TIMOTHY BROCK ON THE RESTORATION OF THE GOLD RUSH SCORE
The original 1925 release of The Gold Rush was six years before Chaplin's attempt to compose his first full-length score, City Lights, and the 1925 score compilation (by Carli Elinor and Chaplin, today preserved at the Chaplin archives in Montreux) was used to accompany the initial run in theaters until the film was no longer in frequent demand after the advent of sound. The "sound" version of the film was released with a newly composed score in 1942, and it is this score we associate with The Gold Rush.
Composed with the help of pianist-arranger Max Terr, a staff musician from MGM, the 1942 score was written to serve as a narrative musical bed to Chaplin's voice-over dramatization in lieu of intertitles. Originally, of course, the music had never been intended to serve such a high purpose as the only means of aural contact with the audience. But with such careful detail stressed in the music, it was not such a giant leap to consider bringing the score to the forefront by means of live performance.
When Chaplin worked on the piano, he focused primarily on melodic structure and chord progression, regardless of meter. To Chaplin the tune came first, meter second. This may be due to the fact that as an avid nonconventional composer, he freed himself of metronomic servitude, and composed just as he heard in his head. The opening ten bars of The Gold Rush have no less than four meter changes, yet they flow as naturally as any piece written in 4/4.
As in most Chaplin features, the music serves as a primary function to the success of the image. Chaplin was concerned with music that wasn't just simply appropriate, but that charged the scene with what the content demanded. Yes, in the score to The Gold Rush there is storm music, fight music, love music, dance-hall music. But there is also meticulously written music for hiccups, hunger, sleep, eating, hallucinating, snowball fights, suspicion, indignity, pride, and indifference—all key elements in both the film and his music.
In this score, there are the usual Chaplin musical trademarks; The dark and melancholic string passages, colorful oboe and bassoon solos, the omnipresent harp, and pure brute force in the brass. But here the writing has more of a free flowing exposition of expression and movement, and mood and character can change at a moment's notice.
There is also a fair amount of quotation in the score, as was the common practice of the time. . . . Chaplin quotes well-known orchestral music from Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, and popular tunes such as "Comin' thro the Rye," "Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond," and "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow."
Yet Chaplin uses to great effect, and most frequently, twelve bars of a short piano miniature by Johannes Brahms from his op. 118 Klavierstücke, the Romanze in F major. Transcribed for strings, he utilizes this passage in both the Tramp's happiest and saddest of moments.
In 1992, the decision to produce a re-creation of the silent version of The Gold Rush was made by the Chaplin estate and carried out by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill of Photoplay Productions in London. It was decided then to use the music of 1942 to accompany it, and Carl Davis was engaged to make an arrangement of the score to adapt to their re-creation, which up to this time has been the arrangement used for live performance.
Thanks to the Association Chaplin and the generosity of Kate Guyonvarch, who not only supplied me with all of the original scores and manuscripts from Montreux, but who also provided me with a digitalized reproduction of the original optical soundtrack recording, I was working in earnest on the restoration of The Gold Rush score by the fall of 2006.
As with all of my restorations of the Chaplin films for live performances, it was my intention to go straight to the source of evidence found in the original manuscripts of the scores and parts. I tried to piece together all of the musical information possible, as there were many changes made, written and unwritten, to the music as recorded in November 1941. As usual, my best source of information was from the players' individual parts and not the full score. In every single cue, in all eight reels, some kind of change was made by Chaplin or Terr, which were subsequently handwritten in the players' parts at the time of recording. These indications are invaluable to achieving the closest estimation of what the score sounded like to Chaplin.
Some of these changes were minor (string bowings); some were not (entire passages cut). In many instances, sections of music were so integrally reorchestrated or revoiced that it altered that piece of music to a degree that profoundly changed its meaning, and therefore its impact. There was also the inclusion of certain instruments that were not indicated on the full score, or the conductor's score, yet appear on the parts and on the recording.
From each part, the full score, the conductor's score, the recording, and the original Chaplin/Terr early sketches, I hope to have achieved a score that comes as close to Chaplin's ear as possible.