Hello, fellow nerds!
Another week, another analysis of the Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack! :-)
"Out There" is a very cool song, for so many reasons, but it's not just cool: it's also very characteristic of this film score and plays an important role in the musical storytelling.
Like "Hellfire" (which we'll talk about in a few months), "Out There" is comprised of two sections – one sung by Frollo about the dangers of going outside, and the second sung by Quasimodo about his dreams of going outside. It shows how polar opposite they are, and yet, it also shows how they're obsessed with the same things.
In fact, it's not only this obsession with the outside world (whether avoidance or desire) that unifies Frollo and Quasimodo in this song. Their melodies are also very similar, both being based on the oscillating "bell-like" leit-motif that was foreshadowed in "Bells of Notre Dame."
As I've written in a previous post, the dialectical relationship between Frollo and Quasimodo is a major theme throughout the movie – in the plot, in the animation, in the dialogue, and yes, also in the music.
In this post, I want to focus on the ways in which Menken's score differentiates between Frollo and Quasimodo as diametrically opposed in the two halves of this song. I'll write about differences in orchestration, modes, and melodic intervals, though again, this is by no means intended to be comprehensive. There is SO much to say about this incredible song, so this will just be a little taste. :-)
Frollo's half of the song is very dark – dark in emotion, and also dark in terms of the bell tower's lack of sunlight. By contrast, Quasimodo's half of the song is very bright – full of dreams, full of joy, and basking in the sunlight of the outside world.
One of the ways this contrast is expressed in the music is through differences in orchestration.
There is a long, widespread musical tradition in the Western world, going back hundreds of years, that associates lower pitches with darkness and higher pitches with light (which is why Frollo's voice is much deeper than Quasimodo's).
In this light (pun intended), it's significant to note that during Frollo's half of the song, the orchestra is comprised almost entirely of low strings, brass, and woodwinds. Low-pitched cellos feature prominently. Even when the violins come in, they're playing very low in their registers.
But as soon as Frollo's solo ends, the orchestration completely changes to a brighter sound, with sweeping, high-pitched violins and upwards-soaring horn calls. The orchestration throughout Quasimodo's half of the song is very high in pitch, symbolizing the brightness of the outside world, Quasimodo's dreams, and the purity of his soul.
It seems straight-forward enough: Frollo's half is predominantly in minor, while Quasimodo's half is largely in major. Minor = sad, and major = happy, right?
Well, major and minor aren't the only modes or scales one can use, and Menken loads Quasimodo's section with several other association-laden modes: Mixolydian b6 and Lydian.
YouTuber Jake Lizzio has called the Mixolydian b6 scale "the wonder scale," because it's often used in popular music and film music to evoke feelings of wonder. It's exactly the same as the standard Mixolydian mode, but with scale degree 6 lowered by a half step:
But what makes this "Wonder Scale" so... wondrous?
How is this scale different from all other scales?
As Lizzio explains in his YouTube video, the first half of the Mixolydian b6 scale is exactly the same as major, while the second half is exactly the same as minor. It's like if the happy major mode and the sad minor mode had a baby and exactly half of each parent mode's genes ended up in the baby. That baby would be the bittersweet Mixolydian b6 - "The Wonder Scale."
What's cool about this mode is that it has a major I chord but a minor IV chord. None of the other standard modes are like this. Not the major or the minor; not the Lydian, the Phrygian, or the regular Mixolydian. Not Aeolian, Ionian, Dorian, or Locrian. The Mixolydian b6 is totally unique among all of these modes by having a major I and minor IV.
Quasimodo's half of "Out There" begins immediately in the key of C Mixolydian b6 ("the wonder scale"). His melody emphasizes the major-like lower scale degrees 1-5, while the accompaniment features the minor-like upper scale degrees 6 (Ab) and 7 (Bb), all over a C pedal in the bass:
A little bit later in the song, Menken even includes a straight-up C Mixolydian b6 scale in the orchestration (the 2nd measure of the following excerpt):
Now, that Mixolydian b6 scale in the above example is fascinating, because it leads straight into a passage that uses a different mode: F Lydian.
The Lydian scale also has very wondrous, dreamy associations. I'll spare you the theoretical details (since I spent so much time already on the Mixolydian b6), but what's really important to know about Lydian are the following two points:
1. Unlike all other standard modes, Lydian has a major I chord AND a major II chord.
2. It has a tritone between 1 and 4, which, when resolving up to 5, presents a magical sort of harmonic resolution.
When Quasimodo expounds upon his dream – "out there among the millers and the weavers and their wives, through the roofs and gables I can see them" – both of these unique aspects of the Lydian mode are highlighted. The chords simply alternate between I and II (both major), back and forth, back and forth, while the melody emphasizes the #4 (B natural) over the orchestra's tonic drone.
