On The Waterfront is certainly an American landmark in film, particularly due Brando's performance... and Leonard Bernstein's triumphant score. One of the most compelling ever composed, it also offers what might be the most powerful fortissimo ending to a film score of all time. Scored as if it were a symphony itself, the final bars develop the main theme into a crashing powerhouse of orchestral might. It's especially powerful in the context that this theme originally starts as a lonely, unaccompanied melody for just ONE French horn. Wow! And also of note: the love theme, a truly expressive major key idea, makes an appearance AGAINST this crashing orchestral finale - on ONE solo trumpet, piercing through in opposition to all that orchestral might! The instrument reaches up, through, in and about the thundering main theme, doing its own thing completely against it, all alone while the entire rest of the orchestra pounds away. The love theme and the main theme. Two completely different themes with nothing in common, playing at the same time. And it works magnificently. Another wow! All just in the finale no less. One could spend oodles of time talking about the brilliance of this masterpiece of film scoring.
Sadly, some misinformation is going around with respect to the newly discovered masters and the Criterion Blu-ray. So people, here are the facts... straight from the vaults.
Yes, the complete elements have been located and are being readied for release. But EVERYTHING is in mono. Superb mono, but still mono. There are NO stereo masters. I repeat - no stereo masters. None. Nada. The Criterion video in fact is a new 5.1 remix of the MONO music and effects tracks. Because the score includes so many solo colors and has a lot of exposed solos for tympani, the reverb and stereo-izing of the mono elements - combined with the panning of the mono sound effects - does indeed have a nice aural sense of space. But it is still derived from MONO elements. Yes, mono. This was all done with the expertise of the good folks at Chace, who literally lead the industry in audio restoration for home video. And it does make a wonderful listening experience combined with the effects and all that unforgettable dialog. But that is for the film.
Those original music and effects elements have been around for a while - albeit only recently worked into a 5.1 mix by Chace. They are NOT suitable for an album release, however, because they have the abrupt edits and trims that are in the film itself as well as the dips in volume to accommodate the dialog. They always did. They always will. And... they have the sound effects. Here again, they always did. They always will.
BUT - the GOOD news is... recently, in their exhaustive searching, the COMPLETE actual scoring session masters with the music intact exactly as recorded by Leonard Bernstein HAVE been located. These were made directly onto acetate for safety checks during the recording sessions and happily survived intact. Yes, complete. Every note of this masterful score survives, albeit in mono and from acetate discs. These are the ONLY scoring session elements in existence, preserving the complete cues without any edits, trims, volume dips and other anomalies of the film's M&E tracks used by Chace to enhance the audio for the film itself. These mono safety discs are the only sources for the true, unedited music cues Bernstein recorded. And it is dream come true that they were located.
These original session discs have been cleaned up as much as is practical without any attempts to pretend they are from anything but discs. An overuse of noise reduction and other gimmicks that remove not only the clicks but also the very life of the music itself have not been employed. Some may prefer the noise to be completely squished, no matter that important string harmonics and other instrumental timbres are heavily damaged, while others prefer to hear the orchestral colors as genuine as is possible with requisite de-noising kept to a minimum. That is our camp. Some restoration, of course, is necessary with 1950's acetates, including using state-of-the-art Sonic Solutions software to reduce clicks and pops, but digitizing everything into the 21st century CD sonic realm, while perhaps quieter, is not particularly musical in our opinion.
So, yes, this masterpiece of film scoring is finally coming to you at last, complete, in mono audio from discs, with all of the string harmonics and delicate colors playing crisply against the most powerful orchestral crescendos you could ever hope to hear... everything from that lonely opening solo French horn to that final thundering full orchestral coda.
A historic soundtrack event if there ever was one.