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The Black Cauldron
1985 Varèse

1996 Taran

2012 Disney

Composed and Conducted by:
Elmer Bernstein

Re-Recording Performed by:
The Utah Symphony Orchestra

1985 Album Produced by:
George Korngold

2011 Album Produced by:
Randy Thornton

Labels and Dates:
Varèse Sarabande

"Taran" Bootleg

Walt Disney Records/
Intrada Records
(April 2nd, 2012)

Also See:

Audio Clips:
1996 Bootleg:

1. (Untitled) (0:29):
WMA (188K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

9. (Untitled) (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

15. (Untitled) (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

25. (Untitled) (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

The 1985 Varèse Sarabande album was a regular U.S. release, but it fell completely out of print by 1993 and sold on the secondary market for over $100. The 1996 "Taran" album is a bootleg without track titles and sold at soundtrack specialty outlets in the 1990's for roughly $30. The 2011 expanded Disney/Intrada album initially sold for $20 and is limited to 10,000 copies.


The Black Cauldron
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Sales Rank: 84440

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Buy it... if you appreciate massively symphonic and surprisingly serious scores for your animated pictures and have lingering affection for Elmer Bernstein's obsession with the ondes martenot instrument.

Avoid it... if you are accustomed to hearing transparent themes, easy concepts, and mostly bright attitude in your animated film scores.

The Black Cauldron: (Elmer Bernstein) In the mid-1980's, the Walt Disney animated film division was suffering through arguably the worst times in its history. All but dead since 1977's The Rescuers, Disney was counting on The Black Cauldron to pull itself back into the forefront of the animated film genre, and as part of that plan, the film was to be vastly different from the studio's previous ventures. It would feature no songs, incorporate computer enhancement to hand-drawn images, receive a PG-rating for darker and scarier images, and be presented in 70mm. Despite all of these new aspects, or perhaps because of them, The Black Cauldron was a monumental and expensive failure. It would take The Little Mermaid four years later to resurrect the lost animated division at Disney, and another dozen years passed before audiences had the opportunity to view the film again on video. Technically based upon Lloyd Alexander's "The Chronicles of Prydain," The Black Cauldron chronicled "The Book of Three" and "The Black Cauldron," two of five books in the series. The resulting story retains basic characters, including the travelling team of protagonists consisting of an aspiring young hero, his pig (which holds the key to locating the titular cauldron), an old wizard, a princess, and the usual bumbling, cowardly sidekick. The evil Horned King seeks the cauldron with which to unleash an army of nasty undead soldiers on the land, and the good-guys are tasked with finding the cauldron before that can happen. Many of the intricacies of the books were lost in the screen adaptation, however, disappointing fans of the concept. Also deviating from the normal realm of Disney animated features was a score by legendary composer Elmer Bernstein, who had just received an Oscar nomination for one of his multitudes of comedy works and was mired in parody writing for much of the early 1980's. At the tail end of this period came Ghostbusters, the composer's most recent major effort heading in to The Black Cauldron.

The score for The Black Cauldron was for Bernstein what Mulan was for Jerry Goldsmith in the next decade: a fascinating journey into a fresh realm that required its music to play a more significant role in the film. In so doing, Bernstein wrote a massively rendered score highly respected by his collectors, but one that suffered much of the same fate as the film itself. Cut and partially unused due to last-minute, post-production changes to the movie (there's nothing like a little studio panic at the end of any project), the score was largely ignored commercially, despite being re-recorded in its minority for an album release, and it became a normal target on the out-of-print and bootleg collector's market. While the work has a significant number of impressive merits, it isn't the kind of earth-shattering music that merits some of the hysteria generated by its status as a rare album for so long, though it definitely is a functional, likeable, and interesting symphonic score from start to finish. Treating The Black Cauldron as a dramatic film in most of its passages, Bernstein shakes the shackles of comedy while retaining just enough innocence to root the project in the proper genre without becoming trite. The 1980's were also known by film music collectors as the time during which the composer solidified the sound of the ondes martenot into listeners' memories. The pinnacles of use for the instrument in his fantasy works were The Black Cauldron and Ghostbusters, and its eerie tones would continue to be heard from the composer into the 1990's. Invented in France in 1928, the ondes martenot shares some of the same characteristics as the pitch-defying theremin, but with the ability to actually perform individual notes on a keyboard. Various controls of convenience on the ondes martenot made it the earliest form of electronic instrument and its distinctive sound is still heard occasionally in orchestral performances a century later. Its role in The Black Cauldron is central, for Bernstein was nowhere close to being as advanced as Jerry Goldsmith in 1985 when it came to using synthesizers to enhance the fantasy element.

