Alex North

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Alex North
Birth nameIsadore Soifer
Born(1910-12-04)December 4, 1910
Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedSeptember 8, 1991(1991-09-08) (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Film score, theatre, classical, jazz
Occupation(s)Composer

Alex North (born Isadore Soifer, December 4, 1910 – September 8, 1991) was an American composer best known for his many film scores, including A Streetcar Named Desire (one of the first jazz-based film scores), Viva Zapata! , Spartacus , Cleopatra , and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He was the first composer to receive an Honorary Academy Award but never won a competitive Oscar despite fourteen nominations.

<i>A Streetcar Named Desire</i> (1951 film) 1951 drama film by Elia Kazan

A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 American drama film, adapted from Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play of the same name. It tells the story of a southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who, after encountering a series of personal losses, leaves her aristocratic background seeking refuge with her sister and brother-in-law in a dilapidated New Orleans tenement. The Broadway production and cast was converted to film with several changes.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

<i>Viva Zapata!</i> 1952 film by Elia Kazan

Viva Zapata! is a 1952 biographical film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando. The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck, using Edgcomb Pinchon's book Zapata the Unconquerable as a guide. The cast includes Jean Peters and, in an Academy Award-winning performance, Anthony Quinn.

Contents

Early life

North was born Isadore Soifer in Chester, Pennsylvania to Russian Jewish parents. [1]

Chester, Pennsylvania Place in Pennsylvania, United States

Chester is a city in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, United States. With a population of 33,972 at the 2010 census it is the largest city in Delaware County. Incorporated in 1682, Chester is the oldest city in Pennsylvania and is located on the western bank of the Delaware River between the cities of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.

Career

North managed to integrate his modernism into typical film music leitmotif structure, rich with themes. One of these became the famous song, "Unchained Melody". Nominated for fifteen Oscars but unsuccessful each time, North is one of only two film composers to receive the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, the other being Ennio Morricone. North's frequent collaborator as orchestrator was the avant-garde composer Henry Brant. He won the 1968 Golden Globe award for his music to The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968).

Modernism movement of art, culture and philosophy

Modernism is both a philosophical movement and an art movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

A leitmotif or leitmotiv is a "short, constantly recurring musical phrase" associated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical concepts of idée fixe or motto-theme. The spelling leitmotif is an anglicization of the German Leitmotiv, literally meaning "leading motif", or "guiding motif". A musical motif has been defined as a "short musical idea ... melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic, or all three", a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition: "the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity."

Unchained Melody original song composed by Alex North, words by Hy Zaret

"Unchained Melody" is a 1955 song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. North used the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained (1955), hence the song title. Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. It has since become a standard and one of the most often recorded songs of the 20th century, most notably by the Righteous Brothers. According to the song's publishing administrator, over 1,500 recordings of "Unchained Melody" have been made by more than 670 artists, in multiple languages.

His best-known film scores include A Streetcar Named Desire , Death of a Salesman , Viva Zapata! , The Rainmaker , Spartacus , The Misfits , Cleopatra , Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , Dragonslayer and Under the Volcano . His music for The Wonderful Country makes use of Mexican and American motifs.

<i>Death of a Salesman</i> (1951 film) 1951 American drama film by László Benedek

Death of a Salesman is a 1951 film adapted from the play of the same name by Arthur Miller. It was directed by László Benedek and written for the screen by Stanley Roberts. The film received many honors, including four Golden Globe Awards, the Volpi Cup and five Academy Award nominations. Alex North, who wrote the music for the Broadway production, was one of the five Academy Award nominees for the film's musical score.

<i>The Rainmaker</i> (1956 film) 1956 film by Joseph Anthony

The Rainmaker is a 1956 American romance film directed by Joseph Anthony and adapted by N. Richard Nash from his play The Rainmaker. The film tells the story of a middle-aged woman, suffering from unrequited love for the local town sheriff; however, she falls for a con man who comes to town with the promise that he can make it rain. It stars Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Wendell Corey, Lloyd Bridges and Earl Holliman. Holliman won a Golden Globe Award for his performance.

<i>Spartacus</i> (film) 1960 film directed by Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus is a 1960 American epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Dalton Trumbo, and based on the novel of the same title by Howard Fast. It is inspired by the life story of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in antiquity, and the events of the Third Servile War, and stars Kirk Douglas in the title role, Laurence Olivier as Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus, Peter Ustinov, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as slave trader Lentulus Batiatus, John Gavin as Julius Caesar, Jean Simmons as Varinia, Charles Laughton as Sempronius Gracchus, and Tony Curtis as Antoninus.

His commissioned score for 2001: A Space Odyssey is notorious for having been discarded by director Stanley Kubrick. Although North later incorporated motifs from the rejected score for The Shoes of the Fisherman , Shanks and Dragonslayer , the score itself remained unheard until composer Jerry Goldsmith rerecorded it for Varèse Sarabande in 1993. In 2007, Intrada Records released the 1968 recording sessions on CD from North's personal archives.

The 2001: A Space Odyssey score is an unused film score composed by Alex North for Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

<i>2001: A Space Odyssey</i> (film) 1968 science fiction film directed by Stanley Kubrick

2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 epic science fiction film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. The screenplay was written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, and was inspired by Clarke's short story "The Sentinel". A novel also called 2001: A Space Odyssey, written concurrently with the screenplay, was published soon after the film was released. The film, which follows a voyage to Jupiter with the sentient computer HAL after the discovery of a mysterious black monolith affecting human evolution, deals with themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The film is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of spaceflight, pioneering special effects, and ambiguous imagery. Sound and dialogue are used sparingly and often in place of traditional cinematic and narrative techniques. The soundtrack incorporates a number of pieces of classical music, among them Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss II, and works by Aram Khachaturian and György Ligeti.

