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THE LIFE OF LEONARD ROSENMAN

PART THREE: ITALY, THE HUMAN BODY, INDIANS, APES, AND ANOTHER GREAT LOSS

(All sources for Rosenman quotes are listed at the bottom of this column. Paragraphs in italics are contributed by the editor)

Rosenman spent years writing episodic music for the World War II TV series COMBAT:

I was living in Rome during that time, doing a great deal of conducting and also busy doing all the music for Combat, which was a library. Some of it was very experimental. Since you were dealing with torture, pain, violence, war, human emotions on a large scale -- the fact that it was not a period piece or a love story -- I could utilize a lot of the techniques of the 20th Century. Also, since the film was not on the screen and I just did them as pieces, I could do them the way I wanted.

These were basically sketches for compositions of my own. It was almost abstract, very dissonant.

After four years, I got so tired of writing music for Germans crawling through the bushes. I wrote a letter to the producer at the time, and typed it out like an army directive ("subject" "to"), requesting a transfer to the Pacific. (TV)

Ralph Ferraro was a student of mine in Rome when I lived there. He was a percussionist at that time. I taught him all about music. I met him in rather an odd way. It was the first time I was conducting there. I had a little book with Italian, I didn't speak Italian at the time. I began to tell him, "Play so-and-so," I was turning the pages of the book to find the translation that I wanted, and he looked at me and said, "I'm from Connecticut, I've been living here for 14 years!"

We became good friends. I became his teacher, and then I had him come over and he became my orchestrator. My orchestrator in Hollywood is different from most orchestrators, in the sense that I do everything with such detail, that even if the orchestrator is sick or can't do it, I just send my sketches to the copyist and the copyist can copy the whole thing. And now of course he knows my style in films so well, so when I say "brass," he knows exactly how I do brass. He is superb. (S55)

Rosenman scored two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock's TV anthology series, "Beast in View" and "One of the Family," and scored two very different features, Don Siegel's WWII drama HELL IS FOR HEROES and George Cukor's ensemble drama about female sexuality, THE CHAPMAN REPORT. The science-fiction adventure FANTASTIC VOYAGE proved to be one of his most popular scores, and was short-listed for the Original Score Oscar:

I just loved [living in Italy] and wanted to stay there, but then my friend Dick Fleischer, who was my next door neighbor, called me and said he wanted me to do Fantastic Voyage. (S56)

The sets were fantastic. I went there and I read the script and I thought it would be fabulous. I played some of my concert music, and Dick said, "That's exactly the kind of music that I want." That's why I wrote this very wild kind of music and orchestrated everything myself. A lot of people in Hollywood were very jealous, they couldn't understand what I had done because they had no tradition in that. (S55)

Originally, the producer asked for a jazz score; he wanted it to be the first 'hip' science-fiction film. That may have been good for an advertising slogan, but it wouldn't have fit the film. It would have dated the picture, and I told them I wouldn't do it. (SL)

Fantastic Voyage gave an artistic and dramatic opportunity for both the location of musical cues as well as musical style and form. The film has two important elements. From reel one to reel five, the adventures in both the city and the secret army scientific laboratories involve preparations to shrink the film leaders into microscopic humans, in order to inject them into an important victim's veins to cure him.

The second and most important aspect of the film is from reel five to the end. This entire section deals with adventures within the victim's body. I therefore felt that the score of this film should begin at reel five (with only sound effects in all the reels before). From this point, there is great complication with regard to shifts between the main characters in the submarine and the strange and dangerous backgrounds within the microscopic elements. In order to make this complex music unified, I wrote a short thematic motif that was constantly developed and varied in rhythm, harmony, and counterpoint. All were revolutionary for a 1966 film.

