In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column, I write about the Hollywood String Quartet. Here’s an excerpt.
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Now that the best symphonic film scores of the studio-system era are generally recognized as masterpieces of their kind and programmed by orchestras around the world, the names of the men who composed them—Bernard Herrmann, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklós Rózsa, Franz Waxman—have come to be familiar to music lovers. But what of the men and women who played them? The major studios employed in-house orchestras to record the scores for the films they released, and the players were highly trained, well-paid top-tier musicians who took their anonymous studio work seriously. Nevertheless, many of these artists continued to perform classical music on the side, and four of the finest of them started giving concerts in 1947 and, later, making records. Unashamed of their unprestigious day jobs, they instead flaunted them by dubbing themselves the Hollywood String Quartet, and within a few years the HSQ was widely regarded as one of America’s top chamber-music groups.
The HSQ was led by Felix Slatkin, the concertmaster of the Twentieth Century Fox orchestra, whose first-chair cellist, Eleanor Aller Slatkin, was Felix’s wife and a charter member of the quartet. The other members, Paul Shure and Paul Robyn, who was later replaced by Alvin Dinkin, were also Hollywood studio musicians. The group was noteworthy for many reasons, starting with the fact that all of its players were born and trained in America. Most of their U.S.-based contemporaries were émigrés who had studied in Europe. Yet there was no Juilliard Quartet-like big-city brashness to the rich-toned, unabashedly romantic yet tautly disciplined playing of the HSQ. Instead, the group sounded like an eight-armed Heifetz…
Unusually for classical players of their generation, the HSQ took popular music just as seriously, so much so that it backed up Frank Sinatra, a close friend of Felix and Eleanor, on “Close to You,” a 1956 album arranged by Nelson Riddle….
* * *Read the whole thing here.