SUMMER AND SMOKE
Orchestrations: Leo Shuken, Jack Hayes –
BMG reissue of RCA VICTOR LP, 12 tracks(stereo) - Highest Rating
Producer: Dick Peirce Performed: Paramount Studio Orchestra , Conductor: Elmer Bernstein
by Ross Care
As a film composer the prolific Elmer Bernstein went through more “periods” than Picasso.He may be best known for his jazz and western scores, so it’s sometimes overlooked that duringthe 1950s and ‘60s Bernstein scored some of the most prestigious projects in Hollywood. Among these were scores for a number of literary and Broadway adaptations, including the 1961film of Tennessee Williams’ Broadway drama,
Summer and Smoke
.The American playwright’s works inspired a number of film scores during this era, notably Alex North’s landmark
A Streetcar Named Desire
in 1951. While in a different musical modeBernstein’s
Summer and Smoke
emphatically ranks with North’s
as a definitivemusical evocation of the unique Williams mythos.
is Williams’ only period play, set in asmall delta town in WWI era Mississippi, and deals with the conflicted relationship between Alma, a repressed minister’s daughter, and Johnny, the bad boy next door. Thus Bernstein isdealing with both the period background and the sacred/profane conflict that is the core of scriptand screenplay.The period (and emotional) setting precludes the use of jazz techniques, resulting in(aside from solo guitar interludes) a purely orchestral mode, primarily for strings, variedwoodwinds, and harp. The period mode does not, however, limit Bernstein, and the modernsensibility of the play is suggested in the score’s sometimes Bartokian embellishments(“Summer Thoughts”, suggestive of parts of the Elegia movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra), and the quirky treatment of traditional waltz rhythms. (“Two Lonely Women,” “Alma’sDilemma”)The spiritual/sensual dichotomy is immediately announced (as in Bernstein’s
DesireUnder the Elms
) in the Main Title’s severe chordal introduction to the swirlingly romantic maintheme, the latter also providing material for much of the score. On a broader scale the same ideais contrasted by the Alma/John orchestral cues vs. the subtly erotic guitar tracks for John’sdalliance with a seductive Latina (“Rosa,” “Rosa’s Dance”).The 1999 BMG release is an exact reissue of the original RCA Victor LP. It featuresmuch, though not all of the music in the film, but is a beautifully recorded Living Stereorepresentation of the score as a whole. (One of the most attractive cues is a full version of thelilting, yet bittersweet “Glorious Hill Waltz” which is only heard as background source music inthe film). The subtle delicacy and detail of the orchestrations were made for CD, though my copyis plagued by an annoying hum on some of the quieter passages.In the original LP notes Bernstein himself describes his score: “… we hear the music of loneliness, the sounds of our secret thoughts, whispers of our hidden desires and unspokenhopes, in a musical mystique suggesting at times foreverness and eternity.” I personally consider this Bernstein’s masterpiece, and the film, directed by Peter Glenville who directed the Londonstage production, is certainly one of the composer’s best.
Since this RCA reissue a complete CD of the score has been issued in a limitededition on Bruce Kimmel’s Kritzerland. It includes all the film cues, bonus tracks of the bandmusic, and several of the RCA tracks, a total of 26 tracks, and is one of the greatest and mostwelcome of a recent spate of complete film score restoration.