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The Works of Dimitri Tiomkin

Updated on February 26, 2016

Tiomkin Conducting for Duel in the Sun

Dimitri Tiomkin conducting for Duel in the Sun
Dimitri Tiomkin conducting for Duel in the Sun | Source

Dimitri Tiomkin Short Biography

The first composer I chose is Dimitri Tiomkin. Now this might not be immediately familiar, but you know his work, particularly if you have seen Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. In that film, Tarantino, like his other works such as Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill films, he carefully selects his soundtrack – and this was no exception. Tarantino used music from old Westerns, both American and Italian, with the likes of Ennio Morricone, Charles Bernstein, and Tiomkin – particularly Tiomkin’s “The Green Leaves of Summer” from The Alamo (1960). But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

First, a little background: Born May 10th 1894, (a Taurus!), in Ukraine, it’s a somewhat familiar story of the time. His mother was a pianist/teacher and his father a doctor – he was somewhat of a piano prodigy and went to St. Petersburg Conservatory when the time came. He became good friends with Prokofiev as they were both students (yes, “Peter and the Wolf” Prokofiev) and got into early American Jazz – remember this as it will be important later. To earn money, he played at a Silent Film House that played French films. Oh and he hung out at a cool bohemian café called Stray Dog Café, where some notable Russians such as Boris Pasternak, Aleksei Tolstoy, and Nikolai Gumilev to name three.

Post-revolution, he and his father moved to Berlin, where he quickly gained some notoriety and played with the Berlin Philharmonic occasionally – or had composers write pieces just for him to play, you know, no big deal. He also performed in Paris, where he met Gershwin – another note to remember. This, of course, led to working in NYC and later a five-picture deal with MGM. But he was smart, he was not a fan of the studio system and once his five-picture deal was up, he became a freelance composer and conductor. Way ahead of his time, because we're talking the 1930s here and people just didn't do that!

This is when he started composing for the big dogs - namely Frank Capra, Hitchcock, and Howard Hawks - I've posted a list of his more well-known works as well. In 1937 he became a U.S. Citizen and even contributed music for Capra's epitomous documentary series Why We Fight.

Tiomkin went on to win four Academy Awards in his career: 2 for High Noon (Best Original Song and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), 1 for The High and the Mighty (Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture), and 1 for The Old Man and the Sea (Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture). Six Golden Globes, Several Laurel Awards (an award created by Motion Picture Exhibitor Magazine that does not run any longer), and a Western Heritage award to name a few.

In the late 1960s, he lost his wife and on the way home from her funeral was attacked on his way home. Shaken and on the advice of his doctor, he moved back to Europe where he met and married his second wife. He continued to do some work until his death in 1979.

Sources:, bio and sources through Wikipedia (I know)

A Short List of Notable Works of Dimitri Tiomkin

Naughty Marietta '35
Meet John Doe '41
D.O.A. '50
The Unforgiven '60
Lost Horizon '37
The Corsican Brothers* '41
Cyrano de Bergerac '51
The Alamo* '60
You Can't Take It With You '38
The Moon and Sixpence* '42
Strangers on a Train '51
The Sundowners '60
Only Angels Have Wings '39
Shadow of a Doubt '43
High Noon** '52
55 Days at Peking* '61
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington* '39
The Bridge of San Luis Ray* '44
Dial M For Murder '54
The Fall of the Roman Empire* '64
It's a Wonderful Life '46
The High and the Mighty** '54
Tchaikovsky (musical director)* '72
Duel in the Sun '46
Giant* '56
Red River '48
Friendly Persuasion '56
Champion* '49
Old Man and the Sea** '59
* indicates Academy Award Nomination **indicates Academy Award Win

Lost Horizon

The first collaboration with Frank Capra is from the 1937 film Lost Horizon, about some Westerners fleeing China when their plane is hijacked, then crash lands in the Himalayan mountains where they are rescued and taken to Shangri-la where they meet the High Lama. It's a philisophical film, but the interesting part to me is the film history behind it. Plagued with production programs - the first two actors cast as the High Lama died before production began, a set built by a main Hollywood thoroughfare and they had to shoot at night which incurred heavy overtime, another cold set caused equipment to malfunction, and a lot of reshoots - the film incurred a cost of roughly $1.6 million. Which was insane in 1936. The first cut was also 6 hours long - which was then cut down to 3 hours and finally (after a bad preview screening) 132 minutes. A few re-releases later, it was cut down to 92 minutes. Finally in the early 1970s the film was restored - they were able to find the 132 minute soundtrack, but only 125 minutes of the film, the missing footage replaced with publicity stills of characters that were in those scenes with the soundtrack playing over it.

Lost Horizon Soundtrack

High Noon

Tiomkin won two Academy Awards for this film: Best Music, Song and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. The song "The Ballad of High Noon" (also called"Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin") was co-written with Ned Washington, and sung by Tex Ritter calls attention to themes in the film - particularly the relationship between Will Kane (Gary Cooper) and this new bride, played by Grace Kelly. Included is a selection from the soundtrack, to which the song is tacked on the end.

High Noon Soundtrack


One of Tiomkin's most recognizable piece - particularly with those of a certain age. Though really, those not of that age often know this song - sometimes without even knowing where it came from! From Tiomkin's background of composing for some of the bigger Westerns of his day: Duel in the Sun, Red River, High Noon, and Rio Bravo to name a few. So here's the little gem to get you *ahem* rollin' rollin' rollin

Rawhide Theme

Personable Dimitri

Scouring Youtube to listen to soundtrack selections of Tiomkin's work - there are a few interviews with the composer that come up: With Johnny Carson (a very young Johnny Carson), on the game show What's My Line?, an appearance on You Bet Your Life (a personal favorite) and the one below where he speaks with Gig Young.

Dimitri Tiomkin talks about Giant


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