March 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Leith STEVENS Destination Moon The Vienna Concert Orchestra conducted by Heinz Sandaur OST    CITADEL STC 77101 [42:44]

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Destination Moon was one of the first 'modern' science fiction films and I remember playing truant off school to see it up in the Gods (the highest gallery) in a cinema in Nottingham in England's East Midlands. I was mightily impressed and was so sure that we would reach the moon in reality within 25 years that I earned myself the nickname 'Spaceship!' That's early commitment and enthusiasm for you!

George Pal's Destination Moon (1950) was the first feature film to tackle the problem of realistically visualising a scientifically accurate (for the times) simulation of an actual flight to the moon. Hitherto there had only been risible cardboard cut-outs such as those featured in the Flash Gordon films. For Destination Moon, the scientific and space experts were called in such as famed space artist Chesley Bonestell. For the music, Pal turned to Leith Stevens whose contribution matched the awesome visuals. Stevens was later employed by George Pal to score his later Academy-Award winning films: War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide. Stevens scored for more close on fifty feature films including The Wild One and The James Dean Story. At the tiome of his death in 1970, he was head of music at Paramount Television.

Leith's richly textured and atmospheric music from the film as presented here is in five substantial cues. It begins with 'Earth' that is concerned with the preparations for the flight. This is slow imposing music of grave grandeur, earnest, anticipatory and somewhat anxious. There is a mechanical feel about some of the material as the rocket's tweaking is concluded and a brief element of humour for the comic relief of the Dick Wesson character. The cue ends with the explosive sound effects of the blast-off.

The second, lengthy and complex cue 'In Outer Space' opens in grave grandeur, with material given to the lower instruments, suggesting the awesome vastness and blackness of space. A lighter second subject on the violins evokes the beauty of the star-speckled heavens. More disturbed passages, influenced by modern Russian composers like Shostakovich, underline the psychological stresses experienced by the crew on the journey. Bouncy figures, sounding a little oriental, underline the curious feeling of weightlessness as the crew spin about the cabin when free of their harnesses. Anxious figures reappear as preparation for touch-down on the moon begins. The ethereal beauty of the space music is as impressive as anything that John Williams would later pen. The most interesting feature is the introduction of a theme that is very reminiscent of David Raksin's Laura music - a very potent choice for the moon as beautiful but enigmatic and dangerous - as a hostile environment. This theme, in variation form, will now dominate the score.

The tempo becomes brisker for 'On the Surface of the Moon' for the excitement of the actual landing and slow again as the crew appreciate the still, silvery beauty of the lunar landscape. Long woodwind passages are interrupted by sudden chords as the men bound across the moon's surface in great 100 ft strides. In 'Escape from the Moon' the material underscores the anxieties of the spacemen in preparing for the take-off back to earth for much equipment has to be jettisoned before they can leave the moon. This another substantial and lengthy cue; evocative and tense and exciting. 'Finale' takes the spaceship back to Earth and the score ends jubilantly as the end of the adventure approaches.

A very impressive score


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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