The Hunchback of Notre Dame Original Soundtrack – Review

Album Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame Original Soundtrack
Cartoon Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Composer: Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz (lyrics)
Catalog Number: B000001M31
Release Type: Soundtrack
Release Date: June 21, 1996
Purchase at: Amazon, Amazon MP3, iTunes


Tracklist:

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Track Title Artist Time
01. The Bells of Notre Dame Paul Kandel, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay & Chorus 6:25
02. Out There Tony Jay and Tom Hulce 4:25
03. Topsy Turvy Paul Kandel & Chorus 5:35
04. Humiliation Score with Chorus 1:39
05. God Help the Outcasts Heidi Mollenhauer & Chorus 3:43
06. The Bell Tower Score 3:04
07. Heaven’s Light/Hellfire Tom Hulce, Tony Jay & Chorus 5:22
08. A Guy like You Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, Mary Wickes & Mary Stout 2.54
09. Paris Burning Score with Chorus 1:54
10. The Court of Miracles Paul Kandel & Chorus 1:27
11. Sanctuary! Score with Chorus 6:01
12. And He Shall Smite the Wicked Score with Chorus 3:29
13. Into the Sunlight Score 2:09
14. The Bells of Notre Dame (Reprise) Paul Kandel & Chorus 1:09
15. Someday All-4-One 4:20
16. God Help the Outcasts Bette Midler 3:28

Review: Probably one of the more controversial titles in the Disney pantheon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame impressed critics with its grandiose and darker than usual subject matter. Seeking to echo these themes, Alan Menken (who has won eight Academy Awards from scoring Disney films), created a soundtrack with songs that were more dramatic and certainly darker than Disney scores prior.

The first track, “The Bells of Notre Dame”, serves as exposition for its audience.  It’s one of my favourite pieces, with the charismatic Clopin, leader of the gypsies, telling the tale of Judge Frollo’s murder of Quasimodo’s mother and the boy’s subsequent adoption. Its tone is light at first, but then descends to a haunting, thrilling chorus of Latin verses which grow to a majestic climax. Clopin’s voice returns in an airy form to set the theme for the film by asking, “Who is the monster and who is the Man?” He then finishes the song with an incredible falsetto that starts the film perfectly.

The Bells of Notre Dame

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Throughout the soundtrack, the songs explore and play on the themes of darkness and light. “Topsy Turvy” plays as intended, with lyrics that let loose by throwing everything out of place amidst a jangling jig. It’s a fun piece, with only a slight hint of menace in the celebrations. “Out There” has Frollo gravely lecturing Quasimodo of the dangers of the world outside, but when Frollo leaves, Quasimodo sings of heading out into the world and experiencing its joys. The song is uplifting and conveys the innocent hope perfectly to the listener. Helps that veteran Tom Hulce produces a magnificent performance as Quasimodo and is envied among many a struggling baritone. Furthering this juxtaposition of darkness and light is the song “Heaven’s Light, Hellfire.” Amidst light bells, Quasimodo sings of meeting Esmeralda (whom he calls an angel) and expresses his wish to see her again. In Frollo’s “Hellfire” piece, these bells turn into a mournful prayer of confession, which serves as the counterpoint to his torment and lust for Esmeralda. This motif occurs again several times in other parts of the soundtrack.

Out There

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It’s not all drama in the score. God Help the Outcasts offers a quiet moment where Esmeralda asks for aid for the gypsies who Frollo hunts. It’s a lilting plea for the people others have forgotten and is really quite beautiful even if the Bette Midler version in the soundtrack, though sung very well by the songstress, doesn’t capture the agony and beauty of the film version.

The soundtrack features another pop song: Someday by All-4-One. It’s corny, but very catchy as All-4-One take it in their stride with a poignant delivery via exquisite harmonies. There’s also A Guy Like You, which is the soundtrack’s weakest song and probably just Menken’s need to include a show piece in a children’s film. While comical, the song just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the pieces.

The main stars in this score however, are the instrumentals. Tense strings and horns in Humiliation play a mockery of Out There, and are thoroughly heart-rending in the scene where Quasimodo is attacked by the vicious mob. The Bell Tower, with motifs from God Help the Outcasts and Someday, features airy bells accompanying lush strings, perfectly conveying Quasimodo’s innocent yearning for Esmeralda.

Paris Burning, Sanctuary and And He Shall Smite the Wicked, all have the strong Hellfire motif, paired with pulsating brass and that awe-inspiring chorus. Sanctuary, the longest piece of the instrumental tracks, has the bulk of the tension and danger carried through the chorus and pipe organ. This is tail-ended by the heralding of trumpets as the heroes arrive to save the day. And He Shall Smite the Wicked reprises the chants in The Bells of Notre Dame as Quasimodo battles Frollo for the last time. The piece is slower, but with the pipe organ in the background, much more definite.

Sanctuary

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Into the Sunlight runs the finale of the film, with the strings playing the Out There motif before moving into a reprise of The Bells of Notre Dame, where Clopin this time asks, “What makes a monster and what makes a Man?” This question is left up in the air, but the question seems to answer itself as the darkness yields to the light once the ringing bells, the blaring brass and that sumptuous chorus all combine into a more hopeful version of Hellfire, and a triumphant, glorious end.

The Bells of Notre Dame (Reprise)

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame is perhaps my favourite of the Disney movie soundtracks, aside from possibly the Beauty and the Beast. Though a couple of songs detract from the feel of it, the chorus arrangements are stunning and the daring behind a soundtrack like this is definitely worth the respect it garners.

And now if you would excuse me, I’m going to try and sing Out There again.

Rating: Excellent

maskerade

I'm an avid listener of Anime Music, with Yoko Kanno my Goddess. I'm also a huge fan of jazz and have enjoyed the currents of the indie Jrock scene these past years. I'm also an unfortunate rambler and starving writer, all of which leads me to write reviews for this fair blog. I tend to stare a lot.

9 thoughts on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame Original Soundtrack – Review

  • April 9, 2013 at 8:49 pm
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    So is this blog going to permanently focus on western animation soundtracks, or will it continue to cover anime soundtracks? Because if so, I’m pretty sure this site will lose a LOT of its readers.

    Reply
    • April 10, 2013 at 7:04 am
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      Stop reviewing Western kiddy cartoon music and go back to Japanese kiddy cartoon music!

      Reply
    • April 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm
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      It’s something we’ve been discussing for a while – thi shift of priorities. And Western cartoon music sometimes has very intricate instrumentation that we can certainly learn from. For example, you could perhaps compare the Latin chants in Hunchback to those English-esque ones that are in new EVA movies, for eg: http://youtu.be/cOcI5p8zsxE

      It’s a whole new world out there.

      Reply
  • April 9, 2013 at 10:39 pm
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    Hoh… starting by jumping right into the Disney Renaissance. Worrying about not seeing anymore anime soundtrack reviews is pretty silly. After all, it IS called Anime Instrumentality. If they really were leaving behind anime music, they’d probably close shop on this site and start a new one, right? Anyway, some people may need a reminder that Western animation was a thing once upon a time (and still is). Of course, arguing about the state of the animation industries is off on a tangent. The music at least should be able to transcend cultural and national boundaries, no?

    My question would be how the reviewers plan to choose the works to review. From what I’ve seen on this blog recently, most posts have followed the latest works as they have come out and evaluated on the spot, good or bad. Are we now to see only what the writers think are the cream of the crop from old masterpieces, or do the editors have a different plan in mind? I would very much enjoy articles that further explore the perceived divide between Western and Japanese animation/music industries and see how much is empty bias and how much is real.

    And now I’ve said to much. If this really was just schmuck bait to an extended April Fool’s joke, you got me, hook line and sinker.

    Reply
    • April 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm
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      We want to start strong in our subtle shift to this new focus, which is why we’ve used one of Disney’s better scores. It’s a hard-hitting triumph of a soundtrack which should capture the imagination and support of what we’re trying to do. Western animation music is still most assuredly a thing (the UP soundtrack is beautifully done), and very different from the candy-manufacture of anime soundtracks nowadays. Ah, I live for the good ole days.

      I believe the plan for this is to review the cream first, before slowly delving into the new-ish stuff (eg. The Croods has a thumping soundtrack reminiscent of John William’s best) which I’ve applied to review a few weeks down the road. In the meantime, more individual pieces of Western animation backlist should appear. It’s terribly exciting!

      Reply
  • April 11, 2013 at 2:40 am
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    Shouldn’t you change the name of the site then, as well? The title “Anime Instrumentality” is terribly misleading if you are going to exclusively review western music.

    Reply
  • April 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm
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    i don’t mind the shift either way,
    then again, i don’t really know of other English websites reviewing anime music…
    though i don’t remember the last time i heard a recent, half-memorable anime soundtrack.
    i love Disney music, but the flavor is too um…western to me, for my personal lack of a better term…its soundtracks frequently remarked and critiqued upon as to bordering snooze territory
    まぁいいや as they say, i’ll follow the sails for now

    Reply

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