The Jerome Moross Story
by Mariana Whitmer
 
Jerome Moross’s career encompasses three spheres, Broadway, Hollywood, and the concert hall. He is best known to some audiences as the composer of the Academy Award-nominated score for William Wyler’s epic western, The Big Country (1958). An innovative score that challenged the status quo, it has influenced Western film scores ever since. Yet Moross also influenced the theatrical world with his unique approach to musical theater, including The Golden Apple (1954) and his interpretation of American urban mythology in Frankie and Johnny (1938), a work that combined American music and vernacular dance. Certain of Moross’s compositions that lack a dramatic core are less appreciated, but even his instrumental pieces have a story to tell. Moross composed many important pieces that crossed genres and inspired a re-consideration of traditional attitudes.
 
The Early Years

Jerome Moross was born in Brooklyn on August 1, 1913, into a family of émigrés from Russia, one of many who settled in the ethnic neighborhoods of New York’s Lower East Side and started businesses in the early years of the twentieth century. Moross quickly established his intellectual and musical talents, playing the piano from the age of five and composing when he was eight. As a teenager, Moross became friends with Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), who would also distinguish himself as an important composer, and the two listened to or played as much modern repertoire as they could find. Moross first encountered Herrmann when he was 14 years old, and described the event in a later interview:
 
Bar mitzvah, circa 1926.
  We were in a German class, and I was sitting in the back of the room so the teacher shouldn’t disturb me while I was composing, and I looked up and I saw a boy sitting across the aisle, twirling his hair and studying the Mahler Fifth Symphony in a Eulenberg miniature score. . . . He looked at me, and he said “Do you know Mahler?” and I said, “Mahler stinks” or something like that . . . He got quite angry and grabbed what I was writing, looked at it, tossed it back at me, and said, “Dishwater Tchaikovsky!”  
 
Thus began a friendship that lasted until Herrmann’s death as Moross and Herrmann pursued their love of music together. They performed each other’s compositions, and eventually formed a trio with Hermann’s young brother, Louis, who played the cello. Together the three sought paying engagements wherever possible, in jazz bands, at dances and in theater pits. Moross also composed incidental music for what he described as “the equivalent of off-Broadway plays.”ii Moross reflected on their relationship, “An almost brotherly closeness existed for years until, frankly, I felt I had to break out from under his grasp. But whenever we met again the old bonds were renewed with the first greeting.”iii
 
The 30's

New York City in the early 1930s was an exciting place and Moross took advantage of all the musical attractions it offered. One of his favorites was Harms Music Publishers where, as Moross recalled, “You met people,” and this could include anyone from Oscar Levant (1906-1972) to [Robert] Russell Bennet (1894-1981), and Vince Youmans to Vernon Duke (ne Vladimir Dukelsky, 1903-1969). T. B. Harms, founded in 1875, was the largest publisher of popular music in New York City at the time and handled the publication of several important American composers. Their compositions impressed Moross tremendously. “The songs were so extraordinary,” he later remarked, citing specifically Duke’s “April in Paris” (1932), “Suddenly (1933), and “Autumn in New York” (1934). Moross’s appreciation for their work would draw him to the theater, where he would combine his talent for lyrical melodies with larger formal constructions. Many years later Moross reflected, “Popular music has fallen into the hands of the amateurs, and you don’t get those gorgeous songs any more."iv

In the air there was a great deal of enthusiasm for change, influencing not only popular music in the clubs and dance halls, but in the theater and concert halls. Moross and Herrmann also became acquainted with Henry Cowell (1897-1965) who introduced them to Charles Ives (1874-1954). They became acquainted with Ives’s music by working through the Concord Sonata and became great champions of Ives’s works. “I remember arguing with Aaron Copland that he must play Ives when he was going to run his Yaddo Festival [of Contemporary Music at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, in 1931] and I gave him my copy of the 114 Songs.” Moross visited Ives regularly for several years, and the influence of Ives is evident throughout his compositions.
 
Moross graduated from New York University in 1931 when he was only 18. During his senior year he simultaneously attended The Juilliard School as a conducting fellow. Moross generally felt that he did not need formal composition lessons, concluding that his musical education was perhaps best served by his experiences outside the classroom. “I had harmony, fugue, form, everything else. All the grammar you needed. But I always felt that I didn’t want to learn how somebody else writes. All he can do is show me how he writes. Besides, by the time I entered Juilliard I was already composing, and I felt that I was pretty good. . . . I did have a complete grounding in musical techniques. And I had already been playing in pit orchestras, so that I knew my orchestra inside out. So that was my training.” Moross was indeed composing. Paeans (1931), his first work, was conducted by Bernard Herrmann when it premiered in the Juilliard concert hall, and was published by Henry Cowell in his New Music Orchestra Series. Clearly influenced by the modernists, it features abundant dissonances, and at one point, quarter tones.
As a teenager.
Moross met Aaron Copland in 1931 and was invited to join Copland’sYoung Composers’ Group, which included Herrmann, along with Elie Siegmeister, Arthur Berger, Lehman Engel, and Vivian Fine, among others. Through the group Moross became acquainted with other well-known composers and performers. Together they planned concerts and performed one another’s music. In a 1936 article Copland wrote, “Moross is probably the most talented of these men. He writes music that has a quality of sheer physicalness, music ‘without a mind,’ as it were.”vii Copland supported Moross’s work, recommending him to Ruth Page,viii for instance, and their careers would occasionally intersect, particularly in Hollywood. Moross’s next composition, Two Songs (“Jabberwocky” and “Those Gambler’s Blues” for low voice with piano), was performed at the first concert of the Young Composers Group held in 1933.
 
As a young man
The influence of the Viennese serialists (Schoenberg, Webern) is particularly evident in his first vocal work, Those Everlasting Blues (1932), based on a text by Alfred Kreymborg (1883-1966). Moross quickly shed what he considered to be the confinement of theories and began writing in what he deemed was his own style. Assimilating all types of music became Moross's preferred method of developing his style, so he visited as many musical venues as possible to absorb the music all around him, whether jazz, classical, modern, or popular, or even a carousel.ix Moross turned to American idioms and credited Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, and Aaron Copland with encouraging him in this direction. Although he would later minimize the modernist bent of his early works, the music of Ives continued to inspire his composition.

In 1934 CBS commissioned Moross to compose a work to be broadcast on American School of the Air: Folk Music of America. John Lomax, who produced the show, suggested an arrangement of the tune “Midnight Special, ” which Moross completed, giving it the title Ramble on a Hobo Tune.
Eventually this work became the basis for Moross’s first (and only) Symphony (1940-42), premiered by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 1943, directed by Sir Thomas Beecham. Lawrence Morton, who reviewed the work, called it an “an attractive piece, a cheerful commentary upon some of the simplepleasures of American life.”x Morton goes on to list those pleasures: the drugstore soda, a colorful sunset, cool sheets at bedtime, the appreciation of one’s congressman and “being grateful for the Red Cross.” The Symphony exhibits an intrinsic American sound that infuses all of Moross’s works, from his earliest ballets to the last chamber work.

Moross turned to composing dramatic works early in his career, and focused initially on ballet. His first ballet, composed for the Charles Weidman Dance Group, was based on the legend of Paul Bunyan, titled Paul Bunyan: An American Saga (1934). While the music for this ballet has not survived, we may imagine that it was successful, since Moross almost immediately began composing another for Weidman. Called Biguine (1934), it was conceived originally as a dance piece, yet was eventually published (again, by Henry Cowell) as an orchestral work.

With the assistance of Herrmann, who had established himself in radio as a conductor, Moross supported himself beginning in 1935, by writing cue music for The March of Time, the popular radio show that ran from 1931-1942. It used actors to portray real people as it dramatized current events, and music was an important part of supporting the sense of realism. Moross was to compose cues for subsequent radio shows, including In Memory of a Hero, a work for the Free World Theatre in 1943.

Moross’s first job was as musical director for Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, which played for two weeks at the Empire Theatre in New York in 1933, and for Bertolt Brecht’s version of Maxim Gorky’s The Mother for the Theatre Union, for which Moross also contributed incidental music. Moross’s first composition for the theater, as he described it, was similarly “socially important.” It was a leftist musical revue called Parade (1935) based on social issues.

While the subject matter of Parade did not go over well with audiences, Moross’s experience as musical director drew the attention of George Gershwin. As Moross related, “A few weeks before Porgy and Bess finished its New York run [which began on October 10, 1935], Gershwin suggested that I take over the piano job in the pit and go out with the show for a six week tour.” The tour took the company to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., from January 27 to March 21, 1936. This was the first time that Moross would leave New York City.