Stanley Kubrick American filmmaker

Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is frequently cited as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. His films, which are mostly adaptations of novels or short stories, cover a wide range of genres, and are noted for their realism, dark humor, unique cinematography, extensive set designs, and evocative use of music.

North was also commissioned to write a jazz score for Nero Wolfe , a 1959 CBS-TV series based on Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe characters, starring William Shatner as Archie Goodwin and Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe. [2] A pilot and two or three episodes were filmed, but the designated time slot was, in the end, given to another series. [3] [4] North's unheard score for Nero Wolfe and six recorded tracks on digital audio tape are in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections. [5] He also wrote the music for various other television shows, such as the anthologies Climax! and Playhouse 90 .

William Shatner Canadian actor, musician, recording artist, author and film director

William Shatner, is a Canadian actor, author, producer, director, and singer. In his seven decades of television, Shatner became a cultural icon for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek franchise. He has written a series of books chronicling his experiences playing Captain Kirk and being a part of Star Trek, and has co-written several novels set in the Star Trek universe. He has also written a series of science fiction novels called TekWar that were adapted for television.

Kurt Kasznar stage, film, and television actor

Kurt Kasznar was an Austrian-American stage, film, and television actor who played roles on Broadway, appearing in the original productions of Waiting for Godot, The Sound of Music and Barefoot in the Park and had many notable parts in television and feature films.

<i>Climax!</i> anthology tv series

Climax! is an American television anthology series that aired on CBS from 1954 to 1958. The series was hosted by William Lundigan and later co-hosted by Mary Costa. It was one of the few CBS programs of that era to be broadcast in color. Many of the episodes were performed and broadcast live, and although the series was transmitted in color, only black-and-white kinescope copies of some episodes survive to the present day. The series finished at #22 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1955-1956 season and #26 for 1956-1957.

Though North is best known for his work in Hollywood, he spent years in New York writing music for the stage; he composed the score, by turns plaintive and jarring, for the original Broadway production of Death of a Salesman . It was in New York that he met Elia Kazan (director of Salesman), who brought him to Hollywood in the 1950s. North was one of several composers who brought the influence of contemporary concert music into film, in part marked by an increased use of dissonance and complex rhythms. But there is also a lyrical quality to much of his work which may be connected to the influence of Aaron Copland, with whom he studied.

His classical works include two symphonies and a Rhapsody for Piano, Trumpet obbligato and Orchestra . He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his score for the 1976 television miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man , and went on to score the sequel Rich Man, Poor Man Book II and the 1978 miniseries The Word . North is also known for his opening to the CBS television anthology series Playhouse 90 and the 1965 ABC television miniseries FDR.

In 2016, the Library of Congress added North's 1951 recording of his score to "A Streetcar Named Desire" to its National Recording Registry.

Awards

The American Film Institute ranked North's score for A Streetcar Named Desire #19 on their list of the greatest film scores. His scores for the following films were also nominated for the list:

North was nominated for fifteen Academy Awards throughout his career, one for Best Original Song, the rest in the Best Original Score category, making him the most-nominated composer to have never won. He was however awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1986; he was the first composer to receive it.

Golden Globe Awards for Original Score:

ASCAP Award for Original Score:

Grammy Awards for Original Score:

Selected filmography

Related Research Articles

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<i>Dragonslayer</i> (1981 film) 1981 film by Matthew Robbins

Dragonslayer is a 1981 American fantasy film directed by Matthew Robbins, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Hal Barwood. It stars Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam and Caitlin Clarke. A co-production between Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions, Paramount handled North American distribution while Disney thru Buena Vista International handled international distribution. The story, set in a fictional medieval kingdom, follows a young wizard who experiences danger and opposition as he attempts to defeat a dragon.

Joseph LoDuca is an American television and film score composer best known for his work writing television scores for the series Spartacus, Leverage, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, Young Hercules, The Librarians TV series, American Gothic and Jack of All Trades. Originally an accomplished jazz guitarist in the Detroit area, LoDuca frequently provides music for producer/director Robert Tapert, producer/director Sam Raimi, producer/director Dean Devlin and actor Bruce Campbell's films and series. Prior to his work on The Evil Dead, his first film, he released a jazz LP titled Glisten.

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<i>Julius Caesar</i> (1953 film) 1953 film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

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Hy Zaret was an American Tin Pan Alley lyricist and composer best known as the co-author of the 1955 hit "Unchained Melody," one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century.

Riz Ortolani Italian composer

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<i>Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</i> (film) 1966 film by Mike Nichols

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Alex Heffes is a British film composer. His film scores include those for the BAFTA-winning Touching the Void, and Oscar-winning movies One Day in September, The Last King of Scotland, and Inside Job. Heffes was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for his work on Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

<i>Cleopatra</i> (1963 soundtrack) 1963 soundtrack album by Alex North

Cleopatra: Original Soundtrack Album is the soundtrack from the film of the same name, released by 20th Century Fox Records in 1963. The music of Cleopatra was composed and conducted by Alex North, and was recorded and produced in 1963.

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References

  1. Henderson, Sanya Shoilevska (2009). Alex North, Film Composer. McFarland. p. 7. ISBN   9780786443338.
  2. The Billboard , April 20, 1959, pp. 38 + 40
  3. Shepard, Richard F., The New York Times, April 9, 1959
  4. Ewald, William F., Television in Review (syndicated column), April 9, 1959
  5. Wrobel, Bill, Film Score Rundowns, "CBS Collection 072 UCLA," Blog 42, June 25, 2010. The film score researcher identifies 30 CBS digital audio tapes in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections (p. 168), with tracks 86–91 of DAT #11 being the Nero Wolfe music of Alex North (p. 174). The score, CPN5912, is in Box #105 (p. 51).