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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jazzing up Schumann's score

The film "The Night of the Hunter", in spite of not being a hit when it was first released, has increasingly become more and more admired as time passes. Not only that, it has become an inspiration for many people who has watched it.

Such is the case of Pierre Fablet, a jazz musician who, inspired both by the film and the beauty of Walter Schumann's score, has been working in an one hour concert, in which Schumann's score is revisited through a jazzy arrangement with an ensemble of six, playing piano and keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, saxophones and trumpet. You can know more about Mr. Fablet's interesting project at His page at La Station Service . We hope that Pierre Fablet's concert is available in a recording sometime in the near future.

Walter Schumann may be one of the most relevant collaborators of Laughton in the film. Through Preston Neal Jones' "Heaven and Hell to Play With", we know that he didn't limit himself to write a score in the solitude of his studio, but collaborated actively with Laughton, and kept making adittions and changes to the initial score when a new idea came through. For instance, when cinematographer Stanley Cortez told Laughton that he was thinking in Sibelius' "Valse Triste" to visualize the scene where Preacher Powell kills Willa Harper, Laughton not only directed the scene to suit Cortez's brilliant suggestion, but promptly called for Schumann to compose the adequate music for the scene, as it was now envisaged. In the final film, that scene has the sad waltz tempo Cortez had in mind. Laughton also suggested to Schumann a technique he called "long muscles", devised to establish the continuity between the scenes of the film, rather than meant just to accompany or stress what was happening on the screen.

Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's hilarious comment about "Dragnet" (and Schumann's theme) in the pages of "Mad"

At the time "The Night of the Hunter" was released, Schumann was possibly better known for his theme for the "Dragnet" TV series. As Laughton's film remained obliterated for years, so was his beautiful score, and as Laughton, he died long before his score for the film gained the recognition it deserved.

In fact, there was an earlier Laughton-Schumann collaboration, prior to "The Night of the Hunter", which enjoyed a greater recognition it its time and I feel ought to be recovered. In 1953, after the success his innovative, stage prop-bare, a capella production of George Bernard Shaw's rarely staged third act of "Man and Superman" (titled "Don Juan in Hell"), Laughton embarqued in a similar project. Again produced by Paul Gregory, Laughton tackled Stephen Vincent Benét's poem"John Brown's body". In this production, Walter Schumann provided a prodigious background to the three main players (Tyrone Power, Raymond Massey and Judith Anderson -1-) declaiming the text: a chorus would sing and provide sound "effects". Schumann's grasped well Laughton's idea of a modern greek Chorus and produced a magnificent score for the play which fortunately, was recorded, but unfortunately, has known no re-releases for ages. We'll talk about John Brown's Body some other day with greater depth, but for the moment we suggest that it would be a good idea to release again this recording (2)

1) Judith Anderson was to be substituted by Ann Baxter in later tours of this staging,.
2) it was originally released by Columbia Masterworks, so I guess this means we should be knocking at Sony's door.


Mrs. R said...

Thanks for mentioning John Brown's Body. I love that recording so much - I recently was able to get it on CD and found that I remembered a good deal of it from many years ago. Very beautiful.

Gloria said...

Hi Mrs. R.!

Glad you liked the post! John Brown's Body was a very unique theatrical event, and I think that the kind of staging that has not been seen ever since. Laughton's approach must have been very radical for others to follow. At most, some have done the "reading a play" approach but not the striking combination of voice and chorus of John Brown's Body

Incidentally, I wasn't aware of a Cd release of this recording? Was it an official release or a transfer to CD?