COAST TO COAST
After Our Town, other work came sporadically but the income from orchestrating provided him with the means to continue composing his own works. In 1940 he assisted with Adolph Deutsch's score for They Drive by Night, a film starring Humphrey Bogart. This film introduced Moross to Leo Forbstein (1892-1948) and the Warner Bros. studio, which would presently lead to a full-time position. His co-orchestrators were Hugo Friedhofer (1901-1981) and Arthur Lange (1889-1956), both of whom Moross would work with on subsequent films. In 1941 he assisted in the orchestration of the David Buttolph and Cyril Mockridge score for Scotland Yard. This film marks the first time that Moross worked with Emil Newman (1911-1984), who was the musical director for this Twentieth Century Fox production.
Moross worked for Warner Bros. until 1945, and he generally enjoyed his experiences as a studio arranger. Although he was typically assigned to work with specific composers, he also orchestrated films for others. For example, in 1943 he helped orchestrate another of Aaron Copland's scores, The North Star (1943), a project that introduced Moross to Samuel Goldwyn (1879-1974), for whom he eventually orchestrated five films. In addition, Moross recalled being loaned to Max Steiner to help with a score that was behind schedule. Although he had forgotten the name of the film, it was certainly Since You Went Away (1944), a David O. Selznick production for which he was not credited. During this time Moross worked on 26 films as either orchestrator or arranger, although for many of these he remained uncredited. This was not unusual in the years of the studio system where the orchestrators were little more than clerks, and credits were typically limited to the main cast and crew. During this time Moross continued his development of dramatic compositions with Ballet Ballads, a set of four short works composed between 1941 and 1946, although not performed together until 1948. With lyrics by John Latouche (1914-1956) each piece presents an unconventional adaptation of well-known narratives. Susanna and the Elders is the biblical story set as a revivalist camp meeting; Willie the Weeper and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett present the well-known urban and rural (respectively) American folk tales; and Riding Hood Revisited: Simple Symphony in E Flat Major is a provocatively updated version of the story, which would later be orchestrated as Variations on a Waltz.
While in Hollywood, Moross was able to have some of his own music performed. Susanna and the Elders was given its premier performance as a concert work (Moross referred to it as an oratorio) on March 9, 1941, by the Hollywood Theatre Alliance with Alfred Newman conducting. Biguine was performed in 1944 at one of Franz Waxman's Symphony Under the Stars concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. In November of the same year, the Los Angeles Philharmonic included Moross's Symphony No. 1 in the opening concert of the season conducted by Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983).
In 1945 the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo purchased Frankie and Johnny and the promise of a performance prompted the Moross family to return to New York City. This production was given The New York Times Award for Best Ballet of the 1945 Season. As Moross became more focused on his own compositions he left Warner Bros. and returned to Los Angeles only when there was an interesting project or financial necessity. Subsequent trips were made to work with Friedhofer on the award-winning The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a project that led to three more such collaborations including the popular The Bishop's Wife (1947).
In 1947 and 1949 Moross was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships to support the composition of a major new work, a second collaboration between Moross and Latouche. Like Ballet Ballads, this piece for musical theater was similarly unconventional, yet highly successful. The Golden Apple (1948-1950) is a re-telling of The Iliad and The Odyssey set in Washington State at the end of the Spanish-American War. It was first performed in 1954, when it ran for almost 200 performances and received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical of the 1953-1954 Season. As in an opera, recitatives, arias (songs), and ensembles (without any dialogue) characterize the work, but the musical numbers are cast in a popular style. Explaining the importance of this collaboration between Moross and Latouche, Mark Grant in The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical, describes how they “laid out in embryo the future course of the mega-commodified Broadway musical. In their refusal to follow the music-dialogue-lyrics pattern practice [of] Rodgers and Hammerstein-style Broadway, and in their substituting a totally sung libretto animated by narrative dancing, every element of the commercial musical of later decades can be found; the through-sung cantatas of Lloyd Webber and others; the director-choreographer shows; [and] the “dansicals” such as Bob Fee’s Big Deal.[xvii] The Golden Apple was most recently revived in 1990. Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, and Wynton Marsalis, among others, have recorded “Lazy Afternoon,” one of the songs from the work.
