Monday, January 26, 2015

Herbert Stothart- Composer

Herbert Stothart ( Sept 11, 1885 - February 1, 1949 ) 

Herbert Stothart was one of the most distinguished film composers in Hollywood and justly so, for each and every one of the scores he wrote for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was sweeping, subtle and most importantly, fitting to the film that he was working on. 

Stothart grew fond of music as a child, when he was singing in a school choir in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While in college, he wrote a score for an amateur stage production which proved to be a success and this led to a full-time career as a composer in the vaudeville circuit. In 1917 he composed his first Broadway musical and by the mid-1920s had become one of the most successful musical composers. The music to Rose Marie, written in collaboration with Rudolf Friml, and the opera/ballet Song of the Flame, were two of his most popular compositions. 

Louis B. Mayer lured Stothart to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer shortly after the advent of talking pictures in the late 1920s and, within a few short years, Stothart became the studio's foremost film composer, being called upon to score the music to only their most prestigious productions. 

Stothart suffered a heart attack while vacationing in Scotland in 1947, but even this experience served to inspire him resulting in Heart Attack : A Symphonic Poem. He died shortly after of spinal cancer. Today, Stothart's legacy as one of the great Hollywood film composers is contestable among music lovers with many holding Stothart to blame for Max Steiner's Gone with the Wind score being passed over at the Academy Awards in 1939. 

Signature Style

Strings. Stothart strings to be precise. These beauties gave all of his music a lush, flowing tone which was occasionally punctuated with mellow horns. Like most Hollywood composers, Stothart frequently used leitmotifs from classical composers. Stothart shared some of his favorite musical elements in an article published in The New York Times on December 7, 1941:

"Bits of comedy can be heightened by little musical quirks in the woodwinds. Melodic violin strains heighten the effect of love scenes. Crashing chords and paraphrases of national anthems exalt an audience, as evidenced in Mutiny on the Bounty and Northwest Passage." 

The Noteworthy Five

Marie Antionette ( 1938 ) - A beautiful thematic composition. In this particular example, the music you hear is from the special premier overture, which was heard during the initial theatrical roadshow release. 

The Wizard of Oz ( 1939 ) - Stothart earned his one and only Academy Award for this iconic scoring, and he also became the first composer at M-G-M to win the golden statuette because of it. The use of the choir to produce the howling tornado winds is magnificent.

Random Harvest ( 1943 ) - A beautiful yearning theme, which accurately conveys the emotion that Greer Garson's character is experiencing. It is interpolated with the English wedding hymn O Perfect Love

National Velvet ( 1944 ) - When scoring a dramatic picture, Stothart believed that "a musical episode must be so presented as to motivate a detail of the plot and must become so vital to the story that it cannot be dispensed with." He illustrated this perfectly in his score to National Velvet

The Yearling ( 1947 ) - One of the best of Stothart's later works, the theme for The Yearling captured the experiences of a young fawn and the magic of the virgin woodland. Haunting spurts of choral voices echo like forest fairies. Strains of Frederick Delius' Appalachia: Variations on an Old Slave Song can also be heard within this score. 

Highlights of his Discography

  • Queen Christina ( 1934 )
  • David Copperfield ( 1935 ) 
  • Naughty Marietta ( 1935 )
  • Rose Marie ( 1936 ) 
  • The Good Earth ( 1937 ) 
  • Romeo and Juliet  ( 1937 ) 
  • The Firefly - he also composed the famous "Donkey Serenade" ( 1937 )
  • Waterloo Bridge ( 1940 )
  • Northwest Passage ( 1940 )
  • Mrs. Miniver ( 1942 )
  • The White Cliffs of Dover ( 1944 ) 
  • The Three Musketeers ( 1948 ) 


  1. WOW!! I didn't know this composer, and he scored some of my favorite movies!!!! I don't have in my mind one score that I can remember, but if he did such great movies, he must have done music that perfectly matches the picture!! He sure scored some of the most romantic movies ever, he must have done some pretty romantic scores as well!! Next time I'll watch these movies, I'll keep him in mind!

    1. You hit on the head the reason why some consider Herbert Stothart to be second to other film composers of the golden age : his music does not stand out as being memorable. I actually disagree with this however. Even though Harold Arlen wrote the songs to The Wizard of Oz, I find myself getting Stothart's orchestral arrangements stuck in my head more often then the tunes themselves. And the music to Random Harvest and National Velvet are both very memorable ( National Velvet has a mixture of old English folk songs weaved within the score ). If you click on the film titles you can hear these songs over at Youtube. :-)

    2. Thanks for telling me about the links on youtube!! Now that I listened to them, I found myself realizing that, I did remember their scores, since I'd stop humming or whistling them, after watching each of these movie!! That's great that one has scores stuck in her head, without even realizing it!! I hope this makes sense!!! LOL

    3. His score for the 1938 film Marie Antoinette is a masterpiece. The overture and intermission pieces are superb. To me this is one of his best.


  2. I have an old 78 of "The Donkey Serenade"!

    Stothart's work is a main component of what draws me to an MGM movie - the best of them like David Copperfield, The Yearling and National Velvet. I knew his name, but not his background so thank you so much for teaching me a thing or two today

  3. My sister and I both wish that there was a soundtrack album for National Velvet. I have such fond memories of that film from my years as a horse-crazy little girl, that beautiful sweeping main title still makes me choke up a little. I also wish there was a soundtrack for They Were Expendable, even though it's mostly military tunes, just so we could have that beautiful arrangement of "Marcheta" that's played on the radio. There isn't an instrumental arrangement like it anywhere.