Richard Hageman - At movies

Richard Hageman: Biography
Richard Hageman: Caponsacchi
Richard Hageman: Caponsacchi Synopsis
Richard Hageman: At Movies

Richard Hageman at the movies

In retrospect, Richard Hageman’s (1881-1966) career as a composer and a conductor has been an adventurous discovery of both his own possibilities and his own limitations. As an opera conductor, his ambitions have been truly fulfilled at the Metropolitan opera House, where was a house conductor in varying positions from 1914 to 1932. From then to 1936, he was music director of the Chicago Civic Opera and the Ravinia Park Opera. He was also a guest director of orchestras like the Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles symphony orchestras. He conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra summer concerts for four years, and from 1938-1943 he conducted at the Hollywood Bowl summer concerts.

As a composer he rose to similar fame in the realm of song, most notably with the American classic ‘Do not go my love,’ which is still frequently performed today (his song recordings, along with the surviving Caponsacchi fragments, were released on DO201301). His opera Caponsacchi was a major success in Freiburg 1932, and thereupon also in Vienna and Münster. A 1935 broadcast of the work in America, instigated the Metropolitan Opera premiere of the work in February 1937, and to date Caponsacchi remains the only opera by a Dutch composer to ever have been given at the Met. However, when the opera failed to please the American critics, Hageman’s career took an entirely new, and unexpected turn when he became one of the most successful composers of the Hollywood Film industry.

From the Met to the Movies

That Richard Hageman turned to film music just after the failure of Caponsacchi at the Metropolitan Opera in February 1937 may well be more than just a coincidence. Any hopes that Hageman might have harbored regarding a possible new tenure at the Met as a conductor and composer were buried with the negative reviews that Caponsacchi garnered from the press. Regardless, it should be pointed out that Caponsacchi was by no means a failure with the New York audience. This discrepancy is perhaps not surprising, since an average operatic audience may well enjoy a harmless Broadway musical on the next evening, and other sorts of entertainment on another evening. Critics there against, usually demand progressive composing and ‘originality.’ The latter was perhaps not the strong point of Hageman, who’s Caponsacchi was reviled as the work of an eclectic epigone of sorts. Having started out as a child prodigy salon piano player, trained to please his audiences, he seems to have remained a crowd pleaser throughout, as far as can be judged from the few of his once very popular songs that survived time in terms of preserved recordings.

Hageman in Hollywood

Hageman’s contacts with Universal Pictures Hollywood seem to have established following the Caponsacchi production. His debut as a composer of film music came with the soundtrack of ‘If I were King’ (1938), a star studded costume drama with Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone, and Frances Dee, revolving around Vagabond poet François Villon*, who rises to high office in 1463 Paris. The soundtrack sort of reveals that the very thing that had disturbed the critics at the Met, was exactly what Hollywood was looking for: a composer who effortlessly could assimilate the commercial styles of film music, which aimed to stir emotions to the apex of suspense, romance, despair, campfire music and whatever else was required in terms of atmospheric setting. In Caponsacchi Hageman had already blended Puccini and Wagner with the American style that hovered somewhere between Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ and Ferde Grofé’s ‘Grand Canyon Suite’ of 1931. The ballads in Caponsacchi were composed in a classical idiom, but they still betrayed the song composer with an open eye to the sentiments that worked on Broadway. It was the combination of his considerable technical skills as a composer with his keen nose for catchy tunes that eventually made Richard Hageman reach the apex of his career as one of the most successful and influential film music composer of the 1940’s.

* We are fairly certain that it was ‘If I were King’ that inspired Hageman’s fellow Dutch composer – and his former student! – Sem Dresden to compose his 1958 opera ‘François Villon.’ Presumably in the late 1890’s, during Hageman’s stay in Amsterdam, Dresden studied piano and violin with Hageman. Moreover, Dresden visited the United States in 1947, for s series of lectures on Dutch composers, which also gave him ample opportunity to both see the great American movies of the day, and perhaps even to meet with Hageman, although at this point that is still speculative.

An Oscar for Hageman

It didn’t take Hageman much time to rise to genuine Hollywood fame. His big break-through came with John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach.’ When listening to the soundtrack of that iconic Western, it is tempting to dub Hageman the creator of the musical idiom of the western genre as such. Given that this was however the 82nd movie starring American legend John Wayne, that idiom was already well established by 1938. Having said that, it might be argued that the genre came to full maturity with director John Ford’s involvement in it, which called for an ever more realistic portrayal of the Wild West era. Ford’s eye for a credible environment played a crucial part in this coming of age of the genre, both in terms of locations as in terms of music. Not only are the Indian ‘powawows’ hauntingly credible, the music was based on real tunes and songs of the era. A team of four composers worked on the soundtrack, apparently ‘supervised’ by Hageman, who is most likely responsible for the large-scale orchestral tracks that accompany the introduction, the finale, and the numerous fighting scenes. Possibly, he also molded the various folk songs into a coherent idiom, although that sort of popular song seems a bit far of his musical nature. In any case, ‘Stagecoach’ was the film hit of 1938, and Hageman & co received an Oscar for the music.

