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ClassicsOnline Home » NEWMAN: Hunchback of Notre Dame (The) / Beau Geste
By David Hurwitz
The Composer: Alfred Newman was born in Connecticut in March 1901, the son of an impoverished family and one of ten children. Yet he was to receive a good musical education, Schoenberg included among his mentors. As a teenager he was a gifted pianist, conductor and composer, and at the age of 19 was the musical director of the Broadway hit, George White Scandals, making him the youngest conductor to have appeared on Broadway. In 1930 he moved to Hollywood with the idea of being a writer and conductor of musicals. It was an over-subscribed profession, but he found a market for his work in various film studios. In 1939 he was appointed head of music for 20th Century Fox, though at that time he would still have stated a reluctance to commit his life to films. He was also involved with conducting the recently formed Hollywood Bowl orchestra, though he disliked appearing in the public gaze.
He remained with 20th Century to 1960, during which time he worked on 225 films, winning nine Academy Awards, and receiving 45 nominations. He worked right the way through to his death in 1970, completing his score for the film, Airport, only weeks before. He was a perfectionist, and was to have one of the most significant influences on film music in the second half of the century.
The Music: Though Newman was one of the great Hollywood composers, he was very much a scene painter, as opposed to the 'symphonic' scores of Korngold and Herrmann. We are indebted to William Stromberg and John Morgan for reconstructing the music from two of his great film scores, Beau Geste and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Beau Geste dates from 1939, and managed to capture the grim life in the Foreign Legion with the back-drop of the empty Sahara Desert. In this suite Stromberg has brought together eight sections, the opening Prelude setting the scene for a film of danger and excitement.
More famous was his score for the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which he wrote for the RKO 1939 film of the classic story. The company sank a small fortune into the film, building a 190- foot replica of the cathedral, and cast Charles Laughton as the Hunchback. Critics wrote that the result was the creation of Laughton and Newman, the one providing the acting and the other creating the atmosphere. Of course it was ideal for Newman's vivid sound pictures, from the massive crashing chords to the celestial choirs. But it is the grotesque aspects which find Newman at his most imaginative, and it was simply the music that caused that terror in the film. From the complete score John Morgan has taken 17 extracts to form this extended suite of music lasting almost 39 minutes. The existing scores, however, show so many hands at work, and so many changes and corrections that Morgan has gone back to the sound track, and has rescored much of the music to recreate the orchestration heard in the cinema. At the same time he has used the full string section of a symphony orchestra.
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NEWMAN: Hunchback of Notre Dame (The) / Beau Geste