Friday, December 01, 2006


I heard some sad news today. One of my favorite television and film composers, Shirley Walker, died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 61.

My first memory of hearing Shirley Walker's music was on the wonderful Batman: The Animated Series in the episode On Leather Wings. This is a score with height (opening with a lofty flute accompaniment to urgent violins) and depth (trombones join in a quarter of a way into the title track); it has urgency, danger and excitement stamped all over it. Man-Bat flies across the Gotham skyline to the snared shrill of trumpets.

Shirley also provided the music to one of the classic episodes of Batman; Heart of Ice. To summarize the plot, Mr. Freeze seeks revenge on industrialists responsible for the death of his wife. Michael Ansara provides the voice for Mr. Freeze and delivers his lines in this wonderfully cold monotone voice, utterly devoid of emotion. Around this plays Shirley's delicate score bringing enormously emotional warmth and depth to the entire story, lending tragedy to the otherwise sinister.

Other Animated Series composers include: Michael McCuistion, Stuart V. Balcomb, Carlos Rodriguez, Lolita Ritmanis, Steve Chesne & James Stemple, Carl Johnson, Kristopher Carter, Harvey R. Cohen, Beth Ertz & Mark Koval, Todd Hayen, Brian Langsbad, John Tatgenhorst & Peter Tomshek, Richard Bronskill. There's an absolute wealth of wonderful music to be found in Batman and later Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League shows. Most of the links in this post link to Toonzone's The Animated Batman: An Unofficial Guide website. I urge you to go and have a good look around, it is a wonderful site and one of the few, likely only, places you will find the music from the show itself. I only wish WB would bring out some sort of mass collection of all the incidental music and title scores because it really is a library of great music.

Shirley's last superhero outing is yet to come and will be heard on the direct to DVD release of DC: The New Frontier in 2007.

EDIT: Have updated the links in this post and added two new ones: snared shrill of trumpets and cold monotone voice


Anonymous said...

looks like I won't get any work done.
Excellent, Excellent link!!!

The grey ghost score is really good too.


Anonymous said...

She leaves a lot of distinctive and elegant music behind. I love that she didn't 'write down' because she was scoring cartoons. Instead by harking back to the kind of television work done by Bernard Herrman and Elmer Bernstein, she elevated the Batman shows and gave them more impact.

I. N. J. Culbard said...

Carl Stalling's Looney Tunes work was released in two volumes a while ago. Wonderful stuff. I recommend it to any soundtrack enthusiasts.

The structure to many of his pieces was an influence when Ollie from We Write Music and I sat down to thrash out the score to Dagmar's Friend. Lot's of bridging between signature motifs. Lovely stuff. I'm presently scoring the Animex intro sequence using a click track (after a fashion), which Stalling is sometimes credited with inventing (along with Max Steiner... he who composed the incredible score to King Kong, and Scott Bradley*, who most famously composed the music to that famous Tom and Jerry toon, "The Cat Concerto").

I wish they'd do the same for the Batman animated series and release a volume for each season. Not just the title tracks, but also the incidental music from each episode.

*Scott Bradley is an another of those great unreleased artists who did created some of the most wonderful compositions. You can also get the Tex Avery and Tom and Jerry scores collected in volumes (there's certainly 1 that I know of taken from the 50's). Bradley was considered more 'serious' by the directors of the time in comparison to Stalling (who used a lot of musical puns pertaining to popular hits of the time, meaning Bradley's compositions were considered 'original' in contrast.