David Tamkin was a highly successful and prolific Hollywood film composer, arranger, and orchestrator who also had an abiding interest in opera. He was born in Chernigov, the Ukraine, but his family emigrated to Portland, Oregon, when he was less than a year old. He began violin lessons at an early age and was eventually in a class—taught by Henry Bettman (a Ysaÿe pupil)—with Louis Kaufman, the future distinguished concert and sound-track violinist who became Tamkin’s lifelong friend and was later instrumental in promoting and garnering support for The Dybbuk.
Tamkin studied composition with Francis Richter and then with a number of teachers in New York, after which he was a student at the University of Oregon. He also worked for a brief time with Ottorino Respighi, as well as with Ernest Bloch, before settling in Los Angeles. In 1949, Universal Pictures made most of its music staff redundant, and Tamkin was retained there as an arranger and an orchestrator. Between 1947 and 1960, he worked on nearly forty films, including Swell Guy with Ann Blyth, The Fighting O’Flynn with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., You Gotta Stay Happy with Eddie Albert, and Singapore with Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner; and he orchestrated most of the film scores of Dimitri Tiomkin. In 1968, he was the orchestrator for award-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith for the film 100 Rifles, also for Universal. In addition to The Dybbuk, Tamkin’s works of Jewish interest include a second opera, The Blue Plum Tree, based on the biblical story of Jacob and Esau; and an orchestral version of Joseph Achron’s Stempenyu Suite
By: Neil W. Levin