SONGS AND SCORE
There are many aspects of The Wizard of Oz that make it the masterpiece it is today. The perfect cast, the sets, the costumes, the special effects, and the power of the MGM studios at its zenith. Tying it all together is its brilliant score. If the score failed, the film would have failed. Instead, everyone on the music staff gave their very best. The songs, with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, became instant classics, and remain classics to this day. At the end of the 20th Century, “Over the Rainbow” was named the “Song of the Century” by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It’s more than deserving of that title.
The score, by Herbert Stothart, is a masterpiece of film scoring, expertly weaving in many of the Arlen melodies, some borrowing from classical composers, and some original compositions. The score won the Oscar for Best Score of the year, the only category in which Oz won over that year’s juggernaut, Gone With The Wind, and its equally legendary score by Max Steiner. Arlen and Harburg won the Best Song Oscar for “Over the Rainbow.”
It’s luck, or perhaps fate, that most of the studio pre-recordings have survived. They were first released as part of the alternate audio program on the 1993 deluxe laser-disc boxed set “The Ultimate Oz.” Not only was the release a revelation, but it gave fans an unprecedented look at the time and sheer work involved in getting the songs and score as perfect as possible. When the film was released on DVD, and then Blu-ray and 4K UHD, most of those prerecording sessions were copied over. Unfortunately, some of the sessions for “If I Only Had A Brain” were mistakenly left out. Those missing tracks are included here, as are some additional stereo versions and other
If you’re looking for details about the various releases of the Decca Records and soundtrack albums, check out Records And CDs page. The Oz soundtrack has never been out of print (in one format or another) since its first release on vinyl in 1956.
Two MGM studio discs that were pressed on July 25, 1939, featuring some of the film’s background score, specifically “The Cornfield” (recorded on April 11, 1939) and “The Cyclone” (recorded on May 6, 1939). It’s unknown what these discs would have been used for since the film was well into post-production at this point and using them as playback discs would have been unnecessary.
The MGM music department was the best in the business, although Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox weren’t far behind. It was a truly golden age of film music in both songs & dances and film scores. The Wizard of Oz, and so many other great scores, are lasting tributes to the talents and professionalism of everyone who worked in the MGM music department. We’ll never see the likes of that again. This page is dedicated to them.
The following is a complete list of the music department personnel who worked on The Wizard of Oz.
Lyrics: E.Y. “Yip” Harburg
Music: Harold Arlen
Musical Adaptation/Conductor: Herbert Stothart
Associate Conductor: George Stoll
[Musical score incorporates the works of Felix Mendelssohn and Modest Moussorgsky]
Music Department Head: Nat Finston
Orchestral & Vocal Arrangements: Leo Arnaud, George Bassman, Murray Cutter, Ken Darby, Paul Marquardt, Conrad Salinger (uncredited), Bob Stringer (uncredited)
Piano Accompanist: Eddie Becker, Roger Edens (deleted “Over The Rainbow” reprise)
Violin Solos: Toscha Seidel
Dance Director: Bobby Connolly
Assistants: Arthur “Cowboy” Appell, Dona Massin, Busby Berkeley (deleted Scarecrow dance)
Photo: June 29, 1939 – Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, publisher Harry Link, Meredith Willson, E.Y. Harburg, and Harold Arlen (sitting) pose with Judy Garland prior to the broadcast of the NBC Radio show “Maxwell House Coffee Time – Good News” aka “Behind The Scenes at the Making of The Wizard of Oz.”
The show pretended to go behind the scenes of the making of the recently completed film. It also features the premiere public performance of Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow.” Listen to that performance here: