The music of On the Waterfront and Casablanca were the subject of “Upbeat Live” talks I moderated on Friday and Sunday prior to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first-ever live-to-picture concerts of both scores at Disney Hall. David Newman, who conducted both, was on hand to offer musical insights into the classic Leonard Bernstein and Max Steiner scores. On Friday we were also joined by composer Laura Karpman, and on Sunday our guest was composer Charles Bernstein. Both Karpman and Bernstein are current governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; this past weekend’s concerts marked the first of several events in the new three-year partnership of the Phil and the Academy. I also contributed the program notes for both films (Casablanca is here; On the Waterfront is here).
Next week, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is playing Leonard Bernstein’s only original film score, for 1954’s On the Waterfront, in a live-to-picture concert presentation conducted by Richard Kaufman. Because of my extensive research into the background of Bernstein’s involvement — first in the essay collection On the Waterfront, later for the Criterion Collection DVD/Blu package — the CSO asked me to participate in a Q&A on the score. Here’s that piece.
Classical KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen asked me to join him on stage at Disney Hall last night to help preview the L.A. Philharmonic concert that included Leonard Bernstein’s fabulous suite from On the Waterfront. We talked about the circumstances of Bernstein’s hiring and his remarkable grasp of writing dramatic music for film (his one and only attempt at it). James Gaffigan conducted, and it was a thrilling performance (the concert also included Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 3). Brushing up on my Waterfront lore (using the book chapter I wrote and the Criterion disc commentary I had done), I discovered that I had once written about this score for the Los Angeles Times! Here’s that piece.
Editor Joanna Rapf asked me to write a chapter in her book (essentially a collection of essays) about the 1954 film classic On the Waterfront, directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg. I spent months researching Leonard Bernstein’s score and my 23-page chapter includes details — ranging from who actually orchestrated the score to quotes from those were were present at the recording sessions — that no one had previously uncovered.
The Library of Congress and the Bernstein estate gave us permission to reproduce two pages of Bernstein’s original sketches (and there’s a great full-page ad from The Hollywood Reporter promoting the score for Oscar consideration). Months after the book was published, I ran into Schulberg at an event in Hollywood and was pleased to hear him say it was one of his favorite chapters.
Several years later, this piece earned me a spot in the Criterion Collection’s definitive release of the film (see the DVD section).
A few reviews:
“Jon Burlingame contributes an important essay on the film’s music, Leonard Bernstein’s only original film score…” — Cineaste
“Burlingame’s probing, revealing essay `Leonard Bernstein and On the Waterfront‘…” — Journal of Film and Video
“Burlingame must be commended for doing a number of original interviews with Hollywood composers and studio musicians…. In plain, non-specialist language he describes the musical accompaniment and its effects…” — Film International
“Burlingame provide(s) valuable behind-the-scenes commentary regarding Bernstein’s decision to collaborate with Kazan and his experiences in Hollywood…” — Leonard Bernstein’s On the Waterfront: A Film Score Guide