If you’re a fan of old Western movies you might remember classics like The High and Mighty, Red River, High Noon, or Last Train from Gun Hill. But I bet you didn’t know that the person who wrote the music for these iconic pictures was the Ukrainian born composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Tiomkin was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine to a Jewish family. His father was a notable Zionist leader and associate professor to Paul Ehrlich. His mother was a musician who inspired Tiomkin to learn piano at the St. Petersburg conservatory. His piano teacher was Felix Blumenfeld, the same person who taught Vladimir Horowitz. To top that off, he studied harmony and counterpoint with Alexander Glazunov, a mentor to both SergeiProkofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Evidently, in the early stages of his career he was surrounded by people of note however, following the Bolshevik revolution, it became apparent that the opportunities for classical musicians were diminishing. And so, Tiomkin moved to Berlin. For a while he was a performer, debuting with the Liszt Piano Concerto 2 with the Berlin Philharmonic. He also made extra income by playing for silent films.
Luckily, the development of cinema and the transition to recorded sound happened at the same time as Tiomkin moved to the States. However, from 1925 to 1933 he was unable to land any significant jobs. Only after his contribution to the film Alice in Wonderland did he begin to gain recognition for his work. He went on to be a composer for many western films.
Perhaps Tiomkin’s success can be attributed to his understanding of Ukraine’s history, and his ability to transfer that into his music. Evidently, he drew parallels between the Wild West and Ukrainian plains, Cossacks and Cowboys. Before his death in 1979 he received 22 Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars.