CtownI’ve always loved the score Jerry Goldsmith put together for the film Chinatown, particularly the evocative trumpet theme, aching with nostalgia and regret, which is introduced early on in the film but only makes its full impact during the final, devastating scene. Its effect is as much to do with the sound of the lonely trumpet, played by Uan Rasey, as to do with the music itself. Rasey, who died in 2011, was a regular on MGM soundtracks from 1947 until the mid 1970s and is credited with helping to bring jazz and big band elements into the studio orchestras, which in those days leaned heavily on classical traditions. He also played on the soundtracks of Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story and My Fair Lady, among many others.

However, when I first bought the CD soundtrack many years ago, I was surprised at how little original music there was – take out the three period songs and there’s less than 25 minutes of pure Goldsmith, excellent though it all is. I found out why this week while listening to the BBC Radio 4 documentary Rejection Notes: The Movie Scores that Never Were: Goldsmith had only ten days to complete the score, having been brought in to provide an emergency replacement for the previously commissioned score by Phillip Lambro, which the film’s producers decided was not working as it should.

Unfortunately, the rejection seems to have been a decisive turning point in Lambro’s career from which he appears never to have fully recovered. He did write a handful of other film scores, but his main interest seems to have been concert music, and unfortunately that music is little known and not often performed. He clearly minds: his memoir Intimate Acquaintances begins with a series of anecdotes about cancelled performances and the difficulties of getting paid for those performance that did take place. (It can be heard in an audio version here).

Lambro’s original score for Chinatown, rechristened Los Angeles 1937 for contractual reasons, finally re-surfaced in 2013 on a CD release, along with one of his classical works, Structures for String Orchestra (1969). And fascinatingly, for those who know the film, Lambro’s music was actually used on the Chinatown trailer, giving some idea of what might have been. Interestingly enough there are plenty of correspondences between Lambro’s music and the eventual soundtrack composed by Goldsmith.

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