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ClassicsOnline Home » PERRY, W.: Music for Great Films of the Silent Era, Vol. 1 (Rome Philharmonic, Slovak Philharmonic, Perry)
THE SIX MARK TWAIN FILMS IN this recording present a series of exciting challenges in the variety and range of their musical requirements. THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER is set in medieval Austria and contains elements of mysticism and other-worldly dreams. THE INNOCENTS ABROAD takes place in 19th century California, Paris, Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Athens, the Crimea and Cairo, with each location calling for characteristic musical backgrounds. PUDD’NHEAD WILSON is a murder drama built around themes of slavery and misidentification. LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI evokes the by-gone days of riverboat traffic on the mighty Mississippi. THE PRIVATE HISTORY OF A CAMPAIGN THAT FAILED carries a compelling anti-war message drawn from events in the Civil and Spanish- American Wars. ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN is, quite simply, the most famous book in American literature.
By Thomas L. Kiefner
By David Denton
William Perry (b.1930)
The Innocents Abroad and other Mark Twain films
American composer William Perry was born in Elmira, New York and began actively composing and conducting at the age of fifteen. This led to musical study at Harvard University where his teachers included Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. He has written in a number of forms, and his music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, the Detroit Symphony and other leading orchestras in the United States, Canada and Europe.
As a film composer, Perry has written more than a hundred film scores, many of them for the silent film collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he served as music director and pianist for twelve years. His music for The General, Orphans of the Storm, Blood and Sand, The Mark of Zorro and other classics has received international recognition for helping to restore public interest in the great films of the silent era.
He has achieved prominence as a theatre and concert composer in addition to his film work, and he also has enjoyed an important career as a producer. His television productions have won Emmy and Peabody Awards, and he received two Tony Award nominations for his score to Broadway’s Wind in the Willows.
For this recording, selections are presented from William Perry’s scores for six feature films based on the major works of Mark Twain. These were originally sponsored and premiered by the national television networks of the United States (PBS), Germany, Austria, Italy and France and have since been seen throughout the world.
The six Mark Twain films in this recording present a series of exciting challenges in the variety and range of their musical requirements. The Mysterious Stranger is set in medieval Austria and contains elements of mysticism and other-worldly dreams. The Innocents Abroad takes place in 19th century California, Paris, Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Athens, the Crimea and Cairo, with each location calling for characteristic musical backgrounds. Pudd’nhead Wilson is a murder drama built around themes of slavery and misidentification. Life on the Mississippi evokes the by-gone days of riverboat traffic on the mighty Mississippi. The Private History of a Campaign That Failed carries a compelling anti-war message drawn from events in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, quite simply, the most famous book in American literature.
For all of these, Perry has created music completely appropriate to the subject matter, with a common thread of melodic sweep combined with wit and inventiveness. His use of wordless chorus and unusual orchestration gives a special sense of color to the writing.
The orchestration is for woodwinds in threes, plus oboe d’amore and heckelphone, four horns, three trumpets plus flügelhorn, three trombones and tuba, harp, piano, organ, celesta, concertina, harmonica, banjo, strings, and a full and varied percussion section including timpani, tenor drum, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, triangle, tambourine and whip. Forty-eight voices of the Vienna Boys’ Choir are heard in The Mysterious Stranger and the Slovak Philharmonic Choir participates in Pudd’nhead Wilson. The haunting harmonica solos are performed by Richard Hayman.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain’s original publication does not contain a “The”) is a four-hour adaptation, the most comprehensive presentation of the book ever filmed or staged. The extraordinary cast, directed by Peter H. Hunt, includes Sada Thompson as “Widow Douglas,” Lillian Gish as “Mrs. Loftus,” Geraldine Page as “Aunt Sally,” Butterfly McQueen as a blind slave, Frederic Forrest as Huck’s father, Richard Kiley as “Colonel Grangerford,” Barnard Hughes as “the King” and Jim Dale as “the Duke.” Young Patrick Day plays “Huck” and Samm-Art Williams is “Jim.” The screenplay was written by Guy Gallo.
The ten selections from the score include an opening title theme which later became the song When Out on the River in the biographical Mark Twain stage musical. A piece of descriptive music when Huck’s raft starts downstream was also later given lyrics as I Know There’s a Place. The Raftsmen music was written to accompany the brawling confrontation between two burly rivermen who threaten each other with hyperbole and wild rhetoric rather than genuine bodily damage. This episode was deleted from the book by Twain’s publisher but was restored to its proper place for this film adaptation.
