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SUPERFEATS:

The Ultimate Guide to John Williams'


The cry for an expanded Superman album began about two days after the release of the generous 78-minute 2 LP set in 1978. After the rabid fans of Williams' score saw the movie, they realized that the editors had omitted enough material for another entire record.  Warner obviously cared little - this was already twice as long as their typical releases of the period like The Swarm, Poltergeist, and Twilight Zone: The Movie.  Thus, soundtrack collectors thirsted for 22 years for the remainder of the score.  In 1998, Varese Sarabande came to the rescue (no pun intended) with an 82-minute rerecording.  Although it finally released several of the wanted cues like the Helicopter Sequence, it maintained many of the cuts heard on the Warner LP, and the performance, while well intentioned, remained woefully slow and mistake-laden.  But to the eternal joy of Williams die-hards, the film score community has been blessed with a mostly complete release.  The saints at Rhino ventured back to the Warner Archives and rescued the 6-track film mix from oblivion, presenting the full versions of all the cues heard in the film, as well as a few alternates and source music.  The new material should greatly appeal to Williams fans - there are innumerable noteworthy sequences, especially those like The Big Rescue and Star Ship Escapes that showcase his Star Wars-esque action music.

The score, of course, remains one of Williams' magnum opuses, probably the most complex yet listener-friendly of his Star Wars period.  The most blatant of Superman's intricacies is its diversity - Williams actually composed three completely unique movements for the film, the first of which provides material for the Krypton scenes and becomes the most complex of the trilogy, utilizing dissonance, modernistic orchestration, and exhilarating sci-fi music.  The second movement is the shortest, using Coplandesque Americana to underscore the Smallville scenes.  Finally, Williams dedicates the bulk of the album to the third movement, home of the trademark comic book superhero music and love theme.  Each movement is nearly self-contained, usually relying on its own thematic material, only revisiting leitmotivs of the previous sections to maintain a sense of continuity.  Williams composed his usual smorgasbord of themes - 3 different melodies for Superman, the love theme, a fanfare for Krypton, a triplet chromatic figure to represent Kryptonite, a quirky march for the villains, a haunting ode for Smallville, and an oft-neglected theme for Clark Kent.  These effective aural calling cards manage to transcend their traditional filmic role of instant recognition and instead reveal subtle shades of the plot, character psychologies, and emotional depth.

As with other Rhino releases, this includes a huge 32-page booklet and lavish packaging.   Unfortunately, the liner notes are not quite as detailed and informative as those for the Star Wars Special Editions, but instead cater more to the film-going masses more interested in the scenes that the music underscores than the subtle nuances of composition.  Superman's inferior recording quality and preservation unfortunately presented a monumental challenge to the album producers, who managed to remaster the score with an absolute minimum of tape hiss and distortion so that, while the sound quality rarely reaches the pristine clarity of Star Wars and some of Williams' other period scores, it never delves into the realm of damaged tapes and unlistenable flaws that characterize most of the older session tapes.  Overall, no self-respecting film score aficionado should deny themselves the splendor of Rhino's sumptuous release and one of John Williams' crowning achievements.



Track by Track Analysis:

CD1:
1. Prelude and Main Title March (5:29)
For a large group of collectors, this will arguably be the highlight of the album.  Rhino's release presents the world premiere of the film version of Superman's Prologue and Main Title.  Although Williams originally sketched this out in its entirety, it was never recorded all the way through, forcing  the producers to recreate it editorially from several different sources.  The Prologue is a fascinating, impressionistic introduction to the score that presents the main fanfare in an innovative arrangement.  It begins with an F Major muted trumpet variation of the fanfare, which soon delves into modernism with minor-key woodwind triads and a dissonant harp run.  The triads continue, and the listener suddenly realizes that they actually outline the fanfare.  The piece continues to grow in intensity, leading into a wistful trumpet variation of the fanfare, later echoed by the clarinets and bassoons under a warm string cluster chord.  The triads return, now in a Wagnerian augmented form with frenzied harp chords.  All of this climaxes in a horn line, and Williams modulates into the key of C Major in 12/8 time.  Here he introduces the infamous march rhythm, on top of which he adds cluster chords:

[Figure One: March Ostinato]

This sound will define Part III of the score with a much more contemporary, comic-book sound than Star Wars.  Williams' tone clusters will come to dominate the score, but he never allows them to appear discordant unless the film calls for it.  Soon a rousing brass fanfare rings out, and the march finally climaxes in a brass version of the main theme.  Williams actually composed 3 themes to represent Superman: this ringing "super hero" theme:

[Figure Two: Super Theme]

 a quieter, cluster-chord theme:

[Figure Three: Cluster Chords!]

 and the major fifth interval fanfare that opens the concert arrangement:

[Figure Four: Fanfare]

  The first theme is full of major seventh chords and racing string runs.  However, it soon quiets into a version of the noble cluster theme, augmented by a subtle woodwind and string reference to the ostinato.  This gradually builds, adding virtuoso runs, until it finally erupts into the Fanfare with rapid accompaniment.  Then the key changes to F, and the love theme makes one of its only entrances in CD1.  Although it has fewer clusters, he modulates it several times, which, along with the upward tonal shape and rapid woodwinds, gives an atmosphere of flying.  After an innocent woodwind climax, it modulates once again, this time into B flat Major.  Theme 1 blazes back in its full glory with a new variation of the march rhythm - possibly one of the most rousing passages of the score.  Once again it modulates, now into G major with a return of the fifth-interval fanfare.  A stylized fanfare forms the postlude, along with a building crash.

