'Toon-ful music by Carl Stalling for Tuesday, November 19, 2019
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?