A prolific composer, Hugo Friedhofer had a career that spanned early silent film through the sound era, into the 1970s. Friedhofer became the leading orchestrator for Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Alfred Newman soon after his 1929 arrival in Hollywood. He went on to compose music for over 120 films, earning 9 Oscar nominations and receiving the award for his masterful score to The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946. Friedhofer's life will be examined through essays, reviews and interviews with film historians and friends of the composer.
It was 1946, my first feature film, though I had by then composed for over a hundred documentaries. New to the ways of Hollywood, I had planned to compose, orchestrate, conduct and even edit my score, as I had usually done in Canada. Time closed in on me and I found I needed help in orchestrating. The wisdom of my advisors and my good fortune brought Hugo into the scene. His wise counsel, his sympathetic support to a nervous newcomer, his brilliant work, will always be cherished.
Two events in my life helped to shape and foster my career as a film composer. The first was when I joined the Columbia Pictures music staff and had the opportunity to study and hear Hugo’s score for So Dark the Night. It was a marvelous score, written for a small orchestra (by Hollywood standards!), that did wonders for the picture. The other, some years later, was a letter from Hugo, following the Academy Awards, in which he said he thought my score for Picnic should have won the Oscar.
Hugo Friedhofer, was a paradoxical figure. On the one hand, he was surely one of the most learned, most accomplished members of our profession: a fine composer, a master of the orchestra, quick to perceive what was required of the music for a film and sure-footed in providing that music. But there was also the man who knew too much, the virtuoso of self-doubt who never seemed to have learned to take Yes for an answer.
There is another way in which he was revolutionary; he was the first to write distinctively American scores. The significance of his Best Years of Our Lives score is generally considered to be that it was the first with a recognizably American quality. Prior to that time, film scores in Hollywood had a European flavor, no doubt because so many of the composers were born and trained in Europe.
Hugo is the silent conscience of the film composer. An affirmative nod from the man is worth more than all of the trinkets bestowed by the film industry.