2. The Planet Krypton (6:39)
This track was expanded by about 40 bars for Rhino's expanded edition, and is actually made up of three cues.  The first, titled "Krypton" by Williams, was written after the main title had been changed to its familiar form (The alternate opening can be heard in track 16 of disc 1).  "Krypton" introduces the main thematic material for the planet through an expansive, Straussian fanfare that continues to build into a huge major chord, much like the opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra:

[Figure Five: Origins (Krypton - Planet)]

  It should be noted that in the alternate, a short, 4-bar brass fanfare was originally written in the middle of the thematic introduction, which ties it to the main theme.  The introduction of the trial sequence features a clarinet solo of the Force theme from Star Wars (I think this would have to be some sort of in-joke on Williams' part.) as well as a quieter horn statement of the Krypton theme. This segues into one of the most surreal and atonal passages of the score, a 23-bar section scored exclusively for arp synthesizer, harp, the lowest register of the piano, bass drum, muffled drum, and a log.  After a few bars of impressionistic rumblings, a new, dissonant idea for strings enters.  This builds into a piercing E flat for trombones, which leads into the next section. (The remainder of the cue is previously unreleased.)  This is even more disconcerting - a mixed-meter section with sudden outbursts from piano, harp, chimes, and trombone.  In the final bars, an unnaturally low, lumbering horn theme enters on top of the FX.  The final cue, titled "The Dome Opens," introduces a dissonant combined brass fanfare over a bed of creeping, chromatic string tremolos.  After a few minutes of this, a huge, complex string/woodwind line enters - a lumbering, passionless monster of chromaticism at first, but soon introducing a modernistic technique - 9th interval chords.  The track ends with a major seventh brass fanfare, a mysterious woodwind scale, and a farewell to the dissonant chromaticism.  In the score, Williams originally composed a finale based on the idea that opened the cue.

BONUS: The Dome Opens (alternate) (2:12)
This isn't on the Rhino CD, but Williams wrote and recorded an alternate version of The Dome Opens, which is much more modernistic than its new counterpart (it features hardly any of its counterpart's themes.)  Its opening features ominous trills all over the low registers of the orchestra.  Later there are several impressive brass fanfares and a return to the trills.  As the Phantom Zone appears, a series of dissonant triplet figures enters, almost like the opening of Star Ship Escapes.  However, it also has a synthesized "white noise" cluster above it all.  After another atonal brass fanfare, the major 9th runs of the film version make a quick appearance along with the ascending flute scale.  The closing returns to the trills heard earlier.

3. Destruction of Krypton (7:52)
Despite its 8-minute running time, this was actually only one cue in the score, and probably the most atonal and modernistic section of Part I.  The opening minutes introduce a new meandering, impressionistic theme for extremely high bassoon that utilizes chromaticism to its fullest.  Under this is a jarring, sliding, atonal monster for low brass and chimes, as well as a gradually descending chorus of 6 sopranos.  This section intensifies, and after a final dissonant moan, the trumpets break out with a resounding, fortissimo fanfare that moves from A major to B flat major, underscoring a majestic outer space shot of the planet.  Although originally inserted as 2 fanfares back-to-back for the album, this expanded release breaks them up with a return to the chromatic theme for woodwinds.  The dissonant accompaniment shifts to the bassoons, sounding much like the desert music of Star Wars.  The next section introduces an ominous descending figure for celeste, woodwinds and a Fender Rhodes synth.  After a short interlude that introduces the Kryptonite theme, the second part of that earlier brass fanfare enters.  The next section presents a similar version of the Fender Rhodes theme, now on flute, and a new, noble yet bittersweet theme that doesn't appear anywhere else.  It continues to build and climaxes in a brassy cluster chord.  Next, the chorus returns and supports a mysterious flute version of the Kryptonite theme, augmented by ominous rushes in the cellos and basses:

[Figure Six: Kryptonite Theme]

Notice how the Kryptonite theme chromatically suggests the Krypton fanfare, yet mutates it into an ominous specter of the unknown.

This moment of tranquility is shattered, though, with a series of piercing dissonances throughout the orchestra.  After a seemingly endless B natural in the brass, 2 pages of racing, cacophonous action music appear.  Then, after an impressionistic, pleading ascent for triadic strings, the epic ending begins, which is arguably a highlight of the entire score.  It contains fortissimo brass triads and racing triplet violin arpeggios, as well as one of the most tragic fanfares ever heard in film music.  The only downside to this is that it was inserted over another ending, and the edit isn't very clean, creating a jarring increase in tempo and sound quality.  However, it remains a definitive highlight of the score.

