Alan Menken: The Bell Tower


Shortly after completing Pocahontas together, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz were offered the chance to work on the music for the 1996 Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The soundtrack to the film, like many other Disney films, mixes a selection of songs and orchestral underscoring. The Bell Tower is a piece of underscore that is heard when Quasimodo is showing his new friend, and potential love interest, Esmerelda around his home – the Notre Dame bell tower. 


The Music

The opening sparkle created in the introduction of The Bell Tower is made by a mix of celeste and percussion, which decorates a warm clarinet solo. Thw magic and wonder is translated on screen as Esmerelda sees the bell tower for the first time. Quasimodo shows her his wooden figurines, and begins to talk about the bells. 

As the two climb up into the rafters, Quasimodo talks about the grandness of the bells. The opening theme is still playing, but now it is fully orchestrated, creating a much richer underscore. As the texture becomes richer and the dynamics of the music begin to rise, the film shows the two climb right to the top of the tower where a glorious view of Paris can be seen as the sun sets.  In quintessential Menken style, this climax is bolstered by a choir that add to the sonorous orchestra. 

As night falls, the two talk on top of the tower. The orchestration is diluted more here, showing a more sensitive side to the story. As the two talk about their hopes and dreams, the music begins to drop in dynamic. As the pair look over the tower they see trouble on the horizon, which is instigated in the music just before the next piece of underscoring begins. 


Final Thoughts

Sometimes regarded as one of Menken’s finest orchestral works he ever wrote for Disney, The Bell Tower is full of glorious melodies and orchestrations. The iconic scene is a pinnacle turning point in the film, and the music fully supports this.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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