When the tour ended, Moross returned to New York and began composing An American Pattern (1936), his first of several ballets for noted choreographer Ruth Page (1899-1991) at the recommendation of Aaron Copland. A feminist portrayal of a bored housewife, this ballet would set the tone for Moross's subsequent unconventional stage works. In October 1936 Moross returned to Chicago to work on An American Pattern with Page. Moross completed his orchestration as contracted and left Chicago in December, heading to Los Angeles in preparation for the west coast production of Porgy and Bess. As a young man of 23 with some time on his hands, Moross made a stop in Albuquerque, a decision that altered his perspective and had a long-term impact on his musical style. Later he shared his feelings about the trip,
 
  I traveled by bus from Chicago to Los Angeles . . . and as we hit the Plains I got so excited that I stopped off in Albuquerque . . . and the next day I got to the edge of town and then walked out onto the flat land with a marvelous feeling of being alone in the vastness with the mountains cutting off the horizon.xi

The whole thing was just too much for me, and then when I hit Los Angeles and California . . . it was marvelous, and I just fell in love with it. I wandered all around the west. I was ecstatic about it. xii
 
 
Moross's impressions during this trip inspired his later Western film scores, but first he expressed them in A Tall Story for Orchestra, his premier orchestral work for radio. At age 24, he was the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Columbia Composers Commission, a program spearheaded by Howard Barlow (1892-1972), music director at CBS, to encourage American composers. Moross received one of several commissions granted in 1937 and 1938, along with Aaron Copland and William Grant Still. Moross's A Tall Story for Orchestra was first heard on the radio program Everybody's Music on September 25, 1938.

While still in Los Angeles, in October 1937, Moross received a call from Ruth Page asking him to return to Chicago to create Frankie and Johnny, a work they had discussed during Moross’s previous engagement. In addition to working on the new ballet, they were finally able to premiere An American Pattern at the Civic Opera House in Chicago (December 1937). Moross lingered in Chicago, but then returned to Los Angeles on New Years Day 1938 to resume work on the Porgy and Bess performances. Porgy and Bess “fizzled out after three weeks,” according to Moross, and the disastrous California flood of 1938 prompted the organizers to declare bankruptcy and dismantle the show.xiii Moross remained in San Francisco, however, to complete the score for Frankie and Johnny.
 
Moross relished those opportunities when he could strike out in new directions and reinterpret the traditional musico-dramatic forms, while challenging his audiences with provocative subject matter. Frankie and Johnny is based on the American folk song that Carl Sandburg referred to as the “classical gutter song,” when he published it in An American Songbag.xiv While the plot centers on Johnny’s infidelity and murder, an incongruous trio of Salvation Army girls (singing and playing tambourines) comments on the action much like a Greek chorus. The juxtaposition of the sacred (the Salvation Army) and the profane (the two lovers) was probably intended to spark interest and controversy. Frankie and Johnny was especially popular and well received when it premiered in 1938 (less so when it was staged again in 1945) at the Great Northern Theatre in Chicago. The program also included a revival of Moross’s An American Pattern and was so successful it continued for six weeks after which Moross returned to Los Angeles.
Dancers in Frankie and Johnny
The success of the two previous commissions prompted Ruth Page to request a third ballet from Moross, this time an adaptation of Bizet's Carmen, called Guns and Castanets. Although he worked on this score through October 1938, both in Los Angeles and Chicago, contractual disagreements between Moross and Page prompted him to return to New York in late 1938.
Coast to Coast

Moross did not remain in New York, however, and the return to California, precipitated by financial necessity, became an extended stay (from 1940-1945). Married in August of 1939 to Hazel Abrams, Moross related, “We discovered we were going to be parents, and we had no moneyThe March of Time had shut down. So we hot-footed out to the coast.”xv When he first moved to Hollywood, Moross could not get any work. As he recalled, “I was considered too radical at the time.”xvi It was Aaron Copland’s score for Our Town that gave Moross his first big break in February 1940 when he was hired to orchestrate it. This initial job established Moross’s career as a capable orchestrator, setting him on a professional trajectory that eventually led to more fame than he possibly would have achieved without it.

