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How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:04 pm

No...not rap or country, not rock or indie about some of the greatest and most underlooked forms of music existing today? Film score! Sometimes called contemporary classical music (for its extensive use of orchestras and choirs)...Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, David Arnold, Alan Menkin and the list goes on! This is the original music behind the movies that highlight and underline emotions on screen.

While great scores like Star Wars and Titanic are highly-praised and popular among the general music-listening populace, there are literally hundreds of hidden gems, found in both the best and worst of movies. I find it tragic to see how much great music is underlooked in this wonderful and unique genre of music. Many people say that composers like Williams and Horner are the Mozarts and the Bachs of our day, but I disagree. I think the constructs and harmonies as well as rhythms highly distinguish this music from classical. It'd be saying that Rock and Country are the same because they often use the same instruments. That's how I see it anyway...

So for today, I thought I'd share one of my favorite film scores, and what many film score critics agree is one of the greatest and most effective film scores of all-time. I'm talking about James Horner's score to "Glory" performed by the Boys Choir of Harlem (unknown orchestra). Forget Titanic, forget Braveheart, forget Apollo 13, for as great as those scores are, I personally think Glory is James Horner's magnum opus. If you listen to the whole score, from start to finish, and listen to the way it is developed and the sheer emotion in every instrument as it revolves around such a beautiful and elegant theme, I think many people would agree.

Here's my track by track review of the score...I insist that you listen to each in High Quality, it is a must! Warning, there may be spoilers if you haven't seen the movie or don't know the history it portrays.  

1. A Call to Arms
A triumphant beginning, highlighting the preparations for the battle of antietam. Notice the snare drums and the way they are played...there's nothing spectacular about them now, but as the score progresses, you might notice how their tone completely changes throughout the score along with the mood. The track starts out immediately with what I call the "Civil War" theme, with then transitions into the main "Soldiers" theme at 00:59, a simple but beautiful hymn to the soldiers. To me, I almost feel the Soldiers theme when sung represents angels watching the events transpire, and providing a non-lyrical chorus to the events on film.

2. After Antietam
We hear the Soldiers theme again, but toned down a lot more to reflect the sad aftermath of the battle. It's somber, heartfelt, very emotional, and layered with an alteration of the Civil War theme providing a dark, slightly dissonant foreshadowing of events to come. Very calm and peaceful...

3. Lonely Christmas
This track starts out with an appropriately lonely introduction to what I call the Shaw theme, which I feel represents Robert Gould Shaw as a character. It's a short track, but it introduces us to what is probably the second most important theme of the score. It then progresses to lovely low strings, a minor post-melody of three chords.

4. Forming the Regiment
A solo trumpet plays the full Civil War theme which then goes to a beautiful trademark Horner high strings. We then hear a rendition of the main theme, this time handed to flutes and woodwinds, then strings. After that, it progresses into a march used by the troops. Notice the snare again and the way it dances with the flutes and the main strings that come in with the theme. It's more buoyant and upbeat, for in the film the regiment is being formed, giving hope to soldiers who had little.

5. The Whipping
No snares to be found here. No joy, no excitement, but simply tragedy. An appropriate piece for what is happening on the film. As beautiful as it is, there are even greater tragic moments to come...

6. Burning the Town of Darien
Probably one of my favorite tracks from the whole album. It starts with hollow, sad voices that cry out to the soldiers initially, as if startled by their acts. Then they hold the same note as high strings portray the conflict onscreen as if unwillingly surrendering to the despicable events occuring. Return to a lovely rendition of the Soldiers theme afterward

7. Brave Words, Braver Deeds
The Robert Gould Shaw theme is developing...heard by the french horns in a noble, but quiet atmosphere. Then, once he takes command of the soldiers, we hear the soldiers theme played by Shaw's french horns, representing the soldier's loyalty and Shaw's leadership, with slight dips into uncertainy, which I think represent the shaky friendship between Col. Shaw and childhood friend Maj. Forbes.

8. The Year of Jubilee
Finally, the soldiers get the opportunity to show their worth in battle, and they excitedly march through the streets of Boston while Frederick Douglass, Governor Andrew and the citizens proudly watch them head to battle in their new elegant uniforms. They are now recognized as soldiers, and the instruments and voices are not shy to convey it (particularly the snares!).

9. Preparations for Battle
This is a long track, but preludes the battle in Fort Wagner. We hear cellos play the Soldiers theme in a rendition as noble as any. All of the themes, from the Civil War, to the Soldiers, to Shaw's theme and all of the minor themes and high strings are present in this track, which I think effectively represents all of the elements coming together in anticipation for the battle, which as we hear in the next track, is obviously the climax of the film.

