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Voicing the CinemaFilm Music and the Integrated Soundtrack$
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James Buhler and Hannah Lewis

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043000

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043000.001.0001

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The Trouble with Onscreen Orchestrators

The Trouble with Onscreen Orchestrators

Progeny and Compositional Crisis in the Four Daughters Films

(p.151) Chapter 8 The Trouble with Onscreen Orchestrators
Voicing the Cinema
Nathan Platte
University of Illinois Press

An orchestrator elopes with a composer’s beloved and then dies, leaving behind a pregnant widow and an incomplete melody. Discouraged but not defeated, the composer proposes, offering to adopt the orchestrator’s child and melody. Just before the composer conducts his new arrangement of the orphaned theme, a child is born. This synopsis describes one plot line within the Warner Bros. film, Four Daughters (1938), and its sequel, Four Wives (1939). Loosely based on a story by Fannie Hurst, the Four Daughters films appear fashioned specifically for musicological musing. But if the films’ intertwined creative crises receive a pat resolution, the film’s production was less tidy. This essay lends a careful ear to the offscreen voices of studio staff whose dissensions and compromises inflect the musical content and onscreen musicians of the films. Screenwriter Lenore Coffee, who replaced an “unreal and ridiculous” contortionist character with an orchestrator, waged battle with male colleagues for credit and narrative control. Collaborative construction of the fictional compositions—credited to Max Steiner but based on themes written by Heinz Roemheld and Max Rabinowitsch—was also initially muffled. After the onscreen orchestrator’s unfinished “Symphonie Moderne” became a central plot point, Steiner and his colleagues were impelled to concede, even celebrate, their shared compositional efforts more publicly. Drawing on sketches from the Max Steiner Collection (BYU) as well as scripts and production documents from the Warner Bros. Archives (USC), this paper considers how battles over creative control were waged through the conception, composition, and onscreen depiction of a musical work that became an unlikely vessel for anxieties over Hollywood’s intensely collaborative methods.

Keywords:   Max Steiner, Hollywood, Lenore Coffee,  onscreen musicians, collaboration, archives

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