Collection inventory

Special Collections home page

Christopher Palmer Collection of Roy Webb Scores

An inventory of his collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: GK
Date: Dec 1996

Biographical History

by Patrick Russ

Christopher Palmer was born September 9, 1946 in Norfolk, England. As a young boy, Palmer gained an appreciation for film music while listening with his father to BBC broadcasts. He pursued keyboard studies in Saxlingham as church organist, as his father had done.

Following graduation from Cambridge University with a joint degree in linguistics and music, he initially embarked on a writing career which brought him in contact with many film music composers in Great Britain and America. He first visited Hollywood at the invitation of Miklos Rozsa, who had been impressed by Palmer's critique of his work. At Rozsa's suggestion, he tried his hand at orchestrating part of Rozsa's score for the film Last Embrace. Palmer's combination of intellect and brilliant musical instinct allowed him quick mastery of the craft. Shortly afterwards, Elmer Bernstein also used Palmer to orchestrate his score for Heavy Metal and thus began another lifelong collaboration.

In addition to Rozsa and Bernstein, Palmer maintained long working relationships with Bernard Herrmann (Taxi Driver, Obsession), Maurice Jarre (Passage to India, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), Stanley Myers (The Witches), Dimitri Tiomkin (Tchaikovsky), and many others in over one hundred films, establishing himself as arguably the finest symphonic orchestrator of his generation. He also served as musical director for Milos Forman's Valmont. These career partnerships benefited the current film world, for through his frequent use of musical assistants Palmer tutored the future orchestrators of several contemporary film composers.

Palmer brought to public attention film music from Hollywood's Golden Age through symphonic suites and dozens of film music recordings. His tireless efforts have introduced a new generation to memorable scores of Sir Malcolm Arnold, William Alwyn, Sir Arthur Bliss, George Gershwin, Bronislau Kaper, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Jerome Moross, Alfred Newman, Alex North, Conrad Salinger, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, Sir William Walton, Franz Waxman, and Roy Webb. Among his last recordings was Elmer Bernstein's original score to The Magnificent Seven, never before released on disc, which received Germany's 1994 Echo Award for Best Soundtrack.

Throughout his life, Palmer's masterful reconstructions of classical works by Debussy, Puccini, Vaughan Williams and Walton resulted in the resurrection of important symphonic works otherwise likely lost. Jose Carreras, James Galway and Julian Lloyd Webber join a long list of world-renowned performers who have recorded his arrangements.

A prolific writer, Palmer often produced a full biography or analysis of major compositions of each composer he researched. He leaves behind a substantial body of publications including The Composer in Hollywood, The Britten Companion, biographies of Bliss, Delius, George Dyson, Herbert Howells, Prokofiev, Ravel, Rozsa, Szymanowski, Tiomkin, and an English translation of Milhaud's autobiography Notes Without Music, which includes an additional chapter by Palmer. He also edited works of nonmusical literary figures such as poet James Farrar and novelist Arthur Machen.

Christopher Palmer was widely respected throughout the music community. A consummate musician, his multifaceted career incorporated symphonic orchestration, recording, writing, and lecturing for a 25 year period until his death on January 22, 1995 from an AIDS-related illness at age 48.

During the last days of his life, when a weakening Christopher could talk very little, and finally could respond only by locking eye contact, one of his daily visitors was Elmer Bernstein, who figured so prominently throughout Palmer's working life. "I was with Christopher at the beginning of his career," remarked a saddened Elmer. "It's only fitting that I be there at the end." As providence would have it, Elmer was not allowed to be there at the end, but instead had to fly to Berlin to conduct a recording of Christopher's orchestrations of Franz Waxman's scores for Sayonara and A Place in the Sun: A Scenario For Orchestra."

Temperamental but unfailingly loyal, possessing keen wit and remarkable insight, restless to pursue each path as far as it might lead, Christopher's loss will be strongly felt by his many friends and colleagues.

ROY WEBB (1888-1982)
(Based on the Roy Webb chapter in The Composer in Hollywood, c1990 Christopher Palmer)

Roy Webb composed music for and was associated with over 300 motion pictures, primarily for the RKO Radio Pictures studio in Hollywood, California.

Born in New York City in 1888, Webb as a young boy was introduced to the Metropolitan Opera by his mother, and to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas by his uncle. Webb also studied drawing and painting at the Art Students' League in New York for five years, and after high school he studied classical music at Columbia University. His true interest, though, was in lighter contemporary music and Webb and his brother Kenneth produced several Varsity shows, with Roy writing, arranging and conducting the music.

While still a student at Columbia, Webb was invited by conductor Herbert Stothart to work on the production of Wildflower. The show was Webb's first professional job and marked his Broadway debut. Soon after, Webb became an artistic director at the New York Players' Studio, and Victor Baravalle engaged him to conduct Stepping Stones, a musical by Fred Stone, which ran in New York and on tour for two and a half years.

Baravalle then became Musical Director at RKO (known then as Radio Pictures) and in 1929 invited Webb to Hollywood to orchestrate the score for the film Rio Rita. Webb stayed on and spent nearly his entire career at RKO as a musical director until the studio closed in 1955, and was sold to Desilu television. Among the many notable RKO films of various genres Webb composed music for are Bringing Up Baby, Crossfire, Enchanted Cottage, I Remember Mama, Kitty Foyle, Last Days of Pompeii, Mighty Joe Young, and Rachel and the Stranger.

Webb's forte, however, was writing for the film noir genre, a specialty at RKO studios, namely the gangster (Dick Tracy), thriller (Farewell My Lovely, Notorious, The Window), and horror (The Body Snatcher, Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man) films.

After RKO ceased production, Webb continued to write music scores on a freelance basis including Blood Alley and Sea Chase for Warner Bros. studios. His last major motion picture score was for the acclaimed 1955 Paddy Chayevsky screenplay Marty. Webb also wrote music for television programs such as Wagon Train and Shirley Temple Story Book.

In 1961 the house in which Webb and his wife Jean lived was destroyed by fire, and many original documents of his compositions were lost. However, copies of most of his film scores are preserved in the RKO Archives housed at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Webb died in 1982 in a Santa Monica hospital at the age of 94.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Spanning the years 1935 through 1955, the Christopher Palmer Collection of Roy Webb Scores documents the career of American film music composer Roy Webb (1888-1982) at the RKO Radio Pictures studios in Hollywood, California.

The collection encompasses original and reproduction motion picture music scores from more than forty films. In some cases, related materials including story synopses, production credits, cast lists, reviews and news clippings for some films are bound with their respective scores.

Arrangement of the Collection

Although listed alphabetically on the inventory, some scores and selections are bound together (e.g., Farewell My Lovely is bound with The Spiral Staircase and The Locket). Such scores are listed in alphabetical order and cross-referenced.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

A compact disc entitled The Curse of the Cat People: The Film Music of Roy Webb has been sent to cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog to locate this item.

The library holds the papers of several other motion picture music composers including Miklos Rozsa and Franz Waxman.

Subject Headings


Palmer, Christopher.
Webb, Roy, 1888-1982.


Composers -- United States.
Conductors (Music) -- United States.
German Americans.
Motion picture music -- Scores.
Music -- 20th century.
Musicians -- United States.
Orchestral music -- Scores.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Reviews (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Christopher Palmer Collection of Roy Webb Scores,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of John Waxman, June 1996

Table of Contents

Scores by Webb

Scores by Others