10. Charging Fort Wagner
This is probably the most controversial track of all, due to its striking similarities between music by Orff and Wagner. Yes, the similarities are present but at the same time, it is by far my personal favorite. Everything comes together in this track. The battle at Fort Wagner ensues.

Angels shout and cry at the tragedy that just occured in the beginning of the track, which leads to the soldier's newfound wrath as they valiantly charge the walls of Fort Wagner. Anger. Destruction. Death. It's all present here. And yet at the same time, so is courage, hope, and bravery. The gripping events onscreen are portrayed with genuine enthusiasm and understanding of the horrific battle. When the soldiers break through the walls and charge through the fort, hope is renewed! A truly bold and fearless major chord is sung with such intensity by the choir ushered by many layers of arpeggios by strings and woodwinds only for it to all crash down into a final hit with the timpani! What spirit!

11. An Epitaph to War
The angels weep in this track. I think they cry for the soldiers. There's a lot to cry about here, but in this wonderously heart-pulling rendition of the Soldiers theme, as quiet but intense as ever, there's a whole new dimension of connection to what's occuring on screen.

12. Closing Credits
The closing chapter to this amazing score. All of the elements of the score past can be found in unique renditions here. My favorite part is 1:11, which actually is one of my favorite parts of the whole score. The soldiers theme is probably at its most luminous. Overall, a great suite of major and minor melodies.

My personal rating:

10/10 - As good as they come, Glory is one of the most effective scores of all time. It works outstandingly in both the movie and as a musical experience by itself, successful in telling the story without visuals and sound effects. A terrific arrangement of choirs and orchestras that culminate in elegance seldom found in modern movie scores. One of the best of the digital age, Glory is, well, a truly glorious experience.

[Edited 2009-09-01 15:07:11]
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Tue Sep 01, 2009 11:41 pm

For me, one of my all time favourite themes is the John Barry composed theme for Dances With Wolves.

Here is the title "John Dunbar Theme"

Other favourites include.....
Mantovani Theme From Exodus

Henri Mancini theme "Baby Elephant Walk" from Hatari

Miklos Rosza's theme for El Cid.

[Edited 2009-09-01 16:46:30]
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:03 am

I'm a huge fan of Thomas Newman. His music is just incredible at times, and when I first discovered him and his music, I was surprised at how many films he made themes for. Some better than others.

* Thomas Newman - Brooks was here (Shawshank Redemption)

* Thomas Newman - Any other name (American Beauty)

* Thomas Newman - Cathedral (Road to Perdition)

Another great composer is Ludovico Einaudi. A bit similar style to Newman, but has more piano to it. Hasn't composed themes for as many films as Newman, but it's still quality music.

* Ludovico Einaudi - Primavera

* Ludovico Einaudi - Fuori dal mundo (This is England)

Finally I'd like to mention the works of Jon Ehrlich and Jason Derlatka, who compose the soundtrack for the TV series House M.D.
A very similar style to Thomas Newman, and just a pleasure to listen to. Sadly not available on any soundtrack CD as far as I'm aware, but I took the liberty of gathering some of the best themes in a few videoes.

* House themes 1

* House themes 2

* House themes 3

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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:53 am

You musn't forget Ennio Marricone, Alexander Desplat, Bernard Hermann, and Howard Shore. Many of the greats have been named above. Danny Elfman is another name you could add to the list, as well Randy Newman.

Ennio Marricone- Cinema Paradiso
Perhaps my favourite film, everyone should be left with a tear in their eye at the end, which is very much aided by the score.

With Berndard Hermann you're spoiled for choice, so here's the two main themes from 'Taxi Driver'

And 'North By Northwest'

Alexander Desplat- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
My favourite piece is 'Sunrrise on the Pontchartrain'.

Howard Shore- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
This is Foundation of Stone, from the opening sequence of 'The Two Towers'. The best part is those 10 seconds towards the end, you'll know it when you hear it.

P.S. Film scores are my favourite music as well.
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Wed Sep 02, 2009 12:08 pm

Ah yes, Ennio Morricone is one of my favorites, and I love Alexandre Desplat and Howard Shore (can't say I'm too familiar with Bernard Herrman, sadly, mostly due to my complete lack of knowledge of the "Golden Age" of film score...I know, a big tsk tsk on my part, but I'm trying to expand my horizons!   ).

