Dimitri Tiomkin - Writer

Composer. Nationality: American. Born: St. Petersburg, Russia, 10 May 1899; emigrated to the United States, 1925; naturalized citizen, 1937. Education: Attended St. Petersburg Conservatory and St. Petersburg University; studied with Glazunov and Blumenthal in St. Petersburg and with Petri, Zadora, and Busoni in Berlin. Family: Married 1) the ballerina and choreographer Albertina Rasch, 1925 (died 1967); 2) Olivia Cynthia Patch, 1972. Career: Composer and pianist in Berlin and Paris during the 1920s (played European premier of Gershwin's Concerto, 1928); 1929–68—lived in Hollywood; music director, Signal Corps films during World War II; 1968—settled in London. Awards: Academy Award, for High Noon and the song "High Noon," 1951, The High and the Mighty , 1954, and The Old Man and the Sea , 1958. Chevalier, Legion of Honor. Died: London, 12 November 1979.

Films as Composer:


Devil May Care (Franklin) (co)


Our Blushing Brides (Beaumont); The Rogue Song (L. Barrymore) (co); Lord Byron of Broadway (Nigh and Beaumont) (co)


Resurrection (Carewe)


Broadway to Hollywood (Mack) (co); Alice in Wonderland (McLeod)


Roast-Beef and Movies (Bearwitz—short)


Naughty Marietta (Van Dyke) (co); The Casino Murder Case (Marin); I Live My Life (Van Dyke); Mad Love ( The Hands of Orlac ) (Freund)


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Capra)


Lost Horizon (Capra); The Road Back (Whale)


Spawn of the North (Hathaway); The Great Waltz (Duvivier); You Can't Take It with You (Capra)


Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra)


Lucky Partners (Milestone); The Westerner (Wyler)


Meet John Doe (Capra); Forced Landing (Wiles); The Corsican Brothers (Ratoff); Scattergood Meets Broadway ( Blonde Menace ) (Cabanne); Flying Blind (McDonald)


A Gentleman after Dark (Marin); Twin Beds (Whelan); The Moon and Sixpence (Lewin); Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock)


Why We Fight series (Capra and Litvak)


Unknown Guest (Neumann)


The Imposter (Duvivier); The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Lee); Ladies Courageous (Rawlins); When Strangers Marry ( Betrayed ) (Castle); The Battle of San Pietro (Huston); Forever Yours (Nigh)


Dillinger (Nosseck); China's Little Devils (Bell); Pardon My Past (Fenton)


Whistle Stop (Moguy); Black Beauty (Nosseck); Angel on My Shoulder (Mayo); The Dark Mirror (Siodmak); Duel in the Sun (K. Vidor); It's a Wonderful Life (Capra)


The Long Night (Litvak)


Tarzan and the Mermaids (Florey); The Dude Goes West (Neumann); So This Is New York (Fleischer); Red River (Hawks); Portrait of Jennie (Dieterle)


Canadian Pacific (Marin); Champion (Robson); Home of the Brave (Robson); Red Light (Del Ruth)


Dakota Lil (Selander); Guilty Bystander (Lerner); Champagne for Caesar (Whorf); D.O.A . (Maté); The Men (Zinnemann); Mr. Universe (Lerner); Cyrano de Bergerac (Gordon)


The Thing ( The Thing from Another World ) (Nyby); Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock); Peking Express (Dieterle); The Well (Popkin and Rouse); Drums in the Deep South (Menzies); Bugles in the Afternoon (Rowland); High Noon (Zinnemann)


Mutiny (Dmytryk); My Six Convicts (Fregonese); Lady in the Iron Mask (Murphy); The Happy Time (Fleischer); The Big Sky (Hawks); The Four Poster (Reis); The Steel Trap (Stone); Angel Face (Preminger); I Confess (Hitchcock); Return to Paradise (Robson); Jeopardy (J. Sturges); Blowing Wild (Fregonese)


Take the High Ground (Brooks); Cease Fire! (Crump); Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock)


