Over the years, comic-book hero Batman has had numerous adventures developed for film and television. In those mediums, the score can be just as important an element in storytelling as the writing and cinematography. This is made evident by the talents of The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus on The Music of Batman, which presents 15 different selections from an array of Batman titles and allows them to be appreciated on their own merits.
When Tim Burton brought the Caped Crusader to the silver screen, Danny Elfman’s score, with the orchestrations by fellow former Oingo Boingo member Steve Bartek, was a vital element to its success. Elfman’s work takes up about half the disc — seven tracks — with six of those being from Burton’s first installment.
Batman’s theme won a Grammy and is a powerful piece as the orchestra creates a sensation of ascension before propelling into action like our hero. Burton’s imagery melded so well with the music that hearing pieces from the film’s climatic sequence, “Up the Cathedral” and Vicki and the Joker’s “Waltz to the Death,” bring the visuals of the bell-tower battle to the mind’s eye.
The remaining tracks are one each from an entry in the massive franchise. “End Titles” from “Batman Returns” sounds very similar to the previous film as it opens. Elfman reprises the first film’s theme, but as it plays out, he gives the track its own identity. Here, the chorus makes its first contribution to the album.
When Joel Schumacher took over from Burton, composer Elliot Goldenthal was given the reins to the score; however, the five minutes presented here, while adequate to the task at hand, reveal Goldenthal's compositions nowhere near as dynamic or as memorable as Elfman’s work.
James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer were brought together to work for Christopher Nolan when he took up the reins of the film franchise. The orchestra is joined by London Music Works for the intense “Aggressive Expansion” from The Dark Knight, which use some of their “Why So Serious?” The track does a good job of getting the heart pumping.
The animated adventures get their due with tracks from Shirley Walker’s work on Batman: Mask of the Phantom and Christopher Drake’s “End Credits” from the anime-influenced Batman: Gotham Knight. The chorus contributes to both.
No album of Batman music would be complete without a nod to the most famous adaptation in the entire franchise. Neal Hefti’s theme to the television series is the epitome of the 1960s — blending together surf music and a score from spy films — and is a classic. Nelson Riddle’s jazzy score from the “Main Title” of Batman (1966) uses many bits from his work from the series. London Music Works performs them both.
It would be a mistake to think The Music of Batman is something only for comic book or movie fans. The talent of the composers and the performers on display is something many music fans can appreciate as well.