Posted by: Jeff | February 17, 2010

Music Wednesday

This week on Music Wednesday, we present the evolution (cynics would call it the de-evolution) of a musical idea. And it begins with “Gassenhauer,” meaning “Street Song,” by Carl Orff. It’s from Orff’s Schulwerk, which wasn’t so much a composition as it was a full-blown musical teaching regimen developed by Orff and his collaborator Gunild Keetman in the 1920s. In fact, some inquiries credit Keetman with composing “Gassenhauer” specifically. Give it a listen.

Sound familiar? It should, because it featured heavily in Terrence Malick’s Badlands back in 1973. But even more than that, since Badlands‘ release the piece has gone on to seep into our collective pop-consciousness in interesting ways. See, for instance, the first cut off the soundtrack to True Romance from 1993, entitled “You’re So Cool” and composed by Hans Zimmer.

A lot of people (including Wikipedia, apparently) make the mistake of assuming the two pieces are one and the same. They’re not, but given the similarities, not just between the music for Badlands and True Romance, but between the films as a whole, Zimmer was pretty obviously working off “Gassenhauer” when he wrote this.

Now, “Gassenhauer” itself was apparently based on a much earlier work for lute, written by one Hans Neusiedler way back in 1536. Orff actually indicates the lineage in the full title of his piece. So one could argue that Zimmer was aware of the tradition, started by Orff, of re-tooling and building upon the original theme and was simply continuing in the same vein. Of course, one could also argue that Zimmer, Scott and Tarantino simply thought Badlands was a really cool flick with really cool music, and were happy to rip it off borrow liberally from it. I’m a bit of a cynic, so I’m inclined to go with the latter explanation.

Still, it’s ultimately a silly complaint. The music in all its iterations is a lovely motif, the kind of thing that just sticks in your head for days and then, long after it’s faded from the front of your mind, pops back up at the oddest moments and makes you smile. Even if most people don’t know where it originated. (But hey, that’s what I’m here for.)

In fact, “Gassenhauer” is now not only being borrowed from by major film composers, it’s being borrowed from by those unsung second-tier guys who pepper the internet with stock music for trailers and commercials and such. Here’s an arrangement of it by a composer named Bill Brown, which showed up in one of the more lyrical moments to an interesting-but-flawed film called Finding Forrester, released in 2000. (Go 15 seconds in to the clip.)

So there you have it. It’s been ten years since Finding Forrester, and that came out seven years after True Romance, so at this rate the piece is due to pop up again somewhere. Keep your ears to the ground.

In the meantime, here’s what may be an alternate recording of “You’re So Cool,” or simply another track from Zimmer’s score. Gotta love that massive-sounding synth percussion.

And here’s some dude playing it on his synth piano on YouTube. I swear, everybody loves this piece!

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