His Majesty O'Keefe (Haskin); The Command (Butler); The High and the Mighty (Wellman); A Bullet Is Waiting (Farrow); The Adventures of Hajji Baba (Weis); Strange Lady in Town (LeRoy)


Land of the Pharoahs (Hawks); The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (Preminger)


Giant (Stevens); Friendly Persuasion (Wyler); Tension at Table Rock (Warren)


Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (J. Sturges); Night Passage (Nielson); Search for Paradise (O. Lang); The Young Land (Tetzlaff); Wild Is the Wind (Cukor)


The Old Man and the Sea (J. Sturges)


Rio Bravo (Hawks); Last Train from Gun Hill (J. Sturges)


The Unforgiven (Huston); The Alamo (Wayne); The Sundowners (Zinnemann)


The Guns of Navarone (Lee Thompson); Town without Pity (Reinhardt); Without Each Other (Swimmer)


55 Days at Peking (N. Ray)


The Fall of the Roman Empire (A. Mann); Circus World (Hathaway)


36 Hours (Seaton)


The War Wagon (Kennedy)


Great Catherine (Flemyng); Tchaikovsky (+ d, exec pr)

Film as Co-Producer:


Mackenna's Gold (Lee Thompson)


By TIOMKIN: book—

With P. Buranelli, Please Don't Hate Me (autobiography), New York, 1959.

By TIOMKIN: articles—

"Composing for Films," in Films in Review (New York), November 1951.

Etude (Philadelphia), February 1953.

Music Journal (New York), April 1955.

"Writing Symphonically for the Screen," in Music Journal (New York), January 1959.

"The Music of Hollywood," in Music Journal (New York), November/December 1962.

Cinema (Los Angeles), July 1966.

In Film Score , edited by Tony Thomas, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1979.

On TIOMKIN: books—

Elley, Derek, Dmitri Tiomkin: The Man and His Music , London, 1986.

McIntosh, High Noon—Friendly Persuasion & More Classic Themes by Dimitri Tiomkin , Miami, 1993.

On TIOMKIN: articles—

Performing Right (London), May 1970.

"Tiomkin's Tchaikovsky," in Musical Opinion (Luton, Bedfordshire), 1971.

"The Music of Dimitri Tiomkin," in Film (London), Winter 1971.

Film (London), Spring 1972.

Thomas, Tony, in Music for the Movies , South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.

Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 6, 1978.

Film Music Notebook (Calabasas, California), vol. 4, no. 2, 1978.

Cinéma (Paris), January 1980.

Cinema 2002 (Madrid), January 1980.

Rivista del Cinematografo (Rome), May 1980.

Fistful of Soundtracks (London), October 1980.

Fistful of Soundtracks (London), November 1981.

Lacombe, Alain, in Hollywood , Paris, 1983.

National Film Theatre Booklet (London), February 1986.

Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1986.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), March 1986.

Palmer, Christopher, in The Composer in Hollywood , London, 1990.

Cue Sheet (Hollywood), no. 3/4, 1993/1994.

Brown, Royal S., in Cineaste (New York), Winter-Spring 1995.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), March 1996.

Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), June 1996.

Films in Review (New York), January-February 1997.

* * *

On receiving an Academy Award in 1955 for The High and the Mighty , Dimitri Tiomkin began his acceptance speech by saying "I would like to thank Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov." That the audience greeted this as a joke and roared with laughter accordingly is not surprising, for Tiomkin, his pronounced Russian accent untouched by years in America, enjoyed a reputation as a flamboyant, larger-than-life character. Nor is it surprising that Tiomkin should protest that he was, in fact, deadly serious, for though he was the consummate Hollywood professional, his roots, like so many Hollywood composers of his generation, belonged in the European classical tradition.

