About this Recording
8.223857 - FRIEDHOFER: Adventures of Marco Polo / Lodger (The)

Hugo Friedhofer (b. 1902)
Adventures of Marco Polo • Lodger (The)


A serious study of the art and craft of composing for films needs to consider the work of Hugo Friedhofer. In fact, the consensus among other composers in Hollywood when asked for advice by students of film scoring is very often, “Study Friedhofer”. And yet despite this high regard in which he continues to be held his name has never quite registered with the film going public as did those of Steiner, Korngold, Waxman, Rózsa, Tiomkin, Newman and Herrmann. It always seems necessary to point out that this was the man who won an Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and that some of his other Academy A ward nominations include The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Joan of Arc (1948) and The Young Lions (1958). Why he was not nominated for such superb scores as Broken Arrow (1950), Vera Cruz (1954), One Eyed Tacks (1961) and the four scores dealt with in this recording is difficult to understand. Says his friend, veteran composer David Raksin, “Virtue may be its own reward but excellence seems to impose a penalty upon those who attain it”.

A study of Friedhofer is interesting not simply because of the quality of his work but for its historical setting. He arrived in Hollywood in 1929, at the start of the sound era, when new attitudes toward the use of music in films came into being, and he lived and worked all through what is regarded as Hollywood’ s Golden Age. Those were the highly productive years stretching from the mid-thirties to the mid- fifties, years in which each of the major studios maintained an orchestra and a stable of composers, arrangers, orchestrators and copyists. By the time he died in 1981 at seventy-nine it had begun to be a distant memory even for Friedhofer.

Born in San Francisco and trained as a cellist, Friedhofer’s first experience with film came as a musician playing scores for silent movies in the major presentation houses. By the time the silent era came to an end he had already given up the cello for a greater interest in arranging and orchestrating, fortunately so because it was his skill in that regard that brought him an offer from the Fox Studios in Hollywood. His first assignment was arranging the score for the musical Sunny Side Up (1929), followed by a constant stream of Fox pictures of every kind. In 1935 he was hired by Warner Bros. and assigned to Brich Korngold to help orchestrate the score of Captain Blood. Korngold was so impressed with Friedhofer’s skills that he insisted on him for almost all the sixteen scores he would write at Warners. Equally impressed was Max Steiner, who was hired by the studio to score The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1936 and then placed under long-term contract. Friedhofer would end up orchestrating some fifty scores by Steiner.

Friedhofer found himself trapped by his great skills as an orchestrator. The head of the music department at Warners, Leo Forbstein, was content to have him keeping Korngold and Steiner happy and in all the years Friedhofer was at the studio Forbstein never once offered him a composing assignment. But in 1937 Friedhofer was able to sneak away from Warners to accept a job at the Samuel Coldwyn Studio, one that his friend Alfred Newman had been able to arrange for him. Newman was too busy to score The Adventures of Marco Polo and convinced Coldwyn that he could supply the right composer for the job. The film, a glossy and very Hollywooden account of the great Venetian explorers trip to China to meet Emperor Kublai Khan was not one that impressed historians, particularly with Cary Cooper as Marco, but it was good fantasy entertainment, showing how the Venetian discovered such things as gunpowder and spaghetti, along with romancing a princess (sigrid Curie) and wiping out a treacherous minister (Basil Rathbone) bent on taking over China. For someone who had by now worked on several Steiner and Korngold historical epics the scoring of Marco Polo was not hard. Friedhofer knew it needed a big, bold main theme that would somehow sound a little Italian and a little Chinese but mostly Hollywood heroic, plus a love theme. The score was perfect for the picture.

Friedhofer’s music for Marco Polo may have impressed his colleagues but it resulted in no further assignments as a composer. While it was well known that Friedhofer did more than orchestrate some of the films on which he worked—there are even bits of pure Friedhofer in Steiner’s Gone with the Wind (1939)—he would have to wait until 1943 before being hired as a composer again. Again it was Alfred Newman who came to his rescue. Newman was now the head of music at 20th Century-Fox and needed no permission to hire whomever he wished. Among the first of Friedhofer’s Fox pictures was The Lodger (1944), starring Laird Cregar as Jack the Ripper in London of the 1880s. Cregar, who would die as the result of crash-dieting at the age of twenty-eight the same year the film was released, haunts the film with his chilling, sullen portrayal of the title character, a mysterious man who finds accommodation in the Whitechapel ; district and roams the streets at night, killing women he deems unworthy. Drenched with swirling fog and damp night air, The Lodger is also drenched with Friedhofer’s music, underlining the horror and the sadness of it all. The intelligence used in scoring films of this kind is vital.

