Saturday, April 19, 2014


Christ is risen; indeed He has risen, as is written in Ukrainian/Russian at the headline (These two countries have been on my mind of late)..

To an old man of the cinema like the present writer, religious holy days bring my heart and mind back to that special class of music which once adorned films, and it brings me back to thoughts of the one or two composers who were masters at it.

And the great Alfred Newman always comes to mind; and he has also been on my mind recently as regular readers have already guessed.  An ethnic, non-practicing Jew, Newman yet had an affinity for Christian themes and Christian music.  His music for films dealing with these things came not from his heart or mind exclusively; they came, I am convinced, from the very depths of his soul.  He had that gift, like the ancient composers who put music to liturgy, of expressing in his music about Jesus Christ at one and the same time a sense of both profound sadness and yet inner exaltation.

When he was approached to score his biggest and as it turned out his last religious film he produced perhaps his finest film score.  But soon troubles came that would eventually disfigure a part of that beautiful score. We are speaking, of course, of The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

When this film was in its final editing stage a very sad thing happened.  Director George Stevens decided to eliminate the gorgeous Resurrection and Ascension music composed by Alfred Newman and to replace it with Handel's "Halleluiah Chorus" from his Messiah.  The mistake was not in including music by one of the world's great masters; the mistake was not taking into account its over-familiarity, which suddenly jarred audiences, and which brought on criticism.  To place a very recognizable 18th century piece of music and mix it with a a modern romantic-style composition instantly took the viewer out of the film which, admittedly, had an adverse effect on the viewer.  He replaced Newman's Raising of Lazarus music in the same way with the same Handel piece.  (For those interested in how these things happened an entire book was written about the trials and tribulations of that film score: "Hollywood Holy Land" by Ken Darby, who served as Newman's choral master on this and many other films.)

Thankfully the original Newman "Hallelujah Chorus" from The Greatest Story Ever Told was preserved and can be heard at the following link:.

Other writers will offer more meaningful short essays on this blessed Feast Day.  For my part I will only attempt to acquaint my readers with the work of a master as he illustrates the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ as only he, one of the screen's great originals, could.

A very Blessed Easter to you and yours.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

A blessed Easter to you and yours also. I sure appreciate you and this blog of yours. Always so well written and helpful. God bless.

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