No...not rap or country, not rock or indie music...how 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]