As the identity of The Black Cauldron, the ondes martenot creates an undeniably unique environment for the world of Prydain and its romantic elements (including the princess), and its performances highlight the score. Oddly, however, despite the often resounding symphonic depth and thematic integrity of the music, the ondes martenot is really the only standalone highlight. The choral element is held to a surprising minimum, a handful of male choral accents always welcome in the soundscape. Throughout the work, Bernstein offers solid suspense music, with animated-genre comedy rhythms and occasional full-blown brass action integrated into several cues. But it's the often gloomy organ-powered, piano thumping, and timpani rolling suspense that defines The Black Cauldron, including the deliberately pounding theme of two descending, three note phrases for the evil Horned King that is almost religious in its dark power. The piano intelligently plays an integral role in maintaining a constant flurry of activity in action sequences. The remaining themes aren't as memorable as that of the villain, which Bernstein truly does integrate into nearly every corner of the score as a constant reminder. That said, the composer is always exploring one of his half a dozen themes in this work, even if most of them are relatively anonymous. The "End Titles" nicely summarizes these identities, including the spritely comedy theme for the funny sidekick and the romantically swaying alternative for the princess. Folksy source-like material is reminiscent of Georges Delerue of that era. The main hero's theme is oddly underutilized in the score, though, afforded a few massive statements of almost science fiction, space-opera glee (as in "The Deal") but not provided enough enunciation to make it memorable. The downfall of The Black Cauldron for some listeners may be the lack of transparency in Bernstein's themes and development, something that really needs to be made unquestionably clear in a children's film. There is no musical material in The Black Cauldron that your 10-year-old will remember after the film is over (and outside of the villain's theme, which eventually doubles for the cauldron, it might even be hard for 30-year-olds to recall, too, unless you pay very close attention).

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Somewhere in the process of creating the ambitious musical environment for The Black Cauldron, Bernstein lost the narrative romanticism that exists as part of the animated formula, despite his impressive attention to subtle motific manipulation throughout. Perhaps the lack of this formula approach is a refreshing take on an otherwise tired idea at the time, but it may also have contributed to the demise of the picture. On album, The Black Cauldron was long forgotten by the mainstream but a target of significant interest for Bernstein collectors. It was one of the rare instances in which Varèse Sarabande released both an identical LP and CD at the same time, with the 32-minute CD serving as one their very first digital products in 1985. Already out of print by the early 1990's, the album sold for more than $100 on the used market. In 1996, a bootleg with an astounding 70+ minutes of the score was leaked and distributed through legitimate soundtrack specialty outlets. Though this pressed "Taran" bootleg featured decent sound quality, its contents contained no track names. Of particular note about these early releases of the score is the fact that the sound quality on either of the albums will vary from track to track (there's no obvious reason for this other than deviation in the recording/mixing process), and some of the ghostly aspects of the ondes martenot may sound flat and distant at times. Certain tones cause static effects on the bootleg because of high gain levels, especially in the finale cue (track #25, out of chronological order). While the presentation of the expanded bootleg was impressive when it debuted, it was rendered completely obsolete by a 2012 Disney and Intrada Records CD containing all of the score in official, remastered form. The sound quality on this properly arranged presentation by Disney is magnificent, the ondes martenot and woodwinds especially vibrant. This original film recording, however, does not seem to emphasize the piano as much as the re-recording made for the 1985 album. Still, this kind of treatment of The Black Cauldron was long overdue, and while many casual listeners may still be served best by a 30-minute compilation of highlights from the score, there is no way that a Bernstein enthusiast will want to miss this outstanding product. The score remains something of an anomaly for the composer during this era, but a source of fascination nonetheless. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: ****
    Music as Heard on the 1985 and 1996 Albums: ***
    Music as Heard on the 2012 Album: ****
    Overall: ****

