"MORGAN AND STROMBERG -
WHAT MUSIC THEY MAKE!"
by RICH SCRIVANI
It was April, 1959. There were lots of things for a Monster Kid like myself to enjoy. Ever since KING KONG had tromped into our livingrooms on Million Dollar Movie in 1956 and the Golden Age Universals were released to television in 1957 via the "Shock!" package, movies seemed to enjoy a renaissance, bringing people like Boris Karloff back to work doing the things he did best in then-new films like THE HAUNTED
STRANGLER. There were interesting newcomers too: a British company named Hammer was reviving Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and even the Mummy.
From the very first time I experienced the ancient, dusty classics during those memorable '50s midnight screenings, one thing stayed with me long after the films ended and I was shivering under my covers.
It was the music. Music unlike anything I had ever heard. Once in a while I'd hear a familiar strain from one of the '30s titles as a Classical piece played on the radio - the ever-familiar Swan Lake music would conjure up images of Count Dracula wrapped in his flowing cape. Franz Liszt's Les Preludes suggested Henry Hull stalking through Glendon Manor while slowly transforming into the Werewolf of London, or Karloff's Hjalmar Poelzig presiding over his Satanic rites deep in the Carpathian Mountains. But save for these spare tidbits of music, my ever-growing love of the scores from the monster films remained unsated. That is, until the April mentioned above came around.
The name of the album was "Themes from Horror Movies", the orchestra leader Dick Jacobs. Finding what I believed to be a genuine treasure would be the first scratching of a monstrous musical itch, and it would be followed by many more, or so I reasoned. The mixed emotions I experienced upon my first listening remains to this day. Not only were the tracks for the most part thinly rendered, sounding brassy, tinny and a far cry, for the most part, from what the actual music from these films sounded like. Plus the producers had seen fit to "introduce" each selection with a silly, badly done monologue. Hardly what I wanted from my first encounter with the recreation of horror and science-fiction music. Please understand, I was well aware even then that this record was a gift, an oasis in a desert in which music like this did not exist, and I was grateful to hear even the drastically slowed-down main titles to HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and SON OF DRACULA (the latter being the better of the two). The album, which devoted the bulk of its running time to horror and sci-fi films of the decade just passed, remained the only one of its type, and was rereleased on CD in the 1990s, remastered and sounding better than ever. But in 1959 no more music from monster films would be forthcoming, and if someone with a crystal ball had told me then just how long it would be before the real thing would occur, I would have felt it not worth the waiting.
It took a kindred soul, another "Monster Kid" living at the time in Los Angeles, to pick up the mitre and continue, only this time it would be done correctly, with class, definitively. John Morgan has had a lifelong love of music, and as a teenager found himself diligently making reel-to-reel recordings from his TV set of his favorite movies, specifically whatever portions of the soundtracks yielded music unobstructed by dialogue or pesky sound effects. It was KING KONG, however, that changed his life and headed him down the road to become, in his own words, "a composer, orchestrator and musicologist". His master's degree in music from San Diego State University started him off on a career that included orchestrating and composing, and by 1976 found himself deeply involved in the production of the KING KONG score recording by Fred Steiner. Little did he know that twenty years later he would reorchestrate the entire KONG score for what would be but another entry in a series of pioneering recordings of Golden Age film music.
To better appreciate the story is to go back to the beginning.
In the early 90s, a CD label named Marco Polo was becoming well-known for its recordings of Classical works which had at that point garnered little or no attention from the larger, more well-known record companies. By 1992 they had decided to pay similar attention to some of the older film scores; heretofore unexplored music by composers like Arthur Bliss, Arthur Honegger, and luckily for horror film fans, Hans J. Salter. Up until then, the only Salter music from our beloved Universal fright films was available on vinyl in productions by Tony Thomas: the "Salter Rhapsody", a collection of cues from films like BLACK FRIDAY, THE MUMMY'S HAND and MAN MADE MONSTER, and the entire score from THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. These recordings were re-processed and re-equalized from the original acetates, which, though they were important finds to a fiend like me burrowing through rare record sections of stores like Manhattan's Colony Records, they left me yearning for a brand-new recording of Salter's music in a performance by a full symphony orchestra. Little did I know that a good friend of Mr. Thomas was in the preparation stages for accomplishing just that.
John Morgan, through the use of Salter's conductor books (a simplistic version of the score, written for piano) had restored two of his landmark horror scores, GHOST and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN for recording by the Dublin-based RTE Concert Orchestra to be conducted by Englishman Andrew Penny. Morgan, who had since made the acquaintance of Salter through Tony Thomas, was asked by Salter (then in his 90s) to make the music "better than it was", a concept hard to imagine except for the benefits of modern recording and a larger orchestra. What was released by Marco Polo in late 1992, titled "Hans Salter - Music for Frankenstein" offered up a smattering of cues from both GHOST and HOUSE and was so well received that it marked the beginning of a long line of Golden Age film restorations - albeit with one important improvement.
Although the release of Music for Frankenstein was cause for celebration, there was a problem: most of the cues were conducted at such a funereal pace by Penny that much of the music Morgan wanted included had to be left out! This was a source of much frustration to Morgan, who had sent Penny a cassette recording of the existing original tracks of GHOST, hoping he'd try to match as closely as possible the tempi of Salter's music. More about this later.
At this point, Morgan and his good friend, composer and conductor William Stromberg got involved and convinced Marco Polo to let them travel abroad for future recordings: Morgan to oversee and supervise, Stromberg to conduct. The year 1995 yielded two new CD treasures, the first a collection of suites from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS and THE WOLF MAN, representing the work of composers Salter, Frank Skinner and Charles Previn. The second was the complete score from HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN by Salter and Paul Dessau. Both recordings were done by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra with Stromberg conducting, and while the Penny CD is worth a listen (any modern recordings of this wonderful music is a gift to its fans), the soul and spirit of the films were far more faithfully captured in these new renderings, thanks to the hard work and devotion of Morgan and Stromberg.
The discs sold well, paving the way for more releases, some genre-related, but many more from the Golden Age of mainstream Hollywood. Since it was obvious that there was an ample fan base out there for this kind of music, Marco Polo started paying more attention to cover design, adding colorful, beautifully reproduced poster art, and packing the accompanying booklets with voluminous and highly informative notes.
1996 saw another landmark - another complete score, one that Morgan had wanted to do with more accuracy since its '70s incarnation: Max Steiner's KING KONG. "One of the problems we had", says Morgan, "was that the full scores, the orchestrations did not exist. But I knew enough of the RKO music from the period, and from listening to the (KONG) track over and over again, that it was a funny combination of kind of a '20s band and a big orchestra." It worked. The marriage of the band sound featuring an emphasis on saxophones with traditional orchestral textures, recreated the quirky, fruity sound particular to KING KONG. There is even an extra track, unheard since 1933 (since it was never used in the film), called "The Little Monkey Escapes", underscoring the original sequence prior to the abduction of Fay Wray. The scene was rewritten and rescored in order to incorporate the love scene between Wray and Bruce Cabot. Extra music also includes what was originally a longer intro to the destruction of the 3rd Avenue El train. All in all, a very special CD, one that belongs in any serious filmmusic collector's library.
1996 also saw the release of an Alfred Newman CD, headlined by a 39-minute reconstruction of 1939's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. A short suite from ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) and 20 minutes of BEAU GESTE (1939) rounded this one out.
The list goes on. The following year yielded a trio of recordings: "Murder and Mayhem", a collection of mystery and horror scores, featured music by Steiner, Hugo Friedhofer and Victor Young, in suites from THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS, THE LODGER and THE UNINVITED (respectively). This was followed by an undisputed gem; the complete score for 1956's MOBY DICK, unfortunately the only film score written by British composer Philip Sainton, a work that offers a listening experience more on the level of a symphony than something conceived for a film. Apparently achieving it was not the easiest experience, as Morgan explains: "MOBY DICK was another very difficult score because it's British film music and had a certain "lilt" to it, (requiring) kind of an indefinable way of playing that Bill tried hard to get them to do."
Then, in 1999, Morgan got a chance to improve on an earlier endeavor, to release another Skinner and Salter CD featuring music from the Universal film SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (the fifteen minutes of which formed the core of what was used in the rest of the Holmes series), and, most importantly, tackle the entire score to THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, this time a more accurate version tempo-wise. A companion CD featuring the music of Roy Webb from Val Lewton films contained a collection of cues from RKO's CAT PEOPLE, BEDLAM, THE SEVENTH VICTIM, THE BODY SNATCHER and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Due to strained relations between Russia and the U.S. at the time, The Slovak Symphony Orchestra located in Bratislava did the honors. Added to the Universal CD as a special treat, and to round out the usual 75-minute CD running time, 4 cues were reconstructed from three '40s horror films: the main title to SON OF DRACULA, "Hypnosis" from BLACK FRIDAY, and 2 cues from MAN MADE MONSTER.
The first genre release of the year 2000 was another one out of Moscow, all the original music from THE SON OF KONG and the complete score to 1932's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, both early scores from Max Steiner.
When asked what drives him to this painstaking art (and make no mistake about it - reconstructing and orchestrating music that has fallen victim to the ages is no easy task), John's answer is as simple as it is serious: "This is work that HAS to be done." The popularity and financial success of these discs have since given Morgan free rein to attack any project he sees fit, and through the years he and Stromberg have preserved music from dozens of films representing the work of composers Steiner ( THE LOST PATROL, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, VIRGINIA CITY, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) Bernard Herrmann (THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, FIVE FINGERS, GARDEN OF EVIL, PRINCE OF PLAYERS, and THE EGYPTIAN, a collaboration with Alfred Newman) and Adolph Deutsch (THE MALTESE FALCON, GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, HIGH SIERRA and NORTHERN PURSUIT). In April, 2000, a new release of the film scores of British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold included music from THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN (1958) and 1970's DAVID COPPERFIELD. The possibilities seem endless.
A body of work this prolific would be enough to exhaust the most extreme workaholic, but Morgan and Stromberg are anxious to continue. Among future projects Morgan has set his sights on are: FLESH AND FANTASY (Alexander Tansman), A Laemmle-era recording featuring THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE MUMMY, WEREWOLF OF LONDON, FRANKENSTEIN (main title), DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, and, according to Morgan, "If I did some stuff from THE BLACK CAT, which was mostly adapted from classical music, you would have a 2-CD set right there. I'd love to do THE BLACK ROOM, and PETER IBBETSON, the Paramount film with Gary Cooper, has a wonderful score by Ernest Toch. I'd also love to do CURSE OF THE DEMON, which I think is one of the all-time great scores of the '50s. So we have other "genre" things that we definitely want to do."
If even half the work projected by Mr. Morgan sees the light of day, there is ample cause for devotees of film music to celebrate. And never would I have believed, back in the simpler days of 1959, that so large a body of music from these classics would end up being preserved in new recordings at ANY time in the future. Thank you Marco Polo, and long live Morgan and Stromberg!
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