On May 9, 1948, Moross's Ballet Ballads, including Susanna and the Elders, Willie the Weeper and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett, opened at the Maxine Elliott Theatre, produced by the Experimental Theatre, which was only in its second season. It played for four days and then moved to the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, on May 16, where it played for several weeks. By the time it closed on July 10, Moross was back in Hollywood working with Friedhofer on Joan of Arc (1948).
By the time Joan of Arc was released, Moross was already embarking on his own career of composing original scores. Moross's first two original film scores, Close-Up (1948) and When I Grow Up (1951), were made in New York City for Eagle-Lion Films. Close-Up, a post-war film noir, was Moross's only attempt at scoring in that genre, and the music features a lush sound, more in the realm of the European romantics than the American modernists. Moross returned to Hollywood a little less than a year later to orchestrate Roseanna McCoy (1949) with a score by David Buttolph, and while he was there he took advantage of his contacts and acquaintances to organize a west coast production of Ballet Ballads. On October 5, 1950, Susanna and the Elders, Willie the Weeper and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett opened at the Century Theater in Los Angeles. The show played for several weeks before closing toward the end of November.
Like Close-Up, Moross’s second film score, When I Grow Up, was unremarkable, apart from Moross’s admission that it was composed as a harmonica concerto. Playing that instrument was George Fields (d. 2005), best known for performing Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). The harmonica in this film evokes the nostalgic quaintness of the late nineteenth century portrayed in the narrative flashback that transports the audience back in time. It was a more sensitive film than Close-Up and this inspired Moross to conceive music better suited to his personal style.
In 1952, Moross returned to Hollywood twice to compose for films, both for completely different projects and with completely different outcomes. The first trip was to score his third and more substantial film The Captive City (1952), a semi-documentary film based on the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, or the Kefauver Committee, which held hearings starting in 1950. Although it featured better acting (it starred John Forsythe) and a more developed plot than the previous films, it was a crime film, not Moross’s favorite genre. Moross felt that his style was better suited for films that were less serious. “There is nothing in this but melodramatic tension from beginning to end, and I am a dead duck with melodrama as you know from Close-Up.”[xviii]
Moross’s second trip to Hollywood that year was more gratifying as he was asked to orchestrate The Little Mermaid ballet in the film, Hans Christian Andersen (1952), based on his previous experience composing in that genre. Walter Scharf (1910-2003), the musical director for Hans Christian Andersen, contacted Moross after hearing Frankie and Johnny. Asked to use themes by Franz Liszt, Moross decided to have fun with it. “I decided to orchestrate things that people said never could be orchestrated, like ‘Gnomenreigen’ and ‘Au bord d’une source’ [from Annes de Pelerinage]. People have always said . . . that Liszt never orchestrated ‘Gnomenreigen’ because it couldn’t be orchestrated; well, there it is.”[xix]
Moross preferred working on special or distinctive film projects such as The Little Mermaid ballet. Another favorite was his contribution to Seven Wonders of the World (1956), a documentary to showcase the new Cinerama technology presented by Lowell Thomas (1892-1981). There were six sections to the film, three in each half. Moross composed the music for the Mediterranean segment in the first half and the Rome section in the second, sharing the compositional responsibilities with Sol Kaplan (1919-1990) and David Raksin (1912-2004). After these two engaging projects, Moross composed an ethnic sounding score to The Sharkfighters (1956), a little-known film starring Victor Mature and produced by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. that was set in Cuba. Most notable in the accompaniment is a theme for the shark[s] that anticipates John Williams's well-known score for Jaws (1975).
