The music of THEM!

Bronislau Kaper’s score for Them! is one of the bona fide classics of horror/sci-fi cinema, and unfortunately was the composer’s only contribution to the genre.  This is because Kaper spent most of his Hollywood career at M-G-M, a studio that produced few sci-fi films.  The composer wasn’t sure why Warner Brothers asked him to take a break from M-G-M to score Them!, although Kaper surmised it was because he was in demand after winning an Academy Award for Lili the year before, which featured his popular song “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo.”  We can consider ourselves fortunate that Warners did not ask Kaper to write a song for Them!, as there aren't many words in the English language that rhyme with “larvae.”

Freeing himself from M-G-M’s reins probably helped Kaper, as he wrote a score different from any other in his canon, although there are definitely stylistic similarities to some of his other scores.  While M-G-M had a very careful and even sound, Kaper was able to score Them! with the full dynamic and orchestral ranges at his creative disposal.  The composer followed the approach of the script, taking the film very seriously and treating the ants as if they were a real menace.  Kaper enjoyed the wonderful sound of the Warner Brothers orchestra and scoring stage, although he was not happy when the film was released and much of his music was overwhelmed by loud sound effects.  Had he scored more monster pictures before Them!, he would have known that few monsters are quiet, and it usually takes a few noisy battles to destroy them. 

The foundation of his score is provided by two pianos, which Kaper wanted miked very close to the strings.  The pianos are used mainly for rhythmic purposes and musical sound effects rather than for melody, and they help create an unsettling ambience of apprehension as well as propelling scenes of aural terror that seem to explode from the screen.

Warners employed its standard-sized orchestra of about 50 players for this score, which included an alto flute, 4 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, celeste, and in addition to the pianos, there was a battery of percussion featuring vibraphone, xylophone, and marimba.  There’s about 35 minutes of music in the picture, all orchestrated by Kaper’s close friend Bob Franklyn, and Ray Heindorf conducted the score on January 29, 1954.  A number of cues were edited after they were recorded, indicating that the movie underwent some last-minute editing.

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