Dimitri Tiomkin ca. 1930s
|Born||Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin
May 10, 1894
Kremenchuk, Poltava, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
|Died||November 11, 1979
|Occupation||Hollywood Film composer|
|Notable work(s)||"High Noon," "Giant"
Westerns and drama
|Influenced by||European classic composers|
(?-?; 1 child)
(1927-1967; her death)
Olivia Cynthia Patch
(1972-1979; his death)
Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin (May 10, 1894 – November 11, 1979) was a Russian-born Hollywood film score composer and conductor. He is considered "one of the giants of Hollywood movie music." Musically trained in Russia, he is best known for his westerns, "where his expansive, muscular style had its greatest impact." Tiomkin received 22 Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars.
Early life and education 
Dimitri Tiomkin (Russian: Дмитрий Зиновьевич Тёмкин, Dmitrij Zinov'evič Tjomkin, sometimes transliterated as Dmitri Tiomkin; Ukrainian: Дмитро Зиновійович Тьомкін, Dmitro Zinov'ivič Tomkin) was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire.
His family was of Jewish descent, with his father a "distinguished pathologist" and associate of Professor Paul Ehrlich, and later a notable Zionist leader Zinovy Tiomkin. His mother was a musician who began teaching the young Tiomkin piano at an early age. Her hope was to have her son become a professional pianist, according to Tiomkin biographer, Christopher Palmer. Tiomkin described his mother as being "small, blonde, merry and vivacious."
He was educated at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, where he studied piano with Felix Blumenfeld, teacher of Vladimir Horowitz, and harmony and counterpoint with Alexander Glazunov, mentor to Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Music career 
Early years 
In 1920, while working for the Petrograd Military District Political Administration (PUR), he was one of the lead organizers of two revolutionary mass spectacles, the "Mystery of Liberated Labor," a pseudo-religious mystery play for the May Day festivities, and "The Storming of the Winter Palace" for the celebrations of the third anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. He supported himself while living in St. Petersburg by playing piano accompaniment for numerous Russian silent films.
He moved to Berlin after the Russian Revolution to live with his father; the revolution had diminished opportunities for classic musicians in Russia. In Berlin, from 1921 to 1923, he studied with the pianist Ferruccio Busoni and Busoni's disciples Egon Petri and Michael von Zadora. He composed light classical and popular music, and made his performing debut as a pianist playing Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Berlin Philharmonic.
He moved to Paris with his roommate, Michael Kariton, to perform a piano duo repertory together, which they did before the end of 1924. In 1925 the duo received an offer from the New York theatrical producer Morris Gest and went to the United States where they performed together on the Keith/Albee and Orpheum vaudeville circuits in which they accompanied a ballet troupe run by the Austrian ballerina Albertina Rasch. Tiomkin and Rasch's professional relationship evolved into a personal one, and they married in 1927.
While in New York Tiomkin gave a recital at Carnegie Hall which featured music by Maurice Ravel, Alexander Scriabin, Francis Poulenc, and Alexandre Tansman. He and his new wife went on tour to Paris in 1928, where he played the European premiere of George Gershwin's Concerto in F at the Paris Opera, with Gershwin in the audience.
Hollywood (1930) 
After the stock market crash in October 1929 reduced work opportunities in New York, Tiomkin and his wife moved on to Hollywood, where she was hired to supervise dance numbers in MGM movie musicals. He worked on some minor films, some without being credited under his own name, but his first significant film score project was for Paramount's Alice in Wonderland in 1933. Although he worked on some smaller film projects, his goal was to become a concert pianist. However, that goal ended abruptly in 1937 when he broke his arm, and he then focused on a career as a film-music composer.
Frank Capra in Lost Horizon (1937) 
Tiomkin received his first break from Columbia director Frank Capra, who picked him to write and perform the score for his film, Lost Horizon in 1937. The film won Tiomkin significant recognition in Hollywood, and came out the same year he became a U.S. citizen.