Tiomkin was trained in Tsarist Russia, studying under Alexander Glazunov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He had his first brush with the movies at this time, working in a cinema playing the piano to accompany silent films. After the revolution he studied under Busoni in Berlin. Subsequently he moved between Paris (where he gave the first European concert performance of Gershwin's Concerto in F ) and America, where he eventually settled. The first film for which he was solely responsible for the music was Norman Z. McLeod's Alice in Wonderland , but his first major break came when Frank Capra asked him to compose the music for Lost Horizon , the film based on James Hilton's Utopian fantasy about the lost kingdom of Shangri-La. Tiomkin's lush, oriental pastiche, with its clustered woodwinds and angelic choirs, was enormously successful at the time, but opinion has been divided as to its merits. Irving Bazelon, in his book Knowing the Score , notes that though the film is set in Tibet "not one note of Tibetan music appears on the soundtrack," while William H. Rosar, in an essay analyzing Tiomkin's work for the film argues that the score "contributed much to the film's faraway mood and enchantment." Capra expressed no reservations: "Tiomkin's music not only captured the mood, it damn near captured the film." Tiomkin became Capra's favored composer, and worked with him on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , Meet John Doe , You Can't Take It With You , and It's a Wonderful Life , as well as more than 20 wartime documentaries, supervised by Capra and directed by Capra, John Huston, Anatole Litvak, and Joris Ivens.

In his four decades as a composer for Hollywood, Tiomkin covered the entire spectrum of film music, from film noir to comedy, from Western to melodrama. He freely incorporated elements from the romantic European tradition and from American folk music. While something of a musical conservative ("For mass appeal, melody is the important thing. . . . To hell with musical intellectuals. Who cares about them?"), he could be adventurous when adapting to the requirements of the film. He showed a surprising affinity for the Western, scoring films by Howard Hawks, John Sturges, King Vidor's Duel in the Sun , William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion , and winning two Oscars for Fred Zinnemann's High Noon . When asked how a Russian could write for a Western, Tiomkin's characteristic response was "Did our producer on Red River know how to lasso a steer?" High Noon perhaps shows Tiomkin at his most effective—a simple score featuring harmonica—building tension through repetition. The ballad, with lyrics by Ned Washington, which runs through the film, comments on the story, as if the events taking place on the screen have already passed into oral history. The song became a hit in its own right, which, in turn, helped boost the film commercially. Tiomkin continued to develop the ballad form in subsequent films, using it even more ambitiously in John Sturges's Gunfight at the O.K. Corral . He also provided the score for Rio Bravo , Howard Hawks's answer to the implied pacifism of High Noon . The featured ballad, sung during the film by Rick Nelson, is an echo of Tiomkin's earlier score for Hawks's Red River .

Tiomkin was philosophical about the loss of his earlier aspirations as a concert composer. He immersed himself in the new art of creating music for the cinema, apparently at ease with the imposed commercial criteria. In his genial autobiography Please Don't Hate Me , Tiomkin offers this sober assessment of his talent, "I could never have been a Beethoven, Chopin, or Wagner . . . had I devoted myself to composition in the concert field I think I might have been as good as Rachmaninov . . . I've gone over to the technology of motion pictures, music for the masses, music for the machine in an age of machines."

Tiomkin's long and prolific career, embracing myriad musical styles for a wide variety of films, defies easy assessment. He could create rousing Western scores for films such as Red River and The Big Sky , or bring out simple touches of Americana, as in Friendly Persuasion . He provided effective scores for Alfred Hitchcock, notably with a series of sinister variations on the "Merry Widow Waltz" for Shadow of a Doubt . He could also lapse into moments of vulgarity—his powerful score for Rudolph Maté's doom-laden film noir, D.O.A. , is marred by the bizarre intrusion of the sliding woodwind wolf whistle that marks the appearance of a pretty woman. His relations with directors were not always trouble-free; Fred Zinnemann was upset by what he considered an intrusive, inappropriate score for The Men , the story of crippled World War II veterans, and Howard Hawks apparently dropped Tiomkin from Hatari! because he refused to use authentic African instruments.

In addition to the two Oscars (for score and song) for High Noon , Tiomkin received Academy Awards for The High and the Mighty and The Old Man and the Sea . In his autobiography he offered this unsentimental description of his work for the movies: "I followed the changes in progressive jazz. When calypso came along I wrote in the West Indian vein. I could write rock and roll if necessary. In Hollywood vernacular, I could write commercial."

—Dominic Power

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