After the success of The Best Years of Our Lives Friedhofer was able to freelance as a composer in Hollywood but he would always be available whenever Alfred Newman needed him, and it would be Newman who would give him most of his best assignments. Seven Cities of Gold and The Rains of Ranchipur were two of Friedhofer’s five Fox films of 1955, the one following the other. They could hardly be more stylistically different. Seven Cities concerns Spanish adventurers in eighteenth-century California, looking for the seven great deposits of gold made by the Indians. The main story line involves the conflict between a military commander (Anthony Quinn) and Father Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie), the revered churchman who founded California’s string of missions and who protected the Indians. It was a film Friedhofer happily accepted, since it allowed him to use his extensive knowledge of ancient Mexican music and flavour his score with what he knew to be the right tones. With The Rains of Ranchipur, a remake of the 1939 The Rains Came, he had to take a different tack. Here the setting was India but with far less accent on romance rather than history, and with only a slight opportunity to colour his music with Indian instrumentation. Richard Burton plays the Indian doctor-prince who is seduced by a wealthy lady (Lana Turner) but who eventually realises his duty to his country and not to her, although it takes a monsoon and an earthquake to help him change his mind. As with the original film, this one is dominated by special effects, supplemented by attractive location footage and Friedhofer’s sensuous and sometimes rather exotic melodies. Hugo Friedhofer was a modest man who never sought the limelight but in the opinion of most other film composers he had no reason to be modest. In the words of David Raksin: “I think he had a better understanding of film music than any of us. He was the best schooled and often the most subtle. He was a master of his craft”.

© 1997 Tony Thomas

Arranger Notes:

I was thrilled to be able to put together an entire album devoted to the works of Hugo Friedhofer. He is one of the finest and most respected composers of film music and it is a real musical tragedy that more recordings have not been made available of his superb music. I first met Hugo in the mid-seventies and found him to be bright, witty, and just about the most knowledgeable man I have ever encountered on the subject of film music. Although he seemed to prefer talking about his musical experiences with Steiner, Korngold and Newman, I managed to elicit his feelings on his own music and film music in general and, although he deplored much of what film music had become, he was optimistic that the importance of music in film would become again consequential to film makers as it had been in the past.

This album spans almost two decades of Friedhofer’s output, which includes two of his earliest scores: The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) and The Lodger (1944), for both of which he had high regard. The former was his first solo feature credit. Bill Stromberg had the unenviable task of orchestrating this music from incomplete sketches held in the Friedhofer collection at Brigham Young University. Like the Universal horror films of the period, 20th Century-Fox budgeted The Lodger as a “B” movie, which meant, for instance, the use of standing sets and a smaller than normal orchestras. I orchestrated this music for a slightly larger orchestra than originally employed, yet maintaining the lean and subtle orchestral textures Friedhofer preferred. The composer’s Hindemithian harmonic language was certainly ahead of its time, and with colleagues David Raksin (himself at Fox at this time), and Paul Dessau (ghost-composing at Universal), the horror films of the period were the most advanced music being written in Hollywood.

Friedhofer excelled in scores dealing with exotic backgrounds, and in both The Rains of Ranchipur (India) and Seven Cities of Gold (Spanish), the listener is immediately placed in these surroundings without the composer quoting actual folk themes. Both of these films were big-budget Cinema Scope films released in 1955 by 20th Century-Fox. Maurice De Packh did the original orchestrations for The Rains of Ranchipur, while Fred Steiner (and Arthur Morton) contributed most of the orchestrations for Seven Cities of Gold.

Although Friedhofer generally preferred using a standard orchestra in his writing, he did require special instruments for special situations. Seven Cities of Gold, The Rains of Ranchipur and The Ladger all feature the oboe d’amore and alto flute, instruments Friedhofer was especially fond of. Seven Cities of Gold and The Rains of Ranchipur are filled with such exotic percussion as the guiro, gourd, maracas, tom toms, timbales, and antique cymbals, and The Adventures of Marco Polo requires a large battery, as well as eight horns.

In preparing the music for this recording, our goal was to present an overview of Friedhofer’s remarkable composing career from its beginnings, in 1938, to his peak period of the 1950s.

© 1997 John Morgan

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