ANIMATION SPIN
January 20, 2015 posted by Greg Ehrbar

“Fantasia” on Records

In the 75 years since its release, Walt Disney’s animation landmark continues to astonish for its ambitious creativity just as its soundtrack continues to enthrall for its power and splendor.

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Walt Disney’s FANTASIA
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Leopold Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra
Disneyland/Buena Vista Records WDX-101 (Mono / 1957) STER-101 (Stereo / 1961) (12” 33 1/3 RPM / 3 Records and 23-Page Book)

Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Artwork: Al Dempster, Art Riley, Dick Kelsey. Recording Supervisor: Richard O. Cook. Running Time: 104 minutes.
Music: “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach; “The Nutcracker Suite” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas; “Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky; “The Pastoral Symphony” by Ludwig von Beethoven; “Dance of the Hours” by Amilcare Ponchielli; “Night On Bald Mountain” by Modeste Moussorgsky; “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert.

It might be said that, if Fantasia were Walt Disney’s single work, it would still assure his place in history. Just when one thinks he or she is “over it,” another viewing is a reminder of how epic and packed it is as a visual work.

select_fantasia-600But as an aural experience, Fantasia is, first and foremost, a movie soundtrack. Any number of fine performances of the eight classical pieces would present the music to great advantage—and since the music was altered for Fantasia, some purists might say the other recordings are superior. Well that might be, but the Fantasia soundtrack album is not so much a rendering of already great music (and an excellent one at that), but a sound experience on its own level.

 

Even if one doesn’t know what “Fantasound” is and has no idea how revolutionary and unthinkable it was in the late 1930’s, listening to the Fantasia soundtrack is unique and astonishing. Everything about Fantasia was unthinkable when it was made, and the fact that an entirely new form of sound recording and reproduction was born for its presentation is just one of its landmarks.

Within the first few minutes, notes are bouncing back and forth from speaker to speaker and from all points between. At first it seems like those “ping-pong percussion” records of the late ‘50s, designed to impress guests with the wonders of home stereo systems. But it doesn’t take long to realize, especially when listening in headphones, that it’s much more than dial twisting. It’s a highly complex “dance” designed to accompany animated images. In the absence of those images, the music takes on yet another dimension, and quite often, surrealism.

dance_hours-500The Fantasia soundtrack was a jewel in the crown of Disneyland Records. Released a year after Disney’s in-house label was established, division head Jimmy Johnson had to obtain permission from Stokowski himself to release the album. In an amusing anecdote from his autobiography, Inside the Whimsy-Works, Johnson found “Stoki” at his swimming pool with his children (yes, from his previous marriage to Gloria Vanderbilt, and no, neither child was Anderson Cooper). Johnson inflated a pool toy and negotiated with the great conductor (whom Bugs Bunny impersonated in Long Haired Hare). Stoki had one stipulation: that the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians be given royalties, even though they had no legal entitlement.

 

Johnson agreed. The resulting album has been available in one form or another ever since. Initially, Johnson paired several pieces on single LP albums and made a story album from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” told by Sterling Holloway (on side two of “Peter and the Wolf” from Melody Time). Bits and pieces popped up as background on other albums, including “Bambi” and “The Great Composers.”

The selections were refitted to fill two records rather than three and reissued with the same cover art but without the book (which incidentally, was adapted from the Fantasia 1940 premiere program and tie-in book). When CD format came along, it was released in double disc sets. A few selections were even included on a promotional disc for Pioneer electronics.

(Click covers below to enlarge)

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Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection
FANTASIA

Walt Disney Records D002066392 (Stereo / 2014 / Four CDs and 28-Page Book)

Producers: Randy Thornton, Irwin Kostal. Sound Restoration: Terry Porter, Jeff Sheridan. Engineer: Mel Matcalfe. Compilation: Randy Thornton. Mastering: Jeff Sheridan. Liner Notes: Dave Bossert. Creative Direction: Dave Snow, Steve Gerdes. Package Design: Steve Gerdes. Original Painting and Illustrations: Lorelay Bové. Running Time: 232 minutes.

The Legacy Collection is an ongoing series of Disney soundtracks on multiple compact discs with extensive material including extra underscore, related recordings and “Lost Chords” (deleted songs presented in both demo form and in new vocal and orchestral performances). Each also features new liner notes from renowned Disney historians, artists and archivists—and stylized art created for the series by animation artist Lorelay Bové (Big Hero Six, Wreck-It Ralph, The Princess and the Frog).

Fantasia is the first soundtrack in the series to come from the original Disney “Golden Age.” It includes are no demos (obviously!), but it does boast the premiere of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” on CD. This is the track that was to accompany animation that was later used in Make Mine Music with the song “Blue Bayou.”