I've noticed that Morricone's music tends to really stand out in the film (Mission to Mars, his rejected What Dreams May Come score), and I think I can only describe it as the film not living up to the music. His music has an angelic touch that really channels heavy emotion so very well. You feel tragedy when his notes hit tragic marks...I think Once Upon a Time in the West and the Mission contain some of the best melodies ever written on sheet music. Thanks for showing me Cinema Paradiso, I hadn't heard that before, but I love it!

And speaking of Morricone, any fan of his should listen to his rejected score to What Dreams May Come, that was declined for unknown reasons (though its rumored that many audiences didn't respond well to the way it was included in the film). While the score may not have fit in well with the film, I could only describe the score as being nothing short of stunning. Truly stunning: (if you have the time, I recommend you listen to all the tracks to get a feel for the main themes)

If you haven't yet, you should check out Alexandre Desplat's score to Birth, a sort-of obscure 2004 film. It's light, bouncy, and has that mysterious touch with plenty of engaging tympani solos....ohhh, how I love the tympani!

I actually own all three complete sets of Howard Shore's score to Lord of the be honest, like J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, I really consider the whole thing to be one score seperated out into three parts, rather than "sequel" scores. The whole thing is so brilliantly constructed with strong anchor melodies throughout that are well developed and well foreshadowed. I'd go as far as to say that it could be my favorite film score, as I find the capacity to listen to it again and again never ceases. Plus, the chills I get from "For Frodo" on the Return of the King complete set never seem to go away.

[Edited 2009-09-02 05:14:51]
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Wed Sep 02, 2009 12:40 pm

If we were to go back to the days before DVDs and home video I would say that film soundtracks were then my favourite music to listen to and I built up an impressive collection. However, on reflection I think I enjoyed the music as it was recreating the atmosphere in a theatre (not a modern multiplex which is nothing other than an industrial warehouse with IKEA furnishings and the picture pops up just like a TV). Remember the thrill and air of excitement as epic films like Doctor Zhivago or Lawrence of Arabia began with an overture before the curtains opened, and the music during the film often brilliantly captured the action on the screen?

There were some brilliant composers out there who could compose music for a film – Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone, John Barry, James Horner, Henry Mancini, Miklos Rosza to name a few – and some lesser known composers. Or how about when old music/songs formed part of a soundtrack and then went on to become more popular – e.g. Scott Joplin's music that was used in The Sting. There were also some brilliant songs written exclusively for the screen but younger a.netters would probably laugh their heads off if I quoted some of my favourites.

In my opinion today's music sounds like some drugged crazed idiot is banging together dustbin lids, and the singers aren't that much better.
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:25 pm

I give you the following movies to think about, would they be what they became without the fantastic music:

The Battle of Britain (Goodwin, Walton)
The Dambusters (Coates, Lucas)
Lawrence of Arabia (Jarre)
Bridge over the River Kwai (Arnold)
The Great Escape (Bernstein)
The Longest Day (Jarre)

633 Squadron (Goodwin) Bad movie, great music

Yes. I'm hooked on war movies.
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Thu Sep 03, 2009 2:22 am


I know what you mean about today's music...I can listen to it if I'm in the right mood, but that seldom happens.

Great list, WrenchBender! Indeed, some of the worst movies can have great scores. In fact, one of my favorite scores of all time, Cutthroat Island, came from what was the biggest financial flop in the history of cinema (and is regarded to be a critical flop as well). John Debney, composer of The Passion of the Christ, composed a truly wonderous adventure score that harks back to the exciting action material of the Golden Age (so I hear anyway), and is an absolute blast to listen to. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Fri Sep 04, 2009 11:08 am

Quoting WrenchBender (Reply 6):
633 Squadron (Goodwin) Bad movie, great music

What do you mean, bad movie? IMHO, 633 Squadron is one the finest war movies ever made! Excellent story, excellent cinematography, excellent acting, and an astounding score by Ron Goodwin!

Goodwin is one of my favourite composers, I find the main theme from Where Eagles Dare to be one of the most dramatic pieces of cinematic music ever.

For John Williams, the themes to The Posiedon Adventure, Towering Inferno, The Cowboys, and Saving Private Ryan have to be among his best.

I also adore the piece Baby Elephant Dance by Henry Mancini, which is from his score for the John Wayne film Hatari!
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RE: How About Some Really Beautiful, "Glorious" Music?

Fri Sep 04, 2009 3:31 pm

Deserving a much better movie, the wonderful "vide cor meum" by Patrick Cassidy, from Hannibal (and re-used in Kingdom of Heaven)

And because it's so damn hard to choose exactly which John Williams piece is the best, I just took one where the master himself is conducting the orchestra
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