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Monday, 10 February 2014 19:26

Symphony Preview: We'll always have 'Casablanca' + Video

Symphony Preview: We'll always have 'Casablanca'
Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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The battle of the anthems in "Casablanca"

This Saturday and Sunday (February 15 and 16) the symphony celebrates Valentine's Day weekend by showing one of the great romantic films of all time, "Casablanca," with the orchestra playing the score live. Since Valentine's Day is on the 14th, here are 14 factoids about the music of "Casablanca," cribbed from imdb.com and other sources.

1. Dooley Wilson (Sam) couldn't play the piano. He was a professional drummer who faked it. The real pianist was Elliot Carpenter, a veteran of the James Reese Europe band who was also a conductor, author, and songwriter. Carpenter was playing behind a curtain but positioned such that Dooley could watch, and copy, his hand movements. Interestingly, Wilson was the only cast member who ever visited the real Casablanca.

2. Sam's piano sold for more than $600,000 at a New York auction in December 2012. The small, portable upright had only 58 keys. “It’s a cafe piano,” said the auctioneer at Sotheby’s, David N. Redden. “It was designed to be wheeled from table to table. The pianist would move it to the next table. It’s rather like the violinist coming round to each table.”

3. Warner Bros. had intended to use the "Horst-Wessel-Lied", the anthem of the Nazi party, during the "battle of the anthems" sequence. The copyright was controlled by a German company, however, so Warners dropped that anthem for the 1840s song "Die Wacht Am Rhein" ("Watch on the Rhine") rather than violate the rights (which would have prompted the German copyright holder on the song to prohibit the movie from being shown in any country not at war with Germany).

4. Many of the extras in that scene had real tears in their eyes. A large number of them were actual refugees from Nazi persecution in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and were overcome by the emotions the scene brought out.

5. The winner in that battle, the French national anthem "La Marseillaise," reoccurs throughout the film. It stands as a symbol for all the values fascists in general and Nazis in particular hated: liberté, egalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, brotherhood). The film begins and ends with "La Marseillaise"—a reminder that the fight for those values would go on.

6. That great romantic ballad "As Time Goes By" was written by lifelong bachelor Herman Hupfeld. It debuted in 1931's Broadway show "Everybody's Welcome", sung by Frances Williams,

7. The composer of the "Casablanca" score, Max Steiner, didn't want "As Time Goes By" used as the identifying song for Rick and Ilsa. After shooting had completed, Steiner said he would rather compose an original song in order to qualify for royalties. However, Hal B. Wallis replied that since the filming had ended, Ingrid Bergman had cut her hair very short for "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943) and she therefore could not re-shoot already-completed scenes that had used "As Time Goes By". In a 1943 interview Steiner finally admitted that the song "must have had something to attract so much attention".

8. "As Time Goes By" was a personal favorite of playwright and high school teacher Murray Burnett, whose unsuccessful play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" was the basis for "Casablanca." Burnett visited Vienna in 1938, just after the Nazis had entered. Later, after visiting a café in south France where a black pianist had entertained a mixed crowd of Nazis, French and refugees, Burnett was inspired to write his play.

9. After the film's release, "As Time Goes By" stayed on radio's "Hit Parade" for 21 weeks. However, because of the coincidental musicians' union recording ban, the 1931 Rudy Vallee version (which includes the rarely-sung verse) became the smash hit.

10. Because "As Time Goes By" had been written years before the film was made, it was deemed not eligible for an Oscar, and was not nominated for Best Song of the Year. The song is, nevertheless, number 2 on the American Film Institute's (AFI) 100 Years... 100 Songs list.

11. The music heard over the film's opening credits was a retread. Steiner had originally written and used the theme for the 1934 John Ford film, "The Lost Patrol". Steiner slightly altered the tempo and instrumentation of this theme music for "Casablanca".

12. Although M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl are listed in the opening credits for "Songs", they are in fact represented by only one song ("Knock on Wood"). The other song they wrote for "Casablanca," "Dat's What Noah Done," was cut from the picture.

13. According to The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II By Aljean Harmetz, Corinna Mura, the female guitarist who sings "Tango Della Rose" at Rick's, was a popular singer who had her own radio program, performed three times for F.D.R., and appeared on Broadway and on the opera stage. "Trained by her parents to be a coloratura soprano from the time she learned to talk," writes Harmetz, "Mura ran away from opera as an adolescent. One of her partisans was Edwin Schallert, drama reviewer for the Los Angeles Time. Schallert gave Mura a grade of A+ and said she always performed brilliantly with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. Even though she was under contract to RKO for a while and she would come back to Warner Bros. in 1943 to sing the love song Steiner wrote for 'Passage to Marseille,' Mura's success on the stage never translated to movies."

14. American popular music is a constant presence in Rick's Café. "The carpet of background music," writes Harmetz, "includes 'Crazy Rhythm,' 'Baby Face,' 'I'm Just Wild About Harry,' 'Heaven Can Wait,' 'Love for Sale,' 'Avalon,' 'If I Could be with You One Hour Tonight,' 'You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,' and 'It had to Be You.' Often the songs underscore the dramatic content. When Ilsa enters the café for the first time, the band plays 'Speak to Me of Love'."

The essentials: The St. Louis Symphony presents "Casablanca," with the score performed live by the orchestra under Steven Jarvi, Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, February 15 and 16. Showings take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

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