, ,

I Feel Lost Already


The Guns of Navarone, The Thing from Another World, Friendly Persuasion, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, High Noon–those classics and more than a hundred other Hollywood movies bear the stamp of composer Dimitri Tiomkin, a Russian émigré who developed a flair for writing American music. He was thirty-one years old before he first set foot in the United States. The year was 1925. Tiomkin was a concert pianist who had been lured to New York by an impresario promising great wealth. There was just one catch.

When he arrived in New York, Tiomkin and a fellow pianist named Raskov discovered that they were to be part of a vaudeville act that would include a ballet troupe dancing to a pastiche of Chopin and Liszt that struck Tiomkin as musical “butchery.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Then there was the matter of performance style. To the unpretentious pianist it was made clear that in vaudeville visual tricks were all-important. A rapid upward treble scale was to end with a flourish of the hand. Fortissimo chords were to be attacked by hands held high. He was to bend his head in concentration for certain expressive but easy passages and to throw back his head or slump down limp to express great emotion.

“You must lose yourself,” advised one person in the know, to which Tiomkin said to himself, “I feel lost already.”

On opening night at the Palace Theater, just north of Times Square, Tiomkin felt that he was playing well enough, but failing at the flashiness, while Raskov got so carried away with it that the pianos edged dangerously close to the orchestra pit.

The performance was a great hit, largely because of the flamboyant Raskov, Tiomkin figured. Their tour took them across the country to the Pacific coast, the money proved every bit as good as promised, and within a few years, the Americanization of Dimitri Tiomkin was complete when he took his talent to Hollywood and became a citizen of the United States.

Related Stories