Alex North (December 4, 1910, USA – September 8, 1991, USA)
Alex North was an American composer who wrote the first jazz-based film score (A Streetcar Named Desire) and one of the first modernist scores written in Hollywood (Viva Zapata!).
Born Isadore Soifer in Chester, Pennsylvania to Russian Jewish parents, North was an original composer probably even by the classical music standards of the day. However, he managed to integrate his modernism into typical film music leitmotif structure, rich with themes. One of these became the famous song, “Unchained Melody”. Nominated for fifteen Oscars but unsuccessful each time, North is one of only two film composers to receive the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, the other being Ennio Morricone. North’s frequent collaborator as orchestrator was the avant-garde composer Henry Brant. He won the 1968 Golden Globe award for his music to The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968).
His best-known film scores include The Rainmaker (1956), Spartacus (1960), The Misfits (1961),The Children’s Hour (1961) Cleopatra (1963), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Devil’s Brigade (1968), and Dragonslayer (1981). He composed the music for “The Wonderful Country” in a Mexican and southwestern US motif.
His commissioned score for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is notorious for having been discarded by director Stanley Kubrick. North reused themes from the rejected score for The Shoes of the Fisherman, Shanks (1974), and Dragonslayer, but the score itself was unheard until composer Jerry Goldsmith rerecorded it for Varèse Sarabande in 1993. In 2007, Intrada Records released North’s personal copies of the 1968 recording sessions on CD.
Alex North was also commissioned to write a jazz score for Nero Wolfe, a 1959 CBS-TV series based on Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe characters, starring William Shatner as Archie Goodwin and Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe. A pilot and two or three episodes were filmed, but the designated time slot was, in the end, given to another series. North’s unheard score for Nero Wolfe and six recorded tracks on digital audio tape are in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections.
Though North is best known for his work in Hollywood, he spent years in New York writing music for the stage; he composed the score, by turns plaintive and jarring, for the original Broadway production of Death of a Salesman. It was in New York that he met Elia Kazan (director of Salesman), who brought him to Hollywood in the ’50s. Alex North was one of several composers who brought the influence of contemporary concert music into film, in part marked by an increased use of dissonance and complex rhythms. But there is also a lyrical quality to much of his work which may be connected to the influence of Aaron Copland, with whom he studied.
His classical works include a Rhapsody for Piano, Trumpet obbligato and Orchestra. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his score for the 1976 television miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man. North is also known for his opening to the CBS television anthology series Playhouse 90 and the 1965 ABC television miniseries FDR