Today’s date marks the official birthday of a quintessential American form of 20th century music—for cartoons.
It was on November 18, 1928, that the first-ever animated cartoon with its own synchronized soundtrack debuted at the Colony Theater in New York City. This was Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse, who amazed audiences when he spoke up in a squeaky, falsetto voice provided by none other than Disney himself. Mickey pulled the whistle on his steamboat—a startling sonic effect in those days—and, oblivious of the impending animal rights movement, coaxed music from various squeezed and plucked barnyard colleagues.
That music was composed by a quiet, unassuming theater organist out of Kansas City named Carl Stalling, who was soon lured to Hollywood by Disney to work on subsequent Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons. In 1936, Stalling joined the Warner Brothers studios, and for the next 22 years was the music director for classic Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck cartoons.
Stalling’s wonderfully wacky and endlessly inventive music was usually ignored by “serious” music critics as beneath notice. Ironically, his scores feature the same dizzying shifts of mood, tempo and instrumentation as the most complex avant-garde scores of the post-war period: Stockhausen and Boulez meet Tweety and Sylvester?
Music Played in Today's Program
Carl Stalling (1888-1974) Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals and To Itch his Own Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra Warner Bros. 26027
On This Day
1786 - frequently cited birthdate of German composer Carl Maria Von Weber, in Eutin, Oldenburg (the exact date is not certain);
1836 - British playwright Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, in London; Gilbert provided most of the witty librettos for the famous operettas of Sir Arthur Sullivan;
1895 - Russian composer and pianist Sergei Liapunov (Lyapunov), in Yaroslavl (Gregorian date: Nov. 30);
1860 - Polish composer, piano virtuoso, and statesman, Ignace Jan Paderewski, in Kurylowka, Podolia/Russian Poland(see Julian date: Nov. 6);
1909 - American song writer and lyricist Johnny Mercer, in Savannah, Ga.;
1953 - American composer and American folksong compiler, Ruth Crawford (Seeger), age 52, in Chevy Chase, Md.; She was the step-mother of the famous folk singer Peter Seeger;
1999 - American composer and author Paul Bowles, age 88, in Tangier, Morocco;
1875 - Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 3 in c, Op. 60, in Vienna, by the Hellmesberger Quartet, with the composer at the piano;
1877 - Tchaikovsky: “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” in Moscow (Gregorian date: Nov. 30);
1883 - Dvorak: "Husitska" Overture at the opening of the Czech National Theater in Prague;
1891 - Tchaikovsky: symphonic balled "The Voyevode" in Moscow (Julian date: Nov. 6);
1953 - Peter Mennin: Symphony No. 6, by the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky;
1968 - Paul Creston: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, in Montevallo, Alabama;
1741 - Handel arrives in Dublin for an extended stay, involving a number of concerts in the Irish capital, including the premiere of his latest oratorio "Messiah" the following Spring (Gregorian date: Nov. 29);
1928 - Mickey Mouse debuts in "Steamboat Willie," in New York; This was the first animated cartoon with synchronized pre-recorded sound effects and music -- the latter provided by organist and composer Carl Stalling of Kansas City; Stalling would later provide memorial music for many classic Warner Brothers cartoons;
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About Composers Datebook®
Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.
He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.