Obituary: Ernest Gold

THE COMPOSER Ernest Gold's soaring score for Exodus, Otto Preminger's epic film about the formation of the state of Israel, won him the 1960 Academy Award as well as two Grammys. The stately main theme also became a hit for such pop stars as Pat Boone, reaching second place on the popular music charts - to the surprise of the composer, who considered the theme "too serious and too long-hair for popular appeal".

Gold's other scores included Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, and many Stanley Kramer productions, among them The Defiant Ones, Ship of Fools and Judgment at Nuremberg. He was Oscar-nominated for both best score and best song for Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and received further nominations for On the Beach and The Secret of Santa Vittoria.

The son of a lawyer who played the violin, Gold was born in Vienna in 1921, and like two other Viennese composers who went on to Hollywood fame, Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, he was a child prodigy. Gold's achievements could not be said to match those of his two compatriots, who figure among the greatest of screen composers, but his work earned great respect and he was particularly effective in his interpolation of traditional and folk music into symphonic scores.

He began studying violin and piano at the age of six, started composing two years later and at the age of 13 wrote a full-length opera. "My parents felt that being a composer was just a childish dream," he said. "They felt that most composers seemed destined to live and die in poverty, but I felt it was just a question of being discovered."

He studied at the State Academy of Music in Vienna but in 1938, with the Nazis taking over Austria, his family fled to the United States, where Gold's first symphony was performed and broadcast by the NBC Orchestra in 1939. He also started writing popular songs, and one of them, "Private Makes Perfect", spent 17 weeks on the hit parade. The singer Kate Smith, noted for patriotic material, had a hit with Gold's "They Started Something" during the Second World War.

In 1945 Gold moved to Hollywood with a letter of introduction to Columbia Pictures, who signed him to write the score for a 60-minute melodrama, Girl of the Limberlost. Other minor films followed, including an engrossing B-movie thriller at Universal, Smooth as Silk (1946), but his first major opportunity came when Stanley Kramer hired him to orchestrate George Antheil's music for Not as a Stranger (1955). He then conducted and orchestrated both Antheil's score for the Kramer epic The Pride and the Passion (1957) and Matty Malneck's score for Billy Wilder's superb transcription of the Agatha Christie play Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

The following year he was given his first chance to compose the score of an important film, the screen version of Diana Barrymore's biography Too Much, Too Soon (1958). The film was not successful but Gold's music was described by Variety as a "highlight" and the soundtrack recording was to have a longer life than the film itself.

Kramer then asked Gold to score his powerful and critically acclaimed story of racial tensions, The Defiant Ones (1958), the first of Kramer's films for which Gold provided music. For Kramer's On the Beach (1959), based on Nevil Shute's Australian-set story about mankind's annihilation due to radioactive fall-out, Gold made telling use of variations on the folksong "Waltzing Matilda" in what The New York Times called "a fine musical score", and for Inherit the Wind (1960), inspired by the 1925 trial of a Tennessee teacher who dared to teach Darwin's theory of evolution, used rousing numbers like "Old Time Religion" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in a score credited with giving the long film added excitement.

But it was Preminger's three-and-a-half-hour epic Exodus (1960) that brought the composer his greatest fame. Variety reported: "Ernest Gold's score is a strong plus factor and through its use of minor chords provides a flavoursome blending of ancient Hebrew strains with the modern surge of a people on the march." The haunting title theme became a popular hit, as did Gold's lilting title song for the comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), with lyrics by Mack David.

For Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Gold's score included a short overture that effectively set the mood for the powerful experience to come, and his expressive and moving music for Kramer's production A Child is Waiting (1963), directed by John Cassavetes and dealing with mentally retarded children, was described by Variety as "a vital factor".

Notable among Gold's later scores was his rousing music for Peckinpah's uncompromising picture of Germans fighting on the Russian front in 1943, Cross of Iron (1977), in which he again made effective use of folk music.

Gold once described his views on soundtrack scores:

What is visible should not be duplicated in the soundtrack. Music can demonstrate inner processes taking place in the characters, elucidate relations between them and - most importantly - throw its weight with or against a character in order to sway the point of equilibrium of a scene.

He continued to write symphonic and chamber works along with his film scores and in 1968 wrote a Broadway musical, I'm Solomon, with lyrics by Anne Croswell. Based on an Israeli comedy, King Solomon and the Cobbler, and starring the comedian Dick Shawn, it ran for only seven performances. Gold later commented,

From the point of view of a Broadway composer, the most nonsensical practice is that of casting people in musicals who are unable to sing. The hapless composer and lyricist are forced to throw out good material that had been created over a fairly extended length of time and must try to come up with quick solutions that must cover for the inadequacies in the singing realm.

The theatre historian Ken Mandelbaum later wrote that the show had "a couple of nice songs and an extremely silly book".

Gold was fortunate in not being asked to write the score for a musical version of Exodus produced three years later. Entitled Ari, it featured among its attractions a "concentration camp ballet" and closed after 19 performances.

Gold's first wife was Marni Nixon, a singer famous for her off-screen dubbing of such stars as Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn; his second wife, Jan Keller, survives him.

At one time the music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra, Gold had in recent years founded the Los Angeles Senior Citizens Orchestra, for whom he was principal conductor. Acknowledging that many artists abandon their goals, he stated, "I know it's easy to grow discouraged. Somehow I was lucky enough to escape that popular affliction. Even as a child I was carried along by the convictions that I'd be successful in a musical career."

Ernest Gold, film composer: born Vienna 13 July 1921; married first Marni Nixon (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved), second Jan Keller (one stepson); died Santa Monica, California 17 March 1999.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital