Het is vandaag al vijftig jaar geleden dat filmcomponist Alfred Newman is gestorven. Op bovenstaande foto zit hij links, naast associate producer George Stevens Jr. discussing The Diary of Anne Frank at a press conference in Amsterdam, July 1958 (foto Wim van Rossem / Anefo).
Alfred Newman werd geboren in New Haven (Connecticut) op 17 maart 1901, the eldest of ten children to Russian-Jewish parents who emigrated shortly before his birth. Although many sources show a birth year of 1901, musicologist and composer Fred Steiner revealed that Alfred was actually born in 1900. His father, Michael Newman (born Nemorofsky), was a produce (groenten & fruit) dealer and his mother, Luba (née Koskoff), took care of the family. Her father had been a cantor in Russia, which contributed to her love of music. She sent Newman to a local piano teacher to begin lessons when he was five. At one point, in order to take lessons, he walked a ten-mile round trip. With barely enough to live on, his parents once had to sell their dog to make ends meet.
By the age of eight he had become known locally as a piano prodigy. His talent led virtuoso Ignacy Jan Paderewski to arrange a recital for him in New York. By the time Newman was 12, however, his parents’ meager income was not enough to support his large family, which led to him searching for ways to earn an income from music to help his family. He then began playing in theaters and restaurants.
He began traveling the vaudeville circuit with Grace La Rue’s show when he was 13. While on tours, he was sometimes allowed to conduct the orchestras. By the time he was fifteen, he was regularly conducting performances for matinee shows. He conducted George White’s Scandals in 1919, Funny Face in 1927 and Treasure Girl in 1929. Newman said he was always happiest as a conductor: “I studied music composition and counterpoint because I wanted to be a good conductor.”
In 1930, songwriter and composer Irving Berlin invited him to Hollywood to conduct his score for the film Reaching for the Moon. Producer Samuel Goldwyn offered him a contract to continue on as a movie composer. His first complete film score was for Goldwyn’s Street Scene in 1931. In 1931 Charlie Chaplin hired him to orchestrate his film City Lights, and used Newman again for Modern Times in 1936.
He received his first Academy Award for Alexander’s Ragtime Band in 1938. In 1939, he wrote the music for Goldwyn’s Wuthering Heights, starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. His score was unique in the way it included different musical themes and created different motifs for the key actors, which helped frame the action. The theme for Cathy, for instance, consisted of a glowing pastoral with strings, while Heathcliff’s theme, in contrast, produced a darker, more serious image.
Among Newman’s specialties were films with a religious theme, although he himself was not known to be religious. Among the films were The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), starring Charles Laughton, and in subsequent years, The Song of Bernadette (1943), The Robe (1953), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
Hij werd componist voor meer dan 200 films in de periode 1930-1970 waarmee hij 9 Oscars verzamelde; in totaal werd hij 45 maal genomineerd. Hij is hiermee de filmcomponist met de meeste Oscars, gevolgd door Alan Menken (8 Oscars) en John Williams (5 Oscars). Met Williams deelt hij ook de plaats van 45 oscarnominaties te hebben. De meeste films van Newman zijn geschreven voor 20th Century Fox films voor wie hij de huiscomponist was. Some of his most famous scores include Wuthering Heights, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Mark of Zorro, How Green Was My Valley, The Song of Bernadette, Captain from Castile, All About Eve, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Anastasia, The Diary of Anne Frank, How The West Was Won, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and his final score, Airport, all of which were nominated for or won Academy Awards. Newman is ook verantwoordelijk voor de bekende fanfare waarmee alle 20th Century Fox films beginnen. Newman and two of his fellow composers, Max Steiner and Dimitri Tiomkin, were considered the “three godfathers of film music”.
Toch zat het hem niet altijd mee. Acclaimed by many film historians as a triumph in the art of motion-picture music, Alfred Newman’s reverent, intense film score for “The Robe” failed to receive even a nomination as Best Original Score for a Dramatic Picture from the Motion Picture Academy’s Music Branch Award (though Newman still took home an Oscar that night – for his adaptation of music for the Irving Berlin–Ethel Merman frolic, Call Me Madam). Incensed by the snub of Newman, distinguished film composer Franz Waxman, an Oscar winner for Sunset Boulevard (1950) and A place in the sun (1951), resigned from the Academy. Ironically, when Newman, in his role as 20th Century-Fox’s head of music, hired Waxman to write the score to the film’s sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), Waxman insisted that he should adapt Newman’s original themes from The Robe, rather than write his own. Zelf vind ik de muziek van Newman voor deze film helemààl niet goed. Dat ze bombastisch is, is blijkbaar niet te vermijden in dergelijke Hollywood-producties, maar dat hij zelfs geen poging doet (enfin, hier is het eigenlijk de regisseur Henry Koster die in de fout gaat natuurlijk) om te laten zien vanwaar de muziek komt, is op sommige momenten bepaald irritant.
Alfred Newman komt uit een familie van grote (film)componisten, being the most Academy Award-nominated family, with a collective 92 nominations in various music categories: