A Centennial Birthday Tribute
born: New York, New York, 8 October 1913
died: Minneapolis, Minnesota, 21 August 1958
Schumann was born in New York City in 1913. By the early 1930s, he was attending law school at University of Southern California when he abruptly quit his studies to perform in a college dance band. Eventually, the members of the band went their separate ways but Schumann continued on within the music industry, working with Eddie Canroe on Cantor's radio show, and recording with Andre Kostelanetz.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Schumann enlisted, eventually becoming the musical director of the Armed Forces Radio Service. He worked with most of the major acts of the war on all the radio shows AFRS produced during this time. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles and worked in the movie and television industry as a composer and arranger, mostly on several Abbott & Costello films.
In 1949, Schumann was asked to compose a new theme for a police detective show about to make its debut on the NBC Radio network. He began his theme with a four note motif—quite possibly the second most famous four-note motif after Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Dragnet became a smash hit on the radio, and then television, and Schumann's theme quickly became instantly recognizable.
He wrote one opera, John Brown's Body, which premiered in Los Angeles in 1953 and subsequently ran for sixty-five performances on Broadway.
Around this time, Schumann gathered together 20 talented vocalists and The Voices Of Walter Schumann was born. The ensemble recorded several easy-listening albums, similar to those recorded by Jackie Gleason, for both Capitol Records and RCA.
By 1955, Schumann was busy composing and conducting the score to the classic Robert Mitchum film, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. The film has two original songs by Schumann, "Lullaby" (sung by Kitty White, whom Schumann discovered in a nightclub) and "Pretty Fly" (originally sung by Sally Jane Bruce as Pearl, but later dubbed by an actress named Betty Benson). A recurring musical device involves the preacher making his presence known by singing the traditional hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." Mitchum also recorded the soundtrack version of the hymn.
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is Walter Schumann's best known score. It was released in 1999 (RCA CD 74321720532) by BMG Music in Spain and has become a collector's item. Unfortunately this recording is mostly sensitive readings of Davis Grubb's novel by the distinguished actor, Charles Laughton, who also directed this film, the only one he did.
On this CD there are only excerpts of Walter Schumann's dramatic score in less than ideal sound quality. The orchestrations for this superb score were done by the highly accomplished, Arthur Morton. This was apparently recorded in only one day -- August 26, 1955.
Total playing time = 34:47.
When will there be a new CD of Schumann's entire evocative film score without any of the readings? This centennial year would be an ideal time to release it. Until then there is only the CD with Charles Laughton's well delivered readings but inferior sound quality for Walter Schumann's great score.
Some enterprising record producer, please give us this complete score by Walter Schumann in cleaner remastered sound!
He recorded a space-age themed, spoken-word album titled "Exploring the Unknown," and his "Voices" troupe recorded a popular, 19-track Christmas album, "The Voices of Christmas". The 1955 album was reissued on compact disc by Collector's Choice Music in November 2007 – 52 years after its initial debut both as an LP and 3-record 45 RPM set.
In 1956 and 1957 Schumann continued to record with the Voices and they appeared on the first season of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. However, by the summer of 1958, poor health prompted Schumann to be admitted to the Mayo Clinic, where he underwent one of the first open heart surgeries in the United States. Complications arose following the operation, and Schumann died on August 21, 1958, aged 44, just weeks before the second season of The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show was scheduled to begin. Members of Schumann's "Voices" ensemble were stunned by his sudden death, but decided to continue performing. They were renamed "The Top Twenty," and they carried on carried on The Ford Show for another five years.
-- Roger Hall, Film Music Review
Highly recommended Blu-ray and 2-DVD versions
in The Criterion Collection of
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)
Watch excerpts of the film with
Walter Schumann's film score
See the description of Walter Schumann with CDs at
Film Music Review (Home Page)
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