As Moross continued to work on his own dramatic works during this time, he discovered it was increasingly difficult to have them performed. The Last Judgement (1953), Moross’s final ballet for Ruth Page, offers a reassessment of original sin in ten dances. Although the work was ready to be presented, with the scenery designed and the costumes made, it was never performed. According to Moross, “The managers couldn’t accept the idea.”[xx] Moross’s Gentlemen, Be Seated! (1955-1963) is a sketch of events during the Civil War set as a minstrel show, a conception that made it unlikely to be well-received at the onset of the Civil Rights Movement. It was performed only three times at the City Center Opera in 1963. Moross was also invited to work on Underworld (1961-1962), a musical spin-off of the 1927 silent film by the same name, but portraying the life of gangster Dion "Deanie" O’Bannion, a rival of Al Capone. Fraught with difficulties, the work was never produced, and the music was legally disconnected from the project in 1962. Moross’s songs, however, have joined the repertoire of lyrical gems that appear on the recent recording, Windflowers.[xxi]
Moross was able to establish his distinctive style, based on American idioms in his next three film scores, three Westerns that established his reputation in Hollywood as especially suited to that genre, The Proud Rebel (1958), The Big Country (1958), and The Jayhawkers (1959). While The Big Country garnered the most attention, all three of these film scores show the influence of Moross's dramatic style, which was developed in his stage works.
Moross’s score for The Big Country solidified his reputation as a Western film composer, and as the TV western became more popular, Moross was asked to transfer his talent to the smaller screen. Moross was hired to score a new theme for Wagon Train then in its third season and titled Wagons Ho! (1961). Although he subsequently composed music for ten episodes, Moross disliked writing for television and limited his involvement, comparing this kind of episodic composition with making sausages. He composed music for one episode each of Have Gun Will Travel (“Bearbait,” 1960) and Gunsmoke (“Stolen Horses,” 1961), and also contributed the theme music to Lancer (1968), a less successful television western often described as a Bonanza clone.
Moross's reputation for American sounding music attracted the attention of other producers. He was asked to lend his distinctive American style to such varied projects as an advertisement for Olympia Beer, which he titled Tumwater Rhapsody (1965) and Grizzly! a National Geographic Special (1967).
Moross continued to score feature films such as The Mountain Road (1960), which highlights the Chinese setting with a nod to Asian modalities throughout the music. Moross's most gratifying score was for The Cardinal (1963), when he was integrated into the production of the film from the early stages. Moross described himself as “the moving music department” as he traveled with the company as the film was shot. The War Lord (1965) starring Charlton Heston, required medieval-sounding music, including modal sonorities and intense contrapuntal writing. In his desire to evoke a medieval atmosphere, Moross included voices in the score, something he had never done before. Moross enjoyed working on Rachel, Rachel (1968), directed by Paul Newman with Joanne Woodward, and called it a “beautiful” film, amazed that it was underappreciated. This film highlights his preference for films of a sensitive nature with characters that could be developed emotionally through his music. The presence of cowboys within the science fiction atmosphere of The Valley of Gwangi (1969) allowed Moross to revitalize his skill in evoking the western atmosphere. Hail Hero (1969) may have been Michael Douglas’s first film, but it was Moross’s last. With nothing good to say about this film, Moross was so dismayed by the Hollywood scene at this point that he quit scoring film and turned almost exclusively to instrumental composition. Moross could no longer tolerate working in Hollywood, where his later film scores were revised and tampered with to the point that even his forgiving attitude toward editors was strained. Scoring films had provided a livelihood and a certain amount of recognition, yet Moross did not want to make it his entire career and preferred to compose his own works amid the intellectual and cultural inspiration of New York City.
While most of Moross's creative interest was focused on dramatic composition (including theater, ballet, and film), in the mid-1960s Moross turned to orchestrations and adaptation of previous works, which inspired him to write new instrumental pieces. An arrangement of his favorite cues from the film scores resulted in the work, Music for the Flicks (1965), including music from The Cardinal, The Proud Rebel, Five Finger Exercise, The Sharkfighters and The War Lord. In 1966 CBS commissioned Moross to orchestrate Ballet Ballads for a television broadcast that never occurred, including Riding Hood Revisited, which became Variations on a Waltz.
The four Sonatinas for Divers Instruments were composed between 1966 and 1970. They began with a work for clarinet choir, the Sonatina for Clarinet Sextet (1966), written to appeal to the many ensembles in high schools and colleges. In the liner notes for that recording Moross recalled that this piece “kindled a desire to compose more small combinations.”[xxii] Thus he followed it with the Sonatina for String Bass and Piano (1966), the Sonatina for Woodwind Quintet (1970), and finally the Sonatina for Brass Quintet (1968).