on a screen on the stage above the orchestra.
And, even though the audience will not be able to see him do it, DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman will conduct the score in almost exactly the same manner as Waxman did making the original film.
Here’s how they differ:
In a process known as spotting, Waxman had seen an unpolished rough cut of the film before final editing and watched the entire film with the director, noting which scenes needed original music and making precise timing notes on music cue lengths, starting and ending points, and places in a scene requiring the music to coincide in a specific way. Gittleman will conduct from a score that has already been “spotted.”
Waxman conducted a full film orchestra of 40 musicians in either a recording studio or a sound stage, and a sound engineer recorded the music. Gittleman will conduct over 70 musicians in the Mead Theatre.
Using a technique referred to as free timing to synch music to a film, for maximum accuracy, Waxman gave himself three to four frames of film before or after each specific music cue’s starting and ending points. When conducting to these cues, he used either a stopwatch or a studiosize stopclock and watched the film on a large screen for vertical lines (called streamers) and bursts of light (punches) put on the film by a music editor. Either or both the clock timings or streamers/punches on the film had timings that corresponded to specific points in the score.
“I will have something similar,” Gittleman said. “I’ll have two video monitors (out of the audience’s and orchestra’s line of sight). One monitor shows the film; the other shows an analog clock that is synched to the film and to time codes in the score. This allows me to hit the cues and also allows a certain amount of flexibility in how I accompany the action.”
The biggest difference between the two? If Waxman didn’t hit any of the music cues right on the button, he could simply do another take. Gittleman and the DPO will be performing the music live (read: no takes or safety net).
Talk about scary!
Not to worry — Gittleman and the DPO have done this sort of thing before.
But no Oscar … yet.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@DaytonCityPaper.com