The Manchurian Candidate
Distributed by Empire Music
Now Available from Global Audiophile
"David Amram's haunting score drives the movie forward and emphasizes perfectly all the dramatic elements."
"I have always regarded David Amram as one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century and I don't just mean for the cinema. Now thankfully his music, in America at least, is getting the exposure it so rightly deserves."
From the first, ominous moments of John Frankenheimer's enduring, memorable film THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE audiences have known they were experiencing a classic psychodrama of suspense, one that remains in the mind years later like a mordant poem or a darkly bewitching painting. Richard Condon wrote the brilliant novel that gave Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh a vehicle for some of the finest work any of them ever did in film. Released in 1962 during the Kennedy years, it was the story of an American patrol that was ambushed, captured and brainwashed by North Koreans and Chinese, and how one of its members (Harvey) returned to the U.S. after the war as an unsuspecting puppet whose mind and behavior could be manipulated by his former captors. He is moved deftly, like a chess piece, toward his assigned mission - the assassination of a Presidential candidate - while his former superior officer on the captured patrol (Sinatra) tries desperately to discover the roots of their tortured minds and to avert a tragedy.
That score was composed, orchestrated and conducted by David Amram in the spring of 1962. He was then a 31-year-old musical phenomenon who was already well-known as a brilliant young composer and performer in classical music and jazz, and a pioneer of world music. The score is available in its entirety on this CD for the very first time, including extended sections not used in the film and thus never before heard. Its release now is an instant "event" for students and connoisseurs of American music.
When Frank Sinatra first heard the score in 1962, he said: "David Amram has done a magnificent job. The score is exactly what I wanted for the film." And referring to the movie's complex theme of psychological tumult, he added, in the parlance of jazz: "The music is almost sane sometimes, as the story is almost sane sometimes. And at other times, the music is in the trees, just like the movie. It is a great score." In 1997, John Frankenheimer said: "David Amram's haunting score drives the movie forward and emphasizes perfectly all the dramatic elements."
The circumstances that led to Amram's creating THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE score - which is regularly cited as one of the ten best ever composed - began in the late 1950's, when John Frankenheimer attended performances of New York's famous Shakespeare in the Park series and heard the incidental music that Amram had composed for those productions. That led to Frankenheimer hiring Amram to write the score for his Emmy Award- winning television production of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, starring Ingrid Bergman. When the director learned that Amram was equally fluent in jazz and Latin music, he also commissioned the score for his film about New York street gangs, The Young Savages, which starred Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters. (Amram subsequently wrote the score for Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass, with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. The late Ms. Wood won an Oscar for her performance.)
As THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE began its pre-production phase, Frankenheimer and Sinatra decided they needed a non-Hollywood composer to create a score that would be as unique as the film. They gave Amram free rein to meld jazz from the Korean War period (1950-1954) with symphonic music to evoke the terrible psychological plight of the captured patrol, and the trauma and eventual triumph of the two main characters. The only instruction Frankenheimer gave to Amram was: "The picture will tell you what to do. I hired you because you're different from anyone else, and you care and have pride in what you do."
The resulting document is a work of immense subtlety and nuance, miraculously evocative of the 1950's, and a fascinating experiment in combining jazz, Latin and classical modes into an integrated, pleasing architecture that not only epitomizes the remarkable film it celebrates, but survives beautifully on its own as a delectable chrestomathy of musical invention. A jot of credit for that goes to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, with whom Amram jammed as a jazz French horn player and budding composer in 1951-52, and who encouraged him to write music that would represent his own broad, catholic interests in ethnic, folkloric and various articulations of jazz. Other musical sentiments in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE score derive from Amram's own Army service in 1952-54; from his recollections of the McCarthy period and its shameful repressions; and from the Kennedy Presidency with its energy, its promise and its optimism.
2) SOME SOUL FROM SEOUL is a joyful tonic - sassy, playful, redolent of the jazz clubs in Greenwich Village and around the world that David Amram as a jazz player knows so well. It describes Gls, in idle moments, listening to music from home, even as they fight a "police action" on the other side of the world in which 55,000 Americans died.
3) In THEME FROM THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (JAZZ VERSION), there's that pensive figure again, announced on the muted trombone, then turned over for examination to saxophone and trumpet. The jazz ensemble colludes engagingly with the wind and brass players among the symphony musicians, ending with both idioms united.
4) Amram's most expressive statement about the mysterious effect of brainwashing occurs in QUEEN OF DIAMONDS. Seeing that playing card triggers programmed behavior in the Laurence Harvey character. His bewilderment is expressed here in jagged chords featuring the unlikely fusion of harpsichord, three piccolos and high, dissonant strings.
