Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Stilwell, Robynn J. “‘I Just Put a Drone under Him . . . ’: Collage and Subversion in the Score of ‘Die Hard.’” Music & Letters 78 (November 1997): 551-80.

Michael Kamen’s score to Die Hard is both an integral part of the complete text and an interpretation of the film. The score focuses on the character of Hans Gruber rather than the hero John McClane, and Kamen’s choices aid in the characterization of Gruber as a sophisticated anti-hero rather than a villain. In a particularly illuminating scene, Kamen further musically distinguishes Gruber from McClane by scoring a speech as a recitative and aria, and the music is sensitive to Alan Rickman’s delivery. Kamen communicates cultural information and further elevates Gruber by the extensive use of borrowed music. Whereas McClane has no musical theme, Kamen assigns quotations and manipulations of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to Gruber. The choice of Beethoven was a suggestion from the film’s director, John McTiernan, influenced by Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos’s score for A Clockwork Orange. Kamen’s uses of Beethoven (and Singin’ in the Rain, also used in A Clockwork Orange) are dramatically and musically distinct from the earlier film. Whereas in A Clockwork Orange the borrowings are largely quotations that frame the violent and transgressive onscreen acts, Kamen’s score manipulates the borrowed melodies as themes appropriate to the dramatic action and cultural suggestions of the film.

Works: John McTiernan (director) and Michael Kamen (composer): score to Die Hard (552, 561-72, 575-80); Stanley Kubrick (director) and Wendy (Walter) Carlos (composer): score to A Clockwork Orange (568-72).

Sources: James Lord Pierpont: Jingle Bells (561-62); Felix Bernard and Dick Smith: Winter Wonderland (561, 563); Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (561); Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown: Singin’ in the Rain (561-63, 568-71); Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (563-71).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Kate Altizer

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