Clifford Vaughan

Biography by

When listeners think of the music for such different movies as The Bride of Frankenstein or Old Yeller, they probably don't recognize the common link between them: Clifford Vaughan. Vaughan was a serious…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

When listeners think of the music for such different movies as The Bride of Frankenstein or Old Yeller, they probably don't recognize the common link between them: Clifford Vaughan. Vaughan was a serious composer who worked in Hollywood as an arranger and composer from the 1930s through the end of the 1950s. Unlike Alfred Newmanand Max Steiner, who ended up devoting themselves to film work for the rest of their careers after arriving in the movie Mecca, Vaughan never forsook his real interest in writing for the concert hall -- in that regard, he was closer to Miklós Rózsa or Bernard Herrmann, although he never achieved their level of recognition.

Vaughan was born in New Jersey in 1893, before there were motion pictures; he was a musical prodigy, performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 12. He was composing in his teens, while studying at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, and in his twenties earned his living as a pianist and arranger, and as a church organist. He was an established composer of ballets by the end of the 1920s, and it was only the privations of the Great Depression that forced him to turn to movies as a source of income -- Max Steiner's music for King Kong at RKO had revolutionized films, showing studios how a full orchestral score could significantly enhance a talking picture (up to that point, producers had always worried that people would need to see the source for any music), and every production company was scrambling to get access to orchestras and find top composers, conductors, and orchestrators.

Vaughan quickly moved through RKO to Monogram, and then to Paramount before landing at Universal, where he carved out a special niche for himself in thrillers, including The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Raven, and, most notably, The Bride of Frankenstein, orchestrating Franz Waxman's renowned score for the latter movie. He also re-scored that music for its use in Universal's Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, and followed Waxman to other studios on subsequent projects, although he never signed a long-term contract with any studio himself, preferring to remain independent so that his serious composing wasn't neglected. He worked on many dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of movies, but seldom received credit. Vaughan continued to write music into the late 1950s, including scores for Disney's Mickey Mouse Club television series and the movie Old Yeller. His name was little known, though his concert music was played periodically on both coasts. Vaughan lived until age 94; he died in 1987. But by that time, there was at least one modern recording in print from RCA Victor of Waxman's Bride of Frankenstein music using Vaughan's arrangements.

In the two decades since his death, re-recordings of the full Bride of Frankenstein score, adhering to Vaughan's arrangements, have appeared. Labels such as Cambria and MMC Recordings have also begun issuing CDs of his concert and ballet works, and he has been credited in the annotation of the authorized DVD versions of the Flash Gordon serials, although no CD re-recordings of Vaughan's own film music had appeared as of the spring of 2004.