Full Name:

Carl W. Stalling

Occupation / Title:

Date of birth:

10/11/1891

Date of death:

29/11/1972

Birthplace:

Lexington, Missouri

Associated studios:

  • Walt Disney Studios 
  • Warner Bros. Cartoons 

Biography


Carl Stalling was the composer of Warner Bros. Cartoon classic Looney Tunes, serving as composer and arranger for over 22 years and averaging the completion of a score per week. Stallings is renown for his innovative adaptations of classical music scores for animated cartoons, interweaving music narrative alongside the visual narrative. He helped pioneer, along with Scott Bradley, and Max Steiner the music treatment we now recognize as “classical cartoon style”, in which the orchestral music accompaniment is tightly synchronized, rather than matched to the visual screen action. Stalling often quoted from classic symphonies, and later through his access to an entire library of popular songs owned by Warner Bros. reinterpreted many known melodies to suit the frantic style of the Looney Tunes Cartoons. 

Family and early life


Carl W. Stallings was born in Lexington, Missouri to a German immigrant family. After seeing The Great Train Robbery at the age of 5, Stallings was deeply impressed by the scope of this experience and decided that his desire in life was to be involved with the movies in some way. When he was six years old he started taking piano lessons, and by age 8 he was already playing the organ at his local church organization, and at age 12 started working as a silent film house music accompanist.

Career outline


Carl Stalling began composing cartoon scores for the young Walt’s animated comedic shorts, and though early cartoons had no music, Stalling would change all of that. He merged vividly together the aural and visual experience of animation through his lively accompaniments of musical narrative. His early selected works with Disney includes the animations “Plane Crazy”, and “Gallopin’ Gaucho”, two of the cartoons Disney took with him to California in 1928.

“Plane Crazy” features an upbeat, the tightly bound synchronic relationship between character action and musical quotations, taking pieces from well-known melodies and adapting them to suit Mickey and Minnie’s adventures and gags on-screen. 

While working together, Disney and Stalling would converse on the topic of music and visuals, about what should be the dominant element of interest, leading to their later collaborations on shorts that do not seem to compromise either such as “The Skeleton Dance”, a cartoon in The Silly Symphonies. Other episodes of The Silly Symphonies, such as “The Three Little Pigs,” features diegetic instrumental tie-ins. In this multi-layered musical narrative, two of the piggies play a fiddle and a flute, singing and dancing until joined by their smarter piggie brother on the piano.  

Working with Disney, Stalling scored over 19 different cartoons, and used the limited resources of Disney to purchase older orchestral music over newer, popular songs so as to avoid high purchasing fees. In their collaboration, Stalling pioneered the use of “bar sheets”, which has come to define the soundtrack style of early classic animation, allowing for music to be synchronized by animators sketching the movements and actions of the characters. A similar tool, the “click track”, is also credited to Stalling, and is used to make optical marks on film to indicate precise soundtrack synchronization. 

In 1936, Stalling left Disney to work for Warner Bros. Cartoons, as they possessed an immense catalogue of orchestral music through owning several music publishing companies. He stayed there until his retirement in 1958. There, he arranged a score per week for 22 years, creating the Looney Tunes style of tight arrangements and fast-moving musical narrative, adapting most notably the works of Raymond Scott for use in over 120 classic Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck cartoons. At Warner Bros., Stalling created a personal catalogue of musical puns, fitting the best depicted action onscreen to well-known songs that depended on the audiences’ knowledge of in order to make sense of the connection. For instance, an establishing shot on-screen is set to an orchestral “There’s No Place Like Home,” or scenes with food will be complimented by “A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, And You.” 

As Warner Bros. Cartoon studio was built on visual schticks and sparse dialogue, Stalling found his stride in building a rich musical narrative, expressive and impossible to be disposed of, building anticipation and creating mood, cueing viewers sonically to the progression of the visual narrative.  

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