Saturday, September 15, 2012

Charles Mills

Last night Michael and I watched Lionel Rogosin's 1956 film On the Bowery. Here's the trailer.

The music for the trailer is but a snippet from Charles Mills' score. The oboist Harold Gomberg is listed as the conductor, but since there are never more than three people playing (oboe, clarinet, and cello, a few measures of flute, and a bit of prepared piano), he must be listed that way for reasons that have to do with the conventions of film making. The vibrato-laden flute sound that comes in somewhere towards the end of the movie must come from John Wummer, the cellist and the clarinetist are both excellent. Perhaps someone reading this might recognize one or the other by his (or her--though not so likely in 1956) sound.

Anyway, this is the first I have heard of Charles Mills (1914-1982). The music for this film is not listed in his list of works on his American Composer's Alliance page, and the bit used in the trailer is only a little taste.

I like this photo, partly because of the alto and tenor recorders he has on his desk, and because it looks like he might be transcribing Renaissance music from part books.

It's not easy to find out much about this particular Charles Mills. He's not one of the people in the Charles Mills entry in Wikipedia. The composer there, Charles Henry Mills, directed the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and had a music library named for him. This is a different (and younger) Charles Mills. A search in Google Books points to a book written by Elinor Rogosin, who was married to the film maker. She mentions Mills (in only one paragraph) as an occasional dinner companion and the composer of the score for On the Bowery. My guess is that Mills must have been a friend of Harold Gomberg. There's a Mills Concertino for Oboe and Strings from 1957 (one year after On the Bowery came out) that Mills might have written for Gomberg. Who knows?

Does anybody know?

Here's what I have found out: Mills studied with Copland and Sessions, and taught at the Manhattan School of Music. Most of his chamber music (a lot of it from the 1950s) seems to have been published by the American Composers Alliance. Some is available from various libraries by way of the World Cat.

Here's a 12-minute film about Greenwich Village in the 1960s where you can hear more Mills music, and you can hear him play recorder (OK, it's not the most in-tune recorder playing, but the film is a great peek into the past).


Milliarium Zero said...

If you go to and go the "contact" page, you can email Michael Rogosin (Lionel's son) and he will fill you in on Charles Mills. Freddie Redd, the jazz pianist and composer of the score for THE CONNECTION was a good friend of Mills and he's around.

Gina Genova said...

Thank you Elaine Fine for this fascinating post. ACA is the publisher of this music, and many, many others by Mills. We will take a look in our archives (located at Special Collections in Performing Arts at the Univ of Maryland) to see if there is any remnant of the film score among the printing masters we have on hand.

Anonymous said...

I was a bartender @ the 55 in the 60s, Charlie was a customer. Thinks he was living at Mills Hotel forgot what he drank. Nice guy

Anonymous said...

Peter E Scott of Ridge Books

Mumusa said...

In case you are still interested in Mills, Internet Movie Database has a page on him:

And Rate Your Music lists a 1962 score that is available on CD since 1991:

pauldavidart said...

This Charles Mills had a two pieces of his music adapted for use as (excellent) jazz numbers in YUSEF LATEEF's "The Centaur and The Phoenix" album from 1960 (produced by Orrin Keepnews for Riverside Records). See the Wikipedia listing for the album to see which ones.

Anonymous said...

The pianist Robert Goldsand (a faculty colleague at the Manhattan School of Music) programmed Mills' first Sonatina in E Major several times, and also apparently assigned it to some students. I bought the score out of curiosity, it's a nice little piece with a beautiful slow movement. A talented composer!