The sound of violence 

Tracking Kubrick's Shining soundtrack

A movie soundtrack these days is typically a product tie-in, crammed with the maximum amount of pop filler—old, new, borrowed and blue—for the express purpose of moving additional units of related product. If you rent the video, there’s a separate trailer flogging the CD of songs that get played 10 times a day on the radio anyway, “now available” on the subsidiary record label owned by the same corporate colossus that also dabbles in missile components.

No such one-stop musical shopping trip awaits the collector keen on acquiring the classical cataclysms of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. An official soundtrack LP was released in 1980 and apparently stayed in print for about three minutes. Now some assembly is required.

The information to which you are about to be made privy is the result of an Arthurian quest for the music of The Shining, embarked upon in the Dark Ages before the Internet, and eventually compiled and vetted with the various online resources that have since become available. If you’re a diehard fan of The Shining and uneasy listening generally, you’re welcome. You can pick and choose by scene or composer, or you can kiss $100 goodbye and still not get quite everything. Pretty close, though.

Béla Bartók: Movement III of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, a 1936 “abstract drama” pairing two identical string orchestras against each other and a central percussion group, is used extensively in the movie. It first appears when Wendy and Danny explore the Overlook’s hedge maze while Jack throws a ball against the lobby walls and gazes down at a scale model. It makes a second appearance when Danny tries to open the still-locked door to room 237. The third and creepiest appearance comes when Danny returns to the family apartment to get his fire engine and finds Jack sitting on the bed staring out the window. The Deutsche Grammophon version with Pierre Boulez conducting the Chicago Symphony is pretty good.

György Ligeti: Apparently a favorite of Kubrick’s, this Hungarian composer’s music appears in at least two other Kubrick films: 2001: A Space Odyssey (remember the jarring choral clusters when the apes come across the monolith?) and Eyes Wide Shut (the two-note piano leitmotif that you either love or hate by the end of the movie). Ligeti’s 1967 Lontano is used three times in The Shining: when Danny sees the twins in the game room, when Halloran “shines” with Danny as he’s showing Wendy around the store room, and when Wendy discovers the Overlook’s phone lines are down. A version of Lontano is available on the Teldec label’s Ligeti Project II.

Krzysztof Penderecki: When you think of music from The Shining, chances are you’re thinking of something by this Polish composer, whose work from the early ’60s onward wedded the aleatoric (i.e. partly chance-based in the choice of notes) compositional approach of contemporaries like Karlheinz Stockhausen to a far more accessible religious sensualism. Penderecki’s music dominates The Shining, and most of it is available on CD. Start with Concerto for Violin, disc 5 in the EMI Classics Matrix series, which also includes The Awakening of Jacob (1974), De Natura Sonoris 1 (1966) and 2 (1971). The three pieces are used variously when Wendy discovers that Jack has sabotaged the Snowcat, when Danny blacks out while talking with Tony, when he rounds the corner on his Big Wheel and sees the twins, and in several other scenes, sometimes layered with other sounds. A fourth selection, Polymorphia (1961), appears when Wendy finds Jack’s stack of “all work and no play” typing. The piece was also featured in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and appears on that movie’s soundtrack album.

Perhaps the freakiest Penderecki compositions in the film are Ewangelia and Kanon Paschy, which we hear when Wendy sees Danny’s “redrum” message and the various ghosts of the Overlook coming to life. You might be surprised—given that one of these scenes involves fellatio and an animal costume—to learn that both pieces were excerpted from a longer 1969-70 work called Utrenja (“morning prayer”) that Penderecki wrote about the death, entombment and resurrection of Jesus.

Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind: The Shining soundtrack is essentially a collection of “temp tracks” that director Kubrick used as musical placeholders while filming and ended up never replacing in the final score. What little original score there is was created by collaborators Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, who wrote a great deal of music for The Shining that was either unused or ended up layered beneath pieces by other composers in the final sound mix. Some of this will apparently be released on a forthcoming album of “unheard” film music by Carlos, who also created the popular early synth album Switched-On Bach and composed the soundtrack to Disney’s Tron.

To date, alas, Carlos and Elkind’s most prominent contributions to The Shining are available only on the deleted soundtrack LP (although reportedly not the same versions that appear in the film). “The Shining (Main Title),” which accompanies the opening helicopter shot, is Carlos’ adaptation of the Dies Irae (“day of wrath”), a medieval funeral dirge also incorporated by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz into his Symphonie Fantastique. Carlos composed the music; Elkind supplies the ghostly wails. A similar piece, “Rocky Mountains,” accompanies the family drive to the Overlook.

Ray Noble and His Orchestra: Finally, a little big-band music. “Midnight, the Stars and You,” recorded in 1932 by Ray Noble and His Orchestra with vocal by Al Bowlly, appears during Jack’s “Fourth of July Ball” dream sequence in the Overlook’s Gold Ballroom, and again during the closing credits. “It’s All Forgotten Now,” another 1932 Noble recording with a Bowlly vocal, can be heard in the ballroom lavatory while Jack talks with Delbert Grady. Both songs were left off the soundtrack LP in favor of another bathroom tune: a late-’20s recording of “Home” by Henry Hall and the Gleneagles Hotel Band.

The Shining will be shown at the UC movie theater on Friday (Halloween night) at midnight.

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