RCA's Classic Film Score Series

The late Charles Gerhardt was in love with movies and music for the cinema. His goal was  to record film music in a way that would do justice to the scores. He  convinced RCA to give it a try and  in 1972  RCA issued the first LP in their Classic Film Scores series. This was The Sea Hawk, music of one of the master l composers of film music, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, conducted with the greatest sensitivity and verve by Gerhardt, magnificently played by the National Philharmonic Orchestra,  produced by George Korngold (son of the composer), and recorded by the legendary dean of engineers, Kenneth Wilkinson. The Sea Hawk was a brilliant achievement, offering the seldom-encountered combination of interpretive insight, magnificent performances, and stunning sonics, qualities that continued throughout the entire series. Those who heard the brilliant brass fanfares at the beginning of The Sea Hawk, were hooked for good on the glories of film music properly presented. Indeed, the music sounded infinitely better than it did in the movies; often it was subdued so dialogue could be heard, and orchestral playing could not match the virtuosity of the National Philharmonic.

The Classic Film Score Series was an enormous success, and eventually consisted of __ LPs. (John - can you clarify this?) Here is a listing of the series with current CD catalog numbers (LPs are no longer available).

The Sea Hawk -- Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (RCA 60863)
Now, Voyager -- Classic Film Scores of Max Steiner (RCA 0136)
Lost Horizon -- Classic Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin (This was issued as RCA 1669; inexplicably it is not in the current RCA/BMG catalog)
Captain from Castile -- Classic Film Scores of Alfred Newman (RCA 0184)
Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis -- (Music of Steiner, Korngold, Waxman, Newman) (RCA 0183)
Elizabeth and Essex -- Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolgang Korngold (RCA 0185)
Gone With the Wind -- Max Steiner (RCA 0452)
Casablanca Classic Film Scores for Humphrey Bogart -- (Music of Steiner, Waxman, Hollander, Young, Rozsa) (RCA 0422)
Sunset Boulevard -- Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman (RCA 0708)
Citizen Kane -- Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann (RCA 0707)
Spellbound Classic Film Scores of Miklos Rozsa -- (RCA 0911)
Captain Blood -- Classic Film Scores for Errol Flynn (Music of Steiner, Korngold, Waxman, Friedhofer) (RCA 0912)
The Spectacular World of Classic Film Scores -- (Music of Williams, Korngold, Steiner, Herrmann, Rozsa, Waxman, Tiomkin and Amfitheatrof) (also includes Fanfares for motion pictures for Universal Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Selznick International Pictures, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox ) (RCA 2792)
Star Wars/Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- Classic Film Scores of John Williams (RCA 2698)
Return of the Jedi John Williams (RCA 60767

Also issued, but not part of the Gerhardt series, was an LP of music of David Raksin with the composer conducting (music from Laura, Forever Amber and The Bad and the Beautiful), later issued on CD (RCA 1490).

Ever since the advent of CD, film buffs have eagerly awaited appearance of these superb recordings on silver disc. In 1983 Gerhardt's then-new recording of Return of the Jedi was issued simultaneously on LP, cassette and CD. His Star Wars/Close Encounters had been issued on CD in England but, inexplicably, not in the United States. In 1985, virtually without promotion or publicity, RCA issued Sunset Boulevard(Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman) on CD (RCA 7017). Sound on both Jedi and Boulevard is exemplary, with the imaginative performances brilliantly conveying the best of analog (Boulevard) and digital (Jedi) sonics.

The Sea Hawk, as re-edited and remastered by Gerhardt, was issued by RCA in May, 1989 (RCA 7890). In notes for this CD, Gerhardt states that RCA commissioned him to remaster the entire Classic Film Scores series for CD. With the extended playing time potential of CD, Gerhardt wanted to expand the series to include music that would not fit onto the LP format. RCA apparently agreed to this, and the re-edited, expanded CFS series would then be issued on 12 well-filled CDs. This doubtless would have delighted the hundreds of thousands of collectors who bought the original LPs, as well as creating a new audience among the recent generations of collectors.

The Sea Hawk as originally issued on CD in Gerhardt's expanded version,is quite different from its black disc counterpart. The original Sea Hawk LP had a total playing time of about 51 minutes; CD time is more than 70 minutes. The suite from The Sea Hawk on LP had a playing time of 6:53; the CD version is 15:35, including excerpts never before released. Of Human Bondage, which on LP was 4:21, was expanded to 12:24 on CD; Between Two Worlds, originally 5:30, is 7:30 on CD. Excerpts from Captain Blood, Juarez and Robin Hood , on the original LP, are not on the CD as Gerhardt included them on a second Korngold CD.

The Sea Hawk CD instantly went on the best-seller charts and was unanimously received with rave reviews, both for its musical content and superlative CD remastering. One might think that such a phenomenal success would trigger rapid release of the remainder of the CFS series in the silver disc format but, unfortunately, this was not to be - at least as originally planned with each CD containing previously unissued material.

RCA's marketing division made the decision that, after Sea Hawk, all future Classic Film Scores CDs would be released in Dolby Surround Sound, a dubious decision at best. A rather tasteless CD sampler, "The Home Video Album" (60354), was released in October 1989, including excerpts from some of the Gerhardt recordings. The "Home Video Album" is a CD, in spite of its name, and it contains "some of the most popular movie music ever written to enhance home video projects" as well as "compact disc graphics." Via equipped players, these graphics show video title cards and art that "complements home video productions." RCA also included a "scratch 'n sniff pop corn scented sticker, " plus advertisements for Jolly Time popcorn and recipies for baked carmel corn, butter crunch pop corn, pop corn balls and microwave caramel corn. The Dolby Surround Sound remix and RCA's digital remastering supposedly provide "surround sound" for those who have appropriate equipment. "The Home Video Album" and all Classic Film Scores issued in Dolby Surround Sound state, "This program has been produced with the Dolby Surround encoding system and is fully compatible with stereo or monaural reproduction." However, it is quite clear that when RCA's Dolby Surround CDs are played on standard two-track systems the question of "compatible" is highly subjective. The original Gerhardt/Wilkinson sound has been considerably and detrimentally altered. RCA's original pristine Sea Hawk CD (7890) with its extra music and non-Dolby sound, was discontinued and Sea Hawk was reissued in Dolby with the same program as the original LP. All other CD issues in the CFS series have the same programs as the LP, quite short by CD standards. Perhaps the Dolby system is capable of effective sonics, but as processed by RCA, the Dolbyized versions  lack  brilliance and bass is muddied. They do not sound bad, but they surely are not as good as the originals. If you can find the original Sea Hawk non-Dolby CD (7890) grab it; likewise if you can find the original CD issue of Sunset boulevard (RCD1-7017), snatch it up as well; these sound quite superior to the later Dolby versions.

There are endless treasures on these CDs: a few highlights: "Captain from Castile"....music of Alfred Newman. Big-scale treatment for Captain from Castile and The Robe,and a moving, highly emotional account of excerpts from The Song of Bernadette

"Spellbound" Miklos Rozsa ...a big suite from The Red House and The Lost Weekend and excerpts from Four Feathers, Spellbound and Ivanhoe plus a dazzling 77 second scherzo from Knights of the Round Table

"Citizen Kane" The Bernard Herrmann CD begins with a stunning "Death Hunt" from On Dangerous Ground, also a suite from Citizen Kane with a young Kiri Te Kanwa singing the aria from the fictitious opera Salambo(as it should be sung; this is the only time in the entire CFS series when on purpose music was not presented basically as it was in the film), the resplendent sounds of Beneath the 12 Mile Reef (with its 7 shimmering harps), and a suite from White Witch Doctor.

"Sunset Boulevard" The Franz Waxman CD opens with a stirring suite from Prince Valiant, and also includes suites from Sunset Boulevard and Rebecca, the diabolical sounds of "The Creation of the Female Monster" from The Bride of Frankenstein, and an orchestral tour-de-force,"The Ride to Dubno" from Taras Bulba.

"Casablanca" - a CD of music written for Humphrey Bogart films, opens with an imaginative suite from Casablanca, and also features an extended suite from The Treasure of Sierra Madre

"Captain Blood" This collection of CFS for Errol Flynn is a rouser, opening with The Adventures of Don Juan (Steiner), an 8-minute suite from The Sea Hawk, and music that for many is one of the major scores in the series, Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood. "Elizabeth and Essex"...a superb Korngold collection featuring excerpts from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Prince and the Pauper, The Sea Wolf, Of Human Bondage and the Cello Concerto from Deception.

"Now, Voyager" A collection of Max Steiner, beginning with the CD title music, plus extended suites from King Kong, Four Wives, The Big Sleep and The Fountainhead.

"Gone With the Wind" Superb performance of music from Max Steiner's incredible score; it is unfortunate more of it wasn't recorded (TT: 43:27), but what is there is wonderful.

"Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis" Mostly Max Steiner (Now, Voyager, Dark Victory, In This Our Life, Beyond the Forest, etc.) plus Korngold, Waxman, and Newman. The shortest CD in the series (40:50)

"Lost Horizon" A superb Tiomkin collection highlighted by a 23-minute suite from Lost Horizon, some of the most exotic music in the series, with its bells, percussion, chorus and huge orchestra.

"The Spectacular World of Classic Film Scores" A sampler for the entire series but important as it includes several items not to be found elsewhere: Overture to Julius Caesar by Rozsa, an excerpt from Herrmann's King of the Khyber Rifles, Amfitheatrof's sensuous "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Salome danced by Rita Hayworth in the film, and a stunning suite from The Thing by Tiomkin, the latter also now available on the recent Post Office special Celebrating the Classics CD

Perhaps RCA eventually will reissue the CFS series as originally planned for CD, minus Dolby, and with expanded suites and music never issued before. In the meantime, collectors should investiage a new CD licensed from RCA by a new label, Themes & Variations, issued in cooperation with the United States Post Office to commemorate a new series of 6 first-class postage stamps honoring six film music composers: Steiner, newman, Tiomkin, Korngold, Herrmann, and Waxman, all taken from the RCA series with Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic. This should be of particular interest to collectors as the suite from Steiner's The Fountainhead includes a salon piano interlude played by Gerhardt, never before issued. The CD is available for a limited time from the U.S. Post Office (it's in their Fall catalog) or from Screen Archives (e-mail address: craig@screenarchives.com).