When I was a kid, I wanted to be a film director. I was fascinated by every aspect of movies, including the film score. Especially the film score. I loved how music could in some cases become its own character in the movie and an invisible part of the setting. I grew up on the exuberant, joyful John Williams scores to Star Wars and Superman, but it was a much older soundtrack that first taught me how much music can add to a movie.
I was in elementary school when I first saw the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring the always-wonderful James Mason and a better-than-you’d-expect Pat Boone. A movie theater in town was showing old movies for a dollar-something during the summer to occupy kids and give their parents a break. The subterranean world director Henry Levin created out of Jules Verne’s imaginative novel captivated me. Imagine! A whole world beneath our feet, just waiting for young kids like me, to explore.
A crucial part of that world Levin constructed from all the various elements that make a movie was a brilliantly effective original score. Composer Bernard Herrmann threw in all the instruments of the orchestra, even the king of them, the pipe organ, to build the film’s soundscape: cymbal crashes for volcanic eruptions, a shimmering harp for the descent into the earth, the cornett-like serpent for a giant prehistoric lizard, and, yes, the pipe organ for the film’s climax.
Journey to the Center of the Earth made me a lifelong fan of Bernard Herrmann, whose success lay partly in his great versatility. He was equally comfortable writing music for three very different genres—drama, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror/suspense. Have a listen to the sample below, and then join me Friday night, November 28, at 9:00, for “Reel Music: A Tribute to Bernard Herrmann,” on 89.9 FM, WDAV.org, and our Apple and Android apps.