Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Callback: DC Storytapes Teach Classical Music

You may recall way back in the second post on this blog, when I wrote about these old DC Comics storybook & tape sets I had as a kid, and about how they ended up introducing me to a few pieces of classical music, but there were holes in my memory as to what all the pieces were. Well, over the weekend, I found mp3s of all these sets online. Link here — scroll down a little for the DC/Fisher Price sets.

In my searches for these tapes, I came across several message and comment threads where people were asking about the pieces of music used in them. Since such a list seems not to exist, and in the spirit of niche marketing, I hereby present:

A Brief and Incomplete Guide to Classical Music in the DC Comics/Fisher Price Story Tapes

I. Superman: From Krypton to Metropolis
This was the tape I was wondering about in the original post. As it turns out, the Superman theme from this story is Wagner's Flying Dutchman Overture, which I would have guessed too dark, but the way they edit it, it works.
Wagner: The Flying Dutchman, overture; opening used for main theme, other clips used for some action scenes
Dvořák: Sym. No. 9, "From the New World," IV. Allegro con fuoco; used (including, once or twice, the "Jaws" motif from the beginning of the movement) throughout in action scenes, especially the climax
R. Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks; TE's lighthearted theme quoted goofily during Superbaby's exploits

II. Wonder Woman: Cheetah on the Prowl
This story makes a lot of use out of pretty much one piece.
Liszt: Les Preludes; single most "heroic" statement of the tone poem's theme used repeatedly as WW's theme, other sections used incidentally throughout.

III. Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder: The Case of the Laughing Sphinx
A Mussorgsky two-fer! Besides the selections I list here, there is another piece used several times, including the scene where Batman invites Dick Grayson to become his sidekick, that I did not recognize.
Mussorgsky (ed. Rimsky-Korsakov): Night on Bald Mountain; main theme, other moments of Bat-action
Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition -
- Hut on Fowl's Legs; used through most of the middle in threatening situations, with an odd piano/percussion arrangement for some of the training "montage"
- Great Gate at Kiev; used triumphantly at the end

IV. The Justice League of America: The Lunar Invaders
First off, this story reuses the main themes of each of the individual heroes above for their big moments, which is pretty cool, especially when each is being introduced at the beginning. I did not recognize the theme used at the top of the recording, which reappears a few times as a sort of JLA "team motif". Also didn't quite catch Green Lantern's theme or The Atom's. Red Tornado's theme is ridiculous and seems original.
Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata, I. Adagio sostenuto; used for the scene of the astronaut Team of Ethnic Tokens working on the moon, in an unusual and surprisingly effective interpretation of the piece's title
Wagner: Lohengrin, Prélude, Act III; Flash's theme which was incidentally also used as one of the pieces Peppermint Patty skated to in the "She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown," book & tape.
J. Strauss II: On the Beautiful Blue Danube; boringly and predictably used for the approach to the JLA's space station. Maybe 2001 references weren't completely played out in 1983?

Overall, it's clear that whoever put the music together for these things knew their stuff, especially along the Liszt-Wagner-Strauss 19th Century German axis. I'm a little surprised that the first time I heard the Flying Dutchman Overture later in life, I didn't experience the Sudden Instant Recall Effect (SIRE, coined by the Muppet nuts over at that I did with Les Preludes in college. In any case, I'm glad to have solved the Superman music mystery with which I kicked this blog, and to have celebrated it with yet another obscure post with an incredibly narrow target audience. Cheers!

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