October 2013
Behind the photograph: Tansman and Tiomkin

A recently unearthed letter to Dimitri Tiomkin from Alexandre Tansman set in motion a series of events that brought back in focus the photographs above.

Taken in New York by London-born photographer Florence Vandamm, the photographs exhibit many of the traits that Vandamm is now famous for, from the formal, serious, and traditional pose, to the strong light and deep shadows.

A few years back, Olivia Tiomkin Douglas took on a project to have translations made from letters, most written in Russian, that Dimitri Tiomkin received from family and friends throughout his life.

Patrick Russ, who assists the Tiomkin estate with symphonic orchestrations for concert suites, engaged a university student for the work. The cache of letters included one from Polish composer Alexandre Tansman, who was living in France when the letter was written in 1928.

At the time, Tiomkin was making a name as a concert pianist specializing in premiering new works, with an emphasis on bringing music by French composers, such as Milhaud, Poulenc, and Ravel, to American audiences.

To Tiomkin, Tansman was a modern-day Chopin: “Tansman often reproduces the Chopin moods in his own modern terms.”

Tiomkin performed the North American premiere of the composer’s Humoresque and Melodie at a Town Hall recital in March 1927.

At his Carnegie Hall recital in November 1927, in addition to the above two works, Tiomkin performed the world premiere of Tansman’s haunting Mazurka No. 4 and North American premiere of the Sonatine for Piano, a work in three movements: Modere, In Modo Polonico, and Toccata.

In late November 1927, Tiomkin programmed all four cited Tansman works for his “Musique Moderne” recital at Maison Gaveau in Paris, France. (Tansman’s music was new, but not modern in his opinion: “I was thrown into the avant-garde under the pretext that my music, harmonically and melodically, was thought to be modern—a term that I dislike.”)

Tiomkin returned to Paris in May 1928, to premiere George Gershwin’s Concerto in F, conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. Tansman, who held Gershwin in high regard, referred to the Concerto as a “ravishing piece.” A week before the concert, Dimitri Tiomkin and his wife Albertina Rasch hosted a reception in honor of Gershwin. Among the guests were Tansman, fellow composers Arthur Honegger and Maurice Ravel, actor Maurice Chevalier, and Gershwin’s brother Ira and sister Frances.

Upon the discovery of the Tansman letter, Patrick Russ wrote to the composer’s daughter, Mireille Tansman Zanuttini and included a copy of the photograph signed by both Tiomkin and Tansman that appears on this site (below, left). Inscribed (front): “To Dearest Mama from Alexander Tansman and your son”; (reverse): “Alexander Tansman is my great friend. Sending photo to my mother. He is a modern composer and a great friend.”

Dimitri Tiomkin with Alexander TansmanDimitri Tiomkin with Alexander Tansman, circa late 1920s

Ms. Zanuttini was surprised to see the photograph because she has a copy of the same photograph, along with the other taken the same day. It also confirmed for her the gentleman with her father was Tiomkin.

Florence Vandamm (1883-1966) was most active as a photographer in New York from 1925 to 1950. During those years Vandamm Studio, located on West 57th Street, provided photographic services for more than 2,000 stage productions. Vandamm specialized in publicity portraits of theatrical performers dressed in costume and has been hailed as “Broadway’s greatest theatrical photographer.” The Vandamm Studio photograph archive is housed at the New York Public Library.

A third pose from the same shoot accompanied a 1928 article in Musical America (as seen, below, in Dimitri Tiomkin’s scrapbook).  The photograph was taken in New York apparently during Tansman’s 1927 tour of the United States.

(Second in an occasional series featuring rare or unusual photographs.)

Behind the photograph: Dimitri Tiomkin with His Excellency the High Commissioner for Kenya, Mr. Ng-Ethe Njoroge and Mrs. Njoroge at the London premiere of Tchaikovsky


  • “Paris Loves Irony of Jazz,” Musical America, February 25, 1928.
  • “Tiomkin Comments on Modern Music,” Musical Courier, March 1, 1928.
  • “Alexandre Tansman: Diary of a 20th-Century Composer: Part II: Alexandre Tansman in His Own Words,” compiled, translated and introduced by Jill Timmons and Sylvain Frémaux, accessed October 26, 2013.
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