Musings About Music In Film

FOW Christmas: Miracle on 34th Street


By Karol Krok Miracle-on-34th-Street-remake

Miracle on 34th Street from 1994 was, quite unsurprisingly, a remake of the old beloved classic from 1940’s. While this new version (directed by John Hughes) never quite captured the magic of the original, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. Richard Attenborough playing a man who believed he was Santa Claus is certainly one of them. Mara Wilson’s performance as young Susan was another. And, to be frank, those are the only ingredients that matter in this mix, since the film is largely dependent on their chemistry.

Bruce Broughton score for the this film can be described in many ways as archetypical Christmas music. Every single imaginable tool to conjure festive spirit is there – tubular bells/chimes, harps, sleigh-like percussion, sweeping strings, warm woodwinds, full chorus. Indeed, the ‘Main Title’ is very much a typical piece for such a film. In his extremely catchy main theme for composer alludes to 18th Century hymn 'Joy to the World' piece by unknown author (some believe it was Handel).

The melody recurs regularly throughout the album, sometimes in equally boisterous arrangement (‘The Secret’), sometimes in gorgeous serene choral versions (‘The People We Love’), and sometimes just playfully light (‘I Like It’). In ‘I Disgraced Myself’, Broughton uses it in the most heartfelt and delicate way, illustrating the moment of doubt. Towards the finale, his tune reclaims its splendour (‘Susan’s Christmas Card’ and ‘Case Dismissed’).

And while everything is jolly and bright, Broughton tries to give his score to Miracle on 34th Street a decidedly more classical feel, so that the entire work doesn’t feel just as saccharine all the way through. Composer he made several references to great composers of old. The woodwinds in ‘Susan at the Window’ definitely recall Tchaikovsky’s ballets. In other places, he references the styles of Antonio Vivaldi (‘Patty’s Pleasure’) and George Frideric Handel (‘Merry Mayfield’ and ‘Charmin’ Armin’).

Bruce Broughton composed also a love theme, complete with sax solos performed by Dan Higgins (known for his remarkable solo contributions to John Williams Catch Me If You Can from 2002). This jazzy tune offers a bit of breathing space right in the midst of all Christmas music and, as such, is very welcome addition. It reappears several times:  in ‘The Engagement Ring’ (in a much more typical arrangement for piano, keyboard and strings) and makes quick statements in ‘Dorey Hires Counsel’ and ‘A Big Fat Fake’. The latter piece offers to the only dark moments in this score, although still within established festive palette. Another lovely standalone track in this score is his ‘The Bellevue Carol’ for chorus and orchestra. The final cue (‘Baby on the Way’) quotes both ‘Santa Claus is Comin' to Town’.

The new  La-La Land albums also offers another extra disc for the price of one. This additional treat contains Cyril Mockridge’s music for the original Miracle on 34th Street (from 1947) as well as his Come to the Stable. While the former consists mostly arrangements of many Christmas festive songs (with arrangements of Alfred Newman), the latter is an original dramatic work and, as such, offers better glimpse into this composer’s work.

Bruce Broughton’s score was released several times previously and this new presentation is identical in content to now out of print edition from Intrada records from 2002. As with many works of this nature, it is unlikely to attract attention throughout most of the year but around Christmas it can be an excellent choice to create homely, cosy atmosphere filled with festive magic. Especially, if it's written with such level of orchestral mastery.

Miracle on 34th Street is out now from La-La Land Records