The entire contents of STER-101 comes back to disc for the third time and sounds better than ever. In fact, the 1982 digital soundtrack conducted by Disney Legend Irwin Kostal (Buena Vista LP #104)—which is also presented in its entirety on the new Legacy album, can’t quite duplicate the original, not that it makes a foolish attempt to try. The 1982 performance has flawless sound quality, superb performances and is in itself an amazing achievement (recreating the score and matching it to picture is no simple feat), but it’s almost too perfect. While the musicians sound as if they were positioned in specific locations to complement the picture, overall it’s a polished stereo recording without the wild, darting, boldly experimental sound of the 1940 soundtrack.

In the 1961 stereo LP release, Jimmy Johnson notes that “this by no means represents modern stereophonic recording, and no such claim is made. But it’s just that “non-modern,” hissing patina of an early film track being pushed into a revolutionary capability that makes it forever exciting.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Excerpt from The Story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
The new Fantasia Legacy Collection album also includes Sterling Holloway’s 1960 narrations of “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The original album appeared on CD briefly in 2003 as one of the “Wonderland Music Store” music-on-selections at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Was Holloway’s little “Hi, broom” line in this excerpt an ad-lib, or maybe his suggestion for the script?

15 Comments

  • Thank you for another fascinating post. I had the 3 record album with the cover matching your top photo. It opened into a full color book, illustrated with full page paintings for each selection. They are the same paintings used for the individual record albums you posted. It has been a while, but if I remember correctly, the book opened with a letter to the listener, signed by both Disney and Stokowski. I had the album several years before I was finally able to see the film at a local theater, although I had seen short selections on Disney’s TV shows.

    • Yes, there was a signed message from both Stokowski and Walt (whose signature looked more like his personal one).

    • I believe I have that LP set as well, though my copy is the original mono pressing.

  • Really looking forward to owning this CD, especially for the extras of “Claire de Lune” and the Sterling Holloway pieces. The entire Legacy series is outstanding. Does anyone know how it’s doing in terms of sales? More importantly, does anyone know if the company has committed to other titles beyond this year. There are so many good titles that deserve this treatment!

    • This is what has been announced for the rest of the year:
      Pinocchio 75th 2/3/15
      Toy Story 20th 3/17/15
      Disneyland 60th 4/7/15
      Lady and the Tramp 60th 5/12/15
      Pocahontas 20th 6/23/15
      The Aristocats 45th 8/14/15*
      Cinderella 65th 8/14/15*
      *First to Market at D23

      There may be more after this year. I don’t know how it is doing, but those who know about the series should run around where Disney fans are, waving the albums, so people know. Of course I’m kidding (though I would be happy do just that). Word has to keep getting among those of us who love this material. You know, like that Walt quote about “it requires people.”

      They sell these discs at Disney parks and resort stores and you can actually ask for Merchandise Guest Services and they’ll tell you which stores on property might have them. They’re in Barnes and Noble stores (that’s where I bought Fantasia), on amazon and on the new site (disneymusicemporium.com). Sorry for the blatant promotion, but these albums are worth having and worth continuing.

    • Hopefully LADY AND THE TRAMP will be in stereo this time.

    • I suppose no prospects for vinyl pressings are on the horizon, Greg. Somehow I’d like to see that happen. 🙁

  • Right on! I have the 3 record vinyl set, but have held off buying “Fantasia” on CD hoping such a collection would one day come along. Looking forward to “Pinocchio” as well – one of the best movie scores ever.

    • I find it difficult to get interested in CD’s lately. Technology has moved too fast for me, I sorta want it to be on LP again. At least the booklets would be a lot bigger to immerse your face on the artwork (if included).

    • Chris, you’re not alone. CDs have come to seem devalued as collector’s items. It’s one reason the LP market has shown a resurgence. If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds of the new Fantasia collection getting a premium vinyl issue are quite good, seeing as how interest in Disney stuff never fades.

    • Chris, you’re not alone. CDs have come to seem devalued as collector’s items. It’s one reason the LP market has shown a resurgence.

      To me it’s more the impermanence of records over CD’s that made it all the more interesting to collect. Depending on how it’s cared for, the sound could vary over time. CD’s of course don’t have that problem, but at the same time, their convenience sorta spoils all it took to get it in the first place. There’s just something about having a format that could easily be worn out or ruined due to improper care interests me more.

      If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds of the new Fantasia collection getting a premium vinyl issue are quite good, seeing as how interest in Disney stuff never fades.

      We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed there! And hopefully it’ll be worth the price sticker they’ll slap on it.

  • I used to have the original vinyl set but it was ruined in a move. Does anyone know where I can buy another set?

    • Any vinyl collectors should check out http://www.discogs.com, where thousands of records are catalogued, bought, and sold.. There is eBay too, of course, and other online sites.

  • I just came across this post and thought you’d like to know the stereo version of this album was released on October 25, 1958 and not 1961 as reported online. There are documents on this page of our website: http://www.3dfilmarchive.com/first-year-of-stereo-records

    • Thanks, Bob.

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