Altogether, this mixture of Lydian and Mixolydian b6, along with passages of Major, in Quasimodo's half of the song produces an atmosphere of dreaminess, hope, and wonder that contrasts sharply with Frollo's minor-key half of the song.
The last thing I want to write about is the contrast in musical intervals.
Frollo's half of the song features very narrow musical intervals. The melody tends to move either by step or by smallish intervals like 3rds and 4ths. This musically expresses the narrowness of Frollo's world-view, the crampiness of Quasimodo's living quarters, and a feeling of emotional suffocation.
On the other hand, Quasimodo's singing features very large intervals. Throughout the Disney tradition, large intervals are often used to represent hopes and dreams, from "When You Wish Upon a Star" to "Into the Unknown."
But what's especially significant here isn't just the predominance of large intervals, but specifically the highlighting of 7ths on the words "out there." Menken similarly featured leaps of 7ths in the movie Newsies (1992), when Jack sings about his dreams of living in Santa Fe. Menken also used leaps of 7ths as a leit-motif in Beauty and the Beast (1991), representing the Beast's hope for love and redemption. (Hunchback of Notre Dame came out very soon after Newsies and Beauty and the Beast, in 1996). In Menken's musical style, 7ths represent dreams - in this case, Quasimodo's dreams of escaping the narrowness of life in the Bell Tower.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post - the fifth in a 12-part series about the Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack! The remaining parts will be posted weekly over the next few months.
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Hello, fellow nerds!
Hooray! It's here: the fourth post in my quest to analyze all the songs in "Hunchback of Notre Dame!"
Today's subject is the song "Bells of Notre Dame," and gosh, there's just SO much to say about it.
But I'm going to focus on just one particular aspect of it, which is how it introduces three musical leit-motifs that reappear throughout the score. These three melodies are fascinating because they're dialectical. That is, they are emotionally self-contradictory and provide a complex musical commentary on the movie's many themes: disability, justice, monstrosity, good, evil, the church, and so forth.
Wait, hold on a minute: what's a "leit-motif?"
Glad you asked! A leit-motif is a musical pattern that recurs throughout a movie and is associated with a particular character, location, emotion, or idea. For example, think of the "Imperial Death March" that we always hear when Darth Vader enters a scene. Or that Jaws "baaaaaaaaaaa-DUM baaaaaaaaaaa-DUM" theme that signals the shark's approach. Even before these characters appear on screen, we know that they're about to do so, because we hear their leit-motifs.
But the interesting thing about leit-motifs is that, as film music scholar Frank Lehman has put it, they're "semantically imprecise, inconsistent, or changeable." They can change their form and meaning over the course of a film to show how a particular character is transforming. They can also represent multiple ideas at once, or shift from representing one emotion to representing another.
OK, cool, so what are these leit-motifs in "Bells of Notre Dame?"
The following image shows an excerpt from the end of the song (mm. 255-267). This is the part where Frollo has been told that he must raise baby Quasimodo as his own child, as repentance for murdering the boy's mother (and nearly murdering the kid himself).
As you can see, it's basically a string of short, contrasting melodic ideas, which I've numbered 1-3.
These are some of the major leit-motifs that recur throughout the rest of the film, and here they are already, all clumped together, at the end of the introductory song.
I call them:
The Cathedral Theme: Both Good and Evil
The Cathedral Theme appears countless times throughout the movie in connection with Notre Dame and, more broadly, Christianity. For example, we hear it in the background music when Frollo tries to throw baby Quasimodo into a well outside the Cathedral, "sending this demon to Hell where it came from." We also hear it in the chorus of "Hellfire," when Frollo sings about his own soul descending into Hell. And we hear it, triumphant and joyful, when Clopin sings about "the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells of Notre Dame!"
What's interesting about this leit-motif is that it sometimes appears triumphant and glorious, while at other times it's demonic and tragic. In short: it's both good and evil.
Here's a fabulous example: as shown in the image below, "Bells of Notre Dame" begins with a clear statement of the Cathedral Theme in minor, while the song ends with its re-statement in major. In this context, I hear it representing the cathedral itself, and specifically the bell towers. What's less clear to me, however, is the commentary that this is making: is the cathedral both good and evil? Uplifting and destructive? A sanctuary and a prison? Well, yes - all of this - as we discover over the course of the movie.
The Out There Theme: Not In Here
The "Out There" motif is cool, because its most basic 3-note component is a mirror image of the Cathedral Theme. And of course it is: one of the major themes of the movie is the dialectical relationship between the cathedral and the world outside it. While Frollo claims that he's protecting Frollo by keeping him locked in the bell tower, in fact the exact opposite is true. The sanctuary is a prison, and his true home is far away from where he grew up. So it makes sense that these two leit-motifs should be interconnected.
The "Quasi-Frollo" Recitative:
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