Pudd’nhead Wilson tells the story of an eccentric country lawyer (played in the film by Ken Howard) who uses the then-new art of finger and palm-printing to solve the murder of his town’s leading citizen and unravel a mystery of babies switched at birth. In so doing, a slave woman named Roxy (played by Lïse Hilboldt) is revealed as having exchanged her own baby for that of her white master in order to give her child the benefit of a wealthy upbringing and proper education. With this act, she destroys the lives of both children and herself, and her final departure from town is backed by a wordless chorus and orchestra (featuring the oboe d’amore) in a poignant version of the slave song that has run through the film. Pudd’nhead Wilson also stars Steven Weber and Tom Aldredge and was directed by Alan Bridges.
Life on the Mississippi is the largely-biographical story of young Sam Clemens, who left home to become an apprentice pilot on a Mississippi riverboat. His tutor and toughest of taskmasters, Mr. Bixby, steers him through the rigors of learning the river, counsels him in his first romantic adventure, and comforts him in the tragedy of seeing his closest friend die in a steamboat explosion. At the end, Sam has learned his trade and learned as well how to cope with the challenges of life.
The film, directed by Peter H. Hunt, stars David Knell as “Sam,” Robert Lansing as “Mr. Bixby,” John Pankow as “Richie,” and Marcy Walker as “Emmeline.” The director of photography, as in most of the Twain films, was Walter Lassally, Oscar-winner for Zorba the Greek and cinematographer for such legendary films as Tom Jones and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. In January, 2008, The American Society of Cinematographers honored Lassally with their International Achievement Award for his lifetime of work. The screenplay was written by one of America’s finest screenwriters of 19th century stories, Philip Reisman, Jr, who also wrote the adaptations of Pudd’nhead Wilson and The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.
The Innocents Abroad, starring Craig Wasson, Brooke Adams, David Ogden Stiers, Barry Morse, Luigi Proietti, Andrea Ferreol and Charles Kimbrough, is a rollicking satire about the first pleasure cruise ever taken from America to Europe. The “Quaker City” sailed from New York in 1867 with Mark Twain as one of the passengers, chronicling for his newspaper readers back home the reaction of the American travelers to the great monuments of Europe. Early on, he determines that the guides hired in each country are basically the same person, so in the musical scoring Perry has created a common theme which changes character and coloration as the travelers journey from place to place – heard in these excerpts as a barcarolle in Venice, a tarantella in Naples and a caravan processional in Egypt. For Twain’s visit to a disreputable dance-hall in Paris, Perry has written the first full-scale orchestral Can-Can since Offenbach, and the haunting love song, Julia, describes the attraction between Twain and the loveliest of his fellow-passengers. The Innocents Abroad was directed by Luciano Salce, and the screenplay was written by Dan Wakefield.
The Private History of a Campaign That Failed is one of Mark Twain’s lesser-known works but one of his most powerful expressions of the futility of war. The story tells of a raggle-taggle group of youngsters who form a home-town militia unit to fight on the side of the Confederates in the Civil War. Totally unprepared for the realities of battle, they are overwhelmed by remorse and shame when they kill an innocent man, a farmer who, in this film version, returns as a messenger from God at the start of the next national conflict, the Spanish- American War. To a new generation of young recruits and their parents he delivers the seething and impassioned “War Prayer,” which Twain did not permit to be published in his lifetime.
The film was directed by Peter H. Hunt, and it stars Pat Hingle, Edward Hermann, Wesley Addy and Cynthia Nixon. Among the selections included here, Letters from Home incorporates the popular 19th century ballad, Lorena, played as a flügelhorn solo. In the closing measures of the title music, the final “Amen” is reinforced by chimes and church organ.
The Mysterious Stranger is one of Mark Twain’s most complex and convoluted works, at one point presenting a dream within a dream within a dream. It tells of a printer’s apprentice (played by Chris Makepeace) who imagines himself to be back in the days of Gutenberg, when the art of movable-type printing was just being developed. In a picturesque castle high in the Alps, he encounters a mysterious boy (Lance Kerwin) who calls himself “No. 44” and can do marvelous acts of magic, far beyond the powers of the resident and somewhat-suspect alchemist, Balthazar (played by Fred Gwynne). The two boys create havoc in the castle, defeat a gang of malcontent printers bent on mutiny, engage the affections of the Master Printer’s beautiful daughter and ultimately determine that all of life is but a dream. Therefore if one’s life ever becomes difficult, one must “dream other dreams ... better ones”.
To emphasize the medieval period of the story, the orchestra features a double-reed quartet (oboe, English horn, heckelphone and bassoon) representing the sound and color of the shawms and bombards of the Middle Ages. The element of mysticism is reinforced by the use of a boys chorus throughout, sometimes singing wordlessly and sometimes in a Twainian kind of Latin (“Ave atque vale, Quatuor et Quadraginta”—“Hail and farewell, 44”).
The screenplay for The Mysterious Stranger was written by Julian Mitchell and directed by Peter H. Hunt.
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