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Great Film Scores from Hollywood's Golden Age of Cinema

Updated on May 28, 2012
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Great Music Scores

Great Film Scores from Hollywood’s Golden Age of Cinema

Note: You can enjoy these gorgeous film scores by simply visiting www.youtube.com

Film scores today are of a totally different nature than they were back in the 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s. Great film scores like the ones to The Shining, Predator and American Beauty, would have probably not made it back in Hollywood’s Golden Age of Cinema. For starters, horror and sci-fi flicks were of little consequence in the 40’s and 50’s, so this type of music wasn’t as necessary back then. And secondly, a trendy and groundbreaking film score like the one to American Beauty, would have most likely been rendered obsolete 70-80 years ago, because, love stories back in those days were much more tender and innocent than the harsh love narratives of today. Subsequently, some critics attacked James Cameron when he decided to make Titanic, because, of what I just said...nevertheless, Cameron laughed his way to the bank on that one....

Today, large orchestras like the ones used by Tiomkin in the 50’s are not as common anymore, mainly and because of budget reasons. - Remember, if you’re a composer and are hired to write a film score, the director might hand you a check for you to put the whole thing together - this includes orchestra, recordings, musicians, etc..., so be very conscientious about the money handed to you by the film director/producer. Hire an accountant if you need to, so they can calculate all possible expenses for you. This way, when it’s all said and done, you can walk out with some profit - even if little!... Back in Tiomkin’s day (using Dimitri Tiomkin as a hypothetical), many television networks owned their own orchestras, so you had little to worry about paying individual musicians...unions and the likes.... Point being, things were much cheaper and easier to produce in those days than they are nowadays. ...all said..., if you’re John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, or another well known film composer, then you’ve got little to worry about, because, most successful directors will pay any exuberant amount of money to have a famous composer score their upcoming film - possible Oscar winner?...

King Kong - 1933
Excellent score by Max Steiner.

The Wizard of Oz - 1939
One of the loveliest musical scores Hollywood has ever produced. Composers: Herbert Stothart, Harold Arlen and a few others get credit for this timeless Hollywood classic. Additionally, there’s a scene in the movie when Toto (Dorothy’s dog) is being chased by the Wicked Witch’s guards. In this scene, they play the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s piano piece entitled: Trois Fantaisies ou Caprices (they also play the music of Schumann in the film). At the end of the film, no pertinent credits show up to advise you of this fact. Ah, as the saying goes: “those were the good old days...” Today, you must list any and all pertinent music, as well as any other information on the film’s beginning/final credits, or risk being fined....

Gone with the Wind - 1939
Another great film with a superb score by Max Steiner.

Citizen Kane 1941
Just like Gone with the Wind before it, and Casablanca after it, Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest films of all times. The score was by none other than Bernard Hermann, who himself has been called one of the greatest film composers of all times. Trivia: Citizen Kane was the first film score that Hermann composed.

Casablanca - 1942
This movie, based on the goings on in Morocco’s largest city during WWII, has been called by many “the greatest film ever made!” The film’s music is also amongst the finest ever composed. Credit goes to Max Steiner, who was one of the most famous film composer of his day.

Now, Voyager - 1942
Another fine Max Steiner score. If you didn’t know Steiner had been a pupil of Brahms and Mahler, you’d think Tchaikovsky was his music teacher after listening to this overly melodramatic musical score.

A Place in the Sun - 1951
Another excellent film score, this time by Franz Waxman.

The Ten Commandments - 1956
Great film score by Elmer Bernstein.

Ben Hur - 1959
One of the greatest film scores ever written. Miklos Rozsa was of Hungarian background. Rozsa wrote some of the greatest film scores of all times, including this one.

Love Story - 1970
No list of great Hollywood classic film scores would be complete without this one. This is Francis Lai’s most famous musical score. Quirky plot, but as I was saying at the beginning of this article: they don’t make romantic narratives like these anymore....

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    • profile image

      Kevin Scott 

      5 years ago

      Great list, but...where's Korngold? It's hard to omit scores like The Adventures of Robin Hood or The Sea Hawk, which are two of his greatest scores for the cinema. And though it shouldn't be a long list, I'm sorry that these scores were omitted as well:

      Aaron Copland: Our Town (I'll throw The Red Pony in to boot as well)

      Victor Young: For Whom the Bell Tolls (there are others, but I'll settle for this one)

      Hugo Friedhofer: The Best Years of Our Lives

      Bernard Herrmann: Vertigo

      Jerome Moross: The Big Country

      Alex North: A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!

      David Raksin: Laura, Forever Amber

      Leonard Rosenman: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause

      I'd list Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, but while they started composing at the end of the "Golden Age," those scores are not as well-known as the scores they would compose in the final half of the 20th century.

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Jools99, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

      Wow...great trivia about O Selznick, had no clue...Gone with the Wind is one of Steiner's most beloved score.

