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Before anyone heard of Star Trek, Star Wars, and the like, Bernard Herrmann crafted the grandaddy of all science fiction scores with this wild cheesefest for the 1951 classic flick The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Now, you might hear cheesefest and say "uh-oh," but this score is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable in the entire Herrmann oeuvre.  A genuine feeling of nostalgia is conjured up by this score, helped by the warm archival sound quality.  Many of the cues (somehow he manages to stuff 34 into the brief 36 minute running time) introduce Herrmann's approach to minimalism, through segments for theremin, brass, and organ repeated ad infinitum, which somewhat subtracts from the listenability but is interesting nonetheless (these minimalistic sections were the inspiration for Jerry Goldsmith's Vejur Star Trek sequences.)  I think that the instrumentation is probably the weirdest ever employed by Herrmann (and that's saying a lot), using an eclectic assortment of electric violin, electric bass, high and low electric theremin, 4 pianos, 4 harps, 30 brass, vibraphone, and pipe organ.  I don't think there's a single conventional cue in the album, and this started the electronic music revolution, which eventually led to the likes of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream (shudder...).  There are a few repeated motives, all derived from one of the wildest main themes I've ever heard.  This release is a 1993 Fox Classics issue of the entire 36 minute score, digitally remastered with glorious sound (at least for a 1951 recording - it's muffled and there's some tape hiss, but what do you expect when the elements are almost 50 years old?)  The liner notes talk more about the score as a whole than delving into individual cues, but there's an interesting production history, as well as a movie synopsis.  There is definitely something in this score for nearly everyone, especially the main title.  It will take a more dedicated listener to hear the ingenious composition present in some of the more minimalistic passages, however.  As the composer said about his repeated passages, "It isn't linoleum!"

Track by Track Analysis:
1. Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (:12)
Warning: Don't judge the CD by the sound quality of this opening fanfare or you're likely to be disappointed.  This recording is the one typically used in all early Fox movies, recorded in 1933.  Luckily, it's short so the horrid sound quality doesn't get to make much of an impression.

2. Prelude / Outer Space / Radar (3:45)
Probably the most original science fiction opening titles ever composed.  The "Prelude" is a drawn out yelling theremin scream with a building cymbal crash, which climaxes in "Outer Space," the main title of the film.  This wild composition has the foreboding main melody carried on a screaming high theremin, which almost gives the impression of a warped female soprano vocal.  In the background of this are building harp, organ, and piano runs, and the various statements of the theme are intercut with rising trumpet figures, still with the organ and harp in the background.  "Radar" introduces the minimalism that is inherent in this score, although this cue is definitely more exciting than the others.  It's composed for an ensemble of 2 pianos, one in a high register and one in a low register, and vibraphone.  The 2 octaves battle against each other, both playing varied permutations of the same basic melody line, with vibraphone mediations between each statement.  This is one of those cues that *everyone* should own, even if you just get it from a compilation.

3. Danger (:22)
This short interlude is made up of a long series of 4-note descending brass sections, accompanied by electric bass and vibraphone.

4. Klaatu (2:15)
Hints of a new theme come through here, what I call the Humanity motif, since it's usually played very nobly to characterize our naiveté.  It's based on the main theme's chord progressions, but the melody is somewhat different.  This cue continues Herrmann's minimalism through a high theremin note, followed by foreboding minor orchestral chords.

5. Gort / The Visor / The Telescope (2:23)
"Gort" introduces a new motif to characterize the menacing robot of the film.  His motif is very plodding and heavy on low brass and electric bass, with the melody carried on a haunting low theremin.  "The Visor" continues this motif, but adds a series of jarring cymbal and brass clashes which always come unexpectedly.  The theremin melody is back, but now played even lower than usual.  "The Telescope" gives a quieter continuance of Gort's motif, not as reliant on low brass, more on electric bass.

6. Escape (:52)
This short cue is based on an extension on the "danger" theme, but now joined by pipe organ and a wailing, almost out of tune theremin.  Later, a reprise of the main "Outer Space" motif comes, with the same orchestration as the beginning of the cue.

7. Solar Diamonds (1:04)
Another short cue (aren't they all?), this is a series of calming celestial vibraphone notes, which weren't heard in the film.  Groovy!

8. Arlington (1:08)
The theme that "Klaatu" hinted at becomes fully realized in this mock-noble motif to represent humanity.  Almost like a chorale, it is made up of first a trumpet solo, answered by more brass and electric bass.  Even here, Herrmann's minimalism comes to the forefront, since this pattern is repeated ad infinitum, always introducing new sections of the melody, however.

9. Lincoln Memorial (1:27)
Another statement of the Humanity motif, now with a few minor chords inserted at various intervals.

