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Classical Music and the Universal Horror Films

I pondered which forum I should place this writing....Movies/TV or Music: Classical. I made the choice for music.

I love the classic Universal studios horror films of the 30s/40s, as well as the efforts of the major studios who joined in. I thought that many of you that enjoy classical music, might enjoy how classical music was used in the early days of sound films and that it may peak your interest to visit these horror films to see and hear them for yourselves.
The major reason classical music was used, was simply economics. Classical music was in the public domain, and it cost nothing to use, and saved the studios the cost of hiring a composer. Music in general was not a major fixture in films for a time, as it was usually limited to the opening title and credits. It then was expanded, using classical music cues to support the action on screen, and often used as a theme for a character(s) in the film. Max Steiner's music for '33 King Kong was the first fully original music score in film, soon to be followed by Franz Waxman's score for '35 Bride of Frankenstein.

So off we we look at a number of Universal films, with a few others too, that utilized classical music to tell their stories. I hope you will enjoy the ride!

First on the list is not a Universal film, and may not even be considered a horror film, but more a crime drama. The '31 Fritz Lang film 'M' starring Peter Lorre as the child murderer, who whistles Grieg's, In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is used for the opening title/credits for '31 Dracula, and '32 The Mummy, and Murders In The Rue Morgue.

Bach's Tocata in D Minor plays over the opening title/credits of MGM's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Frederick March.

Edgar Ulmer's '34 Universal film, The Black Cat, starring horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, is where classical music dominates the film. Classical music excerpts and cues, along with a few variants, are used: Bach's Tocata in D Minor, Adiago in A Minor. Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Schumann's Piano Quintet in E Flat.
Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. Chopin's Second Piano Prelude. Goethe's Sorcerer's Apprentice. Listz's Sonota in B Minor, Les Preludes, and Hungarian Rhapsody #3 & #15. Tchaikovsky's Pathetigue Symphony (Symphony #6) and a variant of his Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet.

Whew! The Black Cat has to hold the record for use of so many great classical music pieces! Several of the above were also incorporated into the music for '35 The Raven and The Werewolf of London.

While Franz Waxman's Bride of Frankenstein score is fully original, one excerpt of classical music was used in a scene. As Dr. Pretorius is describing one of his 'experiments,' a ballerina, to Henry Frankenstein, he laments: "She won't dance to anything but Mendelssohn's Spring Song....and it gets so monotonous."

In the final horror film of the Carl Laemmle regime at Universal Studios, '36 Dracula's Daughter, the title character, played by Gloria Holden, sits at a piano and plays Chopin's Nocturne OP 9 #2.

As new owners took the reins of Universal, the use of the classics were replaced by original music, written and produced by Hans Salter and Frank Skinner.....but 1 classical piece was used in the '44 House of Dracula. Martha O'Driscoll plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (Piano Sonata #14) on the piano, as Count Dracula, played by John Carradine, approaches and engages her in conversation.

So there we have it. I have likely missed a few examples of classical music used in Universal horror films, but tried my best not to make any mistakes.
I hope you enjoyed reading all of this, as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you.
And it all works beautifully, hauntingly.

[quote] The '31 Fritz Lang film 'M' starring Peter Lorre as the child murderer, who whistles Grieg's, In the Hall of the Mountain King. [/quote]

It's amazing to me how sound film was in it's infancy and yet Lang already knew how to use it to manipulate and mesmerize his audience.
jackieash · 26-30
This was a really good read. Enjoyed every word :)

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