19’40” – ‘At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone’ – Music Review

In Rod Serling’s opening narration to The Twilight Zone, he talked about travelling through other dimensions – ones of mind, of sight, and of sound. 19’40” unlocks the door to the latter with the key provided by the imagination of composer Bernard Herrmann, in their latest release. Your next stop: At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone.

19’40” has been described as being “an Italian ‘anti-classical’ ‘recording series’”, rather than a conventional record label, in case there were any misconceptions. The project happens to be the creation of composers Sebastiano De Gennaro, Enrico Gabrielli and Francesco Fusaro, and collaborating with Tina Lamorgese, who work together to record and release albums every four months to subscribers. They describe themselves as “‘anti-classical’”, as they wish to focus on works other than those of the more famous composers.

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With At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone, 19’40” turns to a rather unexpected source, by visiting music taken from two iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone – ‘Little Girl Lost’ and ‘Living Doll’ – as well as a suite of music composed for CBS TV as stock music cues, which ended up actually being used in the series. All of these tracks are the work of the prolific Bernard Herrmann, best known for his scores for Hitchcock movies like North By Northwest, Vertigo and Psycho, and on such films as Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver.

As well as his ‘Outer Space Suite’, Herrmann was certainly no stranger to composing for the offbeat or unusual – his score for 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still apparently inspired Danny Elfman’s interest in writing music for films. Although he was also responsible for the original opening theme to The Twilight Zone, this rather eerie mood piece was dropped for the second series onwards for a hybrid of two completely separate tracks by the avant-garde French composer Marius Constant, giving us a famous theme tune we know to this day.

Photo by Anita Habluetzel Esposito

The two featured episodes contain rather different subject matter from each other, each having a very different tone and mood, giving Herrmann an opportunity to demonstrate his range. In ‘Little Girl Lost’, a mother and father find their daughter has crossed over to another dimension, through a portal situated in her bedroom wall; ‘Living Doll’ gives us a bully (Telly Savalas) being terrorised by a toy doll – named Talky Tina – which belongs to his stepdaughter. Both are iconic pieces of TV which happen to have been parodied by The Simpsons in ‘Treehouse Of Horror’ specials.

With ‘Little Girl Lost’, Herrmann employs harps to provide a rather jangling and discordant feeling at points, and a very ethereal and otherworldly sense at others; the mix of viola, flute and vibraphone helps reinforce our being somewhere rather alien and unknown as we pass through to that other dimension. The emphasis is much more on the sinister and creepy with ‘Living Doll’, as the mixture of harp, celeste and bass clarinet is used to evoke the mechanical movements of Talky Tina at points, as well as creating a haunting sense of unease throughout.

Photo by Anita Habluetzel Esposito

Herrmann perfectly understands the role which music plays in creating an atmosphere and setting a scene – one of the DVD releases of Psycho gives the option to be able to view the infamous shower scene without the familiar screech of the strings as Marion Crane is murdered, so it shows what a big difference music can make, the transformational effect it can have in being the final piece of a puzzle for anybody making films or TV programmes. While he was not the only composer for The Twilight Zone, these scores demonstrate how suited Herrmann was to the series.

At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone was recorded live as a part of the 2017 ContempoRarities Festival in Milan, and it forms the twelfth release by 19’40”. Enrico Gabrielli is the arranger of Herrmann’s compositions, capturing his work so beautifully by using similar instruments and orchestration to the original recordings. Herrmann created pieces which play with both light and dark, mixing the macabre or eerie with the playful, and this recording by 19’40” captures so much of that essence.

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Beginning with Marius Comstant’s familiar theme tune to the series, it moves into Herrmann’s original, showing up many similarities with the first piece from ‘Little Girl Lost’, entitled ‘Where Are You?’. Their attention to detail, as well as playfulness, is perhaps best demonstrated by the track ‘Indestructible Tina’ from ‘Living Doll’, which begins with the metallic shriek of a circular saw, replicating the action unfolding on the screen at that point, as Savalas’ character tries desperately to rid himself of Talky Tina using the tools at his disposal.

With At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone, we get a look at some of the lesser-known of Herrmann’s compositions, but certainly no less significant or noteworthy than his work for the cinema screen. Full credit must go to 19’40” for shining a (twi)light onto this significant part of Bernard Herrmann’s career, and bringing it to a whole new audience.

At The Gates Of The Twilight Zone is out now.

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