AfterOur Town  other work came sporadically but the income from orchestrating provided him with the means to continue composing his own works. In 1940 he assisted with Adolph Deutsch's score for They Drive by Night,a film starring Humphrey Bogart. This film introduced Moross to Leo Forbstein (1892-1948) and the Warner Bros. studio, which would presently lead to a full-time position. His co-orchestrators were Hugo Friedhofer (1901-1981) and Arthur Lange (1889-1956), both of whom Moross would work with on subsequent films. In 1941 he assisted in the orchestration of the David Buttolph and Cyril Mockridge score for Scotland Yard. This film marks the first time that Moross worked with Emil Newman (1911-1984), who was the musical director for this Twentieth Century Fox production.
 
With Emil Newman
Moross worked for Warner Bros. until 1945, and he generally enjoyed his experiences as a studio arranger. Although he was typically assigned to work with specific composers, he also orchestrated films for others. For example, in 1943 he helped orchestrate another of Aaron Copland's scores, The North Star (1943), a project that introduced Moross to Samuel Goldwyn (1879-1974), for whom he eventually orchestrated five films. In addition, Moross recalled being loaned to Max Steiner to help with a score that was behind schedule. Although he had forgotten the name of the film, it was certainly Since You Went Away (1944), a David O. Selznick production for which he was not credited. During this time Moross worked on 26 films as either orchestrator or arranger, although for many of these he remained uncredited. This was not unusual in the years of the studio system where the orchestrators were little more than clerks, and credits were typically limited to the main cast and crew.
 
During this time Moross continued his development of dramatic compositions with Ballet Ballads, a set of four short works composed between 1941 and 1946, although not performed together until 1948. With lyrics by John Latouche (1914-1956) each piece presents an unconventional adaptation of well-known narratives. Susanna and the Elders is the biblical story set as a revivalist camp meeting; Willie the Weeper and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett, present the well-known urban and rural (respectively) American folk tales; and Riding Hood Revisited: Simple Symphony in E Flat Major is a provocatively updated version of the story, which would later be orchestrated as Variations on a Waltz.

While in Hollywood, Moross was able to have some of his own music performed. Susanna and the Elders was given its premier performance as a concert work (Moross referred to it as an oratorio) on March 9, 1941, by the Hollywood Theatre Alliance with Alfred Newman conducting. Biguine was performed in 1944 at one of Franz Waxman's Symphony Under the Stars concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. In November of the same year, the Los Angeles Philharmonic included Moross's Symphony No. 1 in the opening concert of the season conducted by Alfred Wallenstein (1898-1983).

Hazel with Aaron Copland
In 1945 the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo purchased Frankie and Johnny,and the promise of a performance prompted the Moross family to return to New York City. This production was given The New York Times Award for Best Ballet of the 1945 Season. As Moross became more focused on his own compositions he left Warner Bros. and returned to Los Angeles only when there was an interesting project or financial necessity. Subsequent trips were made to work with Friedhofer on the award-winning The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a project that led to three more such collaborations including the popular The Bishop's Wife (1947).

With Hazel and Susanna
In 1947 and 1949 Moross was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships to support the composition of a major new work, a second collaboration between Moross and Latouche. Like Ballet Ballads, this piece for musical theater was similarly unconventional, yet highly successful. The Golden Apple (1948-1950) is a re-telling of The Iliad and The Odyssey set in Washington State at the end of the Spanish-American War. It was first performed in 1954, when it ran for almost 200 performances and received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical of the 1953-1954 Season. As in an opera recitatives, arias (songs), and ensembles (without any dialogue) characterize the work, but the musical numbers are cast in a popular style. Explaining the importance of this collaboration between Moross and Latouche, Mark Grant in The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical,describes how they “laid out in embryo the future course of the megacommodified Broadway musical. In their refusal to follow the music-dialogue-lyrics pattern practice [of] Rodgers and Hammerstein-style Broadway, and in their substituting a totally sung libretto animated by narrative dancing, every element of the commercial musical of later decades can be found: the through-sung cantatas of Lloyd Webber and others; the director-choreographer shows, [and] the “dansicals” such as Bob Fee’s Big Dealxvii The Golden Apple was most recently revived in 1990. Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, and Wynton Marsalis, among others, have recorded “Lazy Afternoon,” one of the songs from the work.
On May 9, 1948, Moross's Ballet Ballads, including Susanna and the Elders, Willie the Weeper, and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett,opened at the Maxine Elliott Theatre, produced by the Experimental Theatre, which was only in its second season. It played for four days and then moved to the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, on May 16, where it played for several weeks. By the time it closed on July 10, Moross was back in Hollywood working with Friedhofer on Joan of Arc (1948).

