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Marvelous old-fashioned disaster movie score gets welcome CD release at last

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Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Universal Music Enterprises; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall

A somewhat fictionalised account of the Hindenburg tragedy, The Hindenburg came towards the end of the 1970s' disaster movie cycle, with George C Scott playing a friendly Nazi on board the ill-fated dirigible, and Anne Bancroft, William Atherton and Burgess Meredith amongst the supporting cast.  Director Robert Wise was nearing the end of his career (though he would live for another three decades) - he was always a "horses for courses" type director when it came to music, choosing the right composer for each individual project rather than sticking with one over any great period of time.  For The Hindenburg, he opted for David Shire, riding at the height of his popularity following his epochal score for The Conversation.

In fact, this was the first time Shire provided a film with a full, symphonic score - but it was worth the wait!  From the pomp and sweep of the main theme heard over the opening titles, the listener is hooked.  Bizarrely, the studio demanded that Shire remove the  soprano who originally sang the wordless melody in case the viewers got confused (frankly, they were more likely to be confused by why on earth they had bothered going to see the film) and so the composer replaced it with a solo trumpet line - giving it a gloriously noble air.

"The Letter" presents the first action music, a very exciting cacophony of brass which comes from a very individual composer who elicits a similar emotional response as many of his illustrious contemporaries, but does it in his own personal way.  "Suspect Montage" presents an intriguing little suspense motif, and shows that Shire could write music just as compelling for a smaller ensemble as he did for the full orchestra in the previous two cues.  Much of the rest of the score is built from the foundations laid down in those three cues - there is action music which excites, romance which sweeps, suspense which thrills.  There are one or two set-pieces besides, though - the simply gorgeous, liltingly beautiful love theme in "Colonel Ritter and the Countess" - and the amusing satirical song "There's a Lot to be Said for the Fuehrer", written by Shire with lyricist Edward Kleban and sung by actor Peter Donat.  "Prelude to the Holocaust" is an arrestingly powerful piece towards the album's end.

In short, this is vintage film music.  I'm very tempted to compare Shire as a composer with John Williams, since there are certainly similarities between them when Shire writes large-scale music like this - but frankly, The Hindenburg is infinitely better than anything Williams wrote for these disaster movies.  Just take a listen to the action piece "Fin Repair Sequence" - on a "blind tasting" you might almost suggest this had been composed by Williams - but Williams had never written anything remotely so complex by this stage of his career.  The finale is also glorious, though it does seem a pity that it is accompanied by the famous radio commentary of the tragedy by Herb Morrison.

This new release from Intrada is a reissue of the old LP soundtrack from the time of the film, complete with that aforementioned narration over the finale, and the source music "Newsreel Prologue".  Little of Shire's music in the film didn't make the album, as it happens, so nearly the whole score is here.  The package is rounded off by Jeff Bond's liner notes - and hopefully the promise of more reissues of old LPs from the Universal Music vaults!  The Hindenburg is great music, a must for fans of Shire, and the large-scale symphonic scores of the era.


  1. Newsreel Prologue (2:44)
  2. Main Title (2:56)
  3. The Letter (2:34)
  4. Suspect Montage (3:19)
  5. Up Ship / Freda and the Gestapo / The Card Game (2:44)
  6. Colonel Ritter and the Countess (2:07)
  7. Fin Repair Sequence (4:58)
  8. There's a Lot to be Said for the Fuehrer Peter Donat and Robert Clary (2:45)
  9. Boerth Sets the Bomb / Preparing to Land (3:21)
  10. Prelude to the Holocaust (3:34)
  11. Retrospective and End Title (4:36)