23 février 1902, Tarnów, Pologne
10 septembre 1973, Chesham Bois, Amersham
by Alexander Gleason
Zmigrod est né le 23 février 1902 à Tarnów (la Pologne), encore avant 1910 allées s'établir la famille à Berlin. Il a achevé une étude de piano au Stern'schen conservatoire chez Rudolf Maria Breithaupt. Ensuite il a commencé l'étude de la philosophie et de la science de musique, à partir 1926 de études avec des Arnold Schoenberg en 1928, il est devenu directeur musical des productions Max Reinhardt dramatiques et même apparu sous des Reinhardt une régie sur la scène.
Zmigrod a adopté le nom Allan Gray, et est devenu un collaborateur constant à différents Kabarettbühnen et a commencé à écrire la musique de film. en 1933, il emigre d'abord à Paris, où il a vécu des contrats à des Filmmusiken. en 1934 allées s'établir lui à Londres. Avec la déclaration de guerre il est arréte le 26 Juin 1940 comme » enemy alien « et interné à Liverpool puis sur l' Ile de Man, toutefois libéré après quatre mois. Après fin de la guerre, il est devenus des Songwriter pour une maison d'édition de musique, de plus il a composé des Bühnenmusiken à des travaux des William Shakespeare. Des plans pour une autobiographie n'ont pas été réalisés. Josef Zmigrod/Allan Gray est mort le .
Allan Gray's name may not be immediately recalled by all music enthusiasts, his last important works were, after all, composed in the mid 1950s, and his significant musical career spanned a period of under 20 years, but his contribution to popular music of our time should not be underestimated - if only for his superb collaborations with (now) cult film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and his 'discovery' of a bright young composer and arranger by the name of Bob Farnon!
Gray was born Josef Zmigrod on the 23rd of February 1902 in Tarnów, a small Austrian town near the Polish Border (which, during the war, was to become - and remain - part of Poland). His education included music and philosophy at the University of Heidelberg and during the early 1920s he studied piano under the famous european pianist and teacher Breithaupt, (a fellow pupil being one Claudio Arrau). Around this time he is also know to have studied composition under no less a tutor than Arnold schoenberg (his fellow studenrs here included Anton Webern and Kurt Weill) and by the last 1920s he had made it to the very heart of the Berlin arts scene, working for producer Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater company on the Kurfurstendamm, (where he would have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Eric Wolfgang Korngold and Friedruch Hollander - while down in the theatre's basement Hans May and Mischa Spoliansky would have been composing political and comedy material for the, now infamous, caberet shows).
Gray's activities rapidly expanded into a variety of fields; popular songs, a Children's operetta, radio revues, and not least music for the newly burgeoning German talkie industry.
In 1931 he was approached by the Allianz-Tonfilm company who were completing a film adaptation of Alfred Doblin's "Berlin-Alexanderplatz" and Gray's score must have merited some attention, because by the end of the year he was working for the prestigious UFA company on their production of "Emil and the Detectives", scripted by the young Billy Wilder. [With assistance from Emeric Pressburger]
Through the early 1930s Gray established himself as one of Germany's most important film composers, in severla instances he worked on pictures of such prestige that they were filmed in multi-lingual versions - a particular example is Karl Hartl's "F.P.1" a bizarre semi-science fiction epic about a future trans-Atlantic air service where planes land and refuel on a series of mid-ocean 'Floating Platforms'. The German version starred Hans Albers, the French version Charles Boyer, and the British, Conrad Veidt - all of whom were compelled to 'sing' a signally inappropriate ballad about lost love in a lighthouse! None of the three were singers by nature but in 1932 a song or two was still deemed to be an absolute necessity in a talking picture! Veidt's number seems to have been cut from the British release but was put out on an HMV 78, and subsequently reissued in 1980 by EMI after it had been unearthed and sniggered at by disc jockey Terry Wogan. Veidt's sinister delivery (in broken English) of Donovan Parson's awkward lyrics conceal a disconcertingly delicate waltz melody, and this strange concoction proved an unexpected hit almost fifty years after its creation. Gray was now working on projects with the major figures of the European film industry, including Robert Siodmack and Max Ophüls but, as with many German-based artists of the 1930s the political situation was rapidly becoming unacceptable, and after several composing assignments that involved visits to Britain, Gray settled here around 1936 and entered what can be regarded as his golden period, producing film scores of very high quality for many and varied subjects.
