Follow these links to feature-length articles on Dimitri Tiomkin and his music.
The Alamo Turns 55 (2015)
Fifty-five years ago concert performances of film scores were few and far between. Aficionados of film music had to rely on soundtrack recordings and even those could be nonexistent or difficult to find. In October 1960, two days prior to hosting the world premiere of the film, San Antonio was home to the world premiere of “The Alamo Suite” by Dimitri Tiomkin premiered by the San Antonio Symphony.
The première danseuse Albertina Rasch, married to Dimitri Tiomkin from 1926 until her death in 1967, had a prolific career as a ballerina and choreographer. Learn more about her career in vaudeville, on Broadway, and Hollywood films.
Tiomkin’s mentor, Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, may have been the single greatest musical influence on the future composer in Hollywood.
Our popular look behind the scenes at selected images from among the hundreds of photographs on this site. We’ve featured composer Alexandre Tansman, choral director Jester Hairston, music critic Leonard Liebling, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and more.
“The dramatic story you are about to see was actually filmed on the battlefields of Korea,” declares the opening title card for Cease Fire, a 1953 Paramount film from producer Hal B. Wallis. An in-depth look at this black-and-white 3-D film with music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
John Dillinger, the legendary 1930s-era bank robber, was portrayed in the 1940s in the film Dillinger, with a score by Dimitri Tiomkin and a backstory involving censorship, controversy, and more.
Did you know the pianist referred to only as “Raskov” in Tiomkin’s autobiography is Michael Khariton? Find out more about their concertizing and experiences in Paris and New York in the 1920s in this article.
Tiomkin was among a number of film composers who contributed to the Music Journal, a monthly educational magazine dedicated to the promotion of American music and published in New York from 1946 to 1987. Tiomkin wrote three articles: “Writing Symphonically for the Screen” (January 1959), “The Music of Hollywood” (November-December 1962), and “Music for the Films” (Music Journal Annual, July 1967).
Dimitri Tiomkin as I Remember Him by Jack Wallace
Jack Wallace worked in Hollywood as an assistant editor and publicist. Read about Wallace’s memories of working with Tiomkin on Friendly Persuasion. Thanks to Les Zador.
Seventy-five years ago, the art of music scoring for Hollywood sound films, or “talkies,” was literally being invented by a group of transplanted New Yorkers, many of whom were songwriters. Among them was a Russian concert pianist-turned-composer who was ready to take a stab at writing serious music for films. This is the story of Dimitri Tiomkin’s first feature-length film score.
In his pre-Hollywood career as a concert pianist, Tiomkin’s interest in modern music extended beyond classical to jazz, which he publicly defended as a uniquely American art form. This article assesses the influence of this music on Tiomkin and looks at his association with some of the finest black musicians of the twentieth century, among them singers Nat “King” Cole, Mahalia Jackson (pictured left), Eva Jessye, and Kitty White, and arrangers Benny Carter, Jester Hairston, Hall Johnson, and William Grant Still.
Tiomkin did have to pay his dues, like most other composers in Hollywood. By the end of the 1930s he had been well compensated on several significant productions but had also toiled on a number of second-string pictures for much lower fees. Two of these lesser-known films were aviation “actioners” scored back-to-back, just prior to the United States’ entry into World War II: Forced Landing and Flying Blind, both starring Richard Arlen.
In 1955, after winning an Academy Award for the score from The High and the Mighty, Dimitri Tiomkin was named in a lawsuit by composer Leon Navara. Navara claimed that the film’s title song was based on a composition of his own, and was seeking $5 million in damages for copyright infringement.
Hole in the Rock and Panic Button: Dimitri Tiomkin and Stephen Longstreet cross paths in the early 1960s
In the early 1960s, Dimitri Tiomkin signed back-to-back contracts to score two pictures, Panic Button and Hole in the Rock. While he did not ultimately provide music for either film, a look at what took place behind-the-scenes provides a fascinating glimpse into the business world of film composers.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for the holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life is well known. In addition to this perennial classic, he wrote several Christmas songs not associated with motion pictures. Read the story of “The First Christmas” and other holiday music by Tiomkin.
In the 1950s, Dimitri Tiomkin tried to bring the story of Irish tenor John Count McCormack (1884–1945) to the big screen. The film was to be based on a biography of McCormack by his widow. McCormack was “celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control.”
First in an occasional series on Tiomkin’s lesser-known film scores. With so many scores to his credit, there are bound to be some overlooked gems in Dimitri Tiomkin’s film oeuvre. His music for The Moon and Sixpence is one such case. When the film was released in the early 1940s, the score was well received by Tiomkin’s peers and earned a nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
National Train Day (on Canadian Pacific and Night Passage)
Trains have figured prominently in several films scored by Dimitri Tiomkin, from High Noon to Last Train from Gun Hill. In recognition of National Train Day, we examine two films from this particular portion of his oeuvre, Canadian Pacific and Night Passage, in which trains play a central role in the story line.
There is now evidence that Dimitri Tiomkin had a hand in motion picture production as early as 1949 when he entered into agreements with producer Joseph Kaufman and director Albert Lewin to secure financing for the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Tiomkin and Lewin had known each other for a number of years. Tiomkin composed music for Lewin’s production of Spawn of the North (1938) and wrote the score for The Moon and Sixpence (1942), Lewin’s directorial debut.
In the America of 1964, the nation was still reeling from the loss of a president, Congress passed a historic civil rights omnibus bill, and the Vietnam War was stoking the fires of discontent. During this tumult, Dimitri Tiomkin—who had become a U.S. citizen in the late 1930s—made a public appeal in support of the American flag by writing to the Los Angeles Times. Titled “Show the Flag!,” Tiomkin’s letter to the editor hails the Stars and Stripes as “a brave flutter of hope in a sadly confused and chaotic world.”
Read all about Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for the 1949 film featuring George Raft, Virginia Mayo, and Raymond Burr.
As the United States worked to regain its footing following World War II, Hollywood continued to crank out popular melodramas into the 1950s, many of which focused on threats to the security of the American family. A good number of these films are admittedly forgettable; however, some do stand the test of time. Jeopardy, released in 1953, is one example.
Take a closer look at Tiomkin’s lengthy association with the choral director Robert Mitchell. From 1938 to 1955, whenever Tiomkin needed a youthful sound for a song of any type—classical, sacred, patriotic, folk, traditional—he called on a stable of singers trained by Mitchell. Films discussed include The Great Waltz, San Pietro, Duel in the Sun, Strange Lady in Town, and Giant.
In two parts, this extensively researched article provides a window into Tiomkin’s life in the late 1920s in New York and Paris through the recollections of pianist Arthur Zepp. Accompanied by rare photographs taken by Zepp.
In the summer of 1965 Tiomkin was awarded the Ravel medal by SACEM, the Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Musique, known in the U.S. as “the French ASCAP.” With rare photographs and correspondence.
We offer the following film-be-film guide to material available for purchase or rental for those seeking to perform the music of Dimitri Tiomkin in concert. Click on the links for the thematic content, instrumentation, and duration; and for the titles available from Themes and Variations, audio excerpts.
Tiomkin appeared on some of the most popular game and talk shows of the day, from What’s My Line? to Jack Benny and Johnny Carson. This article features links to video and a long list of television appearances.
Read about the fairy-tale wedding of the American actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier III and the story of “The Prince and the Princess Waltz (Grace Kelly Wedding Waltz)” and other wedding music by Dimitri Tiomkin.