Hello, fellow nerds!
Welcome to the VERY FIRST post in a 12-part series about the Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack!
And today’s post is about the VERY FIRST sounds we hear in this movie.
No, contrary to the track-list on the commercial CD, the first thing we hear is not, in fact, “The Bells of Notre Dame.”
Rather, it’s “Olim” – a monodic chant sung by a group of off-screen monks.... and in the history of Disney music, it's absolutely revolutionary.
You know how lots of Disney movies start with that iconic, animated castle, to the tune of “If You Wish Upon a Star?” Just as the castle is Disney’s visual logo, so, too, is “If You Wish Upon a Star” Disney’s audio logo. (Fun fact: this audio logo was orchestrated by Dave Metzger, who later orchestrated all of Frozen, Frozen 2, and Moana.)
And until Hunchback (1996) and Pocahontas (1995) came along and changed things up, it was only after this audio-visual logo finished its course that a Disney film’s soundtrack would begin.
But then, something changed.
In 1995, Disney released Pocahontas. Instead of "If You Wish Upon a Star," the castle logo was accompanied by drum beats, leading directly into the score's opening song:
Ditto in 1996, when Disney released Hunchback of Notre Dame. But this time, they went a step further. "Olim" begins before the castle logo even shows up, with simply a black background. By the time the visual logo enters, we're already halfway through "Olim." And "Olim," in turn, runs straight into "The Bells of Notre Dame."
Why is this so revolutionary? By the mid-1990s, audiences were so used to hearing the logo as separate from the film, that blending the logo with the film's soundtrack – or even preceding the logo with the film's soundtrack, as in the case of Hunchback – must have come as a big surprise. But it's more than just surprising. It immediately steeps us in the world of the film, destroying the Hollywood artifice of "here's the production company that brings you this show, and now that you've acknowledged us, here's the show." It's such a powerful technique that Disney continued to use it in many of its later movies. (The Incredibles and Frozen come immediately to mind, for instance.)
I hope you enjoyed this blog post - the first in a 12-part series about the Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack! The remaining parts will be posted weekly over the next few months. If you'd like to support this blog, I invite you to to do so with a one-time or monthly donation at Ko-Fi.com/DisneyMusicTheory. Thanks so much!
Samantha Zerin has a PhD in historical musicology from New York University, and has taught music theory at NYU, Brown University, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. She is also a composer and poet, and teaches private students. To learn more about Dr. Zerin and her work, you can visit her main website, www.CreativeShuli.com