4. Star Ship Escapes (2:21)
This cue serves as a dramatic postlude to the finale of "The Council's Decision," featuring Williams in his tragic, operatic mode much like the finale sections of TESB.  It opens with a tragic variation of the Superman fanfare, which soon builds into grandiose chromatic triplet chords in the brass, strings, and winds.  It has constant subtle hints of the march rhythm, but blended with Wagnerian chromatics and atonality.  The Superman fanfare also makes several other entrances in a new, grotesquely mutated form.  Williams uses many of the most harrowing woodwind runs of his career in this cue, as well as a return to the major ninths of "Kryptonopolis."  Later in the cue, he introduces an offshoot of the Superman theme for Clark Kent (I like to think of it as a theme for Superman's weaknesses), which will be featured more on CD2:

[Figure Seven: Clark Kent's Motif]

  In the final bars, he uses several nearly impossible woodwind 16th note runs accompanied by frenzied string triplets.  All of this climaxes in a lengthy timpani solo and low C cadence.

5. The Trip to Earth (2:28)
Titled "Baby's Trip to Earth" on the sketch score, this presents a virtuoso Williams scherzo based around a contemporary string melody suggestive of space and the unknown:

[Figure Eight: Flight to Earth]

It opens with a short woodwind section made of extremely difficult chromatic trills and runs.  The string theme is next introduced under these runs, as well as an evocative horn triad ostinato.  In the second section, a new pattern based on the previous material appears, along with a few impressionistic trumpet versions of the fanfare accompanied by harp glissandi and a subtle melody in the woodwinds above the runs.  A chromatic viola ostinato takes over, and an extremely high version of the cue's theme appears in the strings.  The music proceeds to get more fragmented and frenzied, almost like a tribute to Bernard Herrmann with its rapid string movements, the usual harp and woodwind runs, and a few startling brass outbursts.  A recapitulation of the theme forms another section with more evocative woodwind accompaniment and hints of the fanfare from muted trumpet.  A content postlude concludes this exciting track.

BONUS: To Earth (Trip to Earth Alternate) (1:16)
Another of Williams' alternates to be excluded from Rhino's release, this presents the composer's fascinating first thoughts on the flight sequence, which was evidently much shorter.  It opens with a huge D major chord in strings, which mutates into F, then back to D as the planet explodes.  Williams mutates these fanfares into various keys, much like Wagner's Magic Fire Music, accompanied by woodwind scales.  The "main theme" of this cue is one of the most interesting in the score, used in conjunction with the main fanfare at points.  It's usually played on woodwinds, and continually mutates between B flat major, G flat major, and F# minor.  He uses it almost like the trilled motif in the original, but I find this much more exciting.

6. Growing Up (2:34)
This begins Part II of the Superman score, underscoring various events in Smallville.  "Baby Makes an Entrance," the first cue here, begins with ominous bass, but soon introduces a quiet, wistful version of the Superman fanfare.  "Baby Lifts Lorry" is almost an exact duplicate of the previous cue.  The alternate (:29), features Clark Kent's motif, but evidently Williams thought the original fanfare underscored this more effectively.  "Racing The Train" comes next, which begins with ominous string glissandi, but soon turns into an upbeat scherzo based around a charging idea for French horn, later expanded upon in the strings, with various outbursts of the Superman fanfare.

BONUS: "Racing the Train" (Alternate) (1:22)
This alternate, again not on the Rhino release, is almost identical to the film version, but the first version of the horn idea features a more ominous chromatic triad harmony much like the desert music of Star Wars.  Williams apparently decided to go with the Americana sound throughout the cue.

BONUS: "Kansas High School" (Source Music) (:15)
This is a heavy '50s rock piece for a band.  Features tenor sax improvisation.

BONUS: "Kansas Kids" (Source Music) (:50)
Another '50s rock piece for the same ensemble as the previous cue.  Lots of guitar improvisation.  It also has the weirdest tempo marking I've ever seen in my life - "Heavy Bubble Gum ala the Dragon Lady"

7. Death of Jonathan Kent (3:27)
This poignant cue introduces the Coplandesque Smallville theme, one of Williams' simplest yet most moving.  It first appears in a simple flute arrangement, which segues into a bittersweet string section with alternating accompaniment.  For the actual death, the composer uses a stretch of ominous, high string chords, followed by a horn presentation of the theme.  Various orchestral Americana meanderings form the next minute, and the cue ends in one of the most heartwrenching moments of the score - a powerful brass cluster chord version of the Smallville theme accompanied by continually ascending strings and a powerful resolution.

[Figure Nine: Chordal version of Smallville theme.  French horns have the treble, while the rest of the brass section takes the cluster chord accompaniment.]

BONUS: Sunday Meeting (Source) (1:10)
This was a short, 16-bar organ piece that sounds almost like Williams writing a hymn.

BONUS: Late Night Country Music (Source) (:20)
Exactly what it sounds like.  It uses the same ensemble as the other rock source cues, with the tempo marking as "Nashville Shuffle."

8. Leaving Home (4:49)
Out of all the cues in the Williams action-adventure canon, this is arguably the most mature and poignant.  It opens with ominous female choir, dissonant harp runs, and a return of the Kryptonite flute theme.  The orchestra continues to surge, and climaxes in a dissonant resolution of the theme.  Soon, however, the Coplandesque strings return, playing a bittersweet elegy, followed by an innocent, masterful oboe presentation of the Smallville theme.  Williams then passes it to the strings, which add a cluster-laden postlude.  A solo clarinet appears with the melody a final time, before allowing thunderous strings to take it over, climaxing in a C# major chord.  Then the horns perform it a final time, marking a defining moment in the composer's career as it resolves into one of the most moving climaxes to ever grace a scoring stage.

