Indelible Notes

If I were to ask you about composers named Bernstein and what their most memorable works are, I’ll forgive you if come back at me with West Side Story, On the Town or Candide – all three truly excellent compositions.  All three composed by the legendary Leonard Bernstein, who pronounced his name burn-stine.  The composer that interests me is the “other” Bernstein – Elmer Bernstein, who as far as I know used the approved New York pronunciation – Burnsteen, like my old next door neighbors.

You may not know the name and maybe none of his works come to mind off the top of your head, but I promise you, you know his work. You probably know more of  Elmer’s works than you do of Leonard’s.  Elmer Bernstein is either the first or second most well-known composer of film scores, jockeying for the ranking with John Williams.  Even a short list of Bernstein scores is a respectable demonstration of some of Hollywood’s best known movies. (The bolded titles are Academy Award nominees.)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955
  • The Ten Commandments, 1956
  • Kings Go Forth, 1958
  • The Magnificent Seven, 1960
  • The Comancheros, 1961
  • Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
  • The Great Escape, 1963
  • Hud, 1963
  • The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965
  • Hawaii, 1966
  • Return of the Seven, 1966
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967
  • I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, 1968
  • True Grit, 1969
  • Slap Shot, 1977
  • Animal House, 1978
  • The Blues Brothers, 1980
  • The Great Santini, 1980
  • Trading Places, 1983
  • Ghostbusters, 1984
  • My Left Foot, 1989
  • The Grifters, 1990
  • Cape Fear, 1991
  • A Rage in Harlem, 1991
  • Mad Dog and Glory, 1992
  • The Age of Innocence, 1993
  • Lost in Yonkers, 1993
  • Frankie Starlight, 1995
  • The Rainmaker, 1997
  • Wild Wild West, 1999
  • Keeping the Faith, 2000
  • Far From Heaven, 2002

From 1955 through 2002, Bernstein earned 14 Academy Award nominations for either Best Original Score or Best Song, winning once for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967. He also won an Emmy and two Golden Globes.  All told Elmer Bernstein wrote 151 film scores, released 265 albums, and wrote for over 150 television productions (series, specials, mini-series, pilots and documentaries,) corporate promotional works and news specials.

I haven’t seen all the pictures he’s scored, and I can’t say that he’s a criteria for my selections of what to watch, but there’s a definite pattern at work. I really enjoy the music and surprise, the credit is “Music by Elmer Bernstein“.  They aren’t just enjoyable or something that adds to the movie, they’re works that stand on their own; I go out and get the MP3s and look for the soundtracks. His work has legs, and some have become cultural testaments.  You can find them in the movies themselves, in specific soundtrack CDs, and even on Freegal. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t pasted or included an MP3 or a YouTube video, there are many available.  His works are copyrighted and I haven’t found anything that wouldn’t be stretching the bounds of responsible librarianship if I posted them here.

As for my favorites, it’s easy, but the order changes moment by moment.

  1. The Great Escape
  2. The Magnificent Seven
  3. The Sons of Katie Elder
  4. True Grit
  5. Stripes.

- Richard

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Indelible Notes

  1. I have never heard of this composer so thanks for writing about him!

    • Rebekah

      Richard, thanks for posting this. I am a big fan of his work, too. While the score for “The Magnificent Seven” is probably the most known and has such an iconic theme, I have to say I’m partial to “To Kill a Mockingbird” (the main theme’s simple piano melody swells into a lovely theme with full strings) and “Love with the Proper Stranger” (title song by Bernstein and Johnny Mercaer).

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