"The Challenge" [screenplay by Emeric Pressburger] for example, a mountaineering epic recently revived at the National Film Theatre, presents an epic score that compliments the spectacle of its remarkable Alpine cinematography superbly; while by contrast "Kate Plus Ten" a Jack Hulbert comedy catches the whimsy of its subject cleverly combined with a train motif that could have equalled Stauss's "Bahn Frei" had it ever been commercially recorded (which of course it never was).
In 1943, after a pause in activities, which we must assume was at the time when many European emigrees were classified as 'aliens', Gray was at last commisioned by film-maker Michael Powell to score a propaganda short "The Volunteer" starring Ralph Richardson - this would be the start of a six-film collaboration with "The Archers" film unit (Powell and Pressburger), which many modern film buffs now rate as some of the most extraordinaty and idiosyncratic examples of the art of cinema ["some of"?? <G> ] - Gray undoubtedly rose to meet their unpredictable requirements.
"Colonel Blimp" for example features 'Commando Patrol' a combination of chase and dance band theme, 'the Mill' melody, pseudo Prussian marches, comedy stings, love themes and in fact the whole gamut of the musical repertoire came into play in the movie's two hours and forty minutes (and happily his orchestrator and musical director was none other than Charles Williams which clearly didn't harm the proceedings).
The hauntingly beautiful quality of the score for "A Matter of Life and Death" with its etherial piano melody and intentionally sparse arrangements, again compliment the bizzare Powell/Pressburgerian view of Heaven and Earth (Heaven is black and white, only earth is in Technicolor!) - and if a TV documentary made some three or four years ago is to be believed "I Know Where I'm Going!" is regarded as one of the most beloved British films, by movie enthusiasts across the world (just ask Martin Scorsese).
The mystical nature of the story makes it a natural for innovative use of traditional melodies and 'other-worldly' effects. The recurring and unforgettable theme melody starting with a run of soaring string chords is Gray's alone but other sections of the score can be attributed to a variety of additional collaborators, not least conductor and arranger Walter Goehr; while the song from which the film takes its title is the work of Robert Farnon, arranging a most delicately intricate weave of voices from the ladies of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir - and the dance music early in the film is supplied by Phil Green and his orchestra. [At the restaurant where Joan met her father]
The Archers team moved on to composer Brian Easdale for their next scores (particularly the ballet for 'The Red Shoes') which must have been a bitter pill for Gray to take, [especially as he had written a score for the ballet but it was rejected] but his talents were again vindicated in the shape of John Huston's 1952 production of "The African Queen" starring Humphrey Bogart and Kathleen Hepburn, [and filmed by Jack Cardiff] a British production that looked (and clearly had to sound) like a Hollywood movie. John Hubtley points out the aptness of the 'little boat theme' and how Bogart later sings his own silly ditty which is ultimately taken up by the full orchestra and becomes the triumphant closing melody of the film.
During the immediate post-war period Gray had also been composing various popular songs (frequently with lyricist Tommie Conner), contributing material to a number of stage revues such as "Sauce Tartare". In a more serious vein he supplied incidental music for Peter Brook's triumphant 1946 production of Love's Labours Lost at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Stratford-on-Avon (revived 1947) and Robert Donat's Much ado about Nothing (also '46) at the Aldwych Theatre.
His last major musical project was for television when, in 1953 Douglas Fairbanks Jr. began a series of British-made filmed half hour dramas (which Fairbanks produced, narrated and starred in a selection of); they were designed primarily for the American market, with an eye to the forthcoming demands of British commercial television. In co-operation with Bretton Byrd, Gray scored 117 episode of "Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents" during a period of just under two years and having worked at such a furious pace, presumably sat back and watched the royalties pour in during the next decade or more as the series ran and ran world-wide.
We know little about the last years of Allan Gray's life, the obituary in the 'Times' tell us he was married and presumably must have lived in some comfort in Amersham, what we do know is that he left behind some great music for some 'classic' movies, and hopefully will someday get some of the recognition, that he so richly deserves.
Editor's note: I am indebted to Allan Gray's friend, Peggy Jones, who has kindly provided much documentary information that forms the basis of this tribute.