Composers Datebook®

David Raksin goes "noir"

Composer's Datebook - 20220804


Today marks the birthday of American composer David Raksin, born in 1912 in Philadelphia. He studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg, was friends with Igor Stravinsky, and has written a wide range of concert music. Yet Raksin is best known for one haunting tune – the theme he wrote for a classic 1944 film noir entitled "Laura."

David Raksin said the true story behind this music sounds like something out of a Grade-B movie. The very weekend he faced a deadline and simply had to come up with a theme for "Laura," Raksin says he received a "Dear John" letter from his wife stating she was leaving him. Unwilling to believe she was serious (she was); he stuck the letter in his pocket and tried to lose himself in his work.

"By Sunday night," recalled Raksin, "I realized I had a very painful case of writer's block. From the time I was a boy, when the music wouldn't flow, I would prop a book or a poem on the piano and improvise. The idea was to divert my mind from conscious awareness of music-making… I took the letter out of my pocket, put it up on the piano and began to play… and then, without willing it – I was playing the first phrases of what you now know as the 'Laura' theme."

Music Played in Today's Program

David Raksin (1912-2004) –Theme from “Laura” (New Philharmonia; David Raksin, cond.) BMG/RCA 1490

On This Day


  • 1875 - Italian opera composer Italo Montemezzi, in Vigasio (near Verona);

  • 1901 - Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, in New Orleans; Uncertain of the exact day (or year), Armstrong and his manager came up with the idea of saying he was born on the 4th of July in the year 1900;

  • 1910 - American composer William Schuman, in New York; He won the first Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1943 for his Walt Whitman cantata, "A Free Song";

  • 1912 - American composer David Raksin, in Philadelphia, Pa.; He wrote more than 100 film scores, including the 1944 film noire classic "Laura";


  • 1930 - German opera composer and conductor Siegfried Wagner, age 61, in Bayreuth; He was the son of the 19th century German composer Richard Wagner, and little Siegfried's birth was celebrated musically in the elder Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll";


  • 1940 - Milhaud: "Le Cortège funèbre" (Funeral March), on a CBS Radio broadcast conducted by the composer;

  • 1972 - Wuorinen: Violin Concerto, for amplified violin and orchestra, at the Tanglewood Festival in Mass., by violinist Paul Zukofsky and the Boston Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting;

  • 1976 - Menotti: Symphony No. 1 ("The Halcyon"), at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1998 - Danielpour: Bassoon Quintet, by bassoonist Stephen Walt and the Muir String Quartet, in Williamstown, Mass.;

  • 2001 - John Tavener: "Song of the Cosmos," at a Proms Concert in London, by soprano Patricia Rozario, baritone Father Meliton, The Bach Choir and the BBC Philharmonic, Hill conducting;


  • 1705 - In Arnstadt, J.S. Bach and a bassoonist named Johann Heinrich Geyersbach cross paths late a night and an argument ensues; Geyerbach threatens Bach with a stick and Bach draws his sword; Both are hauled up before the city magistrate and reprimanded for their behavior (See also: August 9 and 14, 1703)

  • 1782 - Mozart marries Constanze Weber at St. Stephen's in Vienna, with the grudging consent of Mozart's father, Leopold.

  • 1967 - The scheduled local premiere at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires of Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera's opera "Bomarzo" is cancelled by the military government due to the opera's unacceptable level of sex and violence depicted on-stage; The work had received its world premiere performance on May 19th in Washington, DC.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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