mfiles logo

Dimitri Tiomkin (1899-1979) - anyone for Westerns?

Dimitri Tiomkin - photo Dimitri (or Dmitri, or Dimi) Tiomkin was born in the Russian Ukraine. His musically trained mother taught him to play the piano and later he received a formal musical education at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied under Alexander Glazunov among others. Although already established as a pianist and conductor, it is understandable that he chose to leave his homeland during a period of great upheaval. He spent a number of years touring Europe to great critical acclaim, and was instrumental in introducing the music of George Gershwin outside America giving the first European performance of Gershwin's Piano Concerto in Paris. He then moved permanently to the US where he finally conquered the movie business and later became a US citizen. Film music was still in its relative infancy when he started, and it wasn't long before Tiomkin had early successes with "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" and "Lost Horizon". His film music covered a great variety of styles and moods, yet it is for his work on Western movies (which were plentiful and popular during this period) that he is best remembered.

Dimtri Tiomkin - Friendly Persuasion soundtrack CD cover It is noteable that Tiomkin seemed to have an on-going working relationship with a number of people on both sides of the camera. For example, he worked with the director Alfred Hitchcock on "I Confess", "Dial M for Murder" and "Shadow of a Doubt". Being associated with the Western genre he often worked on John Wayne films like "Red River" and "Rio Bravo", and even Wayne's non-Western movies "The High and the Mighty" and "Circus World". When John Wayne came to create his showpiece The Alamo it was therefore natural for him to turn to Tiomkin for the soundtrack. Notice that the Mexican tune played in "Rio Bravo" (1959 and starring John Wayne) was said in the film to have been played at "The Alamo" (1960) so naturally, Tiomkin used the same music in the later film. The composer also wrote a number of songs for the latter film (e.g. "The Green Leaves of Summer") which in part emphasise the homesickness and the heroism of the defenders. The soundtrack is most memorable for the stirring martial music depicting the relentless advance of the Mexican army. When asked why a Russian composer should be able to so easily depict the Wild West, Tiomkin would joke that there was little difference between the Steppes and the Prairies. Not a straight answer but the lessons in counterpoint at the St. Petersburg Conservatory are evident during these scenes.

Dimitri Tiomkin - It's a Wonderful Life soundtrack CD cover A closer partnership with lyricist Ned Washington resulted in many soundtrack songs. Both the "High Noon" soundtrack and its title song "Do not forsake me, oh my Darling" won Oscars and renewed studio interest in the idea of having title songs which might just become hit records. The song-writing partnership between Tiomkin and Washington was to produce several other songs such as "Wild is the Wind" (originally sung by Johnny Mathis then recorded by Nina Simone and later David Bowie) and for television, the themes for "Rawhide" and "Gunslinger" both sung by Frankie Laine. They also wrote songs for "Gunfight at the OK Coral" (also sung by Frankie Laine), "Circus World" and many more. In 1956 Tiomkin and Washington also wrote a song for the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. It was called "The Prince and Princess Waltz" and dedicated to the couple with Grace Kelly's blessing but probably not played at the wedding itself. (He had of course scored a few movies starring the actress, such as "Dial M for Murder".) The composer returned to his cultural roots in 1970 when he produced the work commemorating one of Russia's best-loved composers Peter Tchaikovsky.

In August 2012 The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin was released as the first album in the series "LSO Live", the music having been recorded at a concert in the Barbican Hall. There is an offical Dimitri Tiomkin website at www.DimitriTiomkin.com.

Dimitri Tiomkin - Archive material:

We are very pleased to be able to show some rare photos of Tiomkin in action together with scans of crew signatures. The photos were taken during recording sessions at Pinewood's Denham Studios near London, Tiomkin conducting the Sinfonia of London for the movie "55 Days at Peking". The photos were taken and the signatures collected by Otto R. Snel who worked as a sound mixer at Pinewood, and we are very grateful for his permission to reproduce them here. Click on each image to view an enlarged version.

Dimitri Tiomkin Closeup (95 Kb)

A closeup of Dimitri Tiomkin with score in hand, conducting "55 days in Peking"

  Crew signatures from Circus World (140 Kb)

Crew signatures from "Circus World" - Dorothy Spencer (film editor), Milton Burrow (supervising sound editor), George Korngold (music editor and son of Erich Korngold), and the re-recording crew, Gordon K. McCallum, Edward J. Karnon, Ken Barker and Otto Snel

Dimitri Tiomkin signature (45 Kb)

Dimitri Tiomkin autograph

  Dimitri Tiomkin and Henry Hathaway signatures (121 Kb)

Signatures of Henry Hathaway (director of "Circus World") and Dimitri Tiomkin including a few music notes

Dimitri Tiomkin and Orchestra (230 Kb)

Tiomkin and orchestra on "55 days in Peking", the screen at the back showing Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner

  Dimitri Tiomkin and Anthony Mann signatures (156 Kb)

Signatures of Anthony Mann (director of "The Fall of the Roman Empire") and Dimitri Tiomkin plus a few music notes

We recently found some new material about Dimitri Tiomkin. The video alongside is from a TV show called "Warner Bros. Presents" with Gig Young introducing Dimitri Tiomkin who plays the theme from "High Noon" and music from "Giant" which he was working on at the time. The clip also appears on some versions of the DVD of the movie "Giant" under the title "Behind the Cameras - A Visit with Dimitri Tiomkin". Here is another youtube video with Dimitri Tiomkin (and a dog) making a guest appearance on the Jack Benny Show. Finally there is a sheet music book available called The Dimitri Tiomkin Anthology (from Sheet Music Plus) which is a substantial Book including many of his Songs and film tracks within its 186 pages. See the cover below:

Films by Dimitri Tiomkin:

    The Dimitri Tiomkin Anthology - sheet music book cover
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - this patriotic Frank Capra film starring James Stewart incorporates quite a lot of traditional tunes, as was the style at the time
  • Lost Horizon
  • The Corsican Brothers - Oscar nominated
  • Black Beauty
  • It's a Wonderful Life - this Christmas favourite directed by Frank Capra does not have a lot of original music, but features arrangements of some traditional tunes and a few variations on "Buffalo Gals"
  • Duel in the Sun
  • Meet John Doe - also directed by Frank Capra
  • Red River - some choral music on this Western, and musical set pieces for the stampede and river crossing sequences
  • Champion
  • Cyrano de Bergerac - sometime classical like Mozart or romantic swashbuckler with Latin hints
  • D.O.A. (1950) - the original version, with some interesting mickey-mousing accompanying the character walking
  • Strangers on a Train - the soundtrack for this Hitchcock movie has some suspense moments in the first half and then the momentum picks up with cuts between a tennis match and scenes involving a cigarette lighter
  • The Thing (1951) - mostly low-key and vaguely threatening, but with some powerful moments, the orchestration including a theremin and lots of flutes, saxes and brass
  • High Noon - the soundtrack portrays the determination of Gary Cooper's central character and builds tension towards the climax, winning two Oscars, one for the song "Do Not Forsake me"
  • Shadow of a Doubt - Hitchcock's first US movie, where Tiomkin's scores uses various adaptations of the "Merry Widow Waltz" by Franz Lehar, whose title is closely related to the theme of the movie's plot
  • Dimitri Tiomkin - Red River soundtrack CD cover
  • I Confess
  • Angel Face - Tiomkin uses a lovely wistful melody called "Nostalgia" for this Film Noir
  • The Moon and Sixpence
  • Friendly Persuasion - title song sung by Pat Boone
  • Dial M for Murder - there is some care-free romantic music, which contrasts with suspenseful music for the crime and investigation scenes with a "time ticking away" refrain on pizzicato strings
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • The High and the Mighty - John Wayne in one of the first airplane disaster movies
  • Gunfight at the OK Corral
  • Rhapsody of Steel - a short 22-minute animated film (a history of steel through the ages) for United States Steel which saw a limited theatrical release in the US
  • Dimitri Tiomkin - The Alamo soundtrack CD cover
  • Rio Bravo
  • The Sundowners - the main theme has a lovely relaxed yet lyrical feel
  • Last Train from Gun Hill
  • The Alamo (1960) - some great battle music, the quieter songs featuring words by Paul Francis Webster; Carter Burwell has done the more recent remake
  • The Unforgiven (1960)
  • Wild is the Wind - with the well-known theme song of the same name, co-written as always with lyricist Ned Washington and sung by Johnny Mathis
  • Giant
  • The Guns of Navarone - some martial/war-like music for the epic filmed on Rhodes, including a song version of the main theme and with little touches of Rule, Britannia! in the score
  • MacKenna's Gold
  • Circus World (aka The Magnificent Showman) - also starring John Wayne
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire - the movie was a flop but the soundtrack is remarkable for its use of an organ augmenting the typical orchestral sound
  • 55 Days at Peking - some Chinese sounding music and some tracks suggesting pirates
  • The Old Man and the Sea - the lyrical theme could easily fit into a Rogers and Hammerstein musical
  • Tchaikovsky - Tiomkin's tribute to his fellow countryman

TV Themes by Dimitri Tiomkin:

Their hit song machine that was Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington went on to create theme songs for Television, including one for the TV series "Rawhide". The song was later to get the Blues Brothers, Jake and Elmo, out of a pickle when they played in a riotous Country establishment.

  • Rawhide - Frankie Laine sang those memorable lyrics by Ned Washington "rollin', rollin', rollin'" and "keep them doggies movin'"
  • Gunslinger - from the same composer-lyricist-singer combination

Dimitri Tiomkin - Recommendations:

Dimitri Tiomkin sheet music is not plentiful, but we have been able to find some online sources:

  • The theme from "Rawhide" is available at SheetMusicPlus
  • The Dimitri Tiomkin Anthology is a large book with many Songs and film tracks available at SheetMusicPlus

And the following soundtracks are available:

Dimitri Tiomkin - Memorabilia:

In addition to the items reproduced above, here are some signed covers of Dimitri Tiomkin's music. Both items have been signed by James Fitzpatrick of Tadlow Music, a record label specialising in classic Film Music. The Fall of the Roman Empire has also been signed by the conductor Nic Raine, who conducted this and many other Film Music recordings. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click on a thumbnail below to see a full size version of the image in a separate window.

Dimitri Tiomkin: The Fall of the Roman Empire - signed CD Dimitri Tiomkin: The Guns of Navarrone - signed CD