Skip to page content

Composed: 1955
Length: c. 24 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd + 3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn (= baritone oboe), 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone (= tenor), 2 bassoons (2nd = contrabassoon), 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, chimes, cymbals, piccolo xylophone, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, vibraphone, xylophone), harp, 2 pianos (2nd = celesta and Novachord), and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance (“Main Title” and “Knife Fight”): May 13, 2005, David Newman conducting

As a composer in New York, Leonard Rosenman supported himself by teaching piano lessons. One of his students was the young actor James Dean, who was quickly becoming (and may still be) one of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars. When Dean was cast in East of Eden, he introduced Rosenman to Elia Kazan, the film’s director, who hired Rosenman to write the score. The film was a blockbuster, and thus began Rosenman’s celebrity in film music; his second film, The Cobweb, is also credited as having been the first feature film to exhibit a 12-tone compositional technique in its score (Rosenman had studied with Schoenberg and Dallapiccola).

East of Eden, The Cobweb, and Rebel Without a Cause were all released in 1955. (Apparently this was a time before a movie’s production schedule could stretch over multiple years!) “McCarthyism” was a household word, and the concept of “watching thy neighbor” was all too familiar. During the search for “un-American” activities, communities were forced to look inwards, at the “typical American household” – as in, what happened inside the white picket fence, behind the perfectly manicured lawn. Seeking to tackle the seemingly age-old question, “what is going on with today’s youth?”, Rebel Without a Cause examines the tumultuous societal relationships of three teenagers whose lives meet and intertwine on one very fateful day.

The rich “Main Title” introduces the seven-note motive that forms the foundation of the theme which will return at key points in the film; actually, this suite includes most of the music that is heard on screen – at many points there is only dialogue, adding to the impact of the score. “The Planetarium” illustrates a scene in which Jim (Dean), Judy (Natalie Wood), and Plato (Sal Mineo) witness the “end of the world” in Griffith Park’s famous dome. The subsequent “Knife Fight” – initiated by Judy’s ne’er-do-well beau, Buzz – will undoubtedly remind listeners of Leonard Bernstein’s “Rumble” from West Side Story (the two composers were friends), which was written two years after Rebel (although both bear rhythmic resemblance to Bernstein’s 1954 score for On The Waterfront – a “chicken or egg” discussion, perhaps?). The motive reappears, slightly altered, in the suite’s “Love Theme,” accompanying a scene in which Jim and Judy share a tender moment. Dissonant brass and shocking percussion signal that, regrettably, no happy endings is to be had; the final two movements, “The Hunt” and “Plato’s Death/Finale,” follow the ill-fated trio as their fantasy “family” (mother, father, and son) is violently torn apart.

Percussionist Deanna Hudgins is Publications Coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.