CD Review: Captain from Castile – The Classic Film Scores of Alfred Newman
If you’ve read this blog for any reasonable amount of time, you already know of my love for Alfred Newman. Newman’s music speaks to me in a way that no other composer–Golden Age or otherwise–does. And that love of Newman began with CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE–THE CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF ALFRED NEWMAN, the third album in Charles Gerhardt’s Classic Film Scores series, first released in 1973. The album has recently been reissued on Sony Masterworks and remains an essential primer on Newman’s music.
The album covers an astonishing period of creativity beginning with the theme from one of Newman’s earliest successes–1931’s STREET SCENE–through the maestro’s final film score, 1970’s energetic main title for AIRPORT. In the decades in between, Newman scored nearly every genre of film, and many of them are represented on this album. While that makes for a great introduction to Newman’s prodigious output, the album is not as consistent in performance or listening experience as the earlier album of Korngold, THE SEA HAWK. But that by no means denigrates the quality music.
Newman’s famous 20th Century-Fox fanfare opens the album, leading into his famous “Street Scene,” which Newman performed on film for the opening of 1953’s bachelorette comedy HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. With its inflections of Gershwin, the piece is closer in tone to the numerous musicals he worked on than the heavier dramas. I’m not as big a fan of WUTHERING HEIGHTS as many film music fans, but this inclusion of “Cathy’s Theme” is a necessity as one of Newman’s most popular themes.
One particularly popular theme, at least for USC alumni, is “Conquest” from CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE. The popular tune was presented in 1950 as a gift in perpetuity to the University of Southern California and has become a mainstay of the school’s fight songs. This Tyrone Power historical drama about Cortez and the conquering of Mexico owes much of its success to Newman’s music. Gerhardt draws passion from his strings for the lovely “Pedro and Catana” segment, while “Conquest” bristles with the brash energy of lands to be conquered.
The rollicking “Hornpipe” jig from DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS conveys the appropriately salty air, while the muscular main title from THE BRAVADOS shows Newman at his macho best. One of the best tracks on the album, indeed in the entire series, is the bustling main title to AIRPORT. From the syncopation to the prominent use of tambourine and bongos, Newman’s cue bustles with the chaotic energy of a big-city airport. When the trumpet and strings state the memorable main theme, the music simply takes flight. Gerhardt’s crisp, clean performance rivals, and arguably surpasses, that of the master.
Newman’s early masterpiece, the 1943 Oscar-winning score for THE SONG OF BERNADETTE conveys faith without religious posturing. The dramatic “Prelude” leads into one of the finest cues ever written for film as young Bernadette (Jennifer Jones) sees the vision of a “beautiful lady” in the grotto at Lourdes. Newman’s use of orchestral colors to depict the birds and blowing wind results in a memorable film music tone poem that crescendos to a heavenly outburst of choral and orchestral beauty. The selection from THE ROBE that closes the album is not as seamless as some of Gerhardt’s other suites, but it provides a tempting taste of another classic Newman religious score.
For the source of my love of Newman’s music, look no further than the heartbreaking main theme from 1959’s glossy soaper THE BEST OF EVERYTHING. The violin solo and the woodwind countermelody create a moving dialogue that brings tears to my eyes every time.
Newman’s conducting was legendary and, as such, Gerhardt cannot duplicate (nor can any conductor) the sublime sound of the legendary Newman strings. Perhaps that is why I’m more critical of some of the performances, but most listeners won’t care. For the most part, the performances are first-rate, though there are some pitch problems in the brass on a couple of cues, “Conquest” sounds a bit ragged at times and ANASTASIA could use more Russian grit. Visit Amazon or Screen Archives to hear more audio clips and to order.
My caveats aside, CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE is still an excellent introduction to Newman’s work and it will forever have a special place in my heart and my film music education.