Bias Check:For Elmer Bernstein reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.33 (in 18 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.12 (in 9,618 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.3 Stars
Smart Average: 3.24 Stars*
***** 62 
**** 65 
*** 52 
** 38 
* 37 
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    * Smart Average only includes
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   Alternative review at
  Southall -- 5/17/12 (3:00 p.m.)
   Re: Very Underrated
  Chris_FSB25 -- 3/21/12 (8:42 p.m.)
   Bootleg track listing
  JTS -- 5/28/08 (2:03 a.m.)
   Very Underrated
  JTurner -- 6/4/06 (6:27 p.m.)
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 Track Listings (1985 Varèse Album): Total Time: 31:36

• 1. Escape From the Castle (2:29)
• 2. Taran (4:00)
• 3. The Witches (2:16)
• 4. Gurgi (3:25)
• 5. The Horned King (2:54)
• 6. The Fair Folk (3:09)
• 7. Hen Wen's Vision (3:43)
• 8. Eilonwy (5:05)
• 9. Finale (4:35)

 Track Listings (1996 Taran Bootleg): Total Time: 72:25

• 1. (Untitled) (1:07)
• 2. (Untitled) (2:26)
• 3. (Untitled) (1:50)
• 4. (Untitled) (2:20)
• 5. (Untitled) (2:46)
• 6. (Untitled) (2:21)
• 7. (Untitled) (2:21)
• 8. (Untitled) (3:09)
• 9. (Untitled) (2:44)
• 10. (Untitled) (1:31)
• 11. (Untitled) (2:24)
• 12. (Untitled) (2:29)
• 13. (Untitled) (2:03)
• 14. (Untitled) (1:32)
• 15. (Untitled) (2:13)
• 16. (Untitled) (2:58)
• 17. (Untitled) (1:21)
• 18. (Untitled) (2:15)
• 19. (Untitled) (1:41)
• 20. (Untitled) (2:03)
• 21. (Untitled) (1:58)
• 22. (Untitled) (2:09)
• 23. (Untitled) (1:32)
• 24. (Untitled) (3:32)
• 25. (Untitled) (4:03)
• 26. (Untitled) (1:33)
• 27. (Untitled) (2:33)
• 28. (Untitled) (1:59)
• 29. (Untitled) (1:49)
• 30. (Untitled) (1:04)
• 31. (Untitled) (2:01)
• 32. (Untitled) (1:48)
• 33. (Untitled) (1:45)

No track titles

 Track Listings (2011 Disney Album): Total Time: 75:14

• 1. Prologue (1:08)
• 2. Dalben and the Warrior (3:56)
• 3. A Special Pig and a Vision (2:46)
• 4. Journey (3:32)
• 5. Gurgi (4:31)
• 6. Decision (2:23)
• 7. Belly Good (1:08)
• 8. The Horned King (1:23)
• 9. A Second Vision (2:21)
• 10. First Chase (1:36)
• 11. Eilonwy (1:57)
• 12. Rats and Tombs (2:21)
• 13. Escape (1:45)
• 14. Second Chase (4:02)
• 15. In the Forest (1:27)
• 16. Apology (3:16)
• 17. Whirlpool (2:13)
• 18. Fairfolk (3:08)
• 19. Incantation (1:51)
• 20. Morva (4:12)
• 21. The Deal (0:57)
• 22. Surrender (0:54)
• 23. Disappointment (1:51)
• 24. Confidence (2:05)
• 25. Cauldron Born (3:32)
• 26. Sacrifice (2:24)
• 27. Destruction (2:33)
• 28. He's Gone (2:01)
• 29. Bubble Up (0:43)
• 30. Xchange (1:32)
• 31. Gurgi Lives (2:07)
• 32. End Titles (4:00)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The inserts of the first two albums include no extra information about the score or film. The 2011 Disney/Intrada album contains extensive information about both, as well as technical notes about the recording and photography from the sessions.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Black Cauldron are Copyright © 1985, 1996, 2012, Varèse Sarabande, "Taran" Bootleg, Walt Disney Records/Intrada Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 11/1/96 and last updated 5/12/12. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1996-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.