In his autobiography, Please Don't Hate Me! (1959), Tiomkin recalls how the assignment by Capra forced him to first confront a director in a matter of music style:
[H]e gave me the job without reservation. I could write the score without interference, and he would hear it when it was done. Lost Horizon offered me a superb chance to do something big. . . . I thought I might be going a little too far in the matter of expense, and went to Frank one day as he sat in the projection room [and explained the score.] . . . . He looked shocked. "No, Dimi, the lama is a simple man. His greatness is in being simple. For his death the music should be simple, nothing more than the muttering rhythm of a drum." "But Frank, death of lama is not ending one man, but is death of idea. Is tragedy applying to whole human race. I must be honest. Music should rise high, high. Should give symbolism of immense loss. Please don't hate me."
He worked on other Capra films during the following decade, including the comedy, You Can't Take It With You (1938 -AA winner for "Best Picture); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939- AA winner for "Best Picture"); Meet John Doe (1941); and It's a Wonderful Life (1946). During World War II, he continued his close collaboration with Capra by composing scores for his Why We Fight series, consisting of seven films commissioned by the U.S. government to show American soldiers the reason for the war. They were later released to the general U.S. public to generate support for American involvement.
Tiomkin credits Capra for broadening his musical horizons by shifting them away from a purely Eurocentric and romantic style to a more American style based on subject matter and story. After the war Tiomkin became one of the most sought-after composers in Hollywood.
High Noon (1952) 
In 1952 he composed the score to Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, with the theme song, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'” (“The Ballad of High Noon”). At its opening preview to the press, the film, which starred Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, did badly. Tiomkin writes that "film experts agreed that the picture was a flat failure. . . The producers hesitated to release the picture." Tiomkin then bought the rights to the song and released it as a single for the popular music market, with singer Frankie Laine. The record became an immediate success worldwide, one of the few hits that year. Based on the popularity of the song, the studio released the film four months later, with the words sung by country western star Tex Ritter. The film went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations and four wins, including two for Tiomkin: Best Original Music and Best Song.
According to film historian Arthur R. Jarvis, Jr., the score "has been credited with saving the movie." Another music expert, Mervyn Cooke, agrees, adding that in his opinion "the song's spectacular success was partly responsible for changing the course of film-music history . . ." Tiomkin became the first composer to receive two Oscars (score and song) for the same dramatic film.
The song's lyrics briefly tell the entire story of the film, a tale of cowardice and conformity in a small Western town. The score was built entirely around a single western-style ballad. Tiomkin created an unconventional score for the film, and eliminated violins from the ensemble. Along with other instruments, he added a subtle harmonica sound in the background, to give the film a "rustic, deglamorized sound that suits the anti-heroic sentiments" expressed by the story.
According to Russian film historian Harlow Robinson, building the score around a single folk tune was typical of many Russian classical composers. Glenda Abramson, a historian of Jewish culture, adds that the song was likely adapted from a Yiddish folk tune, and has compared and found direct similarities in the music notation. She also notes that other widely recognized American songs were likewise adaptations from Jewish folk songs, including Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies," and Harold Arlen's "Paper Moon," among others. However, Robinson adds that the source of Tiomkin's score, if indeed folk, has not been proven.
Tiomkin won two more best score Oscars in subsequent years: the John Wayne film The High and the Mighty (1954), and for The Old Man and the Sea (1958). During the ceremonies in 1955, Tiomkin humorously thanked all of the earlier composers who had influenced him in writing this music, including Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and many of the other great names of European classical music.
Work with noted directors 
Along with doing many films for Frank Capra, Tiomkin scored films for a number of other leading directors. He did four films for Alfred Hitchcock Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953) and Dial M for Murder (1954). He was one of few composers, the other main two being Franz Waxman and Bernard Herrmann, who scored multiple films for Hitchcock.
He also worked with Howard Hawks on The Big Sky (1952) and Land of the Pharaohs (1955), with Fred Zinnemann in The Men (1950) and The Sundowners (1960), with John Huston on The Unforgiven (1960), and with Nicholas Ray on 55 Days at Peking (1963).
Film genres 
Many of his scores were for Western movies, for which he is best remembered. His first Western was Duel in the Sun (1946), directed by King Vidor. His most well-known Western was High Noon (1952). Among his other Westerns were Giant (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Rio Bravo (1959), and The Alamo (1960). He received Oscar nominations for both Giant and The Alamo.
