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The Birth Of Movie Music From A-Z
The early history of soundtracks in 26 letters

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R is for Rainbow, Over The
The movie soundtrack was still in its infancy when Judy Garland’s signature song kicked off a burst of Toto serenading in The Wizard Of Oz. It wasn’t until 1956, when MGM released the whole album, that the general public could lay their hands on the movie version of the ditty. The AFI’s Song of the Century, it joined Bing Crosby’s White Christmas in helping boost the morale of the troops in Europe in their fight against the Wicked Führer of the West. Hollywood’s most hummable tunes even had the power to help the war effort.

Max Steiner

S is for Steiner
Godson of Richard Strauss, Vienna-born Max 'Casablanca' Steiner's incredible range makes him possibly the greatest of all pre-war scorers. He did Broadway, RKO melodramas, silents, Technicolor hits – heck, he would have knocked out an episode of Glee, given the chance. He helped make King Kong great – "a symphony accompanied by a movie" is how a fellow musician put it – and applied his rule that "every character should have a theme" to a series of Warner Bros. hits. Surely his greatest achievement, though, is Gone With The Wind, at least in terms of its scale and producer David Selznick's repeated attempts to kill him with his terrifying deadlines. Twenty hour, Benzedrine-fuelled days were needed to get the three-hour score completed in time.

T is for Tiomkin

High Noon... Duel In The Sun... Red River. Some of America's most distinctive Western vistas came soundtracked by a Russian. Fittingly, Dimitri Tiomkin was, himself, a pioneer. He was a shameless self-promoter with a keen business sense that served him pretty darn well in the trenches of silver screen-era Hollywood where he scored five Capra movies, as well as a fistful of horse operas. His famous High Noon ditty, Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, was especially groundbreaking in spearhead the movie's promotion. "The picture was released after the record and packed theatres," he remembered. Simpson and Bruckheimer might have learnt a thing or two from that.

U is for Underscoring
- Arriving in Hollywood when the silent era was not far in the rear-view mirror, composers like Max Steiner and Erich Korngold had their work cut out persuading movie moguls that a piece of music could be played under dialogue without either, (a) puzzling the audience, or (b) melting the sound editor's brain. Where is the music supposed to be coming from, wondered skeptical suits. Surely viewers would scour the screen for a radio or gramophone producing the sound? In their worst case scenario, they might bellow "WHAT STRANGE MUSICAL DEITY IS PLAYING THIS??" at the proscenium. Gradually, those dogmatic attitudes evolved. "They began to add a little music here and there", recalled Steiner, "designed to support love scenes or silent sequences". Thanks to him and his peers, not to mention key advances in sound and editing, these baby steps slowly freed film scorers to underscore dialogue scenes to their hearts' content.

V is for Vienna
Childhood home of Max Steiner and Erich Korngold, the Austrian capital has a movie music pedigree like no other city. Apart from Los Angeles.

Gioachino Rossini W is for William Tell
Long, long before Han Zimmer's Dark Knight score inspired a generation of musical cues, Gioachino Rossini's William Tell was cinema's go-to music for action sequences. Had a horse-drawn carriage that needed flipping? Rossini was your man. For silent filmmakers, the gallopy-gallopy finale to his opera was like a giant nob marked 'DRAMA' cranked up to 11. Stanley Kubrick used it in a slightly different way in A Clockwork Orange.

X is for Xylophone

Cousin of the marimba.

Y is for Yuletide
At 50m copies shifted since 1942, Bing Crosby's White Christmas, theme to the musical Holiday Inn, remains the biggest selling single ever. Amazingly, Irving Berlin-penned festival fave didn't even spearhead Holiday Inn's musical offerings. 'Be Careful, It's My Heart' initially overshadowed it, but Crosby's charms shone through and helped earn Berlin an Oscar for Best Song. Since then, the chart-topping movie theme has been a key tool in the studio armoury. See also: Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head (Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid), My Heart Will Go On (Titanic) and (Everything I Do) I Do It For You (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves).

Z is for Zither
There's only one school that will teach you to play the zither, Carol Reed's Noir Academy of Dodgy Criminals and Bombed-out Cityscapes, and to get in you'll need a GSCE in blackmarketeering and a knockoff stash of penicillin. Anton Karas, a gifted musician from childhood, learned to play it under his own steam after finding one in the attic as a boy. Together, he, Reed and that humble zither forged a movie motif that established The Third Man's sense of place and helped elevate it to the status of classic. Oh, and it earned them 12 weeks at the top of the US Billboard chart too.

The Greatest Movie Soundtracks - Empire's Music Celebration

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Your Comments

1 RE: Where is John Williams?
Here's John Williams: More

Posted by Hood_Man on Saturday April 20, 2013, 15:16

2 RE: Where is John Williams?
This is The Early History of Soundtracks. Apparently you've missed the "early". It's The Birth of Movie Music. John Williams will be along in about a hundred years. You fool. More

Posted by Osric on Saturday April 20, 2013, 11:18

3 Where is John Williams?
Frankly shocked to see the notable absence of John Williams from this list. One of the most iconic film composers of all time, the man has scored what can easily be described as the most famous film soundtracks ever (E.T, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Schindler's List). His music is the soundtrack of mine, and millions of others', childhood. A massive contributor to the delicate, yet criminally undervalued, aspect of cinema that is the score. More

Posted by darragh793 on Saturday April 20, 2013, 03:39

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