Tristan and Isolde Fantasie
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, strings, and solo violin and piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Franz Waxman was active as a film composer even before he arrived in Hollywood, driven from his native Germany by the Nazis. Educated in Dresden and Berlin, he worked his way through school playing piano in cafes and nightclubs. He arranged and conducted Frederick Hollander’s score for The Blue Angel, one of Marlene Dietrich’s early vehicles, and composed the music for Fritz Lang’s 1935 film Liliom. Once here in Los Angeles, Waxman took an active role in the city’s musical life. In 1947 he founded the Los Angeles Music Festival, to which he devoted time and energy throughout the years, giving the West Coast premieres of works by Prokofiev, Honegger, Orff, Britten, and others, bringing Dmitri Shostakovich to Los Angeles in 1959 and then again in 1961, when he was accompanied by Khachaturian, Kabalevsky, and the head of the composers of the Soviet Union, Tikhon Khrennikov.
Waxman also composed scores for Hollywood films, of course, ultimately working on 144 movies and winning back-to-back Academy Awards for 1950’s Sunset Blvd. and 1951’s A Place in the Sun. His Tristan und Isolde Fantasie is based on his adaptation of Wagner’s iconic opera for the film Humoresque, in which John Garfield played a violinist. (The music was actually played by Isaac Stern.) Waxman develops famous motives from the opera into a luxuriant pastiche that was an emotional climax in the film. Leonard Slatkin has recorded the Fantasie with violinist Chloë Hanslip and the Royal Philharmonic for Naxos (where it is coupled with the Violin Concerto by John Adams, among other works).