The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my top five favorite Disney movies and probably my favorite Disney soundtrack. In fact, it’s probably one of my favorite soundtracks period, up there with Pirates of the Caribbean and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (both of which I’ve written about). The music in this movie is rich, complex, exciting, and really conveys the tone of the movie perfectly.
The soundtrack was composed by Alan Menken, who also did Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Tangled (among others). Oh, and apparently he wrote Star Spangled Man in Captain America: First Avenger, although he didn’t do the score. I didn’t know that. The lyrics were written by Stephen Schwartz, who also did lyrics in Pocahontas and Prince of Egypt.
So, why do I think the soundtrack is so great? I think what gets me most is the scale. It’s a huge soundtrack and really portrays how immense and grand the Notre Dame cathedral is. But, intertwined with the loud, pounding chords are these little strains of simplicity and lightness. The movie is about good and evil and there is a lot of contrast like this, especially between Quasimodo and Frollo’s songs. Both Out There and Heaven’s Light/Hellfire are studies in contrast: the unyielding grimness and unflexibility of Frollo and the pure goodness and simplicity of Quasimodo.
I also love the way that Latin prayers and chants are used and woven throughout the songs. The beginning of Out There reminds me of a rote prayer or reciting the rosary (or any mantra, really). And then, the song moves away from the recitation into a prayer or joy from the soul.
And then, of course, there’s Heaven’s Light/Hellfire, which is the opposite: It starts as a sweet, simple kind of meditation about love and then transform into a dark, pleading prayer to an unforgiving God.
What I love about both songs is that, lyrically, the songs are simple. They’re fairly easy to sing, not a lot of demanded of the singers. But behind the voices, there’s a lot going on that drives the passion of the song.
The songs without lyrics are amazing, too.
Another good example of the musical contrast used for Quasimodo and Frollo:
And He Shall Smite the Wicked
And, although I will probably talk more about The Bells of Notre Dame tomorrow in the movie post, I cannot simply not post it here.
Next to Hellfire, this is probably my favorite song in the whole movie. It sets up one of my favorite storytelling devices (a semi-omniscient narrator who tells the story while participating in it), happy flute/pan pipe music to represent a trickster, lots of stuff going on musically, and setting up a story without dragging it down by a prologue. I could listen to this song again and again and probably never get enough of it.
So, there you go. Hunchback of Notre Dame. Whatever their pitch you can feel them bewitch you, the rich and the ritual knells