By the time Joan of Arc was released, Moross was already embarking on his own career of composing original scores. Moross's first two original film scores, Close-Up (1948) and When I Grow Up (1951), were made in New York City for Eagle-Lion Films. Close-Up,a post-war film noir, was Moross's only attempt at scoring in that genre, and the music features a lush sound, more in the realm of the European romantics than the American modernists. Moross returned to Hollywood a little less than a year later to orchestrate Roseanna McCoy (1949) with a score by David Buttolph, and while he was there he took advantage of his contacts and acquaintances to organize a west coast production of Ballet Ballads. On October 5, 1950, Susanna and the Elders, Willie the Weeper, and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett opened at the Century Theater in Los Angeles. The show played for several weeks before closing toward the end of November.
With John Latouche
Davy Crockett
Like Close-Up, Moross’s second film score, When I Grow Up, was unremarkable, apart form Moross’s admission that it was composed as a harmonica concerto. Playing that instrument was George Fields (d. 2005), best known for performing Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). The harmonica in this film evokes the nostalgic quaintness of the late nineteenth century portrayed in the narrative flashback that transports the audience back in time. It was a more sensitive film than Close-Up and this inspired Moross to conceive music better suited to his personal style.

In 1952 Moross returned to Hollywood twice to compose for films, both for completely different projects and with completely different outcomes. The first trip was to score his third and more substantial film The Captive City (1952), a semi-documentary film based on the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, or the Kefauver Committee, which held hearings starting in 1950. Although it featured better acting (it starred John Forsythe) and a more developed plot than the previous films, it was a crime film, not Moross’s favorite genre. Moross felt that his style was better suited for films that were less serious. “There is nothing in this but melodramatic tension from beginning to end, and I am a dead duck with melodrama as you know from Close-Up.”xviii

Moross’s second trip to Hollywood that year was more gratifying as he was asked to orchestrate the Little Mermaid ballet in the film, Hans Christian Andersen (1952), based on his previous experience composing in that genre. Walter Scharf (1910-2003), the musical director for Hans Christian Andersen, contacted Moross after hearing Frankie and Johnny. Asked to use themes by Franz Liszt, Moross decided to have fun with it, “I decided to orchestrate things that people said never could be orchestrated, like ‘Gnomenreigen’ and ‘Au bord d’une source’ [from Annes de Pelerinage]. People have always said . . . that Liszt never orchestrated ‘Gnomenreigen’ because it couldn’t be orchestrated; well, there it is.”xix

Moross preferred working on special or distinctive film projects such as the Little Mermaid ballet. Another favorite was his contribution to Seven Wonders of the World (1956), a documentary to showcase the new Cinerama technology presented by Lowell Thomas (1892-1981). There were six sections to the film, three in each half. Moross composed the music for the Mediterranean segment in the first half and the Rome section in the second, sharing the compositional responsibilities with Sol Kaplan (1919-1990) and David Raksin (1912-2004). After these two engaging projects, Moross composed an ethnic sounding score to The Sharkfighters (1956), a little-known film starring Victor Mature and produced by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. that was set in Cuba. Most notable in the accompaniment is a theme for the shark[s] that anticipates John Williams's well-known score for Jaws (1975).

As Moross continued to work on his own dramatic works during this time, he discovered it was increasingly difficult to have them performed. The Last Judgement (1953), Moross’s final ballet for Ruth Page, offers a reassessment of original sin in ten dances. Although the work was ready to be presented, with the scenery designed and the costumes made, it was never performed. According to Moross, “The managers couldn’t accept the idea.”xx  Moross’s Gentlemen, Be Seated! (1955-1963) is a sketch of events during the Civil War set as a minstrel show, a conception that made it unlikely to be well-received at the onset of the Civil Rights Movement. It was performed only three times at the City Center Opera in 1963. Moross was also invited to work on Underworld (1961-1962), a musical spin-off of the 1927 silent film by the same name, but portraying the life of gangster Deanie (Dion) O’Bannion, a rival of Al Capone. Fraught with difficulties, the work was never produced, and the music was legally disconnected from the project in 1962. Moross’s songs, however, have joined the repertoire of lyrical gems that appear on the recent recording, Windflowers.xxi

Moross was able to establish his distinctive style, based on American idioms in his next three film scores, three Westerns that established his reputation in Hollywood as especially suited to that genre, The Proud Rebel (1958), The Big Country (1958), and The Jayhawkers (1959). While The Big Country garnered the most attention, all three of these film scores show the influence of Moross's dramatic style, which was developed in his stage works.

