Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jewish American Composers for the Stage and Screen

American popular music owes much to the music of Broadway, and then later to the film industry, and these genres owe a huge debt to Jewish American composers, past and present.  From the 1910s to the 2010s, Jewish composers have been shaping the theatrical experience behind-the-scenes.  Even with major "talent" in the footlights, the music is the true star of the Broadway musical, and in some cases the music of film.  What would Hitchcock's "Psycho" be without the screeching of violins in the famous shower scene?

Jerome Kern (1885-1945) composed the music for Show Boat (1927), one of the first true musicals of Broadway, and one of the first musicals translated to the big screen (1936).  The show's most famous song, Old Man River, was sung by Paul Robeson

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was a mature songwriter by the time sound was added to motion pictures, so he naturally became one of the first composers for films.  He also wrote the lyrics for many of his songs.  His film musicals include hits such as Top Hat, Easter Parade and Holiday Inn, which features one of his biggest hits, White Christmas.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) began his career as a classical composer in the romantic style, then composed for many films, and ended his career as a concert composer.  Coming to the U.S. to compose music for The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn, saved him from Nazi aggression in Austria.  He remained in the U.S. and became a citizen in 1943. He won an Academy Award for best film score for the film.

Harold Arlen (1905-1986), the son of a cantor, was the genius behind the music for The Wizard of Oz and seven of the songs for A Star is Born (1954), also with Judy Garland.

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on such classic films as
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • North by Northwest
  • Psycho
  • Vertigo
  • He also composed the music for Citizen Kane, Cape Fear, and Fahrenheit 451.

    Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) is known primarily for his years conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but he also composed the music for one of the most iconic stories of Broadway and film, West Side Story.

    Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004, no relation to Leonard Bernstein) was a prolific composer of diverse film scores, including Cecile B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, True Grit, My Left Foot, and Airplane!, as well as some television music and the classic short film, Toccata for Toy Trains.

    Stephen Sondheim (1930-) is one of the most successful musical theatre composers of recent times.  He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, and he wrote both lyrics and music for the following: 

    Alan Menken composed the music for some of Disney's most recent films as well as several others.  His hits include Sister Act and Little Shop of Horrors (also for Broadway) and for Disney: Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Beauty and the Beast

     Stephen Schwartz has written the music and lyrics for such diverse shows as Godspell, Wicked, Pippin and Disney's Pocahontas.



    John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, both Jewish, collaborated on some of the best kown modern musicals, including Cabaret.

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