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King Kong

King Kong

Max Steiner

Production Credits
Original score by Max Steiner
Composed for the film King Kong, 1933
Produced by John W. Morgan
Recorded October 1999

22 Tracks, Total Time 72 min.

Performed by Moscow Symphony Orchestra

William Stremberg, conductor
Original Orchestration, Bernard Kaun
Sound Effects, Muray Spivak

King Kong was Max Steiner's and film music's greatest achievement in the early Thirties. Starting in 1929, the composer contributed main and end titles to over fifty RKO-produced pictures prior to Kong. Occasionally, he was allowed to more fully underscore important pictures such as Cimarron (1931), and The Most Dangerous Game (1932). However, it wasn't until 1933 and King Kong that Steiner was offered a film wherin music would play such an important role in creating and sustaining atmosphere, characterization and pacing.

Production Sketch According to the composer himself, when Kong was near the final editing stages, RKO prisident B.B. Kahane told Steiner that he had doubts about the public's reception to the film, and not to spend any additional money on music: "Use some old tracks we already have." Steiner later stated that he didn't have any music tracks for a picture like this, asking, "What am I going to play, Little Women?" Merian Cooper stepped in and said, "Maxie, go ahead and score the picture to the best of your ability and don't worry about the cost because I will pay for the orchestra and any extra charges." Steiner did, adding $50,000 to the budget.

The composer worked in close collaboration with the director during the composing of the score. During the early stages, Steiner suggested that it might be effective not to underscore the first part of the film which dealt with the realities of depression-torn New York and the subsequent voyage to Kong's island. Merian Cooper agreed. Music would be brought in when reality gives way to dream-like fantasy as the ship moves through the fog surrounding Skull Island. From that point on, music is present throughout most of the film.

The score was begun by Steiner on December 9, 1932, and completed about eight weeks later. As was his usual custom, the composer conducted the recording himself, using an orchestra of as many as 46 players, a number considerably highter than was customary in the film studios of the day. After the score was recorded, Murray Spivak, the sound effects technician, altered the pitches and placement of the sound effects to conform to the music--an innovation at the time. This, he felt, would make bearable the almost uninterrupted cacophony of sound effects and thunderous music heard during the last two-thirds of the picture.

Production Sketch With over 300 scores to his credit, King Kong remained one of the composer's personal favorites. Steiner called it one of his few modernistic scores, and added that while it "worried" some of his friends in Vienna and America, it won him new admirers in France and Russia. Kong's music proved extremely durable. The music tracks were used in many subsequent RKO productions: Son of Kong, The Last of the Mohicans, and dozens of others. Steiner himself reprised certain portions of the score in Warner's White Heat, Distant Drums, and So Big.

Few film scores generate the admiration and affection that King Kong does for film buffs and students everywhere. Created when sound film was in its infancy, the power, originality, and importance of this score can not be overestimated. It is one of the key works of our cinematic heritage, one which furnished a sturdy foundation for the style and artistic principles of Hollywood's film music for many years to come.

--FRED STEINER, from the liner notes, 1976

A selection of King Kong related music.

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A selection of King Kong in books.

A History of Horror

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