Moross’s score for The Big Country solidified his reputation as a Western film composer, and as the TV western became more popular, Moross was asked to transfer his talent to the smaller screen. Moross was hired to score a new theme for Wagon Train then in its third season and titled “Wagons Ho!” (1961). Although he subsequently composed music for ten episodes, Moross disliked writing for television and limited his involvement, comparing this kind of episodic composition with making sausages. He composed music for one episode each of Have Gun Will Travel (“Bearbait,” 1960) and Gunsmoke (“Stolen Horses,” 1961), and also contributed the theme music to Lancer (1968), a less successful television western often described as a Bonanza clone.

Moross's reputation for American sounding music attracted the attention of other producers. He was asked to lend his distinctive American style to such varied projects as an advertisement for Olympia Beer, which he titled Tumwater Rhapsody (1965) and Grizzly! a National Geographic Special (1967).
 
Moross continued to score feature films such as The Mountain Road (1960), which highlights the Chinese setting with a nod to Asian modalities throughout the music. Moross's most gratifying score was for The Cardinal (1963), when he was integrated into the production of the film from the early stages. Moross described himself as “the moving music department” as he traveled with the company as the film was shot. The War Lord (1965) starring Charleton Heston, required medieval-sounding music, including modal sonorities and intense contrapuntal writing. In his desire to evoke a medieval atmosphere, Moross included voices in the score, something he had never done before. Moross enjoyed working on Rachel, Rachel (1968), directed by Paul
Newman with Joanne Woodward, and called it a “beautiful” film, amazed that it was underappreciated. This film highlights his preference for films of a sensitive nature with characters that could be developed emotionally through his music. The presence of cowboys within the science fiction atmosphere of The Valley of Gwangi (1969) allowed Moross to revitalize his skill in evoking the western atmosphere. Hail Hero (1969), may have been Michael Douglas’s first film, but it was Moross’s last. With nothing good to say about this film, Moross was so dismayed by the Hollywood scene at this point that he quit scoring film and turned almost exclusively to instrumental composition. Moross could no longer tolerate working in Hollywood, where his later film scores were revised and tampered with to the point that even his forgiving attitude toward editors was strained. Scoring films had provided a livelihood and a certain amount of recognition, yet Moross did not want to make it his entire career and preferred to compose his own works amid the intellectual and cultural inspiration of New York City.

While most of Moross's creative interest was focused on dramatic composition (including theater, ballet, and film); in the mid-1960s Moross turned to orchestrations and adaptation of previous works, which inspired him to write new instrumental pieces. An arrangement of his favorite cues from the film scores resulted in the work, Music for the Flicks (1965), including music from The Cardinal, The Proud Rebel, Five Finger Exercise, The Sharkfighters, and The War Lord. In 1966 CBS commissioned Moross to orchestrate Ballet Ballads for a television broadcast that never occurred, including Riding Hood Revisited, which became Variations on a Waltz.
 
Poster for Proud Rebel
The four Sonatinas for Divers Instruments were composed between 1966 and 1970. They began with a work for clarinet choir, the Sonatina for Clarinet Sextet (1966), written to appeal to the many ensembles in high schools and colleges. In the liner notes for that recording Moross recalled that this piece “kindled a desire to compose more small combinations.”xxii Thus he followed it with the Sonatina for String Bass and Piano (1966), the Sonatina for Woodwind Quintet (1970), and finally the Sonatina for Brass Quintet (1968).
The Final Years: Classical Legacy

In a 1979 interview Moross remarked that he was at work on a second symphony, and a quantity of extant sketches attest to this. However, his last compositions are for chamber works. Moross’s last two works are scored for string quartets: Sonata for Piano Duet and String Quartet (1975) and Concerto for Flute with String Quartet (1978). Moross was excited about his final instrumental works, sensing that audiences would appreciate his new sound. As he described his music, “It uses classical grammar and makes modern music with it. . . . It writes music that an audience will like, will listen to; not because I want to just coddle the audience, but because that’s the way I feel.”xxiii Indeed, this was an approach that Moross adhered to throughout his entire career, music that utilizes traditional modes and infuses them with popular American idioms.
 
