Of Men and Music


1951

Film Details

Release Date
Apr 1951
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 13 Feb 1951
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.; World Artists Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States; New York City--Carnegie Hall, New York, United States; Pomona--Claremont College, California, United States

Synopsis

Noted music commentator Deems Taylor begins this documentary film by stating that many of the great musicians are also great human beings, and in order to allow the public to get to know them and to preserve an enduring record of their artistry, Twentieth Century-Fox, in cooperation with World Artists Productions, has produced an intimate portrait of several great artists.
       The film then shows famed pianist Artur Rubinstein as he is practicing and recording an album, and comments on his tireless devotion to his art. Mr. Johnstone, a fictional representative of a film company, meets Rubinstein and tells him about the company's intention to produce a series of films called "Personal Record," which would show musicians at work and at home. Rubinstein is reluctant to participate until Johnstone points out how beneficial it would have been if cameras existed in the time of Frédéric Chopin, so that his techniques and greatness could have been captured for all time. Rubinstein invites Johnstone to visit him at home that evening, and there plays several songs for him before showing him a triptych painting that depicts the various phases of his life. As Johnstone leaves, Rubinstein's wife enters his study with their two youngest children, and the pianist treats them to a rendition of "Pop Goes the Weasel."
       Taylor then praises the talents of well-known Metropolitan Opera singers Jan Peerce and Nadine Connor, and the film shows them returning to a concert hall to retrieve a score that Nadine left behind after a performance. When they enter the hall, they find an elderly night watchman listening to one of their records. The man is delighted to meet his idols and explains that he was once a singer, too. Touched by the man's devotion to opera, Jan and Nadine put on a concert just for him, and his imagination vividly supplies their lavish costumes and sets, and a full orchestra to play for them.
       Taylor then comments on the difficulty of mastering the violin and states that one of the great living masters of the instrument is Jascha Heifetz. Contending that it is not only Heifetz' technical skill that makes him a virtuoso, but his humanity, the film shows scenes of Heifetz with his wife and family during his everyday life in California. Heifetz then goes to his self-designed studio to prepare for a concert tour, and, ever alert to the possibility of mistakes, begins practicing with the simplest scales. The violinist also spends many hours pouring over his sheet music in order to prevent playing automatically or incorrectly, and spends long months practicing with his accompanist. During his concert, the audience is moved by his brilliance, and Taylor remembers the advice given to Heifetz by George Bernard Shaw, who stated that such perfection angered the gods and he should play a few wrong notes to appease them. Heifetz' perfect fingering is often too quick for the naked eye to study, so the cameras record him in slow motion, so that his techniques can be studied by future musicians.
       For the final sequence, Taylor discusses the orchestral conductor, whom the audience never hears, although he brings great music into their lives. As an example, Taylor mentions Dimitri Mitropoulos, one of the premier conductors of the world, who does not use a baton or a printed score. Mitropoulos greets the members of his orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Symphony, the oldest symphony in the United States, as they arrive at Carnegie Hall for a rehearsal. As they rehearse the third movement of Franz Lizst's A Faust Symphony , Mitropoulos urges them to communicate Mephistopholes' emotions more clearly, and when the piccolo sounds before the flute, Mitropoulos, who has the entire score memorized, gently instructs the players. The rehearsal fades to that evening's performance, and a grateful audience enjoys Mitropoulos' dedication to the music and his orchestra.

Film Details

Release Date
Apr 1951
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 13 Feb 1951
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.; World Artists Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Beverly Hills, California, United States; New York City--Carnegie Hall, New York, United States; Pomona--Claremont College, California, United States

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Actor Alvin Hammer's surname is misspelled "Hammet" in the onscreen credits. Although the film's onscreen credits carry a "copyright MCML by Twentieth Century-Fox" statement, the film is not included in the Copyright Catalog. As reported by numerous contemporary sources, the Artur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and January Peerce-Nadine Connor sequences were shot separately by World Artists, Inc. in September 1949, December 1949 and July 1950 with the intention of releasing them as shorts. According to a February 1951 New York Times article, producer Rudolph Polk, a former concert violinist, persuaded the performers to appear in the films by offering them "several inducements: complete control over script, editing of the film, and the selections they would play. And, finally, if they didn't like the completed film they could 'scratch a match and burn it.'"
       The performers were offered a percentage of the profits in lieu of salary, as were the writers, director Irving Reis and several of the technicians, such as Leon Becker. The article also notes that for the Rubinstein sequence, his New York apartment's living room was recreated on a sound stage at Hollywood's Nassour Studios, and the Peerce-Connor sequence was shot at General Service Studios, also in Los Angeles. The Heifitz sequence was filmed at his Beverly Hills, CA home and at a concert hall in Claremont College in Pomona, CA. Although the New York Times article lists Jules Dassin as one of the directors of Of Men and Music, his contribution to the completed picture, if any, has not been confirmed. Dassin left the United States in 1950 after being blacklisted over his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
       The sequence featuring Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Symphony Orchestra was filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox, and the World Artists sequences were purchased by Fox for compilation and release as a feature film. The February 1951 New York Times article reported that Fox agreed to distribute the project after four successful "trial showings were held last year" in the California towns of Pomoma, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield and Redlands. World Artists filmed several other "concert" shorts featuring artists such as Gregor Piatigorsky, Marian Anderson and Andres Segovia, and although Fox intended to release at least three other full-length concert films with these and other artists, the plan was never carried out.
       According to a February 14, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, Of Men and Music's New York premiere was a benefit for the Hospitalized Veterans Music Service. A November 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Heifetz filed suit against Polk and World Artists for not fulfilling his contract to perform in a series of future films. The disposition of the suit has not been determined. In 1977, the Peerce-Connor segment was compiled with the Anderson and Segovia shorts and released as a feature film entitled Peerce, Anderson & Segovia.