Although influenced by Eastern European music traditions, he was self-trained as a film composer and scored many other American successful movies of various genres, from Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) to the military drama, The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955). Among other genres were The Guns of Navarone (1961), Town Without Pity (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), and The War Wagon (1967).
Tiomkin also wrote scores for four of Alfred Hitchcock's romantic dramas, where he used a lush style relying on solo violins and muted trumpets. He composed the score for the science fiction thriller, The Thing, which is considered to be among the "greatest of all sci-fi scores" ever written, and is considered his "strangest and most experimental score."
In addition to the cinema he was also active in composing for the small screen, including such memorable television theme songs as Rawhide (1959) and Gunslinger. Although he was also hired to compose the theme for TV's The Wild Wild West (1965), the producers rejected his music and subsequently hired Richard Markowitz as his replacement. A cover version of the theme from Rawhide was performed in the 1980 cult musical film The Blues Brothers, the in-joke that the composer is a Ukrainian-born Jew being lost on the crowd at the cowboy bar.
Tiomkin also made a few appearances as himself on television programs. These include being the mystery challenger on What's My Line? and an appearance on Jack Benny's CBS program in December 1961, in which he attempted to help Jack write a song.
He also composed the music to the song "Wild Is The Wind". It was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis for the 1957 film Wild Is the Wind. It is mostly well known as jazz singer Nina Simone's standard. The song carried on in a 1976 David Bowie's cover (Bowie being a long time admirer of Simone). In 1981, Bowie released a shorter version as a single. which became a hit in the UK charts. It has since been recorded by several other artists.
Composition styles and significance 
Although Tiomkin was a trained classical pianist, he adapted his music training in Russia to the rapidly expanding Hollywood film industry, and self-taught himself how to compose meaningful film scores for almost any story type. Film historian David Wallace notes that despite Tiomkin's indebtedness to Europe's classical composers, he would go on to express more than any other composer, "the American spirit—its frontier spirit, anyway—in film music." Wallace summarizes the overall effect of his scores on the movie industry:
His trademarks, huge, noisy cues, propulsive adventure themes that seemingly employed every brass instrument ever invented, and melting, emotionally wrought melodies accompanying romantic scenes also became the stock-in trade of just about every film composer since.
Nonetheless, Tiomkin had no illusions about his talent and the nature of his film work when compared to the classical composers. "I am no Prokofiev, I am no Tchaikovsky. But what I write is good for what I write for. So please, boys, help me." Upon receiving his Oscar in 1955 for The High and the Mighty, he became the first composer to publicly list and thank the great European masters, including Beethoven, Strauss, and Brahms, among others.
Music historian Christopher Palmer states that Tiomkin's "genius lay in coming up with themes and finding vivid ways of creating sonic color appropriate to the story and visual image, not in his ability to combine the themes into a complex symphonic structure that could stand on its own." In addition he speculates how a Russian-born pianist like Tiomkin, who was educated at a respected Russian music conservatory, could have become so successful in the American film industry:
He came from a Big Country, too, and in America's vastness, particularly its vast all-embracingness of sky and plain, he must have seen a reflection of the steppes of his native Ukraine. So the cowboy becomes a mirror image of the Cossacks: both are primitives and innocents, etched on and dwarfed by a landscape of soul-stirring immensity and rugged masculine beauty. And as an exile himself, Tiomkin would have identified with the cowboys, pioneers and early settlers who people the world of the Western . . . . [T]hose like Tiomkin who blazed a trail in Hollywood were actually winning the West all over again.
Tiomkin himself alluded to this relationship in his autobiography:
Techniques of composing 
Tiomkin's methods of composing a film score have been analyzed and described by music experts. Musicologist Dave Epstein, for one, has explained that after reading the script, Tiomkin would then outline the film's major themes and movements. After the film itself has been filmed, he would make a detailed study of the timing of scenes, using a stopwatch to arrange precise synchronization of the music with the scenes. He would complete the final score after assembling all the musicians and orchestra, rehearse a number of times, and then record the final soundtrack.
