Composer. Nationality: Polish. Born: Warsaw, 5 February 1902; given name also spelled Bronislaw. Education: Attended Warsaw Conservatory. Career: Composer and pianist in Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, London, and Paris; 1930—scored first of several German films; 1933—left Germany with rise of Nazis, and went via France to the U.S.A.; 1935—worked in Hollywood, often with lyricist Gus Cahn; 1940—began long-term contract with MGM. Award: Academy Award for Lili, 1953. Died: 25 April 1983.
Films as Composer:
Der Korvettenkapitän (Walther-Fein) (co); Alraune (Oswald)
Die grosse Attraktion (Reichmann)
Melodie der Liebe (Jacoby); Es wird schon wieder besser (Gerron); Ein toller Einfall (Gerron); Hochzeitsreise zu Dritt (Schmidt)
Ein Lied für Dich (May); Heut' kommt's drauf an (Gerron); Madame wünscht keine Kinder (Steinhoff)
On a volé un homme (Ophüls) (co)
Escapade (Leonard) (co); The Perfect Gentleman (Whelan); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd); The Last of the Pagans (Thorpe); A Night at the Opera (Wood) (songs); San Francisco (Van Dyke) (song)
Three Smart Girls (Koster); A Day at the Races (Wood) (songs)
Everybody Sing (Marin)
Lilian Russell (Cummings) (songs); I Take This Woman (Van Dyke); The Mortal Storm (Borzage); The Captain Is a Lady (Sinclair); We Who Are Young (Bucquet); Dulcy (Simon); Comrade X (K. Vidor)
Go West (Buzzell); Blonde Inspiration (Berkeley); Rage in Heaven (Van Dyke); I'll Wait for You (Sinclair); Barnacle Bill (Thorpe); Whistling in the Dark (Simon); Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (Bucquet); When Ladies Meet (Leonard); The Chocolate Soldier (Del Ruth) (co); Johnny Eager (LeRoy); H.M. Pulham, Esquire (K. Vidor); A Woman's Face (Cukor); Two-Faced Woman (Cukor)
We Were Dancing (Leonard); Crossroads (Conway); Fingers at the Window (Lederer); The Affairs of Martha (Dassin); Somewhere I'll Find You (Ruggles); A Yank at Eton (Taurog); White Cargo (Thorpe)
Slightly Dangerous (Ruggles); Above Suspicion (Thorpe); Bataan (Garnett); The Cross of Lorraine (Garnett); The Heavenly Body (Hall); Keeper of the Flame (Cukor)
Marriage Is a Private Affair (Leonard); Mrs. Parkington (Garnett); Gaslight (Cukor)
Without Love (Bucquet); Bewitched (Oboler); Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (Rowland)
The Stranger (Welles); Three Wise Fools (K. Vidor); Courage of Lassie (Wilcox); The Secret Heart (Leonard)
Cynthia (The Rich Full Life) (Leonard); Green Dolphin Street (Saville); Song of Love (Brown)
B.F.'s Daughter (Leonard); Homecoming (LeRoy); The Secret Land (doc); High Wall (Bernhardt); Act of Violence (Zinnemann)
The Secret Garden (Wilcox); That Forsyte Woman (The Forsyte Saga) (Bennett); Malaya (Thorpe); Key to the City (Sidney); The Great Sinner (Siodmak)
The Skipper Surprised His Wife (Nugent); To Please a Lady (Brown); Grounds for Marriage (Leonard); Three Guys Named Mike (Walters); Mr. Imperium (Hartman); A Life of Her Own (Cukor)
Too Young to Kiss (Leonard); Shadow in the Sky (Wilcox); Invitation (Reinhardt); The Red Badge of Courage (Huston); It's Big Country (Weis and others)
The Wild North (Marton)
The Actress (Cukor); Lili (Walters); The Naked Spur (A.Mann); Ride, Vaquero! (Farrow); Saadia (Lewin); Her Twelve Men (Leonard)
The Prodigal (Thorpe); Forever, Darling (Hall); Quentin Durward (The Adventures of Quentin Durward) (Thorpe); The Glass Slipper (Walters)
The Swan (C. Vidor); The Power and the Prize (Koster); Somebody Up There Likes Me (Wise); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin)
Jet Pilot (Von Sternberg—produced 1950); Don't Go Near the Water (Walters)
Auntie Mame (Da Costa); The Scapegoat (Hamer); The Brothers Karamazov (Brooks)
Green Mansions (M. Ferrer); Home from the Hill (Minnelli)
The Angel Wore Red (Johnson); Butterfield 8 (Daniel Mann)
Ada (Daniel Mann); Two Loves (Walters)
Mutiny on the Bounty (Milestone)
Kisses for My President (Bernhardt)
Lord Jim (Brooks)
Tobruk (Hiller); The Way West (McLaglen)
Counterpoint (Nelson); A Flea in Her Ear (Charon)
By KAPER: articles—
Film Music Notebook (Calabasas, California), vol. 4, no. 2, 1978.
