DIMITRI TIOMKIN (1894 - 1979)
Sounds like the opening of a Saturday night bar joke, doesnt it? But it isnt. There really once was a cowboy who hailed from the land of borsch soup and babushka dolls. His name was Dimitri Tiomkin and he was one of the finest Hollywood composers of the 1940s and 1950s; the golden age of Hollywood music. Like so many Russians, Dmitri Tiomkin immigrated to Western Europe after the wrenching violence and politics of the Russian Revolution. The young Tiomkin was featured in a variety of playbills, including being a piano soloist with the great Berlin Philharmonic. Traveling on to Paris, the City of Lights, he became popular for performing contemporary Russian, German and French musical works. And in that extraordinary creative milieu of art and life, Tiomkin first encountered a lifelong love American jazzand gave the brilliant premire European performance of Gershwins Concerto in F Major to raves from critics and audiences alike. Then Hollywood knocked at his door. Tiomkin sold several original jazz compositions to Metro Goldwyn Mayer. After playing Carnegie Hall and other prestigious venuesas the Great Depression hit with full forceTiomkin and his first wife, Albertina Rasch, set out for Tinseltown, where they had been invited to produce ballet numbers for films. But ever shrewd, he soon saw an exceptional opportunity in film music, a new art for the new technology of talking motion pictures. Tiomkin composed a score for an early version of Resurrection (1931) and a charming adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (1933).
Hollywood was still comparatively primitive. One day I looked out my bedroom window and saw a man running along the street and a policeman chasing him and shooting. The fugitive fell and a splotch of red appeared on the pavement. Wonderful, I thoughtHollywood realism. Then I noticed there wasnt any camera…
Tiomkins first great opportunity as a film composer came in 1937, when a short, rapid-fire cinematic genius named Frank Capra took a chance on a Russian composer to score a major epicthe Columbia Pictures production of James Hiltons popular book, Lost Horizon. It was a creative benchmark for Tiomkin and the beginning of a special association with Caprathe music for Lost Horizon remains one of the greatest scores ever written for a film. Capras influence on Tiomkin was considerable. The director loved American music standards and folk songs. It was a powerful way to connect an idea and an emotion with audiences.
When John Wayne poured his heart and personal fortune into filming The Alamo (1960), he looked to Dimitri Tiomkin for music. For Wayne, the composer created one of the greatestand most admiredscores of all-time. But Tiomkin was much more than a composer of music for Westerns; he wrote superb scores for virtually every sort of Hollywood film. For the next twenty years, Tiomkins name would stand as a keystone to the success of some of Hollywoods greatest films by its greatest directorsnotably Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, George Stevens and Stanley Kramer.