9. The Fortress of Solitude (9:17)
This lengthy sequence actually belongs in Part I with the other dissonant orchestration rather than Part II.  Williams uses a conglomerate of his most sublime and multitextured writing here, as well as some of the most atonal material to escape from his pen.  It begins with ominous woodwind triads and celeste arpeggios, along with the return of the ethereal female choir.  A minor string chord then blends with several minor-key, depressed renditions of the original Krypton fanfare.  The composer originally wrote a part for arp synthesizer, but it was eventually discarded.  After a short climax, the Kryptonite theme appears briefly, before rushing into a rapid showpiece for trilled strings and gradually-ascending choir.  Soon, after more Kryptonite, an ominous low string idea and horn fanfare enters, which later hits the most dissonant material of the score - a slow string/woodwind glissando that becomes almost earsplitting.  Huge, almost Biblical-sounding major chords take over, and the Krypton fanfare finally resolves itself into a major key surrounded by content woodwind arpeggios.  A short idea for celeste enters briefly, followed by more of the fanfare, rudely interrupted by Krypton.  Shimmering synths, ethereal chorus, tremolo high strings, and several quiet versions of Krypton's fanfare coalesce into a vibrant soundscape, sometimes interrupted by dissonant brass outbursts.  "Father's Instruction," the second cue, includes a variation of the Krypton music played by arp synthesizer with various ethereal string tremolo chords.  A short section was omitted on the original recording, which is fully restored here.  The arp's part is quite interesting - it blends both of the Krypton themes into a whole at various intervals, making one of the most peaceful sections of the score.  "Father's Instruction Part II" continues this idea with a bucolic string melody (again based on the newly-transformed Krypton material) played against more of Williams' impossibly peaceful, ethereal accompaniment.  Part III of the full score actually begins with the finale of this cue, which resurrects the main fanfare in its march form for the first time since the main title, bringing it to a rousing finish.

BONUS: The Fortress of Solitude (Alternate) (3:29)
As you might have guessed, Williams wrote a shorter alternate of Fortress which didn't make the Rhino album.  This shares very little with its film-version counterpart, although it does utilize many of the Krypton themes.  Whereas the film version had ethereal strings, this uses warm brass fanfares.  It's a fascinating to hear the composer's original thoughts on this lengthy sequence.

10. Welcome to Metropolis (2:11)
By now, Part III of the score has begun in earnest.  The first musical Metropolis sequence occurs as Clark and Lois are mugged.  Williams' underscore begins with an abrupt string note and dissonant brass chord.  The tone becomes somewhat more comedic with oboe and clarinet meanderings, as well as a loud section with a large orchestral tone cluster.  The cue ends as the love theme makes its first appearance amidst a section for pizzicato strings and part of the main fanfare.

BONUS: The Mugger (Welcome to Metropolis Alternate) (1:15)
This unreleased alternate is quite close to its film version counterpart in sound and orchestration, but almost a minute shorter.  It is somewhat more dissonant and fragmented in parts.

11. Lex Luthor's Lair (4:48)
This lengthy cue could almost be called a 5-minute concert arrangement of the Villains' theme, usually played on pizzicato strings.  It features a fragmented melody for sordini trombones much like parts of the Jabba's palace music from Return of the Jedi.  A section in the middle is quite impressive - it sets the theme as an action cue with cluster chords all over the orchestra (marked "with weight" in the score).  More comedic strains of the theme round out most of the rest of the cue, with a trademark Williams cue ending.

12. The Big Rescue (5:55)
Arguably the greatest action material of Part III (and the score in general), "The Helicopter Sequence" opens with a vicious motif for piercing woodwinds and horns that will eventually become the foundation of most of the track's material.  Upon further inspection, this melodic idea shares an unnatural similarity with the main motif from "Star Ship Escapes."  Could Williams' have been attempting to draw a correlation between these two sequences?

[Figure Ten: Motif from "Star Ship Escapes"]

[Figure Eleven: Motif from "The Big Rescue"]

Following the introduction of this scathing figure and the rapid horn riff, Williams introduces a series of modernistic trombone and horn sequences that contain some of the most dissonant material of the cue.  This continues to develop, climaxing in a racing 3/4 ostinato for horns and strings that again builds into a series of desperate variations on the track's main material.  Williams continues this technique, intercutting the scathing trumpet figure with the dance-like ostinato that seems to set the stage for his later action music in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark.  A new section appears for mid-range strings performing a tense, chromatic triplet theme that again reaches an ugly shriek of the triplet action theme.  This becomes the cue's climax, since the Superman ostinato and fanfare soon make a triumphant entrance.  Most of the cue's second section melds the anxious, piercing action music with grandiose fanfares based on Superman's main fanfare and unimaginably extravagant statements of the love theme.  Williams' finale contains a haunting set of variations on the love theme for woodwinds, leading to a final reminiscence of the thematic material.  The album producers should be applauded for this accomplishment - apparently the sequence had to be reconstructed from at least 50 different recording snippets.

