Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Day The Earth Stood Still (Herrmann, 1951)

     One of my favorite scores of all time, this features some very unique orchestrations as well as various musique concrete tape music techniques such as backwards tape, cutting off the attacks of chords and using reverb content only, etc...  Multitracked overdubs, first explored in Herrmann's score for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" ("All That Money Can Buy") is also used here to create electro-acoustic layers ("Prelude", "The Glowing, "The Prison").  The movie itself is probably one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made, and features an amazingly mature and philosophically-dense script.

     The music begins with the striking sounds of the 2 theremins, which here, along with its central role in Dimitri Tiomkin's "The Thing From Another World" and Herman Stein's "It Came From Outer Space", would cement the theremin as the "sound" of 50's sci-fi.  24 out of 32 cues here feature theremin.  Tiomkin and Stein's scores are both excellent works, but Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still is probably one of the top 10 best film scores of that decade.  In contrast to most film composers before and after, Herrmann was also a composer of concert music, and for this reason his scores tend to musically "push the envelope" (while still in service to the picture).  By leaving out strings and wood winds and mainly featuring electronic instruments with percussion and brass, Herrmann created a unique, trend-setting soundworld far ahead of its time.

Composed June 25, 30 - July 28, 1951 by Bernard Herrmann
Recorded July 30 - August 3, 1951, conducted by Bernard Herrmann (assisted by Lionel Newman and Alfred Newman)
Featuring: Theremin: Sam Hoffman & Paul Shure/Electric Violin: Felix Slatkin

  • 2 theremins (high and low)
  • 2 Hammond organs
  • Wurlitzer pipe organ
  • 2 pianos
  • 2 harps 
  • 3 vibraphones
  • percussion (timpani, cymbals, tom tom, marimba, tam-tam, chimes ("Nikto", "Ray motif"), glockenspiel)
  • electric violin, cello and bass
  • "30-odd brass" (very little horn, but added bass and contrabass tubas).  Low brass often appear when Gort is on screen
  • celeste, electric guitar ("Space Control" only)
  • (no acoustic strings or winds)

