Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Music of The Shining (1980)

Of all the aspects of filmmaking that Stanley Kubrick had mastery over, the one which he was always deeply involved in was the music.  Most of Kubrick's films have used found music, foregoing a complete original score for selections made by Kubrick which he deems appropriate.  The first of his projects where a wide and eclectic array of music was used was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) where he combined modern and classical composers.  Indeed, quite legendary is the fact that Kubrick rejected a score by Alex North because the temp music he had been scoring the film with up until then had worked so well.  It seems that Kubrick knows best at how to make a work of music famous.  The now overused main title music for 2001, Also Sprach Zarathustra, composed by Richard Strauss, is now used mostly in parody but is unmistakable.  He changed the way we look at space travel by placing Johann Strauss's Blue Danube over the spinning images of a space station and shuttle.  As with his next two films, A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975), he again championed pieces of classical music which either had completely different popular associations or were scarcely known to the general public at all.  Such was the case with The Shining, however, there was certainly more of an impact.

The Shining has what has to be the most terrifying arrangement of music ever put in a film.   Yet (besides the electronic music composed by Wendy Carlos based on Berlioz's Dies Irae) none of it was ever written for the cinema.  Used in the film are works by Bartok, Penderecki and Ligeti.  These composers are more what one would define as modern (some of Ligeti's music was already used in 2001).  To that end they serve the frantic, mostly psychological horror of the film.  What I've found after listening to this music is that it seems a majority of horror films afterwards, all the way through today have emulated this kind of music.  All horror films today, from the most mediocre to the higher end productions imitate the style of music used in The Shining.  The shrieking strings and discordant bellows of Krzyzstof Penderecki and Gyorgy Ligeti's music are common sounds in film music since.  I find it funny, however, that that original music was never intended to be coupled with images of terror.  Kubrick's self-scoring of the film was successful enough to warrant a soundtrack album.  Unfortunately this was soon recalled due to rights issues.  This isn't the first time Kubrick has gotten into trouble for music, Gyorgy Ligeti didn't like how his music was altered in the penultimate scene from 2001.

Here I'd like to go through some of the various musical pieces used in the film NOT arranged or composed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind and provide some highlights:

First off, there's the music used in Pendercki's Utrenja, Ewangelia and Kanon Paschy.  The Ewangelia is especially disturbing for its use of discordant, spoken word vocals, which in the scene of Wendy running up the stairs gives the impression of the hotel suddenly full of uninvited guests:

Lontano by Gyorgy Ligeti is an abstract piece of music.  Ligeti's compositions experiment frequently with aural texture and because of that his music is very interesting to listen to on its own.  For a horror film, or even just a film about the unknown it fits wonderfully (part of this music was used in Shutter Island (2010):

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta by Bela Bartok can be described in one word: lurking.  This music perfectly embodies the unease set forth by the Overlook Hotel and Jack's unstable mind.  The beginning of this piece, which borders on tragic, unconsciously informs the viewer that terrible things are going to happen.  Later on the music gets more paranoid and with the jarring sting at 4:38, followed by stalking piano the listener may feel like looking over their shoulder:  

  Penderecki's Polymorphia also provides some chilling and atmospheric music for strings which could evoke any imagery, thus the title.  Not much more could be said of it save for the fact that it certainly has a great sense of humor if you can make it to the end of the piece!

Then there's Penderecki's The Awakening of Jacob.  This has to be the single most terrifying piece of music I have ever heard.  The amount of foreboding built up and then relentlessly unleashed on the listener is staggering.  This was used most prominently when Jack finds the woman in the bathroom.  I dare you to listen to this with the lights out:

If that was too much for you I'll leave off here with some quasi eerie, 20s jazz courtesy of Al Bowlly.  Kubrick consulted with 20s music experts when choosing the pieces used in the 4th of July party sequence in the Gold Room as this music is part of what made that scene quite memorable.

Though there's never been an official CD release of The Shining's remarkable music, it shouldn't be terribly hard to track down the original recordings used in the film (iTunes is a good start) to construct one's own personal OST.


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  3. The shining OST is my favorite one from the album. I really liked your post you still trying to promote 90's music to the peoples.