The harmony for the entire score is almost completely atonal except for the very end where our heroes grow to normality. The score also appears quite busy with many contrapuntal voices. This deals with the constant background of many creatures living in human blood, as well as the various scenes in veins, heart, lungs, ear, brain an eye. Since the scenes are quite long, the musical cues are both long and developed almost as movements for an "inside the vein symphony." (FV)

I experimented with klangfarben and various counterpoints of these kinds of sounds. At that time, I was also writing a symphonic work in which this kind of texture played an important part. The opportunity of utilizing this particular technique in the film score enabled me to write certain sections of my concert piece with less speculation than if it had been otherwise. (FS)

Rosenman continued to balance television and feature work, scoring TV movies, episodes of GARRISON'S GORILLAS, and the National Geographic special "DR. LEAKEY AND THE DAWN OF MAN.," as well as the low-key Moon mission drama COUNTDOWN:

I did the first film for Robert Altman, it was called Countdown. (S55)

Altman's technique was very similar to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, where everyone talks at the same time. This was his first film, and Jack Warner, the studio head, literally threw him off the lot because of it; somebody else finished the film. Originally, it ended with [star James Caan] walking around the Moon running out of oxygen, but they changed the ending to be more upbeat. (SL)

They just buried the film. It was a masterpiece. (S55)

Another feature project was HELLFIGHTERS, with John Wayne playing a character inspired by real life oil-well firefighter Red Adair:

John Williams was supposed to do that, but he got appendicitis and I was asked to step in. It had a good "Western" theme. (S56)

I was asked by a producer at Universal to rescore the opening episode of their TV series The Survivors. One of my colleagues had done a good job, but it was a terrible film, impossible. The producer felt that my changing the musical concept would improve the film. When a picture is really bad, no composer can save it. (MM)

Rosenman had one of his most popular projects with the long-running TV medical drama MARCUS WELBY, M.D., starring Robert Young and James Brolin:

I did Marcus Welby for six years, which would make me either the healthiest man in the world or the sickest, depending on how you look at it. After the second year, I was all alone; I'd record and never see the show again. I'd score about thirteen shows and the other twenty six they'd track from that. It was all disease music, and I literally saw a brain-operation score become a mastectomy score. Television is the quintessential schlock medium. All scores in television are modular units, wallpaper. I defy anybody to find the basic difference, musically, between the main title for one series and another series. They all have bongo drums and sound like be-bop of the '40s. (FF)

When Jerry Goldsmith left BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES to score Patton, Rosenman served as Goldsmith's replacement:

I like his work and I like him personally and he did a good job on the first film. He has a wonderful dramatic sense.

I felt that it wasn't as good as the first one, but at the same time it was different and it gave a more interesting idea for music. I liked the science fiction element of the story, the mind control and the bomb, and that sort of thing. The first one was a better movie but it was more of an allegory.

I see the film, and I figure out where the music goes and what it says in terms of the drama, and then I feel that it has to be in a certain style, because after all it's an enormous future. It's the Earth but entirely different, and it's not simply that this is the kind of thing that I do and I can't do anything else. I work that way because it fits the film. It's not really abstract, because it's repeated and develops. This is important in film scoring -- it's like a symphonic work because it develops. If a person disappears in the first reel and he comes back in the tenth reel then you need to develop the music to reflect that in some way. (BPA)

I used a 65-piece orchestra without any violins. I learned a lot about writing for violins and cellos, and did a lot of experimenting with the percussion section.

I use the film studios as laboratories. I try out new sounds and new techniques, new instruments -- things I want to work on for myself.

The studios still seem to think that I'm far out in the avant-garde, a rather eccentric long-hair. That came about before long hair was in style. The film people can't understand why, if they have to pay for me to have a large orchestra, I don't have everybody playing all the time, all together. If I've got one violin and a clarinet playing, I'm wasting money. And the musicians sometimes have more trouble than they'd like with the parts. (HE70)

Another feature from 1970 was the adventure drama A MAN CALLED HORSE, with Richard Harris as an Englishman who joins an Indian tribe:

I collected a lot of original music for a museum from the Sioux Indians. I lived with them for a while. I wanted to make a real combination of drama and their music. Everyone was fascinated, because they had never heard a score like this. It sounded very simple, but it was very complicated. (S56)

I think that we are all sleeping. The people in the industry, and the people at home. There is a sense of urgency to do something to really get the industry moving. The guys in the pin-stripe suits aren't going to do it. Movies, records, television -- they all must communicate. They can only do this by being honest and sincere.

