Carl Stalling

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Carl W. Stalling (November 10, 1891—November 29, 1972) was an American composer and arranger for music in animated films. He is most closely associated with the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts produced by Warner Bros., where he averaged one complete score each week, for 22 years.



Stalling was born and grew up in Lexington, Missouri. He started playing piano at six. By the age of 12, he was the principal piano accompanist in his hometown's silent movie house. By the time he was in his early 20s, he was conducting his own orchestra and improvising on the organ at the legendary Isis Movie Theatre in Kansas City. During that time, he met and befriended a young Walt Disney who was producing animated comedy shorts in Kansas City. Stalling composed several early cartoon scores for Walt Disney, including Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho in 1928, (but not Steamboat Willie, Disney's first released sound short). Early discussions with Disney about whether the animation or the musical score should come first led to Disney creating the "Silly Symphonies" series of cartoons. These cartoons allowed Stalling to create a score that Disney handed to his animators. While there, Stalling pioneered the use of "bar sheets," which allowed musical rhythms to be sketched out simultaneously with storyboards for the animation. He left Disney after two years, at the same time as animator Ub Iwerks. Finding few outlets in New York, Stalling rejoined Iwerks at his studio in California, while freelancing for Disney and others. In 1936, when Leon Schlesinger—under contract to produce animated shorts for Warner Bros.—hired Iwerks, Stalling went with him to become a full-time cartoon music composer, with full access to the expansive Warner Bros. catalog and musicians. He remained with Warner Bros. until he retired in 1958. His last cartoon was To Itch His Own, directed by Chuck Jones, which featured the world's strongest flea, the Mighty Angelo.

Although Stalling's composing technique followed the conventions of music accompaniment from the silent film era that were based on improvisation and compilation of musical cues from catalogs and cue-sheets, he was also an innovator. Stalling was the first music director to extensively use the metronome to time film scores. He was one of three composers, along with Max Steiner and Scott Bradley, credited with the invention of the click track. His stock-in-trade was the "musical pun," where he used references to popular songs, or even classical pieces, to add a dimension of humor to the action on the screen. Working with legendary directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones, he developed the "Looney Tunes" style of very rapid and tightly coordinated musical cues, punctuated with both instrumental and recorded sound effects, and occasionally reaching into full blown musical fantasies such as The Rabbit of Seville and A Corny Concerto.

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