Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2011 June 27 • Monday

The 171st Soundtrack of the Week is Bernard Herrmann's sci-fi masterpiece, The Day the Earth Stood Still.

This 1951 score still sounds more avantgarde to my ears than most avantgarde music I've heard. I'm no expert but much of it seems to anticipate the work of famous minimalist composers. If Herrmann had written "Radar" for the concert hall, given it some abstruse title and added enough repeat signs to make it a couple of hours long, he probably would have been the toast of the town.

This CD of the original recording, not to be confused with the stereo re-recording conducted by Joel McNeely (also worth having), begins with the most heard piece of film music ever, Alfred Newman's "Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare".

Then it's the triple threat of "Prelude/Outer Space/Radar", which immediately startles the ear with Herrmann's unique instrumentation. The orchestra included two theremins (one high, one low), electric violin, electric cello, electric bass, four pianos, four harps, three organs (two of them Hammonds), vibraphones, glockenspiels, and a large brass section. (Herrmann further enhanced the music by having some tracks played backwards and, as his biographer Steven C. Smith put it, "completing the otherworldly din with the process of oscillator testing, usually used to set studio sound levels".)

Another stand out is "Klaatu", a brilliantly ethereal "space music" cue. (Herrmann would expand on this years later in his "Outer Space Suit", music that he created for CBS Television. You can hear it in episodes of The Twilight Zone.)

Theremin and pounding brass dominate "Gort/The Visor/The Telescope", which starts out menacing, makes a roundabout way to ferocity then ends peacefully.

Theremin, organ and piano are played off each other excitingly in "Escape". This is followed by the sparse and beautiful "Solar Diamonds", a cue which sounds like its name. This piece was not actually used in the movie.

Herrmann had championed of the work of Charles Ives (read this for more on that) and conducted a lot of Ives's music. It's therefore not surprising that Herrmann was so able to create "American" music, such as his score for The Trouble with Harry or the "Arlington" and "Lincoln Memorial" cues here.

After those we are back in Herrmann's science-fiction musical world with "Nocturne/The Flashlight/The Robot/Space Control", the longest piece on the CD at a jut about six minutes. The timpani really shines here.

At about four and a half minutes, "The Elevator/Magnetic Pull/The Study/The Conference/The Jewelry Store" is the third longest cue, and another remarkable work, apparently using early stereo effects somehow.

The other stand-out here is the second longest selection, "The Glowing/Alone/Gort's Rage/Nikto/The Captive/Terror". You can count on Herrmann to deliver the goods anytime there's terror involved!

So by all means this is a must-have for admirers of Herrmann. You will also need the aforementioned McNeely re-recording and also the Bernard Herrmann Great Film Music CD, which has a Herrmann-conducted suite of music from The Day the Earth Stood Still, recorded in Phase 4 Stereo.