The Barbarian and the Geisha

The-Barbarian-And-The-GeishaThis latest effort in Intrada’s limited edition Special Collection is a lush, romantic score from Hollywood’s Golden Age. While the film, telling of a visit of American diplomats to Japan in 1856 and a subsequent romance between one of them (John Wayne) and a geisha girl, takes place in Japan (and originally director John Huston wanted Friedhofer to compose the music with purely Japanese instruments and music), Friedhofer chose to emphasize the American aspects of the story with Western music and instrumentation. There are a number of subtle Japanese variants included, but the overall perspective is one of American Hollywood film music.

The score is build around a pair of main themes, one a sweeping ascension of violins resolved by a five-note coda which is used quite sparingly; the other comprises a more dramatic line for low-register violins. It’s used in a variety of guises and harmonics throughout the score. Beyond this, Friedhofer has crafted a wealth of set pieces that nicely decorate the score and add various moods to the storyline and visual elements of the film. On CD, the score in its original soundtrack recording holds up very nicely.

Friedhofer, who is vastly underrepresented on film music recordings in CD format, was a thoroughgoing professional with a gift for melody and orchestration (in fact he arranged many of the earliest scores of the sound era, including many for Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold). With barely a fistful of CDs preserving his work, Intrada’s release of this fine score is a most welcome addition to any film music library. Liner notes by William Rosar (the film and composer) and Douglass Fake (the music) put the music and its composer in the proper historical perspective. Highlights from the score were released in 1958 on a monophonic LP; this CD represents a world premiere of the complete original soundtrack in stereo.

Randall D. Larson

  1. John Steven Lasher Reply

    The soundtrack was recorded in Germany by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra of Munich because of a strike by the American Federation of Musicians at the time. Kurt Graunke conducted.

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