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The Curiously Cinematic Case of Howard Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony

Music: John Williams
E. T. -- The Bicycle Chase

Howard Hanson was an American composer, educator, conductor, author, orchestrator, band leader and arts advocate. Outisde his hometown of Wahoo, Nebraska, there's a faded billboard. Five notable people -- claims the billboard -- hailed from Wahoo. Hanson's name is included as one of the five.

In 1930, he completed his Second Symphony, subtitled the "Romantic" Symphony. Hanson presented this symphony numerous times in concert; he also acted as conductor for two commerical recordings -- one in the 1930s, one in the 1950s.

Fast forward to the 1970s, now. The new science-fiction film "Alien" is released. And, amidst Jerry Goldsmith's score, at the very end of the movie, as Ripley blasts the creature out of the airlock, and then incinerates the beast with the ship's engines... something... familiar is heard in the background. Unbeknownst to Goldsmith -- and to Hanson -- the director, Ridley Scott, had decided to replace Goldsmith's score with an entire passage from Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony during that sequence.

Goldsmith wasn't pleased. To put it mildly, Hanson wasn't pleased, either. In fact, he was almost litigious, until word spread anew about his "Romantic" Symphony, garnering fresh interest in his music.

It's now 1982. John Williams is working on the score for the new Spielberg film, E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg is amazed at the final, 15-minute suite of music that Williams has created for the Escape, Flying Scene, Bicycle Chase, Saying Goodbye & Finale. Williams, during interviews, explains that Howard Hanson's music, and, especially, the "Romantic" Symphony, provided a strong guide for his new score. In fact, several of Williams' passages are strikingly similar  -- in rhythm, melody and orchestration -- to Hanson's original symphony.

And now, all the way into the 21st century, the composing team of Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro has rediscovered Hanson's "Romantic" Symphony. The 2017 animted film "Boss Baby" relies on several classical music cues throughout the score. But, during one of final scenes, when love finally triumphs over the cold, heartless world of Baby Corp, the tem of Zimmer & Mazzaro goes sraight for... Howard Hanson to fully tug those heartstrings!

James Arey | Classical 104.9 FM | New Orleans Public Radio

James served as Classical Music Host and Music Director for WWNO from 1999-2007. He relocated to Atlanta with several WWNO staff members after Katrina, and, in 2007, he accepted a position as Music Director at KVNO in Omaha, Nebraska, where he coached young announcers, programmed, and hosted classical music until 2010.