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Music of Snow White - Page 1
The music of Disneys 1937 masterpiece Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is from the Golden Era of Hollywood. They don't write movie music like this anymore! The Snow White score features not only song classics, but also an incredible amount of themes and melodies. Some are just "incidental" snippets put together, but each of them is very important in telling the story. Therefore it is quite surprising that the Oscar-nominated background score of Snow White has rarely been considered as a "serious" achievement even among film music fans. Even Disney historians usually praise the movie's (non-Oscar-nominated) songs but leave the instrumental score mostly unmentioned! Thus, on this page, KenNetti analyzes the entire score of Snow White as thoroughly as possible without any official music sheets (let alone the access to Disney's music vaults).
Most often it's is claimed that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contains eight songs. This amount does not include the reprises of the songs, and puts two significantly different songs together (in Heigh-Ho). If all the songs are listed separately, the total amount is sixteen:
One Song & Some Day
The celebrated songs were originally issued on a three-record set in 1938 by RCA Victor Records (in the United States) and in Great Britain by His Masters Voice. This was one of the first occassions when songs from a feature-length motion picture presented on an album were the very same recordings as heard in the movie. (It was, however, the album release of Walt Disneys Pinocchio that coined the term Original Sound Track"). The 1938 three-record set of Snow White contained eight of the movie's nine major songs omitting Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum completely. Neither the Overture nor the Finale were included, but the record set did contain something extra special: Heigh-Ho featured a "Whistlin Interlude" that was removed from the final song and replaced into the movie's climax where the animals alert the Dwarfs; and The Silly Song was an alternate earlier version without the chorus vocals and the final dance, but it included an original vocal solo for Sneezy which was cut from the final version. This 1938 three-record set was just the beginning of several different soundtrack album releases of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (The major releases and re-releases can be found on the following page!).
Frank Churchill, who composed all the songs in Snow White, is one of the very first Disney music legends. Churchill was responsible of such Disney evergreens as Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (1933), Casey Junior, Baby Mine, Love is a Song, and Never Smile at a Crocodile (written before the composer's untimely death in 1942). Churchills talent in composing evocative melodies is evident on each song in Snow White, and also on such instrumental score gems as Pleasant Dreams (in the scene where the Dwarfs persuade the princess to sleep upstairs in their bedroom) and in the Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum washing sequence (in which Churchill manages to mix several different melodies smoothly together). The song Some Day My Prince Will Come was composed by Churchill as early as in November or December 1934. The philosophic With a Smile and a Song may have been an independent work (from the summer of 1935) before it ended up into the score of Snow White. I'm Wishing was one of the last songs composed for the movie. All lyrics of the final song versions were credited to writer Larry Morey, although several other people including voice actor Pinto Colvig contributed to the development of the songs (particularly in the case of The Silly Song, which was created during the summer of 1937).
As a movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the result of ruthless editing of work that had been done with blood, sweat and tears during the years 1934-1937. An endless amount of ideas, scenes and songs came and went because the man named Walt Disney, the movie's producer, wasn't happy with the result. The principles of the project must have frustrated several of the Disney Studio workers. Frank Churchill was among these casualties; in addition to composing background music, he served also as an arranger and a conductor on the Snow White score, but eventually the musical supervision ended up in Leigh Harline's hands. Known as Disney's 'Symphonist' (because of his splendid orchestral scores to the Silly Symphonies series), Leigh Harline had become the head of the Disney Studio's music department. By the mid-August of 1937 Frank Churchill had left the studio because of nervous strain, and he didn't return until the next year. Thus it became Harline's and Paul J. Smith's daunting task to complete the unfinished Snow White score. (Though previously Frank Churchill has been credited as the sole conductor of the score, new evidence provided by J. B. Kaufman in his 2012 book The Fairest One Of All points to the direction of Leigh Harline conducting the majority of the score). Harline started recording the score in late August of 1937 and used an orchestra of "36 to 40 pieces" in the score's most demanding passages.
Also Paul J. Smith may have conducted some music of the Snow White score, since he did it also on the following Pinocchio (1940) score which won a famous Oscar for him and Harline. Smith composed many Disney scores simply as Paul Smith (including the 1954 live action classic 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea). His most famous contributions to the Snow White score are the beautiful Prayer At Evening melody (underscoring the Dwarfs' snoring sequence), the playful Turtle Theme, and the nightmarish Montage music for the "Dark Forest" sequence composed with (or based on) Frank Churchill.
Though Churchill is credited as the sole composer of Snow White's Overture and Finale, the breathtakingly epic arrangements and orchestrations may be Harline's and Smith's work. The heavenly choir in these segments was conducted by Max Terr, who worked as the vocal music director at Paramount Pictures. As some other movies of the time (like Gone with the Wind, 1939), Snow White had an instrumental suite of "Exit Music". This was cut from later re-release versions and never released on commercial recordings.