Moross returned to dramatic composition once more, composing a single one-act opera, Sorry, Wrong Number (1977), based on the radio play (1943) and later film (1948) by Lucille Fletcher, the former wife of Bernard Herrmann. Moross once commented that it had always been his intent to “change the theatre” to make it operatic, and he cited The Golden Apple as the premiere example. Acknowledging that his attempt may have been unsuccessful, and that “The theatre doesn’t want me. . . .” Moross decided to move into “pure opera.” With Sorry, Wrong Number Moross ventured into unfamiliar territory by setting prose to music for the first time. As he later noted, “[Fletcher’s] prose is beautifully done and it allowed me to even get ariettas throughout the thing. I trained myself for the first time to write to prose, and now I’m no longer afraid of trying to get a play and turning it into an opera.”xxiv First premiered in 1977, it was performed again in 1980 and 1982.
Working on the recording of Concerto for Flute and String Quartet
 
Jerome Moross in1977
Moross died of heart failure and a stroke on July 25, 1983.

While the soundtracks to his film scores, especially The Big Country, continue to sell, interest in Moross's dramatic and instrumental works is increasing. Notably, there have been recent performances of his ballets, including An American Pattern in 2000 by the Hot Springs Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble that has recorded several of Moross's works. The York Theater Company in New York revived The Golden Apple in 1990, and a new edition was published in 2003, incorporating Moross's revisions made in 1977. Since 1998, Frankie and Johnny has been performed four times. Scholarly appreciation of Moross is also growing with a new study of the score for The Big Country as well as analyses of his stage works.
 
About the Author
Mariana Whitmer
Author, scholar, and Executive Director of the Society for American Music

Mariana Whitmer is Executive Director of the Society for American Music and directs special projects at the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches a course on music and film. . She has contributed essays to Music in the Western (edited by K. Kalinak, Routledge, 2010) and Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a
Suburban Age (edited by Stanley Pelkey and Anthony Bushard, Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Dr. Whitmer recently completed a Film Score Guide on The Big Country (Scarecrow Press, 2012), and is currently working on a monograph about the classic Hollywood Western. In addition to continued work on a comprehensive biography on Jerome Moross, she is currently finishing a research article tentatively titled “Jerome Moross’s Ballet Ballads and the Creation of a ‘Free Dramatic Dynamism.’”

References

i Jerome Moross, interview by Craig Reardon, April 16, 1979. For a complete transcription of Moross’s recollection of this event, see A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann by Steven C. Smith (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991).
ii Interview by Craig Reardon.
iii Jerome Moross to Christopher Palmer, February 17, 1976, Jerome Moross Papers. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.
iiii Interview by Craig Reardon, op. cit.
v Vivian Perlis, Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).
vi Jerome Moross, interview by John Caps, August 31, 1979.
vii Aaron Copland, Copland on Music (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960), 161.
vii iMoross’s ballet, An American Pattern, would come directly after Copland’s Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
ix Moross’s grandson, Joshua, interviewed his great-uncle Charlie, who related the story of a time that the composer took him to Coney Island just to hear a carousel.
x Lawrence Morton, “Jerome Moross: Young Man Goes Native,” Modern Music 22, 2 (1945), 111-114.
xi Jerome Moross to Christopher Palmer, March 22, 1973. Private Collection of Susanna Moross Tarjan.
xii Jerome Moross, interview by Paul Snook for WRVR Radio, 1970.
xiii Jerome Moross to William Fitelson, August 13, 1944. Jerome Moross Papers.
xiv Carl Sandburg, The American Songbag (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1940), 75.
xv Interview by Craig Reardon, op cit.
xv iJerome Moross to Christopher Palmer, July 19, 1972. Jerome Moross Papers.
xvii Mark N. Grant, The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical (Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 109-110
xviii Jerome Moross to Hazel, Tuesday, January 23 [1952]. Jerome Moross Papers.
xix Interview by John Caps, op. cit.
xx Interview by Paul Snook, op cit.
xxi Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross. PS Classics [2001], CD (rec. April 2000)
xxii Jerome Moross, liner notes to “Sonatina for Brass Quintet,” Pro Musica of London; David Katz, director; John Wilbraham, Laurie Evans, trumpets; Nicholas Busch, horn; Roger Brenner, trombone; John Jenkins, tuba. Desto DC-6469 [1972], LP. Quoted in Charles Turner, “Jerome Moross: An Introduction and Annotated Worklist,” Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association 61, no. 3 (2005), 692.
xxiii Interview by John Caps, op. cit.
xxiv Ibid.

 
 
 
 

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