Dig­ging up the lost scores of golden era of mu­si­cals

John Wilson is bring­ing his recre­ations of some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest mu­si­cal numbers to York­shire. Kane Ful­ton talks to the com­poser.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - MUSIC -

WHEN world renowned con­duc­tor, ar­ranger and film mu­sic ex­pert John Wilson called Warner Bros to ask for the scores to the MGM film cat­a­logue for a forth­com­ing con­cert, the last thing he ex­pected to be told was that they were buried un­der a golf course.

In 1969 the scores were sent to a land­fill, which was then cov­ered over by a golf course. The scores now lie some­where un­der­neath the car park built for the course.

The scores to ev­ery MGM film mu­si­cal since the late ‘20s and early ‘30s – in­clud­ing High So­ci­ety, The Wiz­ard of Oz, Meet Me in St Louis and An Amer­i­can in Paris – were lost. Where most com­posers would have turned to an­other project, John saw a chal­lenge, and em­barked on the Her­culean chal­lenge of re­con­struct­ing the scores note-by-note.

Us­ing only a few sur­viv­ing pi­ano parts sent by copy­right hold­ers Warner Bros as a guide, he sat down to re­write the scores sim­ply us­ing those pi­ano guides and his own finely-tuned ear. It was the mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent of sin­gle-hand­edly restor­ing the in­te­rior of the Sis­tine Chapel.

“When you’re given the parts, you’re lucky if all the pages are there – some­thing like 85 per cent of them were miss­ing from Easter Pa­rade,” he says.

“When record­ing, in­stead of us­ing full scores, which were cum­ber­some, dif­fi­cult to read and made a noise ev­ery four bars due to hav­ing to turn the page, early stu­dios used a sim­pli­fied score. These are what I was given to use as a ba­sis, fill­ing in the rest from re­mem­bers be­ing en­chanted as a child watch­ing MGM dou­ble bills on Satur­day af­ter­noons on BBC2.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing caught by the sound of the films and I was al­ways into the mu­sic,” says John. “I just liked the noise they made, but I wasn’t sure why when I was so young be­cause I didn’t know any­thing about mu­sic.

“It wasn’t un­til years later that I dis­cov­ered song­writ­ers and fan­tas­tic ar­rangers. From Ge­orge Gersh­win to Jerome Kern and Irv­ing Ber­lin, it was hear­ing those songs in that

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