      Thanks again and enjoy your evening

      John

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      John, a very interesting hub. I once read about David O Selznick's interference in the scoring of Gone With The Wind - he was loathe to hand over the reins to the composer, Max Steiner who had worked really hard on it and just wanted to get on with things. I hope Max got some profits!

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hu Sueswan, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

      Yes, couldn't agree with you more. I was watching "Little Women" the other night and I'm always amazed at Max Steiner, he was such a great composer.

      Thanks again and take care

      John

    • profile image

      Sueswan 

      5 years ago

      Hi John,

      Movies are just not the same as they were in the golden age of cinema with their great film scores.

      I love, "Time Goes By."

      Voted up and awesome

      Take care :)

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Audrey, and thank you so much for stopping by.

      You think correct, I do love Steiner, he was a great composer.

      Take care and enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend.

      John

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Theresa, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

      I love the score to Ben Hur, it's quite awesome.

      Yes, I'm enjoying my weekend and preparing my 100th hub - it's a surprise, wait until you read it.

      Thanks so much again for your kind words.

      Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

      John

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Methinks you enjoy Max Steiner! Me too!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hello John - very interesting Hub as usual. Great work. I think the Ben-Hur score is fantastic and what an incredible film. I own a copy and watch it once every five years or so. My Ben-Hur addiction started when I was very young.

      My very eclectic and intense Polish grandmother took me to See Ban0Hur when I was six years old. I think I was the only child in the theater. I remember the film vividly, but I don't remember being afraid, just very impressed with Charlton Heston and the God he loved and served.

      And yes, I introduced my sons to it, but certainly not at the age of six. :) I hope you are having a good Memorial Day weekend. Take care. Theresa

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you so much BethDW!

      I love classical music and film music is pretty close to it. I studied film scoring @ UCLA for a while, but eventually dropped it.

      Thanks again and take care

      John

    • profile image

      BethDW 

      6 years ago

      An excellent list! I think the score from 'Gone With the Wind' is probably my favourite. I love film scores, they are my genre of choice to have playing while I write or study. I've enjoyed learning a bit about the background of these scores on your list!

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thanks so much epigramman and nice to know you....

      Thanks again and take care of yourself

      John

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      6 years ago

      ....well John, Sir Rahul led me here with a post of your great film soundtrack hub containing so much passion and knowledge at our FB group Let's talk music or cinema - why don't you drop by and post some of these great scores - I would love that and we have a wide assortment of music minded people who love this genre.

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    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you so much rahul0324 for your poetic words. I couldn't agree more. I'm a musician and took film scoring at UCLA, I couldn't agree with you more.

      Thanks again and take care

      John

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 

      6 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      OLD IS GOLD ... indeed! Proved with this hub!

      An amazing era of world class music and musicians which in my opinion will never ever come again!

      Music is something divine which connects the mind body and soul to the heart and sets a rhythmic beat of emotions!

      Great hub!

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Ruchira, thank you so much for your kind words.

      And to quote you, "OLD IS GOLD" for sure!

      Thanks again and have a wonderful afternoon

      John

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 

      6 years ago from United States

      no wonder the proverb...OLD IS GOLD still so famous :)

      Love all the movies you have mentioned above and their music is still golden to the ears.

      thanks john for enriching us with our oldies 'cause they are still the goldies :)

      voted up and sharing it across!

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi drbj, and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Yes, the score to Casablanca is awesome to say the very least. One of the most beautiful scores ever written is "Love Story," but the "love story" in the narrative falls short in my personal point of view.

      Thanks again and take care

      John

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for reminding us, John, of those wonderful films with great film scores. 'Casablanca' was my first pick. In today's rapid-to-the-market, copycat movies, music is simply expedient and not necessarily apt nor beautiful.

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Steve, and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I love Ben Hur, it's one of the most Wagnerian Hollywood film scores ever written.

      Take care and enjoy your weekend

      John

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      6 years ago from London, England

      Good work John, so many great Hollywood scores I wouldn't know where to begin. My favourite of the one's you've listed is Miklos Rozsa's magnificent score for Ben-Hur.

      Voted Up.

    • John Sarkis profile imageAUTHOR

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Derdriu, ever so greateful for your comments. I hope you're doing well....

      Yes, the business of film scoring is best describe by the saying "feast or famine..." If you're just starting out as a film composer, you might be surprise it's not always what it's cutout to be.

      Thanks again and take care of yourself

      John

    • profile image

      Derdriu 

      6 years ago

      John, What an awesome, enlightening, intelligent summary of what it means to write a film score now and then as well as if the writer is "nobody" or somebody! In particular, it's surprising how much responsibility is put on the shoulders of someone starting out or not within the inner circles of film and music. Also, I appreciate the sample titles of the great film scores of yesteryear, such as "The Wizard of Oz" because that chase scene was really dramatic with the combined acting, music and photography.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

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