In Film Score, edited by Tony Thomas, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1979.
On KAPER: articles—
Thomas, Tony, in Music for the Movies, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.
Rivista del Cinematografo (Rome), May 1980.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 4 May 1983.
Films in Review (New York), June-July 1983.
Lacombe, Alain, in Hollywood, Paris, 1983.
New Zealand Film Music Bulletin (Invercargill), August 1983.
Films in Review (New York), January 1989.
* * *
MGM's contribution to the history of film music is a large one, and the composer who spent more time with that studio than any other was Bronislau Kaper. His 26-year tenure began with the hit title song for San Francisco in 1936 and ended with the writing of his most ambitious score, for Mutiny on the Bounty, in 1962. In between came the writing of music for all manner of films but with a particular talent for deftly comedic, romantic scoring, of which his Oscar-winning Lili, The Glass Slipper, The Swan, and Auntie Mame are conspicuous examples.
Born in Warsaw in 1902, Kaper discovered an affinity with the piano at the age of seven. It was found that he could play even without instruction. Formal musical education followed and Kaper graduated from the Chopin Music School, having studied theory and composition as well as the piano. He went to Berlin to further his education and took jobs as a cabaret pianist in order to support himself. It was a time of burgeoning theatrical activity in Berlin, and Kaper became more and more a part of it as he discovered his facility for making arrangements and writing songs. With the arrival of sound on film he moved into the arranging of scores for musicals and established a solid reputation. In 1933 Kaper moved to Paris to do similar work for French film musicals. In the summer of 1935 Louis B. Mayer vacationed in Europe and heard the song on the radio everywhere. He traced the composer and invited him to his hotel in Paris. Kaper was thereupon offered an MGM contract and arrived in Los Angeles in early 1936.
For the first four years he was limited to the duties of a song writer and arranger of musicals, but his insistence on being given the opportunity to write dramatic underscoring resulted in I Take This Woman in 1940. It was followed by more than a hundred scores during the remainder of his years in film composition. Despite the association with romantic film fare, Kaper, again through his own insistence, proved his ability with darkly serious material, such as Gaslight, The Red Badge of Courage, Them!, and Lord Jim. Among his biggest commercial successes, in addition to Lili, were the themes from Green Dolphin Street, Invitation, and the title music for the long-running television series The F.B.I.
A man noted for his wit and charm, Kaper was active in the musical life of Los Angeles as a member of the board of the Philharmonic Orchestra. Although he never performed in public, his ability as a pianist, with music that ranged from his own to the sonatas of Clementi, was appreciated by the guests in his home. When asked if he felt that after writing film music for more than 40 years, everything had been said and done, he replied, "No. If you're excited by something, you'll come up with new ideas. How many women have you known in your life? Then along comes another and you love her. It's the same with film. All you need are a few little things and off you go again. If I were bothered by the clichés of the past, I couldn't live. Not just music. Life is also full of clichés. Don't fall for them."