Tiomkin also paid careful attention to the voices of the actors when composing. According to Epstein, he "found that in addition to the timbre of the voice, the pitch of the speaking voice must be very carefully considered..." To accomplish this, Tiomkin would go to the set during filming and would carefully listen to each of the actors. He would also talk with them individually, noting the pitch and color of their voice. Tiomkin explains why he took the extra time with actors:
The music has the function of helping describe the characters. It helps paint the portraits. . . . [giving an example] It was my job to soften her face, to make her look more Continental, more refined. We did it with the music which accompanied her every appearance on the screen, by developing a delicate, graceful theme.
Dimitri Tiomkin, although Russian by birth, has been credited with composing the most memorable film songs ever produced by Hollywood. During the 1950s he was the highest paid film composer, composing for nearly a picture each month, achieving his greatest fame during the 1950s and 1960s. Between 1948 and 1958, his "golden decade," he composed 57 film scores. During the single year of 1952, he composed 9 film scores, including High Noon, for which he won two Academy Awards. In the same decade, he won two more Oscars and his film scores were nominated nine times. In 1967 he was a member of the jury of the 5th Moscow International Film Festival.
Beginning with Lost Horizon in 1937, through his retirement from movies in 1979 over four decades later, and up until modern times, he is recognized as being the only Russian to have become a Hollywood film composer. Other Russian-born composers, such as Irving Berlin, wrote their scores for Broadway plays, many of which were later adapted to film.
Tiomkin was the first film score composer to write both the title theme song and the score. That technique was exemplified in many of his westerns, including High Noon and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where the main theme song became a common thread running through the entire film. For the film Red River, for example, his biographer Christopher Palmer describes how the music immediately sets the epic and heroic tone for the film:
"The unison horn-call is indeed an invocation: the gates of history are flung wide and the main theme, high and wide as the huge vault of the sky, rides forth in full choral-orchestral splendour."
Because of this stylistic contribution to westerns, along with other film genres, using title and ongoing theme songs, he had the greatest impact on Hollywood films in the following decades up until the present. With many of his songs being used in the title of films, Tiomkin created what composer Irwin Bazelon called "title song mania." In subsequent decades, studios often attempted to create their own hit songs to both sell as a soundtrack and to enhance the movie experience, with a typical example being the film score for Titanic.
He was known to use "source music" in his scores, which some experts claim were often based on Russian folk songs. Much of his film music, especially for westerns, was used to create an atmosphere of "broad, sweeping landscapes," with a prominent use of chorus.:example During a TV interview, he credited his love of the European classic composers along with his ability to adapt American folk music styles to creating grand American theme music.
A number of Tiomkin's film scores were released on LP soundtrack albums, including Giant and The Alamo. Some of the recordings, which usually featured Tiomkin conducting his own music, have been reissued on CD. The theme song to High Noon has been recorded by many artists, with one German CD producer, Bear Family Records, producing a CD with 25 different artists performing that one song.
In 1999, the U.S. Postal Service added his image to their "Legends of American Music" stamp series. The series began with the issuance of the Elvis Presley in 1993, and Tiomkin's image was added as part of their "Hollywood Composers" selection.
In 1976, RCA Victor released Lost Horizon: The Classic Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin (US catalogue #ARL1-1669, UK catalogue #GL 43445) with Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Featuring highlights from various Tiomkin scores, the album was later reissued by RCA on CD with Dolby Surround Sound.
