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Rare Books and Special Collections At Northern Illinois University: Frank Skinner Collection

A brief guide to Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University

Frank Skinner Collection

Frank Skinner 1897-1968

Biography (from Oxford Music Online):

Frank Skinner (b Meredosia, IL, 31 Dec 1897; d Los Angeles, 9 Oct 1968). American composer and arranger. A graduate of the Chicago Musical College, he found early employment in vaudeville and went on to perform and arrange for dance bands. This work brought him to New York, where from 1925 to 1935 he arranged about 2000 popular songs for Robbins Publishing. By the time he left Manhattan for Hollywood, he had written two books on arranging for dance bands. After a short period at MGM, working on musical settings for The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Skinner was hired by Universal Studios. Over the course of his 30 years there, he composed music for more than 200 films. Although he continued to work on musicals, he quickly mastered the art of dramatic scores, eventually earning five Academy Award nominations (1938–43). His distinctive approach to scoring horror films, such as Son of Frankenstein (1939) and The Wolf Man (1941), has been characterized as a ‘passion for chromatic lines … mirrored contours … [and] restrained, yet ominously Mythical orchestrations’ (Marcello). He gained new recognition in the 1950s for his lush romantic scores, including Magnificent Obsession (1954) and Written on the Wind (1956). Despite many changes in the film industry, his book Underscore (1950) has survived as an excellent introduction to film music composition."

This collection was donated to the NIU Libraries in 1989 by an individual who requested anonymity. The collection consists of five music scores from motion pictures; with one exception, they are all original pencil manuscripts in Skinner's hand. The exception is Magnificent Obsession, which is an ozalid copy of a studio copyists' manuscript. With the exception of My Man Godfrey and Written in the Wind, which are fragments, the scores are believed to be complete representations of all the music Skinner wrote for the respective films. Each of the scores was written for a conventional symphony orchestra. Following the usual procedure in the Hollywood film industry, Skinner notated his music in the form of a three-stave pencil sketch which gave all details of melody and harmony and most details of orchestration. This sketch was then turned over to a studio orchestrator who would prepare a full score based on this sketch. Copyists would then prepare individual orchestral parts from the orchestrator's score; a "conductor part" (usually a clean copy of the composer's original sketch) was also prepared. The identity of Skinner's orchestrators for these five scores is unknown; it is possible, though unlikely, that he orchestrated the scores himself.

The Scores

Skinner, Frank, d. 1968. Interlude : [production no.] 1833 : originals. [1957] 1 ms. condensed score ([147] leaves) ; 36 cm. Holograph in pencil of motion picture music for orchestra. Anonymous gift, 1989. Music Manuscript Collection. M1527.S556 I5 (Oversize) [A recording of this composition is available at the Music Library].

Skinner, Frank, d. 1968. Magnificent obsession : [production no.] 1749. [United States] : Skinner Music Co., c1954. 1 condensed score (76 p. in various pagings) ; 34 cm. Anonymous gift, 1989. Ozalid reproduction of copyist's manuscript. Music Manuscript Collection. M1527.S556 M3 (Oversize)

Skinner, Frank, d. 1968. The man of a thousand faces : [production no.] 1844 : originals. [1957] 1 ms. condensed score ([146] leaves) ; 36 cm. Holograph in pencil of motion picture music for orchestra. Anonymous gift, 1989. Music Manuscript Collection. M1527.S556 M36 (Oversize) [A recording of this composition is available at the Music Library.]

Skinner, Frank, d. 1968. My man Godfrey [Main title; End title]: prod[uction no.] 1850. [1957] 1 ms. condensed score ([9] leaves) ; 36 cm. Holograph in pencil of motion picture music for orchestra. Anonymous gift, 1989. Music Manuscript Collection. M1527.2.S556 M9 (Oversize)

Skinner, Frank, d. 1968. and Young, Victor, 1900-1956. Written on the wind:[Main title -- From bad to worse -- End title]: prod[uction no.] 1816. [1956] 1 ms. condensed score ([10] leaves) ; 36 cm. Holograph in pencil of motion picture music for orchestra. Anonymous gift, 1989. Music Manuscript Collection. M1527.2.S556 W7 (Oversize)

The Music Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign holds a collection of 81 Skinner film scores in their Special Collections. All are ozalid copies of conductor's scores; there are no manuscripts. They also hold Skinner's personal notebook, and several noncommercial studio recordings of Skinner's film music.

Subject Guide

Lynne Thomas
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