13. Super Crime Fighter (3:20)
Composed of two cues, "Super Crime Fighter" presents a variety of the most diverse and exciting music of the score.  "The Burglar Sequence" remains rather comedic and lackadaisical for the majority of its running time, characterized by a meandering figure for low clarinets and bassoons, as well as mischievous passages for pizzicato cluster chords in the strings.  The cue's climax returns to reminiscences of "The Big Rescue" with desperate rising minor chords in the strings and hints of the fanfare.  A playful version of the super hero theme for woodwinds and low strings rounds out the track, which segues directly into "Chasing Crooks."  This serves as the antithesis to "The Burglar Sequence," becoming an unimaginably powerful action cue with an energetic reprise of the 3/4 ostinato from "The Big Rescue," now in 4/4.  Whereas this remained the main attraction during its appearance in the earlier track, it now serves only as a foundation for even more exciting action music, usually based on the traditional dissonant brass chords.  At one point, the strings introduce a fortissimo series of syncopated minor chords over the ostinato, giving this cue strong remembrances of the more intense material from Star Wars.  Again, the Superman fanfare serves as a victory symbol, and the track fades into a deep C in the low basses.

14. Super Rescues (2:14)
Two more cues comprise "Super Rescues," which serves as a conglomerate of the more light-hearted material from Williams' urban rescue section of the score.  "The Cat Rescue" presents a playful version of Superman's cluster chord theme in one of its first appearances since the main titles, accompanied by light flourishes in the strings and harp.  The second part contains a series of idle descending string cluster chords, a lively pizzicato arpeggio, and a slow clarinet run.  "Air Force One" quickens the tempo slightly with a diabolical chromatically descending figure for low brass and various desperate permutations on the main themes.  Finally, after the fanfare rings out strongly in a brass cluster chord, the ostinato enters, and the rest of the cue hovers around playful variations on the fanfare in woodwinds.

15. Lex Luthor's Luau (2:48)
Thankfully the only piece of source music to be included on the album, this is a fluffy easy listening piece for cheesy Hawaiian guitar, meandering electronic bass guitar, ukulele, vibraphone, and jazzy piano chords.  It contains at least one redeeming factor, though - it's quite easy to program out of the track sequence!

16. The Planet Krypton (alternate) (4:24)
We now venture back to Part I of the score with this fascinating alternate of The Planet Krypton, the only alternate underscore take to be included on Rhino's release.  It contains only one true difference from the film version - its opening, which maintains an awkward segue from the G Major of the opening titles to a D major version of the Krypton fanfare rather than the G Major that was finally used.  The orchestration of this fanfare is verbatim to the film version, although several nuances of performance differ.  The rest of the cue, the version used on the original soundtrack album, presents a fascinating study in contrasts between film and OST versions.  Besides the cuts of material, the primary difference is the mixing - the low piano and synthesizer rumblings have much more weight and bearing than the film version presented in track 2. 

17. Main Title March (alternate) (4:38)
Warner released this as the End Credits on its first album, although it is actually an early version of the Main Titles, recorded by Williams when Richard Donner and Co. apparently decided temporarily to scrap the opening prologue.  Consequently, it begins with a straightforward presentation of Superman's march ostinato and hints of the fanfares before thundering into the second part of the traditional concert arrangement, albeit with several different orchestrations and instrumental balances.  The finale omits the redundant crash ending that the main titles featured, leaving the piece with an abrupt, dangling quality that serves as a cliffhanger into the second disc...

CD2:

1. Superman March (alternate) (3:48)
Perhaps the most intriguing of the march alternates, this was the very first recording of Williams' main title, which Varese Sarabande interestingly chose to use as their guide for reorchestrating the main title for their 1999 recording of the score.  Evidently, the prologue was originally much shorter, and Williams uses a fascinating variation on the thematic material that would later define the film-version prologue, as well as the wistful, heroic version of the fanfare that opened the concert arrangement.  This version has several other quirks as well - it is much shorter, leaving out one rendition of the cluster chord theme and half of the love theme.  Its orchestration is completely unique as well, with such quirks as a trombone presentation of the love theme, a quieter section leading into the finale, and a series of convoluted fanfares for the ending.

2. The March of the Villains (3:36)
Williams presents a lengthy concert arrangement of his playful theme for Otis and Lex Luthor.  Even though this remains the weakest theme of the score with its forgettable bassoon line reminiscent of Prokofiev, the concert arrangement presents a cavalcade of creative variations that almost serve to substantiate the theme, transcribed below:

[Figure Twelve: March of the Villains]

Williams remains in his modernistic mode here, with a shifting tonal center that only vaguely hovers around Db Major, much like the lighter music of Prokofiev.

The basis for the suite lies in an alternating figure for string cluster chords over which Williams places continually developing variations of the main motif.  It begins with a typical arrangement for bassoons, moves to oboe and tuba, and undergoes a lengthy development with virtuoso string and woodwind lines, always over the cluster ostinato.  Williams continues to expand the orchestration of the theme, finally doubling the ostinato, and presenting a full arrangement of the theme for brass with an array of virtuoso woodwind lines and string flourishes.  A series of quieter resolutions rounds out the remainder of the track, and the piece ends with a pianissimo run for oboes, clarinets, and piccolos, followed by a final B-flat pizzicato cadence.

BONUS: Lois's Pad (source music)
Williams originally wrote another source cue for Lois' radio, and it features a simple, inane easy listening melody with cheesy accompaniment.

3. The Terrace (1:36)
Although this piece has no real bearing on the final outcome of the score, it contains several of Williams' finest permutations of the love theme.  Clark Kent's motif makes a welcome return in the introduction of the cue, accompanied by sweeping tremolos in the strings.  The majority of the track, however, centers around potent orchestrations of the love theme under a bed of lush string cluster chords, intercut with passages of Williams' trademark brand of Americana.  A moog synthesizer makes a brief one-measure appearance on the last page after a glissando, apparently to symbolize the effects of X-Ray vision.  In the end, this serves as a masterful prelude to one of the score's crowning moments. 

4. The Flying Sequence (8:12)
Undoubtedly the highlight of Part III and one of Williams' magnum opuses, "The Flying Sequence" can be described as a ten-minute concert suite based entirely on the love theme, which is one of the composer's most original inventions, creating an illusion of complexity around a series of fundamentally unadorned arpeggios and turns based on the key of G major, eventually modulating in a modernistic fashion into other keys.

[Figure Thirteen: Love Theme]

The entire sequence actually contains four cues.  "I Like Pink" serves as a perfect introduction to the grandiose proceedings with uncertain, bashful renditions of the love theme.  Williams modulates several times, with each change of key elevating the music higher and higher into the stratosphere, finally climaxing in a fortissimo glissando that segues into the next cue.  The introduction's most noticeable attributes are its luxuriant cluster chords in the strings that continually add an unmistakable air of Americana to the love theme.  In "I Can Fly," the signature piece of the Flying Sequence, the love theme threatens to consume the orchestra with its ravishing beauty.  The composer begins with a foundation of A Major clusters and an ostinato in the woodwinds, over which he places an intensely moving rendition of the theme in the highest registers of the strings, conjuring images of the most memorable Golden Age film scores.  As horns perform the rapturous refrain, the strings join the ostinato, and the orchestration continues to develop into a glorious monstrosity of brass fanfares, changing the key to C Major.  Cellos now receive the euphoric melody, the ostinato continues to expand in the string section, and a new woodwind accompaniment based on the previous brass fanfares appears.  Again, Williams broadens the melodies into magnificent brass cluster chords, now almost consumed by rapid flourishes in the strings.  After a playful version of the refrain with intoxicating pizzicato arpeggios, the cue finally climaxes into quiet string cluster chords.  "To the Moon" introduces a vibrant 12/8 rhythm in the harps, over which Williams places the most impressionistic material of the cue - rubato cadenzas for a solo flute over quiet, nostalgic D major renditions of the love theme.  A broad, rapid 3-bar string passage leads into "Flying Part III," which contains perhaps the jazziest material of the score (although nothing close to the slaughter of good taste found in the original version, found at the end of the disc), introducing a subtle backbeat and accompaniment for Fender Rhodes synthesizer to the orchestra.    In the film, this was the cue that Margot Kidder and the producers absolutely marred with hideous vocals that unfortunately made their way to the soundtrack album.  Rhino's release presents for the first time the full orchestration of the cue in its virgin beauty, unscathed by the hideous vocals, showcasing Williams' sumptuous orchestral accompaniment and more versions of the love theme in its most tender variations of the score.  A short postlude resolves the theme and introduces a subtle hint of Superman's fanfare in E major in the horns.

5. Lois and Clark (:50)
Titled "Clark Loses His Nerve" in the score, this brief cue serves as a perfect companion to The Flying Sequence with a concise treatment of the rarely-heard theme for Clark Kent in woodwinds followed by quiet reminiscences of the climax of Superman's fanfare.  Subtle hints of the love theme end the cue.

6. Crime of the Century (3:24)
Although it has no real bearing on the score as the whole, this collection of three cues serves as a glance into the future of John Williams.  The first cue, "The Truck Convoy," introduces the syncopated, dissonant brass sevenths that would later define sequences like "Desert Chase" in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Following this, the strings perform a brief fantasia on this idea with a collection of tense, broken, syncopated sevenths.  Soon, however, the March of the Villains seizes the music, and a few straightforward performances of it in tuba and woodwinds round out the cue, which ends with a collection of tense octaves in the low strings and a percussion cadence.  The second cue, "Navy Missiles," was actually cut together from various elements of "The Truck Convoy," reprising the arrangements of the Villain March and the tense action music.  "Miss Tesmacher Helps" functions mainly as a tense suspense cue with a sustained C# and low pizzicato murmurings in the strings and suspense cadences in woodwinds.

7. Sonic Greeting (2:21)
Perhaps one of the most entertaining action cues of Part III, this blends Williams' leitmotivs with a completely unexpected cameo.  Titled "To the Lair" in the score, it begins tensely with dark chromatic tones in the low strings, over which the composer inserts subtle references to the main Superman fanfare in woodwinds.  This pattern continues to grow in intensity, and Williams now intimates at the heroic ostinato by placing devious allusions to its rhythm in horns and timpani over the constantly shifting bass line.  As this reaches a fever pitch, the strings receive a rapid melody rich in chromaticism that presents an ingenious musical cameo - this is actually a derivative of Richard Wagner's light music for the apprentices in Die Meistersinger von Nuremberg, a joke that only a select few moviegoers probably noticed.  This motif provides a terrific backdrop for several exhilarating fanfares of the Superman leitmotivs.  A minor motif of alternating muted cluster chords in the horns as well as a decrescendo of the flurrying strings ends the cue.

BONUS: To The Lair (Alternate) (2:10)
This alternate plays almost verbatim to the film version - the only difference is that it repeats the introduction of the Meistersinger motif and omits several measures.

8. Misguided Missiles and Kryptonite (3:26)
Two of the more disturbing cues from Part III, these mutate the familiar motivs into malevolent, dissonant entities that bear little resemblance to their heroic forms.  "Misguided Missiles" ("Trajectory Malfunction" in the score) begins with a piercing D in the low bass, over which Williams places a mostly-unchanged rendition of the love theme.  However, a diabolical blend of uncertain harp triplets and militaristic string dissonance plays directly beneath the theme, robbing it of its passionate character.  In fact, this short section ends with the love theme resolving to a diminished chord.  The remainder of the cue continues this brand of bitonal string wanderings, which climax in a Holstian dotted figure for high violins and woodwinds.  "Kryptonite" features an ominous return of the Kryptonite motif in flutes and its characteristic female chorus, below which the composer continues the incessant, unshakeable dissonances of the strings.  A central passage for voices, strings and muted horns foreshadows one of the more tragic sequences in The Empire Strikes back with a low, tremolo, dissonant figure for violins and cellos and a return to the ominous alternating motif that ended "Sonic Greeting," now for voices and muted horns.  After an abrupt pizzicato and harp glissando, the March of the Villains inserts an air of slapstick into the proceedings, although now nearly consumed by atonal flutes and cellos.  Superman's fanfare makes a brief appearance, but the true climax of the cue involves an intensely disturbing variant of the hero's ostinato, performed now by bitonal brass.  A Herrmannesque woodwind dissonance ends the track.

9. Chasing Rockets (4:56)
Again comprised of two cues, "Chasing Rockets" subtly alludes to the future of John Williams, particularly The Empire Strikes Back.  "Miss T's Rescue," the first cue, begins tensely with hints of the fanfare in the horns over a shifting bass accompanied by impressionistic cadenzas for flutes and clarinets.  Following a murky section with trombone clusters and unstable harp figures, a short period of uncertainty grips the orchestra with Herrmannesque chromaticisms and grinding, modernistic moans of muted trombones, both of which recall sections of the Star Wars score.  The cue's second part contains rapturous love music for silky string cluster chords that eventually became a Williams staple.  Crescendoing variations of the Superman fanfare lead into the second cue, titled "Chasing Rockets" in the score.  This kinetic action spectacle becomes a precursor to the Hoth sequences of The Empire Strikes Back with its electrifying blend of virtuoso orchestral cadenzas and pealing brass fanfares.  The cue begins energetically with a frenzied alternating eighth-note ostinato for brass and a pounding B flat sequence in timpani.  In the fourth measure, Williams sets the tone for the entire piece with an absolutely overwhelming brass fanfare for triadic brass.  Robust variations on the various leitmotivs comprise the next few minutes - the foundation is a creative, pulsing offshoot of the march ostinato, and there are several almost subliminal statements of the March of the Villains and the love theme, along with uneasy adaptations of the main Superman fanfare and cluster theme.  Williams promptly interrupts this air of tension at several points with more of his trademark large-scale cluster chord fanfares, now with cascading woodwind runs (i.e. the introduction of Hyperspace from Empire Strikes Back).  Surprisingly, one of the central sections features a return of one of the virtuoso string motivs from Trip to Earth, although Williams promptly eclipses it with his seventh-interval brass material.  The climax of the piece features discordant triplet figures in the brass that ingeniously mutate into the Superman ostinato, followed by a fortissimo pedal point in the bass and recoiling string figures.  In this final section, the composer introduces a brilliant nod to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with a brutal motif for muted trumpets and horns over the variant of the march ostinato that began the piece.  Overall, this masterful action opus becomes one of Part III's many highlights.

BONUS: Kids on the Bus (Source Music)
Apparently Williams "composed" a short, 1-page rock piece to be played on the school bus's radio. I for one am elated that Matessino and Co. could not locate this source music - everything except the organ piece is absolutely horrendous, at least in the context of the score.

10. Superfeats (4:53)
Although undeniably exciting, Superfeats seems to remain a tier below some of the score's other action material.  "The Golden Gate Bridge," its first cue, begins with fortissimo dissonance in the brass with vague hints of the fanfare.  However, Williams bases the bulk of the cue on an offshoot of the exciting ostinato that served as the foundation for "The Big Rescue."  This version contains several twists, including a more discernable melody line that includes several desperate horn calls, as well as a more syncopated bass rhythm.  Other characteristics of the cue include traditional Williams dissonance between brass instruments to symbolize dark situations, large string fanfares, and clichéd "Super hero" fanfares that sound straight out of 1950's serials.  Williams makes an extremely subtle leitmotivic gesture with an exciting chromatic ostinato to represent a train that is actually a minor-key variation of the train motif from "Growing Up".  Compare:

 

[Figure 14: Train Motif from "Growing Up"]

[Figure 15: Train Motif from "Golden Gate Bridge"]

"The Rescue of Jimmy" follows without pause, continuing many of the ideas from "Golden Gate Bridge," including the dark brass interplay.  One of the score's most innovative sections appears 26 seconds into this cue with a lengthy modernist sequence for seemingly improvisatory piano clusters, random dissonant piccolo glissandi, and assorted moanings from the harp, glockenspiel, and vibraphone.  Tradition ultimately takes over, however, with a return to the contemporary horn and brass fanfares and breakneck pace from the previous cue.  Other aspects include a continuation of the train ostinato and several instances of the fanfare.

