Our Orchestral Reconstructions

Unfortunately, many full scores and parts from vintage films do not exist anymore.  Many of the studios threw them out to free up space, and much written music was not deemed important enough to archive.  Even on independent films that didn’t have music departments, many composers eventually had to throw out their scores and parts due to storage limitations or a lack of interest in something that seemed to have no purpose.  After all, the music was recorded for a specific film, and there were few, if any, film music concerts or film music re-recordings being done. 

By the 1970s and ‘80s, film music started trickling into the concert hall, and more new recordings were being done of vintage film scores.  In some instances, full scores were found, occasionally with the individual musicians’ parts as well.  In other cases, new parts could be easily copied from the full scores, which contained every note that every musician played in the score.

When the full scores did not survive (the majority of vintage film scores do not exist), there are still ways of re-recording the music using other sources.  Film composers have always had to write music so quickly that they seldom had the time to write the full scores themselves.  There were certainly exceptions to this rule, and TV scores, which used fewer players, were sometimes composed and orchestrated by the composers.  But in many cases, the job of completing the full scores was left to the studios’ orchestrators.

The composers would write out a shorthand pencil sketch of their score, offering orchestration guides along with the more general notes that the various sections of the orchestra would play.  In many cases they would discuss the music at length with the orchestrator, and in other instances, the composers and orchestrators knew each other’s styles so thoroughly that they could work well together without much verbal communication.  The studio’s full scores would be derived from these original sketches.

Here’s a copy of page 1 of Herman Stein’s sketch of “End Cast” from It Came From Outer Space.  The entire :57 piece fits on two pages.  Note the timings that help the composer keep track of how his music synchs with the film’s scene.

End Cast sketch

Depending upon the music department, these sketches or the full scores were often recopied in shorthand form by the studios’ music copyists, and these neater abbreviated sketches were used for a variety of purposes including copyrighting, bookkeeping, and conducting.  This last use is why these short scores are often referred to as conductor’s scores. 

Because these shorthand scores do not contain every note the orchestra plays, fewer pages were needed.  You not only don’t need large full score paper, but whereas a full score might only fit 4 or 5 measures per page, a conductor’s score can contain two to three times as many measures per page.  When the music was conducted off these scores, fewer page-turns were needed, making the conductor’s job a little easier.  While some of the composers managed to keep copies of their original sketches or the conductor’s scores, some of the studios also kept conductor’s scores, since they could be easily bound in books and stored on shelves without taking up as much room as the full scores and parts.  In Britain, conductor’s scores did not seem to be a part of their mainstream film music industry, so many British scores are gone forever because the full scores were thrown out, and no short scores ever existed.  In some cases, the composers hung onto their original sketches.

Here’s a copy of page 1 of Universal-International’s conductor’s score of Herman Stein’s “End Cast” from It Came From Outer Space.

End Cast conductor's score

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