Versatile André Previn

(Above: YouTube screenshot from ‘My Fair Lady’)

André Previn, who died Thursday at 89, was a titan of film music scores. He won four Oscars — for Gigi (1958), Porgy & Bess (1959), Irma La Douce (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964) – and received seven other Oscar nominations.

But Previn was much more than a film composer. Had he never conducted nor written a single score, he would still be acknowledged as one of the most versatile musicians of the last 70 years, considered in the same league as Leonard Bernstein.

Steeped deeply in classicism, Previn was a sought-after conductor for many world-class orchestras. He composed two operas, including A Streetcar Named Desire (1997); and four Broadway musicals, including Coco (1969), written with lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and starring Katharine Hepburn.

Previn’s compositional catalogue also contains more than 60 orchestral works, concerti, chamber pieces, song cycles  and solo piano pieces.

Previn, a brilliant pianist, premiered all of the latter himself. Listen to his unexpected jazz-chops on the standard, “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”Jazz, which inspired him as both composer and arranger, became a pervasive element in many of his concert works and film scores.

Hollywood Wunderkind

Whether Previn liked it or not, he had one foot set in the world of Hollywood.

A child protégé, he was conducting film studio orchestras  by age 17 – and brooking no disrespect from older orchestra members. This was illustrated when a first oboist tried to prank the newbie conductor by providing the orchestra an A-Flat for tuning-up (instead of the traditional A-Natural ). The teenage Previn thanked the oboist, raised his baton for the downbeat, and asked the orchestra to transpose their music up a half-step.

In his way, he fit the Hollywood profile. Married five times, he snagged wife Mia Farrow in between her marriage to Frank Sinatra and her partnering with Woody Allen. He was later crushed when Woody began a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of Mia and Andre.

Previn told friends that, as far as he was concerned, Soon-Yi “didn’t exist,” and that he wished Allen a quick walk “under a steamroller.”

The Oscar Dichotomy

Previn composed, arranged and adapted more than 35 film scores, including original music for such outstanding films as  Bad at Bad Rock (1954), Designing  Woman (1957), Elmer Gantry (1960), Two for the Seesaw (1962) and Inside Daisy Clover (1965).

Ironically, however, Previn’s only Oscars came for arranging and adapting film versions of pre-existing opera and theater scores: Lerner & Lowe’s Gigi, the Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess, Mornott & Breffort’s Irma La Douce, and Lerner & Lowe’s My Fair Lady.

Perhaps inspired by this dichotomy, Previn said, “When you’re working with music that is invariably better than you are, it’s difficult to become swell-headed.”

Streaming Previn’s Oscar Winners

To appreciate Previn’s Oscar-winning scores, we suggest watching the films!

You can rent Gigi for just 99 cents from iTunes, or for $2.99 from other providers.

Irma La Douce is available from $2.99 at Amazon, YouTube and other providers.

But neither My Far Lady nor Porgy & Bess are currently available for streaming! So here are the opening overture from the former and a rare clip from the latter:

PORGY & BESS (1959) starring Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge…

<3 PORGY & BESS (1959) is a classic film that has yet to see an official VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray release 😡. The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress selected PORGY & BESS in 2011 for preservation, however, the rights holder of the film, Gershwin heirs, did not like the release of the film and refuse to give up rights. This in turn, prevents Warner Bros. Entertainment | Warner Bros. Pictures in releasing the film.Starring an all-star cast of Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Clarence Muse, Leslie Scott and Joel Fluellen; PORGY & BESS is a romantic-musical-drama with a story centered around Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge.In this legendary Gershwin opera set among the black residents of a fishing village in 1912 South Carolina, Bess – a woman with a disreputable history – tries to break free from her brutish lover Crown after he becomes wanted for murder. The only person willing to overlook her past and offer her shelter is the crippled Porgy. Their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of the townspeople, the presence of her old drug supplier Sportin' Life – and the threatened return of Crown. It doesn't make sense to hold such a treasure back from the public when there is clearly a demand for the film to be restored and released. The main character of the film (Sidney) is one of very few people still living (Diahann Carroll is another). The least we can do create awareness and demand a release of this film. #BlackHistory #PORGY #BESSTyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Spike Lee; where are y'all at? We could use your reinforcemenrt behind this.

Posted by Blaxploitation Pride on Friday, November 10, 2017

About Charlie Greenberg

Charlie Greenberg is a NY-based theater and instrumental composer.

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