Notes 60.1 (2003) 146-148
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The Cartoon Music Book. Edited by Daniel Goldmark and Yuval Taylor. Chicago: A Cappella Press, 2002. [xvi, 320 p. ISBN 1-55652-473-0. $18.95.] Illustrations, discography, bibliography.
While music scholars have been slow to recognize the art of film as a venue for serious musical composition and cultural criticism, they have been even slower to value music in a film genre that has had a long history of not being taken seriously—the cartoon. This mistake is something The Cartoon Music Book will most certainly help to correct. A thoughtful mix of source material and criticism, this anthology of essays makes readers aware of how important music has been in the history of animation, and also the role cartoons have played in both the history of music composition and music education in this country. [End Page 146]
The book gives persuasive argument, for instance, for placing legendary composers Carl Stalling, Raymond Scott, and Scott Bradley alongside America's most iconoclastic and inventive composers. Stalling receives special emphasis in this book both for having created the music for some of the first sound cartoons in the late 1920s and for inspiring a renaissance in music for animation in the early 1990s with the rerelease of recordings of his compositions. Three of the anthology's twenty-nine entries are devoted to describing and analyzing Stalling's work and nearly all of the composers interviewed or studied here, both contemporaries of Stalling and more current ones, mention his influence. While Stalling certainly casts a long shadow in the world of animation, the observation that his compositions ultimately bear comparison with his contemporary Charles Ives very importantly reminds us that he may also deserve an equally prominent place in the history of American music. This suggestion is mentioned in several essays in the anthology, but most convincingly argued in Kevin Whitehead's essay "Carl Stalling, Improviser and Bill Lava, Acme Minimalist."
Composer Raymond Scott, whose unique compositional voice has been recognized by jazz aficionados for some time, but whose innovations in the realm of electronic music are still in need of greater consideration, is also appropriately venerated in this collection. Scott never composed for cartoons but cartoon composers from Stalling up to those writing today have either borrowed from or been influenced by recordings of his quirky compositions for his jazz quintet. Rightly, Scott's influence on the sound of animation has been appropriately recognized in several entries, most significantly in Irwin Chusid's "Raymond Scott: Accidental Music for Animated Mayhem."
Scott Bradley's prominence in animated music history comes not only from giving sound to many of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's famous cartoons, but for challenging cartoon composers to use a more contemporary or modern musical vocabulary. Bradley is famous for having used the twelve-tone system on occasion in his scores. As he himself remembers in "Music in Cartoons," an essay originally written in 1944 and reprinted here, in some cases Schoenbergian techniques presented a new and superior alternative to traditional scoring methods. "Everything I tried seemed weak and common. Finally I tried the twelve-tone scale, and there it was!" he remarks. "I hope Dr. Schoenberg will forgive me for using his system to produce funny music, but even the boys in the orchestra laughed when we were recording it" (p. 118). Whether Arnold Schoenberg would have approved or not, we should remember Bradley for having given some of cinema's most recognizable faces—Tom and Jerry—a most contemporary voice.
Another strength of this collection is the credit it gives to several cartoon composers and directors for having taught generations of listeners the classical music literature, a cultural phenomenon of which all music scholars and educators on any level should be aware. As one of the book's editors, Daniel Goldmark, observes in his essay, "Classical Music and the Hollywood Cartoon,"
People of all ages throughout the United States—in fact, all over the world—are learning the rudiments of "classical music," that all-encompassing genre distinction that includes music not just from the so-called Classical era...