Contrary to popular belief, the Snow White score is definitely not just "kids music" but more of a magnificent mixture of horror and fantasy filled with some of the most chilling and powerful orchestral compositions in any movie before or since. There are wailing clarinets, immense cold strings and menacing melodies that haunt the listener's mind forever. Despite of having three different composers, the score forms a seamless whole with thematic and dramatic development thanks to Leigh Harline's and Paul J. Smith's meticulous work. Too many Disney historians (J. B. Kaufman included) claim that there are very little Wagnerian leitmotifs in the Snow White score, but such a claim is mostly rubbish. Every important character in the movie is supported by a distinct musical sound, and in addition to several recurring musical themes also some of the songs can be considered as proper leitmotifs!
Leigh Harline provided most of Snow Whites dramatic orchestral scoring. Harline's music actually dominates the third, final act of the movie. In the beginning the Evil Queen has no musical theme (despite of Churchill's low-key Queen Theme for the scene where the vile woman orders the Huntsman to take Snow White far into the forest). The eerie, chilling melody in the movie's opening scene belongs to the Magic Mirror, not the Queen! However, when the Queen transforms herself into the peddler woman (generally known as the Witch), she gets a distinct leitmotif, Theme Sinister, that is a truly ominous creation by Leigh Harline. This throbbing melody based on, or at least inspired by, the final passage in Churchill's and Smith's ("Dark Forest") Montage music can actually be counted among the first great Hollywood horror themes. Theme Sinister somewhat resembles Franz Waxman's theme for The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but manages to be more macabre and versatile; Harline introduces a clever variation of the theme in the Transformation music and it is this variation of Theme Sinister that later develops into the ferocious Climax Chase at the end of the movie.
Also the character of Snow White has a leitmotif. It is used sparingly, but very effectively. Introduced during the sequence Let's See What's Upstairs, the Churchill theme Wondering develops into beautiful melody during the later bedroom sequence where Snow White starts guessing the Dwarfs' names. The warm pastoral quality of this theme reaches its heights in Harline's arrangement Morning in the Country, as Snow White kisses the Dwarfs off to work.
Even the ever-criticized Prince gets an astonishing cameo within one of the most dramatic moments in the Snow White score. As the Witch tells to Snow White that the apple has the power to fulfill wishes, Leigh Harline's underscore (Have a Bite) makes some very effective passes at the Prince's theme, One Song as if almost mocking the serenade, as the disguised Queen lies to her gullible stepdaughter. It is a witty remark from Harline to use One Song and not Some Day My Prince Will Come in this scene, since the latter song is purely Snow White's own fantasy and therefore more her theme than the Prince's. It is noteworthy that One Song is used in a similar vein in the movie as the shark's theme in John Williams' Jaws (1975) to keep the Prince's presence strong in the movie, although he is actually seen only for a few minutes. One Song starts the movie as the grand instrumental overture, and is reprised in the first forest scene as sung by Snow White, and is reprised fully again in the movie's finale, in a very poignant rendition for a choir and a solo tenor.
Of the dwarfs, both Dopey and Grumpy get their own themes, but the signature theme of the seven little men is, of course, their marching song Heigh-Ho. The song is reprised in many forms after its first appearance, both in vocal and instrumental variations. The song Dig Dig Dig (or "Dig-a-Dig-Dig") has been an unnamed first part of Heigh-Ho since, at least, from the first proper soundtrack release of Snow White in 1956. (But because the song title "Dig-a-Dig-Dig" is found on the 1938 three-record set by RCA/HMV, KenNetti holds to that title). Only few of the Dwarfs speaking voices sang in the movie; most of their singing voices were provided by an army of additional voices, including Freeman High.
Not so commonly known is that almost all the songs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs included lyrics and passages that were omitted from the final movie versions. For example, the Dwarfs had originally much more to sing on their way home than "heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's home from work we go":
keep on singing all day long
Morey's lyrics also included several introductory lead-in verses that have been rarely heard. Disneyland Records producer Salvador "Tutti" Camarata was one of the people who restored the lead-in verses to new recordings of these old songs. The most recorded of these verses might be the one for Some Day My Prince Will Come that has been included on interpretations by Linda Ronstadt (on a 1987 television special) and Barbra Streisand (for the 2001 DVD). This verse, with its totally different and somewhat more enchanting melody, sounds much more intimate and emotional than the whining about a Prince who comes someday:
waiting for me
Also, the song I'm Wishing includes an original, enchanting passage that was only hummed in the final movie version of 1937:
me, wishing well,
While the modern soundtrack releases of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs have been fulfilled dreams, we still hope that Walt Disney Records would someday produce a complete soundtrack album to do justice to the full original Snow White music score as created by Churchill, Morey, Smith and Harline.
- Kenneth Sundberg -
E x l u s i v e - L i s t i n g
Music Credits &
White and the
composed and arranged by
Voices for Snow White:
O T E
Room of the Evil Queen"
a Smile and a Song
to the Cottage"
Like a Dolls
While You Work
of the Seven Dwarfs"
Dwarfs Return Home"
Dwarfs Meet Snow White"