Thursday 14 December 2017

Waxing lyrical about the master of the horror-movie soundtrack

Composer Franz Waxman was one of several European immigrants who worked steadily in film music from the 1930s onward, who came to define the classic Hollywood sound. During his career, he received 12 Oscar nominations, winning in consecutive years for Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun.

He worked with director Alfred Hitchcock on four films -- Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), The Paradine Case (1947), and Rear Window (1954).

In addition to his film scores, Waxman composed concert works including Carmen Fantasie, based on themes from Bizet's Carmen ballet, which continues to be a popular part of the concert-hall repertoire.

In 1947, he founded the Los Angeles International Music Festival, where the musicians were drawn mainly from the local community. During his 20-year tenure, the festival served as the venue for premieres of 80 works by composers such as Igor Stravinsky, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Dmitri Shostakovich and Arnold Schoenberg.

Waxman was one of the pioneers of the "mixed" programme where new light was shed on familiar masterworks by setting them in the context of contemporary compositions. Although he was part of the film industry, Waxman was a strong champion of contemporary music. Among the most striking events of the festival's history was the world premiere of Stravinsky's Agon in 1957. The West Coast premiere of Britten's War Requiem, under Waxman's direction, took place within two years of the work's publication in 1962.

Reviews of festival concerts regularly praise Waxman's skill as a conductor, his clarity of gesture, meticulous preparation and communication with the players.

Waxman remains best remembered though for his film scores, which began in 1935 with The Bride of Frankenstein directed by James Whale. This was the score of a man way ahead of his time, with the composer creating many of what have become the musical clichés of the horror genre. Waxman's dynamic music gives the film a grandly theatrical charge, a symphonic score that culminates in the brilliant and vividly descriptive, 'The Creation of the Female Monster'.

A screening of The Bride of Frankenstein accompanied by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra should be the perfect Halloween outing. Two performances take place in the National Concert Hall on Monday at 3pm and 8pm, the first live screening in Ireland.

Aedín Gormley presents 'Movies and Musicals', Saturday 2-4pm; and 'Sunday Matinee' on Sundays at noon on RTÉ lyric fm.

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