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Music from the Movies

The Carl Stalling Project

Discover the genius behind the “Golden Age” of cartoons.

Carl Stalling
Carl Stalling. Fair use image.

This weekend we’ll explore the systematic and mathematical world of Carl Stalling‘s compositions, guided by composer Robert Nelson. Stalling was a unique composer who could read between the synchronization clicks and find the music to carry a cartoon. It might only last 10 seconds, but each cue he wrote had a colorful flair that timed perfectly with the action.

Today, almost anyone with a computer and basic knowledge of music programs can create a piece of music that will stay in time with the video. But this was a much greater challenge in the 1930’s.

Before Warner Bros., Stalling was busy making music for Walt Disney. During that time, he developed an intricate method of synchronization to keep the music timed with the film. Composer Robert Nelson will share trade secrets that he personally learned as a film and documentary composer. We’ll explore many of Stalling’s scores from 1938-1958 including the last score he wrote before his retirement from Warner Bros. in 1958.

To fully appreciate the work it took to compose this music, take a look at these pages from a Carl Stalling score:


They represent the first minute of music from the cartoon “The Hasty Hare”. Try to follow along with the video below:

You can see the skeleton outline of the score and how quickly it goes by. Imagine calculating evey beat and converting it to frames per beat, then composing, orchestrating, and eventualy recording it all, just in time to start the next one.

Tune in to Music from the Movies with Brad Sayles this Saturday at 7pm or Sunday at 5pm on Classical 91.7 to explore this intricate process and hear incredible scores.