5) CANTINA LATINA, KOREA, 1952, is an interlude in which Amram recalls some of his own Army days in the 1950's when draftees from Puerto Rico and the urban centers of the U.S. would bring their Latin-influenced jazz to the clubs and bars near military bases. It evokes the memory of what it was like back then to be a young man in the Army, and features a prologue and coda on French horn by Amram.
6) A riot of drums and brass announces POLITICIANS ON PARADE, a virtual parody of American campaign music played at a frantic, quick-step pace. It's a brief, affectionate tribute to all the hard-working musicians who play in pick-up bands at political conventions and along the campaign trail, and whose music is aimed at whipping up enthusiasm for candidates who are, more often than not, undeserving of their efforts.
7) UNREQUITED LOVE is the musical underpinning for a poignant, doomed love affair between Laurence Harvey and the lovely young woman of his dreams. The Hollywood tradition in which they might have lived happily ever after is subverted as Harvey is once more victimized by the effects of his brainwashing. The forlorn hope of perfect love ends tragically. A hint of the main musical theme and a few bars of harpsichord music signals the buried torment at the root of the character's consciousness.
8) In SLIGHTLY MANCHURIAN BLUES, Amram on piano introduces a theme based on the traditional 12-bar blues form, with altered harmonies, to suggest the folkloric music of Central Asia and the isolation that was felt by the American patrol in their captivity.
9) DARE TO DREAM was originally intended as a theme to underscore the tender relationship between the Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh characters but was eliminated in the final edit of the film. Amram and Frankenheimer agreed that allowing the acting to speak for itself, uncommented upon by the music, was more effective. Still, it's a haunting piece: the alto sax states the theme, then the strings, piano and flute explore it until it dissolves in a ripple of piano notes.
10) An unworthy Senator's determination to run for the Presidency is central to THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE storyline. LONG ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE - with its percussive drive, insistent cymbals and blaring brass - is celebratory of that urge that has afflicted so many politicians, good and bad.
11 ) RETURN OF A HERO is the composer's tribute to the dignity of military people who have served their country unselfishly, and the deep emotion they feel for comrades who never returned.
12) HOME AGAIN, 1952 uses a jazz idiom to express the uncertainty and trepidation that many felt who were drafted for service in the Korean War, and the joy of being mustered out when it was all over. Amram joins the band on French horn, improvising two ebullient blues choruses and a coda.
13) THEME FROM THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (MAIN TITLE) is the film's musical signature, a memorable motif that recurs in fragments throughout the score.
In August, 1997, his son, Frank Sinatra Jr., had this to say about the score: "The ingenious combination of polytonality and jazz was just incredible to me, and the choice of instruments was perfect for the film. None of us had ever heard a film score like this before. It's wonderful that this music is finally coming out as a sound track album. It is long overdue."
For THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, David Amram created a film score of immense subtlety and distinction, its moods brilliantly wed to the beguiling texture of George Axelrod's ingenious screenplay. This recording will have pride of place among the dozen CDs of Amram's music now commercially available, a feast for fans of the most multifaceted composer now at work in America.
I look back today at the scoring of the film THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE with gratitude at having had the chance to collaborate with great actors, a great director and author, and some of America's finest musicians. Our collective efforts have been preserved through the magic of film, video cassette, and now, at long last, a CD recording of all of the music that I composed for the movie. Some of the selections were cut from the final edit of the film, but stand on their own in this complete version.
The history of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and its music is like a script from an old adventure film: acclaim, disaster, obscurity, a long arduous road to a comeback, and a final triumph. With the recent re-release of the film for theater and home video, the music can be heard supporting the film and its myriad dramatic changes. Thirty-five years after I composed the score, it can now be heard in its entirety for the first time, sepa- rate from the film. This would have happened in 1962, but after the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the film and its music were withdrawn from the public for twenty-five years.
Early in the summer of 1997, Frank Sinatra Jr. and I met at a rehearsal hall in New York City. By an amazing coincidence, we were both conducting symphony concerts celebrating the Fourth of July. I told him that the music for THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was finally coming out on a CD. He remembered Slightly Manchurian Blues, as well as the symphonic passages of the score, and was gracious enough to supply me with quotes from his father and himself about the music, included in Neil Hickey's annotations.
I'll always be grateful to Frank Sinatra and the film's brilliant director, John Franken- heimer, for allowing me the freedom to do the best that I could do. It is very fulfilling that this music can finally be heard.