|20-page colour booklet|
Victor Young was one of Hollywood 's greatest film composers, and his untimely death in 1956 cut short a hugely prolific talent whose roots in classical music and passion for the violin manifested themselves in melodic scores that spun in one's mind, even days after seeing the film.
As Didier C. Deutsch writes in his eloquent liner notes for this expanded (and unlike the Soundtrack Library disc, authorized) CD of Around the World in 80 Days, Young's workaholic character and insane output hastened the end of the composer's life, yet he left us an enormous canon of scores and popular themes; what's unfortunate is how comparatively little of Young's massive work is available commercially.
Part of the problem might lie in a generation gap, as Young was indeed an early pioneer of the easy listening orchestral sound that flourished during the fifties, and his melodies, certainly when heard in compilation albums, weren't always as dramatic as the original soundtrack recordings.
Young's many compilation albums may also have negated the release of original and complete scores, much in the way Henry Mancini's work from the sixties is largely represented – still today – by half-hour, re-recorded albums of lounge-arranged themes, and a few token dramatic cues. If the compilations and hi-fi platters sold brilliantly, why would a label bother with the original score?
Most of Young's extant albums came from Decca, which have been reissued over the years by MCA (in Japan and America), or via Varese Sarabande and Citadel in their John Wayne, John Ford, and Republic themed LPs.
Young's best-known work, however, is probably Around the World, as the LP's been reissued countless times as an already meaty 43 min. album in very crisp stereo. Some of the contemporary Decca soundtrack albums faked the stereo – Boy on a Dolphin and Picnic being good examples – making Around the World for 1957 an unusual release, although that too may be attributed to the film's producer, Mike Todd, who made sure the film and music reflected nothing but the best.
Around the World was a Todd-AO production, which, like CinemaScope and Cinerama, tried to lure audiences away from the idiot box back to theatres with widescreen films and stereophonic sound. Like Todd's film, movies shot in those processes were sometimes marketed with soundtrack albums, as well. The rival Cinerama films spawned a few LPs, and some labels, like Audio Fidelity, even took advantage of the new stereo format, releasing an album for Alex North's Cinerama South Seas Adventure (1958).
The original Around the World Decca LP was an excellent sampler of Young's score, but the 173 min. film clearly contained more music that was either deemed thematically repetitive, or jarred the melodic flow of the tighter LP. It's a different listening experience, and that's what this new CD offers fans of the score, but with some lovely surprises.
The fear of expanded albums is that the same melody is played until one's compelled to skip ahead to lessen the monotony, but the nearly 29 mins. of unreleased material offers a good balance of new and expanded cues, and unsurprisingly reveals how dramatically tight Young's cues always were, in addition to being narratively engaging.
The western and ‘indian war music' in the album's final third are perhaps the score's most dated stylings, mostly because they follow the conventions later lampooned in genre satires of the sixties and seventies (the insane finale of the 1967 Casino Royale, or Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, for example).
On the other hand, a cue like “Passepartout Dances” fares much better, since it's a fusion of exotica – gypsy violin, accordion, and percussion – and recalls Young's lovely Spanish music for Golden Earrings (released as a 10” Decca LP, and reissued by Varese Sarabande).
“Invitation to a Bullfight/Entrance of the Bull March” functions as source music and dramatic underscore - a fanfare with lilting harmonies more indicative of fifties songwriting than Spanish classicism – whereas “India Countryside” is more delicately flavoured in pseudo-Indian harmonics, with notes rising and falling like breaths, broken up by a series of 5-note cascades, each slightly off-beat from the other to render a dizzying effect.
The two-part “A Princess in Distress (Pagoda of Pillagi)” is more ethnically murky, but is completely successful as a witty otherworldly concoction. The intro (1:19), previously unreleased, moves with a steady dramatic pulse, and blends various woodwinds, reed percussion, and a close-sounding cousin of the mandolin (thereby kind of evoking Venice, rather than India ).
The cue's second half appeared on the LP as “Pagoda of Pillagi,” and was a major highlight. The format is a series melodic bits that swirl through a 4/4 beat. Young's use of the tambura, a stringed Hindu instrument, also adds a series of vibrating tones that mimic trembling human voices, before a more traditional orchestra takes over, and adds high strings before a quick resolution.
Whether exotic or formally melodic, the writing, orchestrating, and sumptuous use of a large symphonic orchestra is first-rate in Around the World, and the film's cross-border travels greatly benefited from a huge orchestral sound designed to sweep the listener from culture to culture.
Perhaps more than Alfred Newman, Young's use of high strings really stretched the limits of romance, and the score's most poignant cues are often brief segments where the composer side-stepped into moments of introspection – adding subtext to scenes that otherwise would have played more conventionally as dramatic rest points before another chase or panoramic view of another exotic destination - “Aloft Above France (Sky Symphony” being an ideal example.
Around the World, as a film, won the 1956 best Picture Oscar, but it's a movie that's very much a celluloid signpost of when BIG was in, and that included a monstrous running time. Stanley Kramer's own effort to showcase comedy in the Cinerama epic, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, kind of carried on the tradition of scope in length, a cast of myriad stars, and gags galore, but both films are works for specific tiers of comedy and classic film fans.
Over the past 50 years, Todd's super-production hasn't aged that well – it was always a concentrated effort to meld travelogue + dramatic structure for the latest widescreen process friendly towards an increasingly international marketplace - but Young's score provides the perfect synthesis of the nearly three-hour film, without the kind of repetition fans of expanded albums sometimes fear.
In addition to the previously unreleased cues and chronological sequencing, the CD from newcomer Hit Parade augments the dynamic range of the recording, as the original MCA CD, released in 1990, lacked some of the finer mid-range details present in the new CD. The bass still booms, the brass are still razor-sharp, and the analogue to digital mastering didn't reposition instruments for a new stereo image.
It took years for fans of the film to finally get a chance to see Todd's movie on DVD in its proper widescreen ratio, so it's natural Young's score – for which he received a posthumous Oscar – finally gets a deluxe release.
Around the World in 80 Days is distributed by Eric Records, and joins Hit Parade's other Young CD, Cinema Rhapsodies: The Musical Genius of Victor Young.
Young's final film scoring projects, released after his death, include The Brave One (1957), China Gate (1957), The Buster Keaton Story (1957), Run of the Arrow (1957), and Omar Khayyam (1957).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan
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