- The Alamo (1960)
- Dial M for Murder (1954)
- Duel in the Sun (1946)
- Friendly Persuasion (1956)
- The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- Lost Horizon (1937)
Awards and nominations 
Academy Awards 
- 1972 - nominated for "Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song" Score for Chaikovsky (1969)
- 1965 - nominated for "Best Music, Score - Substantially Original" for: The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
- 1964 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" and "Best Music, Score - Substantially Original" for 55 Days at Peking (1963)
- 1962 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" for Town Without Pity (1961) and for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- 1961 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" and for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for The Alamo (1960)
- 1961 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" for The Young Land (1959)
- 1959 - won an Oscar for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for The Old Man and the Sea (1958)
- 1958 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" for Wild Is the Wind (1957)
- 1957 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" for Friendly Persuasion, "Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture" for "Giant" (1956)
- 1955 - nominated for "Best Music, Original Song" for The High and the Mighty (1954) and won an Oscar for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for the same movie
- 1953 - won (with Ned Washington) an Oscar for "Best Music, Original Song" for High Noon (1952) for "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'", sung by Tex Ritter
- 1953 - won an Oscar for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for High Noon (1952)
- 1950 - nominated for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for Champion (1949)
- 1945 - nominated for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944)
- 1944 - nominated for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for The Moon and Sixpence (1943)
- 1943 - nominated for "Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" for The Corsican Brothers (1941)
- 1940 - nominated for "Best Music, Scoring" for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Golden Globes 
- 1965 for "Best Original Score" for The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
- 1962 for "Best Motion Picture Score" for The Guns of Navarone (1961) AND for "Best Motion Picture Song" for Town Without Pity (1961)
- 1961 for "Best Original Score" for The Alamo (1960)
- 1957 he received the "Special Award" as "Recognition for film music"
- 1955 he received the "Special Award" "For creative musical contribution to Motion Picture"
- 1953 for "Best Motion Picture Score" for High Noon (1952)
- "Dimitri Tiomkin" Findagrave.com
- Stevens, Lewis. Composers of Classical Music of Jewish Descent, Vallentine Mitchell Publ. (2003) p. 50
- Palmer, Christopher. Dimitri Tiomkin, T.E. Books, (1984) p. 13
- Robinson, Harlow. Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood's Russians: Biography of an Image, Northeastern Univ. Press (2007) pp. 130-133
- James Von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993), 157, Katerina Clark, Petersburg, Crucible of Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1995), 135-36
- Browne, Pat. The Guide to United States Popular Culture, Univ. of Wisconsin Press (2001) p. 846
- Wallace, David; Miller, Ann. Hollywoodland, Macmillan, (2002) pp. 193-194
- Warren M. Sherk (2003), "Biography: Dimitri Tiomkin" at "Dimitri Tiomkin: The Official Web Site." Accessed September 4, 2010.
- Allen Hughes, "Dimitri Tiomkin Dies; Wrote Film Scores", The New York Times, November 14, 1979.
- Cooke, Mervyn. The Hollywood Film Music Reader, Oxford Univ. Press (2010) pp. 117-136
- Dominic Power, "Tiomkin, Dimitri" at the "film reference" web site. Accessed September 7, 2010.
- Roger L. Hall, A Guide to Film Music: Songs and Scores (Stoughton, PineTree Press, 3rd ed, 2007), 24.
- Abramson, Glenda. Encyclopedia of Modern Jewish Culture: Vol 1, Routledge (2005) p. 187
- Hall, Roger. Soundtrack Magazine, Vol. 21, #84 (2002)
- Palmer, Christopher. The Composer in Hollywood, Marlon Boyars Publ. (1990) p. 314
- "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-12-09.
- Thomas, Tony. Film Score: The View from the Podium, A.S. Barnes Publ. (1979) p. 166
- Most, Andrea. Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical, Harvard Univ. Press (2004) p. 243
- Brook, Vincent. You Should See Yourself: Jewish Identity in Postmodern American Culture, Rutgers Univ. Press (2006) p. 86
- Duel in the Sun prelude on YouTube, title song
- TV interview with Tiomkin on YouTube
- "High Noon", German CD
- U.S. stamp image, 1999
- Official site
- Dimitri Tiomkin at the Internet Movie Database
- Find-A-Grave for Dimitri Tiomkin
- Dimitri Tiomkin
- Dimitri Tiomkin's HIGH NOON
- TV interview with song performances on YouTube
- Audio clips, 40 film samples
- Dimitri Tiomkin - Greatest Hits on YouTube, audio score compilation by Berny Debney, 10 minutes
- Lost Horizon theme on YouTube
- High Noon changes Hollywood model on YouTube
- Giant theme on YouTube
- Red River film clip on YouTube
- Town Without Pity theme on YouTube
- Rio Bravo sung by Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson on YouTube
- The Alamo title song on YouTube
- Guns of Navarone theme on YouTube
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral opening theme on YouTube
- Tiomkin on Jack Benny Show, 1961 on YouTube