     The track numbers listed below are from the 20th Century Fox Classic Series release.  Any timings in parentheses represent where a combined cue starts within that track's duration.  The orchestral music was recorded on 2 channels (basically recorded mono with an extra track for "featured" instruments - in other words, 1 "room mike" and 1 "close mike").  The theremins and tape-manipulated overdubs were recorded on additional tracks, which were mixed down in stereo (especially "The Elevator, Magnetic Pull, etc...). 
Trk Title Film Action Musical Features
1 20th Century Fox Fanfare
(Alfred Newman, 1933)
20th Century Fox logo
2 Prelude Fade in on spacescape Falling glissando (including 4 multi-tracked theremins and backwards tape vibraphone swell)
Outer Space (0:07) Title appears as POV (point of view) approaches Earth Pianos/organs/harp ostinati supports alternating and layered theremin motif and brass/organ motifs ("Space motif", ABA'B'A+Coda structure)
Radar (2:06) World reacts as alien space ship is detected on radar ("This is not another flying saucer scare.") Piano/bass and piano/vibraphone duel in ostinato patterns (vibes as accents) ("Radar ostinato figures")
3 Danger   After saucer lands in Washington DC the government reacts ("Get me the Chief of staff.") Brass figures ("Army motif")
4 Klaatu   Klaatu emerges from the saucer ("We have come to visit you in peace and with good will").  When he activates a hand device, a soldier shoots him. Theremin, low brass and organ, foreboding
5 Gort The robot Gort emerges from the saucer and bystanders flee. Theremin and muted low brass ("Gort motif")
The Visor
(and the Ray) (0:43)
Gort's visor opens and his eyebeams disintegrate the soldiers' weapons.  The alien tells Gort to stop ("Gort! Deglet ovroscol!") Piano Radar figures enter, grow and shrink, interrupted by eye-beam "Ray motif" (overdubbed chimes, cymbals and pianos from tape fragment)
The Telescope  (1:46) Klaatu explains that the now-destroyed hand device was "a gift for your President.  With this he could have studied life on the other planets...". Organ and theremin figures featured
6 Escape   Klaatu has disappeared (escaped from) from the hospital and a search is begun. Army motif, Space motif
7 Solar Diamonds   Klaatu askes if his diamonds could be used to pay for movie tickets ("Do you think they'd accept these?" - unused cue, happens after Arlington) Isolated vibraphone chords
8 Arlington   Bobby, a young boy, shows Klaatu his father's grave at Arlington cemetary as they discuss the foolishness of war ("Did all those people die in wars?"). Pastoral, trumpet-led brass ("Memorial motif")
9 Lincoln Memorial   Klaatu and Bobby visit the Lincoln Memorial ("That's the kind of man I'd like to talk to".) Memorial motif developed
10 Nocturne Bobby sees Klaatu sneak out of the house and follows him to the saucer. 5/4 meter: High organ figures over brass, then low harp figures, etc
The Flashlight (2:22) Klaatu signals Gort with a flashlight. Theremins over electric cello and bass
The Robot (3:10) Gort knocks out the guards and Klaatu enters his ship.  Bobby panics and flees. Timpani glissandi and low brass, overdubbed Ray motif sting
Space Control (4:53) Klaatu enters a control room in the saucer and recites verbal instructions in an alien language. Theremin over high melodic ostinato patterns (vibr, celeste, piano, harp, electric guitar, etc…)
11 The Elevator Klaatu and Bobby's mother, Mrs. Benson, speak in an elevator but suddenly power goes out all over the world ("We shall be here for a little while.  About 30 minutes.") Theremin, organ and brass swells, mixed with multi-tracked reverb "tails" of vibr./chimes/cymbal/piano tape samples
Magnetic Pull (0:30) Electricity is neutralized all over the world in a montage. Tubas and el. bass enter, add'l organ, reverb tails continue (panned backwards tape effects create swells and cut offs)
The Study (2:09) Professor Barnhardt reacts in his study to Klaatu's demonstration of power. Vibraphone enters, reverb tails end
The Conference (2:48) The government discusses the power outage. Theremin, brass and piano ostinato duel (Radar figures)
The Jewelry Store (3:16) Mrs. Benson's boyfriend brings Klaatu's diamonds to the jewelry store to be examined.  Organ, vibr., trumpets.
"12:30" (3:55) As power returns, Klaatu explains to Mrs Benson that he will meet with the scientists of the world that evening. Theremin, organ and brass swells, reverb tails
12 Panic   The hunt for Klaatu is escalated. Space motif with organ featured and less theremin
13 The Glowing After the army has shot Klaatu dead, Gort begins glowing and melts away a glass encasement which was placed around him by the army, and begins killing off guards. Throbbing low organ/cymbal rolls leads to development of Gort motif (low theremins, timpani, organs, brass).  Multi-tracked backwards overdubs (Ray motif).
Alone (1:02) Mrs. Benson approaches the saucer alone. Timpani and theremin (and tam-tam)
Gort's Rage (1:59) Gort threatens Mrs. Benson as she screams. Gort motif on snarling brass and whining theremin
Nikto (2:38) Mrs. Benson gives to Gort Klaatu's final instruction ("Gort! Klaatu barada nikto"). Muted brass and theremin over Radar figures. (reprise of "The Visor")
The Captive (3:00) Gort brings Mrs. Benson into the saucer. Low figures with theremin on top
Terror (3:31) Gort locks Mrs. Benson inside the saucer control room. Subdued organ with muted brass/theremin ornaments, el. violin solo, etc… (changing orchestrations on stable figures)
14 The Prison   Gort melts a prison wall to retrieve Klaatu.  Soon, back at the saucer, he begins treating the seemingly dead alien. Gort and Ray motifs (multi-tracked overdubs).
15 Rebirth   Klaatus is revived and is greeted by an amazed Mrs. Benson. ("I thought you were…", "I was.") Organ and brass chords becomes el. violin, theremins as Klaatu revives
16 Departure   Gort emerges from the saucer followed by Klaatu and Mrs. Benson.  Klaatu makes a final ultimatum to the scientists and military surrounding the saucer.  He explains that his people have created a race of robots like Gort to destroy anyone who shows aggression.  ("Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer.") Organ featured with theremin, vibr. and brass ornaments (reprise of "Klaatu" w add'l tubas)
17 Farewell   Klaatu signals Gort that they are leaving ("Gort! Baringa.") and waves goodbye to Mrs. Benson. Memorial motif
18 Finale   The saucer recedes into outer space. Outer Space reprise, ending on a major chord cadence ("hopeful")

     This film score exists in several recorded editions.  The 1993 20th Century Fox Classic Series release has 18 tracks (as above).  A limited edition was also released with extra bonus tracks ansd studio outtakes.  In 2004 a remastered version was released as part of the Bernard Herrmann at 20th Century Fox box set (with more noise reduction and slightly different stereo placement of the overlay tracks).  In 2015 Kritzerland released a 2nd remaster (pretty close to the Fox box remaster but with slightly more bass).  The 2004 and 2015 CDs both have the bonus tracks (22 tracks).  In 2003 Joel McNeely re-recorded the score (in true stereo) with a 30-piece orchestra and Celia Sheen on theremin.  All of these releases are worthy of getting.

1993 20th Century Fox Classic Series release
2015 Kritzerland release
2003 McNeely rerecording (Varese Sarabande)
Wiki entry
Bill Wrobel Film Score Rundown (PDF)
Waging the Peace: Bernard Herrmann and The Day the Earth Stood Still (Anthony J. Bushard) 
Bernard Herrmann as Musical Colorist: A Musicodramatic Analysis of The Day the Earth Stood Still (E. Todd Flegel) 

Bernard Herrmann Wiki
Bernard Herrmann Society
Bernard Herrmann Society Facebook
Film Score Rundowns Herrmann Page 
Herrmann Film Score Lovers Facebook


  1. Hi Ed, You may be able to still find the actual score in PDF form here:

    1. I have it in my archives - came in very useful but hard to read! :)