There's a fascinating story behind how the song "Olim," from Hunchback of Notre Dame, came to be.
Before the film was completed, it was determined that the now-famous song "God Help the Outcasts" was too dramatic and would need to be replaced. Thus, Menken and Schwartz created "Someday" to replace it. But that, too, was deemed too dramatic, so they decided to just stick with the original plan and use "God Help the Outcasts."
But, as lyricist Stephen Schwartz explained in a published Q&A, "everybody liked 'Someday.'" So they preserved it in two ways. First, they turned it into a pop song for the closing credits. Second – and to the point of this blog post – they turned it into a Gregorian-style chant for the very opening of the film.
To wit: "Olim" takes its melody from the opening line of "Someday," and its text is a Latin translation of the latter's second verse:
"OLIM OLIM DEUS ACCELERE HOC SAECULUM SPLENDIDUM ACCELERE FIAT VENIRE OLIM"
"Someday, someday, God speed this bright millennium. Let it come someday."
In many ways, the melody from "Someday" lends itself to being reconstructed in a Gregorian style. Like Gregorian chant, it uses predominantly seconds and thirds, and the overall range is limited to one octave. Although the background harmony is rooted in major, the melody itself appears to be in Mixolydian, one of the more common modes used in Gregorian chants. This modal flavor is reinforced by the ascending third in the melodic cadence.
Perhaps most notable of all are the long, repeated notes that begin and end the tune. Menken took this opportunity to begin and end "Olim" with a series of reciting tones, perhaps the most recognizable element of Gregorian-style chants. Every syllable of the opening words "Olim, olim deus" is on the note A, as are every syllable of the concluding words "fiat venire olim."
Nevertheless, it's important to recognize that "Someday" itself was not composed in the style of Gregorian chant, and so, as well, is "Olim" not entirely authentic. The sequential structure, for example, which is stylistically unsurprising for "Someday" is historically anachronistic for "Olim," as is the cadence that leaps from a third below the final. When I asked about this melody in the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society group on Facebook, someone further explained that although "the scale is pretty clearly Mixolydian, the melody does not behave like a medieval mode. [...] I don't see the typical structural pitches here that one would in the medieval Mixolydian--in this key, A, E, G, and D."
But, as in most film music, the point here is not to be 100% authentic. The point is to create the illusion of being in a particular time, place, and mood. And given that Disney's target audience is NOT medieval music scholars, only a few very salient musical techniques are needed to create this illusion.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post - the second 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