David Raksin


August 4, 1912 – August 9, 2004

The Society of Composers & Lyricists community grieves the loss of our friend and colleague, legendery composer, teacher, mentor, past CLGA President, past SCL Board Member, and SCL Advisory Board Member David Raksin, who died of heart failure at the age of 92 in Los Angeles. He is survived by two children and three grandchildren. Funeral services will be private. A public memorial service will be announced later.

From SCL President Dan Foliart:David was one of the true pioneers of film music and we were fortunate to have him with us for such a long time, sharing his wisdom and insight into our profession. The Evening With David Raksin, put together by Ray Colcord and the SCL in July 2001 will always be one of my personal highlights in this organization, and those of you who served on the board with him will remember the recollections David shared with us, as well as his score analysis of The Redeemer. Besides being one of the most renowned composers of all time, he proudly served as one of our esteemed Advisory Board members and was a former President of our parent group, the CLGA.

“Most people say that life is a matter of living in harmony and, of course, it isn’t. For me, it’s a matter of counterpoint. That’s the way I think.” David Raksin, 1991. From REFLECTIONS ON A CREATIVE LIFE: David Raksin in Conversation with James Di Pasquale, published in SCL’s THE SCORE, 1991.

David Raksin, the last remaining composer of the Golden Age of films, began his long and distinguished career when he came to Hollywood to work with Charlie Chaplin on the classic score of Modern Times. He had taught himself orchestration while still in high school and put himself through the University of Pennsylvania by playing in society orchestras and jazz bands. Upon graduation, he went to New York where he became a staff arranger for the CBS radio orchestra whose pianist, Oscar Levant, alerted George Gershwin to a broadcast of David’s remarkable arrangement of I’VE GOT RHYTHM. Gershwin recommended the young man to the Harms/Chappell arranging team, where he orchestrated Broadway musicals. In 1935, at the age of 23, he went to Hollywood to work with Chaplin. The following year he served as assistant to Leopold Stokowski, who premiered Raksin’s brief Montage with the Philadelphia Orchestra, probably the first film piece to be performed by a major orchestra.

Raksin had a widely diversified career in various fields. His film scores include LAURA, FOREVER AMBER, CARRIE, FORCE OF EVIT, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, and THE REDEEMER. His theme from the film LAURA became one of the most enduring standards in the Great American Songbook. There are more than 400 recorded versions of LAURA, including Raksin’s own recording of the suite from the film. He scored over 300 television shows and composed music for many stage works including musicals, ballets, and dramatic plays. At the request of the composer, Raksin made the original band instrumentation of Igor Stravinsky’s CIRCUS POLKA, choreographed by George Balanchine. Raksin was the first film composer to receive a Coolidge Commission from the Library of Congress. He conducted his composition, OEDIPUS MEMNEITAI, at the Library in 1986. Beginning in 1956, he taught Composition for Film for almost fifty years at both UCLA and USC, where he was an Adjunct Professor.

David’s concert works have been performed by the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, London Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, BBC Symphony, CBC Symphony, and the Boston Pops, among others. He was the first film composer invited to establish a collection of his manuscripts at the Library of Congress. He was also the subject of Oral Histories by Yale and Southern Methodist Universities, and was featured in numerous studies and reference works including the television documentary, THE HOLLYWOOD SOUND. Raksin was appointed to the National Film Preservation Board by the Music Librarian at the Library of Congress.

David Raksin’s importance to the community of composers and lyricists cannot be overstated. He was a founding member and eight–term President of the Composers and Lyricists Guild, the predecessor organization of the Society of Composers and Lyricists. He was the principal consultant to the SCL when it was founded in 1984; he also served on its Advisory Board for many years. He died in August, 2004 at the age of 92.

Here is a video clip of David Raksin describing the start of his career:

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This is a video tribute, which opens with a scoring session conducted by John Mauceri to picture. Recorded at the now retired Paramount Stage M, the orchestra is performing a cue from David Raksin’s “Laura”. If you are at all familiar with the score of the “original” 1944 soundtrack recording from the picture, you will now hear Laura’s theme and a portion of the underscore in its full stunning fidelity! Next there is a clip from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” followed by the classic and haunting beautiful theme from the “The Bad and the Beautiful.” (Produced and edited by Ron Grant, the SCL’s Media Chair.)

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