HISTORY & SURVEY OF FILM MUSIC

Alex North

(1910 - 1991)

1951    A Streetcar Named Desire

1951    Death of a Salesman

1959    The Sound and the Fury

1960    Spartacus

1963    Cleopatra

1965    The Agony and the Ecstasy

1968    2001: A Space Odyssey (unused)

1985     Prizzi’s Honor

1987    Good Morning Vietnam

Alex North’s career ranged from music for the screen, concert hall, and popular song (Unchained Melody). Nominated for 15 Academy Awards, his long career spanned various film genres and styles. North is an example of a Hollywood composer in the age of versatility.


North studied composition at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and later at the Juilliard School in New York. His interest in new Russian music by composers such as Prokofiev led him to study at the Moscow Conservatory, where he was the first American student to study composition. He returned to the U.S. in 1936, working in New York as a pianist for Martha Graham’s Ballet Company. 


Among his first films was People of Cumberland (1937), a film by Elia Kazan. In 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he scored music for over 25 office of War documentaries. After the war he returned to New York and composed music for the concert stage and theater, including a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949). His association with Kazan led to his scoring of the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. 

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Set in sultry New Orleans, Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire found much success in New York’s Broadway circuit. In 1951, Elia Kazan created a Hollywood film version, and hired Alex North to score the film. This landmark film was among the first to fully integrate Jazz into the score. The use of Jazz was somewhat controversial, as it was considered too sultry and sexually suggestive for some film goers. Nonetheless, North’s score was very successful, and it led to a career of more than 50 film scores.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) 

The landmark film “2001 A Space Odyssey” was remarkable on many fronts, including its striking score featuring the avant-garde music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti. The soundtrack to this film ultimately became one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time.


Unknown to many is the fact that  another score exists - an original score composed by Alex North. North attempted to capture the essence of Stanley Kubrik’s chosen temp music, featuring classical composers Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, and Ligeti. However in the end, Kubrik’s love for the temporary music won out for it’s raw power and timeless quality. North composed a good Hollywood-style score for the film. Fortunately, Kubrik chose to make a different kind of film- one now considered among the greatest films ever made.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1956) - Opening credits with music by Alex North

John Williams discusses Alex North

-