10. Nocturne / The Flashlight / The Robot / Space Control (5:58)
"Nocturne" continues the minimalism with a descending pipe organ (which badly needed to be tuned) motif, mirrored by pizzicato harp and vibraphone.  The second section adds a layer of chords to the organ part, as well as electric bass, brass, and chimes in the accompaniment.  "The Flashlight" continues this motif, but with theremin playing the organ part.  Next, in "The Robot" is a solo timpani motif echoed by brass.  The jarring cymbal and brass crashes make a short entrance during this cue, and you'll eventually notice that the melody is now outlining Gort's motif.  "Space Control" is a dreamy, ominous cue with a slower rendition of the star motif (the accompaniment from the opening titles) with a theremin melody.

11. The Elevator / Magnetic Pull / The Study / The Conference / The Jewelry Store (4:31)
I'd have to say that this suite contains some of the most jarring and inventive stereo effects I've ever heard, especially for a prehistoric recording like this.  "The Elevator" begins with high-pitched theremin whines, building percussion, and vibraphone, with the low brass outlining Gort's motif.  "Magnetic Pull" is home to most of the stereo effects, which consist of a minimalistic fugal theremin/organ section accompanied by building brass and cymbal crashes, which, just as they're about to fully crash, jump to the other stereo channel.  Then they'll start back from the other side and jump again.  The effect is quite jarring, especially when listening through headphones.  The organ/theremin passage continues uninterrupted for a few more seconds, and then "The Study" begins.  Here, a shadow of the "Radar" piano motif returns, under alternating brass passages and theremin.  Like much of the rest of the score, this pattern is repeated for a while.  "The Conference" continues this minimalistic tendency with dissonant organ chords punctuated by atonal brass passages.  "The Jewelry Store" brings back the theremin whines from "The Elevator," along with organ effects.

12. Panic (:42)
Definitely one of the highlights of the score, this brings back the main theme in a slightly different arrangement, still with wild theremin and brass, with solo pipe organ performing the star ostinato.  Later, the organ takes over, playing some giant fortissimo chords while the melody continues in theremin and brass.

13. The Glowing / Alone / Gort's Rage / Nikto / The Captive / Terror (5:11)
This is a short suite of six cues mostly based on Gort's themes.  "The Glowing" plays Gort's motif on theremin and timpani, interrupted a few times by huge fortissimo brass and cymbal crashes.  The timpani writing in this score was definitely the basis for most of John Williams' timpani work in the Star Wars trilogy, particularly the first one and some of the Jabba's palace music from ROTJ.  "Alone" continues this timpani motif along with a minimalistic melody for both soprano and bass theremin.  "Gort's Rage" relocates his theme to a full tutti, played on brass, timpani, and theremin.  "Nikto" brings back hints of the Radar piano motif, with the first 2 chromatic notes of the Outer Space theme played on theremin.  "The Captive" gives another horrific presentation of Gort's motif on its trademark theremin and timpani.  "Terror" continues hints of his motif, highlighted by a guttural muted trombone.  Later this motif is moved to high soprano theremin.

14. The Prison (1:42)
After a short recollection of a melody somewhat like Gort's motif, the huge brass/cymbal crashes return, but now they're longer and more drawn out.  Subtle hints of his motif on timpani and brass end the track.

15. Rebirth (1:38)
As the alien hero of the film is miraculously resurrected, he gets a melancholy theremin theme, which, surprisingly, uses the instruments in chords.  It's almost like a warped female choir!  True to its minimalist tendencies, this is repeated ad infinitum.

16. Departure (:52)
The accompaniment to the humanity theme is given the spotlight in this short cue, along with the usual theremin.

17. Farewell (:32)
A quiet reprisal of the Humanity theme on solo trumpet forms this track.

18. Finale (:30)
For this exciting climactic track, the main theme is back in full force, in the same arrangement as the main title, but louder.  A final giant tutti chord with everything from pipe organ to theremin ends the score.

Fans of Star Trek, sci-fi in general, and especially of Bernard Herrmann will no doubt love this score to death.  Others may want to listen to a suite on a compilation first, but there are many great tracks, and only a few go into monotonous minimalism (which isn't that bad to most people).  The tone of the minimalistic passages is pretty downbeat and depressing, and some of them sound like music for a horror film, especially with the jarring orchestral effects.  Even though the sound quality is weak, it's definitely not unlistenable, and I think everyone could find something worthwhile in this score.  For this review, I'm going to mark the sound quality N/A since it's really not fair to judge a 50 year old recording.


The Day the Earth Stood Still: The Final Score
Music Rating 9/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 8/10
Sound Quality N/A
Orchestral Performance 10/10
Length 10/10



The Day the Earth Stood Still is Copyright 1993 by Fox Classics/Arista.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All rights reserved.
The ScoreSheet - "Klaatu barada Nikto!"