Midnight Cowboy and 2001 did it. I think I did it with my music for Horse and Apes. For Horse I went back into the Sioux country and recorded their music and talked to them, tracing melodies and rhythms back to 1825. In the studio I duplicated the sound of their instruments by using four recorders, two double basses and a chorus. Apes was very advanced electronic music, using ring modulators, synthesizers and echoplexes.

At the time, Rosenman planned to move from film scoring into feature production:

The time has come for me now to either shut my mouth and stop criticizing or get in there and make movies myself. The first property is a remake of Alice in Wonderland. My wife, Kay Scott, is doing the original songs, and I am doing the score.

We are both writing the screenplay. Alice will be kind of a social, psychological, psychedelic, symbolistic update of the original novel. Alice will be a Levi and T-shirt teenager. Humpty Dumpty will represent the world, and the Cheshire Cat will be a psychiatrist. This will not be a movie about freaks, however. Alice is just anti-Establishment and the story will be her adventures in the underground. One producer already wants it and has budgeted it at $6,500,000. I think it would be better at $2,500,000 using experimental techniques. (HR)

He was also scheduled to conduct his "Chamber Music #2" at UC Berkeley in October of 1970:

At Berkeley I am using 32 speakers. Some will be behind the orchestra. They will be on four walls. Some musicians will be in the audience. There will be films sometimes on stage, maybe even dancers. The audience has to stay awake.

Sometimes I pre-record part of the concert and play the tape with the live performance and have different singers or orchestra sections alternate between live and recorded and even different speakers. The audience never knows where the sound is coming from. It's really a total experience. It's communication at its height and I guess that's what we're all striving for. (HR)

Rosenman faced a personal setback when Kay, his second wife, died of a stroke in 1970.

Someone is literally here one day and gone the next. It makes one reassess life on the basis of its finiteness and fragility. Bill Kraft, a good friend of mine, thought it would be cathartic for me to get busy on something creative and he suggested to Zubin Mehta to commission me to write a memoriam piece.

My wife had been a song writer. I made a gigantic harmonic extension of one of her tunes, much like Stockhausen's "Hymen." I used a small jazz group playing through ring modulators and called it "Threnody on a Song by K.R." [Kay Rosenman]. In May 1971, I conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Mehta was in the audience. He liked the piece, people received it well, it was successful, and I felt a sense of command. (NYT)


NEXT TIME: The seventies brings two Oscars to Rosenman.


BPA: Liner notes by Jeff Bond and Doug Adams for the Film Score Monthly CD Beneath the Planet of the Apes
FF: Filmmakers on Filmmaking: The American Film Institute Seminars on Motion Pictures and Television, edited by Joseph McBride; published by Houghton Mifflin, 1983
FS: Film Score: The Art & Craft of Movie Music, by Tony Thomas; published by Riverwood Press, 1991
FV: Liner notes to the Film Score Monthly CD of Fantastic Voyage
HE70: Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, June 29, 1970: "Rosenman: Man Behind Film Scores," by Karen Monson
HR: Hollywood Reporter, September 4, 1970: "It's an Animal Year for Tuner Leonard Rosenman," by Sue Cameron
MM: Music for the Movies by Tony Thomas; published by Silman-James Press, 1997
NYT: New York Times, August 29, 1982: "A Composer Seeks Artistic Prestige After Hollywood" by Joan Peyser
S55: Soundtrack vol. 14, No. 55, September 1995, interview by Wolfgang Breyer
S56: Soundtrack vol. 14 no 56, December 1995, interview by Daniel Mangodt
SL: Starlog, November 1991: "Composer of the Fantastic," by David Hirsch
TV: TV's Biggest Hits by Jon Burlingame; published by Schirmer Books, 1996



Parts One and Two of this series can be accessed on the website.


Edited by Scott Bettencourt

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