BONUS: Lois's Vocal (Source Music) (1:30)
The last of the source music pieces, this was a heavy rock song designed to be played in Lois' car.

11. Super Dam and Finding Lois (5:11)
With this suite of two cues, Williams meanders back into his stride with a collection of some of the best action music to appear in the score.  "Pushing Boulders" adds a tragic spin to the proceedings with diminished versions of the ostinato, an uneasy triplet figure, periods of gruesome dissonance, and a catastrophic virtuoso string motif that assaults the upper registers of the instrument in a way only Gustav Mahler could previously achieve.  Following this comes an ugly recoiling, dissonant figure for horns, various cannibalized versions of the march, cluster chord theme, and love theme, and a final onslaught of dissonant woodwinds.  "Flying to Lois" continues this world-breaking rampage of tension with a series of harrowing variations on the love theme throughout the entire orchestra as Lois dies.  The final section of the cue presents a wistful, haunting horn performance of her theme over a bed of unresolved woodwinds.  In the final bars, an arp synthesizer effect joins the orchestra.

12. Turning Back the World (2:06)
The climax of the score begins with cry of anger from the trumpets and winds, followed by a final return to the celestial orchestration of Part I and a brief reprise of the Krypton fanfare.  The midsection contains a stunning sequence for dizzying shrieks from the piccolos and a dissonant descending motif for horns.  Following a massive orchestral accelerando and crescendo, the music surges with triumphant swells of the love theme amidst a lush bed of vibrato strings and trilled woodwinds.  Finally, following a brief return to the descending horn figure, triumph overtakes the orchestra with vibrant violin renditions of the love theme.

13. Finale and End Title March (5:42)
Superman's Finale remains surprisingly understated, with final tender statements of the love theme, playful woodwind renditions of the fanfare, and a triumphant alternating figure for strings, later mirrored by celeste, clarinets, and flutes.  The end credits present a final performance of the traditional concert arrangement of all the themes, at times with new orchestrations and a faster tempo.

14. Love Theme from Superman (5:06)
As a perfect encore to Superman's score, Williams presents a fully-developed concert arrangement of the love theme.  An innocent, undulating figure for horns provides the foundation, on top of which the composer presents ever more complex and sweeping variations of the theme, always with celestial flourishes and countermotivs from strings and woodwinds.  The interludes possess a strong Baroque sensibility, which Williams eventually imparts to the theme itself, preserving the melody from the hideous pop arrangements elsewhere in the score into a more timeless concert piece.

15. Can You Read My Mind? (alternate) (Performed by Margot Kidder) (2:56)
Prepare yourself for this.  Williams originally recorded a heavy pop rendition of "Can You Read My Mind" for blatant '70's disco synthesizers, which Rhino presents here, complete with the cringe-inducing Kidder vocals.

16. The Flying Sequence/Can You Read My Mind (Performed by Margot Kidder) (8:12)
This plays verbatim to the original Flying Sequence from earlier on this disc, but now with Kidder's hideous lyrics reinstated.  Apparently she was originally supposed to sing them, but was reportedly completely tone-deaf, so she resorted to speaking them.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

17. Can You Read My Mind? (alternate) (instrumental) (2:56)
As if any collector cared, Rhino's release presents the alternate disco "Can You Read My Mind" without the vocals so that all can admire its virtuoso command of synthesizers and backbeats.  

18. Theme from Superman (Concert Version) (4:24)
To please the nostalgic and to maintain a perfect finale for the release, Matessino and Co. include the original concert arrangement of the Superman march that became so engrained into the psyches of thousands of collectors on the original LP set.  It plays like the main titles, but now with an introduction of the Superman fanfare as its prelude and with a few of the thematic repetitions shortened.


 In 1978, John Williams raised the precedents set in Star Wars to an even higher level with Superman: The Movie, creating one of the pinnacles of modern film scoring.  The score conveys an exceptional spectrum of emotion, such that it could almost be separated into three unique works.  Williams fights this tendency, however, with a library of nearly a dozen unifying leitmotivs, which manage to follow the Wagnerian standard and jump beyond their typical, banal function as aural calling cards, instead conveying indescribable nuances of emotion and character psychology.  With a performance by the virtuoso London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer, as well as lavish packaging, improved sound quality, and nearly the complete score, Rhino's and Michael Matessino's release of this monument preserves its brilliance for the ages.



 
Superman Expanded: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 8/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 9.5/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10


Superman: The Movie is Copyright 2000 by Rhino/Warner Archives.  Article Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.

Sound Clips:

 CD1: 2. Star Ship Escapes (2:21)
One of the best of the new cues, this serves as a dramatic postlude to the Destruction of Krypton.  Among other things, look for a return to the bitonality of The Planet Krypton and the introduction of the Clark Kent motif.

Visit CDNOW's Superman page for sound clips of every track and a hefty discount!


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