Occurring unusually early this year, the Academy Awards will air this Sunday, February 9th. In honor of the ceremony, I’d like to share a little history of the evolution of the Academy’s music awards and highlight the Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning manuscript scores held in the Music Division’s collections.
Although the first Oscars were awarded in 1929, it was not until 1934 that the Academy offered an award category for music, with the creation of Best Scoring. At that time, winners and nominees alike included a mixture of original music composed for film and adaptations of pre-existing classical music. Controversy erupted the following year, in which a substantial number of voters supported Erich Wolfgang Korngold as a write-in candidate for his thrilling, swashbuckling score for Captain Blood. The wave of support nearly bested Max Steiner’s score for The Informer. Korngold’s holograph manuscript and sketches form a part of his collection, and the Music Division even screened the original film reels in 2019 as part of a month-long Korngold celebration.
Korngold would go on to win two Oscars, for Anthony Adverse in 1936 and The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. But his first win was not without its own controversy. In its infancy, the Oscar for Best Scoring was awarded to the film studio’s music director rather than the specific composer behind the music. Thus, Korngold’s 1936 win was actually awarded to Leo F. Forbstein, the head of the music department at Warner Bros. In the wake of the outrage that followed, the Academy modified the category to be awarded directly to a film’s composer.
Other Oscar-nominated composers whose film scores are represented in the Music Division’s special collections include:
- Leonard Bernstein, nominated for On the Waterfront (1954)
- Aaron Copland, nominated for Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), and The North Star (1943)
- David Raksin, nominated for Forever Amber (1947) and Separate Tables (1958)
- Richard Robbins, nominated for Howard’s End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993)
Copland did eventually win an Oscar for The Heiress in 1949. Beyond West Side Story (1961), Bernstein never again wrote another score specifically for film. Furthermore, while George and Ira Gershwin wrote many songs for film, they were only recognized – and never won – in the Best Original Song category.
Meanwhile, between 1954 and 1982, prolific composer Henry Mancini was nominated seven times, with two wins: first for Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1954, and again for Victor/Victoria in 1982. Mancini’s collection is currently being processed, and the finding aid should be available for research later this year! Mancini’s two awards likewise demonstrate the evolution of the Best Scoring category. His award for Breakfast at Tiffany’s was in the Best Musical Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, while his 1982 award was for Best Original Song Score and its Adaptation or Adaptation Score.
Indeed, the Best Scoring category has undergone a myriad of changes throughout the 20th century. The academy has spent over 90 years trying to parse out differences between scoring for musical films, dramatic films, comedies, and adaptations:
|Non-Musical Scores||Musical Scores|
|Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture (1942)||Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (1942-1962)|
|Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (1943-1962)||Best Scoring of Music—adaptation or treatment (1963-1968)|
|Best Music Score—substantially original (1963-1966)||Best Score of a Musical Picture—original or adaptation (1969-1970)|
|Best Original Music Score (1967-1968)||Best Original Song Score (1971)|
|Best Original Score—for a motion picture [not a musical] (1969-1970)||Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score (1972-1973)|
|Best Original Dramatic Score (1972-1975, 1996-1999)||Best Scoring: Original Song Score and Adaptation -or- Scoring: Adaptation (1974-1976)|
|Best Original Score (1971, 1976-1995, 2000-Present)||Best Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Adaptation Score (1977-1978)|
|Best Adaptation Score (1979)|
|Best Original Song Score and Its Adaptation -or- Adaptation Score (1980, 1983)|
|Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score (1984)|
|Best Original Song Score (1985)|
|Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (1996-1999)|
|Best Original Musical (2000)|
In fact, Marvin Hamlisch, whose papers are also in the Music Division, won both the Original Dramatic Score for The Way We Were and Original Song Score and Adaptation or Scoring for The Sting in 1973. He remains the only composer to have won two scoring Oscars in the same year.
Most recently, following Walt Disney’s prolific wins for Best Score during 1989 to 1994 for The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994) – with the first three films represented in the Music Division through lyricist Howard Ashman’s collection – the Academy once again split the Best Original Score category by genre, one for dramatic score, and one for musical/comedy.
It was during this brief time that the Academy awarded two women with an Oscar for scoring: Rachel Portman in 1996 for Emma, and Anne Dudley in 1997 for The Full Monty. Yet the change proved unpopular, and following the 1999 awards, the category has remained stable, with the relatively simple label, Best Original Score. Yet with this label the award overlooks the countless orchestrators, arrangers, and other contributors to a film score who frequently remain unknown or uncredited. But that’s a topic worthy of its own blog post.
Moreover, special collections are not the only way to find Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning film scores in the Music Division’s collections. Film studios and composers have routinely submitted their music to the Library for copyright registration. Searching the Library’s Online Catalog, you may find manuscript facsimiles for scores including John Williams’ nominated Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – he lost to himself, with his score for Star Wars – Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo (1958), James Horner’s Aliens (1986), and many, many more. If you’re unable to locate something in the catalog, you can always contact the Music Division through Ask-A-Librarian.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the Best Original Song category, which has its own convoluted evolution in the Academy.