King of the Wild West

From ‘Stagecoach’ onwards, Hageman remained John Ford’s favorite film music composer throughout, and they ‘rode’ together to a staggering list of iconic films in the Western genre, such as ‘The long voyage home’ (1940), The Fugitive (1947), Fort Apache (1948), 3 Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ (1949), and ‘Wagon Master’ (1950). Bar ‘Rio Grande’ (1950) and ‘The man who shot Liberty Valence’ (1960), those are Ford’s most famous movies to date, and together they sort of define the Western genre as such.

From Sherlock Holmes to Edgar Allen Poe and Bela Lugosi

Precisely the John Ford Westerns resurfaced in the video age, and currently of course in DVD format, which then typecast Hageman as a composer of mostly Westerns by Ford and with John Wayne as the lead actor. Although Hageman was certainly a defining composer of the Western film genre, one would not do him full justice by limiting his musical output to the Ford movies. The 51 movies that he contributed to by either composing the entire score or contributing to the score, show a great variety of genres. These range from the mentioned debut in the medieval French action drama ‘If I were king’ to the Jungle epic ‘Jungle Woman’ (1944), and from there all the way through a number of early Sherlock Holmes movies. For these Sherlock Holmes movies, Hageman does largely seem to have to have predefined the musical idiom, starting from the 1942 ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror,’ up to both 1946 titles ‘Terror by Night,’ and ‘Dressed to kill’ (the original of the 1980 Brian De Palma thriller).

That suspense was as much a Hageman specialty as Westerns is clear from further detectives and thrillers such as ‘Who done it’ (1942), ‘The Frozen Ghost’ (1945), Blonde Alibi (1946), and ‘Stolen identity’ (1953, his last credited movie contribution). With ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’ (1942), he was also one of the earliest composers working on a movie based on an Edgar Allen Poe novel. In terms of monster/horror movies I mention the Bela Lugosi classic ‘Night monster’ (1942). Last but not least, Hageman also composed the music for the epic on the first steam ships ‘Rulers of the Sea’ (1939), and the classic American Revolution drama ‘Mourning becomes Electra’ (1947).

Hageman the actor

As of 1941, Richard Hageman was also incidentally called upon as a character actor, playing minor roles such as Richard Hegeman in ‘The Hard Boiled-Canary’ (1941), Boughton in ‘Hi Diddle-Diddle’ (1943), Pendergast in the smash hit ‘Sensations of 1945’ (1944), Mr. Johnson in ‘The Bachelor’s Daughters’ (1946), and a handful of others that merit little attention other than providing those interested with the possibility to see him for a few seconds. Interest rises with those movies that employed him as a musician, such as John Ford’s ‘3 Godfathers’ (1948), where Hageman is the bar pianist.

Hageman and Mario Lanza

The apex of Richard Hageman’s acting career came rather late, with his role of the conductor Carlo Santi in the 1951 blockbuster, ‘The Great Caruso.’ Halfway between movie and musical, that biopic propelled Mario Lanza to global stardom as the tenor-actor that made one forget Caruso on the spot. There are two significant moments in the movie where Hageman appears in full view. The first moment arrives when he conducts ‘Caruso/Lanza’ in the Metropolitan Opera House in Caruso’s famous role of Pagliacci, singing the recitative and aria ‘Recitar… Vesti la giubba’. Hageman is seen saluting the public, then conducting the orchestra and Lanza throughout the recitative, after which the camera zooms in on Lanza. At the end, Hageman reappears to make a bow before the audience. The next moment is when ‘Caruso’ is recording the song ‘Because you are mine’ in a studio. Fascinating not only because of the setting with Hageman and Lanza, but also for the realistic staging of the way singers from Caruso’s day recorded into the horn of the antique recording equipment of the first decade of the 20th Century. To add to the realistic setting of those two scenes, it should be mentioned here that Hageman’s actual Metropolitan Opera debut as a conductor had been in the November 24, 1908 performance of Faust, with the real Caruso singing the title role.

For some reasons the collective memory remembers ‘The Great Caruso’ as Lanza’s ‘surprise’ debut. Nonetheless, the tenor made two movies prior to ‘The Great Caruso.’ His first appearance was as Johnny Donnetti in the 1949 movie ‘The Midnight Kiss,’ which had him singing then unaccredited performances of ‘Una furtiva lagrima,’ and ‘Celeste Aida.’ His second movie was ‘The Toast of Orleans,’ where he played fisherman Pepe Abellard Duvalle, whose voice is discovered by a female opera singer. She takes him to New Orleans, where they fall in love. Of interest here is the part of Maestro P. Trellini, the conductor, played by… Richard Hageman!

Those and all the titles mentioned above still don’t accumulate to half his output in terms of movies that he contributed to as a composer, which serves to make my point that it is inexplicable that this man, the only Dutch Oscar winner at that, is completely forgotten as a composer in his native country, The Netherlands. Surely, any other country would at least have had a street named after the man. Worst of all, the reason for the absence of Hageman’s name in even his native city Leeuwarden is not to be seen in some plot or some dismay for his achievements, but simply in the fact that his native country has no clue that there has ever been a Dutchman by the name of Richard Hageman, even though he is effectively the most successful Dutch film music composer of the 20th Century – if not the most successful Dutch composer at all. Perhaps this portrait and our non–profit MP3 downloads of his music in the public domain (in Europe) will help to change that.