To put it blunt, an Introduction song is used to set the mood for the movie and, if necessary, to give the audience important background information. It is often (but not always) the first piece of music we hear in a movie.
Like the “Villain Song”, this is a concept which developed over time, mostly because movies used to be structured differently than they nowadays. In the past a lot of movies had opening credits, since it was not common to list all the cast members and whoever else was involved in the production. This changed around the 1970s (more or less…fun fact: Disney’s Fantasia (1940) was the first sound film which started without any opening credits), when it became more common to acknowledge the staff. Soon movies had extensive end credits and only mentioned the most important persons during the opening…if at all.
When opening credits were still common, title melodies or songs were too. And they were often used as mood setter, already, so the movie maker had to find a balance. Often this was done by starting the movie with a narrator. For example Cinderella’s title song is beautiful, but not particularly informative, so the narrator takes care of providing the background information needed. Peter Pan on the other hand has a title song which immediately informs the audience about Neverland, so the narrator only has to introduce the Darlings. In “Sword in the Stone” on the other hand the title melody bridges to an introduction song, telling the story of the death king and then a narrator takes over – kind of overkill, if you think about it.
Getting rid of the opening credits “freed” the introduction song. There was no longer the need to balance it out with opening credits, instead the animators could go all out – and they did very impressively with movies like “Lion King”, which has one of the best known opening in movie history. But I think the song which shows the best what a good introduction song can do, is “Belles of Notre Dame”.
Morning in Paris,
the city awakes
to the bells of Notre Dame
The fisherman fishes
The bakerman bakes
to the bells of Notre Dame
To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of
the city’s the toll the bells
the bells of Notre Dame
This part of the song is a mood setter. We get a feeling for Paris, and for the giant clock tower (which is btw not THAT big in real life…the animators went a little bit overboard with the scales, but then, that was kind of the point, I guess) with it’s bells. It follows a sequence of kind of narration which leads to the next part of the song (I cut out the text from the scenes so that we can concentrate on the part which is sung).
Dark was the night when our tale was begun
On the docks near Notre Dame
Four frightened gypsies slid silently under
the docks near Notre Dame
But a trap had been laid for the gypsies
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure who’s clutches
Were iron as much as the bells….
The bells of Notre Dame
Kyrie Eleison (translation: Lord Have Mercy)
Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world
Of vice and sin
And he saw corruption every where
We know get a lot of background story, and our first glimpse of the villain of the movie – who is immediately sketched out in four lines. We know what he wants and we know around which trait (hypocrisy) his character is built. In the following sequence the change between showing what happened in the past and the song is so fluid that they nearly become one. This is underlined by the fact that not only the actual narrator is singing, the Arch Deacon does too. Past and present melt into each other for a moment.
Dies irae, dies illa (Day of wrath, that day)
Solvet saeclum in favilla (Shall consume the world in ashes)
Teste David cum sibylla (As prophesied by David and the sibyl)
Quantus tremor est futurus (What trembling is to be)
Quando Judex est venturus (When the Judge is come)
Please give us sanctuary!
Cried the Arch Deacon.
This is an unholy demon
I’m sending it back to hell
Where it belongs
See there the innocent blood you have spilt
On the steps of Notre Dame
I am guiltless
Now you would add this child’s blood to your guilt
On the steps of Notre Dame
My concience is clear!
You can lie to yourself and your minions
You can claim that you haven’t a qualm
But you never can run from nor hide what you’ve done
From the eyes
The very eyes of Notre Dame
And for one time in his life
Of power and control
Frollo felt a twinge of fear
For his immortal soul
What must do?
Care for the child
And raise it as your own
I am to be saddled with this misshapen…
But let him live with you in your church
Just so he’s kept locked away where no one else can see
The bell tower perhaps
And who knows?
Our Lord works in mysterious ways
Even this foul creature may yet prove one day to be
Of use to me
And Frollo gave the child a cruel name
A name that means “half-formed”
At this point, the audience is pulled back in the present.
“Now here is a riddle to guess if you can,”
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
“Who is the monster and who is the man?”
Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells of Notre Dame
To round up a perfect introduction song, the audience even learns the core question of the movie – though it is a rhetorical one. At this point, it is already primed to like Quasimodo, no matter how he looks.
The Belles of Notre Dame is a great song with it’s cacophony of bells, and the way the music swells, nearly pressing you in the seat if you watch the movie in a well equipped theatre with a good sound system. But it is also great because it does everything an introduction song can do: Setting the mood, providing important information and pointing out the core theme of the movie.