GREAT MOMENTS OF FILM SCORING #5: Legends of the Fall – James Horner

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June 22, 2015: On that day, several international newspages reported that film composer James Horner’s airplane crashed into the Los Padres National Forest near Ventucopa, California. The film music community was completely shocked. Could it really be true that James Horner had died at age 61? A few hours later, the tragic news was confirmed by his agent and the great sorrow began… Today would have been his 63rd birthday, so I thought it would be quite fitting to talk about my favorite score written by him – “Legends of the Fall”.

It is a score that makes it easy to understand why Horner was and still is regarded as one of the best film composers of our time: Not only is it wonderfully orchestrated, it also features a multitude of themes  composed for the movie’s characters – by the way, almost all of his famous trademarks are included here, you can really feel that this must be a Horner score.

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The 75-minute album opens with a small hint of the main theme, followed by a mysterious shakuhachi solo setting the mood (yes, the shakhachi flute is here again – very typical for Horner!). Then, the main theme returns and the orchestra kicks in – it’s a “typical” Horner theme: elegant, incredibly romantic and full of beauty. However, the most popular piece might be the second track, “The Ludlows”, which is also one of my personal favourites. After a short piano solo which introduces the secondary theme called “Twilight and Mist”, Horner unleashes his amazing string work that brings me to tears every time I’m listening to it; it’s just magical.

Let it be the powerful war-related cues like “Off to War” or “Samuel’s Death” or the finale, “Alfred, Tristan, the Colonel…and the Legend” which runs for 15min, Horner always keeps his music interesting and emotional. It touches you, makes you connect with the characters and the story; it’s does everything a good film score should do – and even more.

When I listened to “Legends of the Fall” the first time, I was simply blown away. I couldn’t believe someone was able to create such an astonishing piece of art. The score ranks as an absolute masterpiece in Horner’s oeuvre and is undoubtedly one of the best scores written in the 1990s. But is also showcases the enormous power of film music; nowadays, you don’t hear music like this anymore in a Hollywood blockbuster. It shows what a brilliant composer James Horner is: “Legends of the Fall”, “Titanic”, “Avatar”, “Braveheart” and “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” are only some examples of his giant filmography.

” I always look for colors that are wistful and have a feeling of past and mean something to me. (…) It’s very important for the music to be very intimate to me. I can always make it sound big but certain instruments are just key to unlocking the heart, which is all about what film music is. “

James Horner – October 2013

With “The Magnificent Seven” set to be released in September as well as the upcoming “Collage” and “Living in the Age of Airplanes”, this marks the end of an era: We will never again listen to a new Horner score. So we should keep the old releases as a real treasure – a treasure and an example of Horner’s capability as a great storyteller, one of the best the world of film scoring has ever seen.

Track Listing:

  • Legends of the Fall (4:17)
  • The Ludlows (6:40)
  • Off To War (5:55)
  • To the Boys… (2:49)
  • Samuel’s Death (8:24)
  • Alfred Moves to Helena (3:01)
  • Farewell/Descent Into Madness (8:13)
  • The Changing Seasons/Wild Horses/Tristan’s Return (5:11)
  • The Wedding (3:06)
  • Isobel’s Murder/Recollections of Samuel (3:58)
  • Revenge (6:20)
  • Goodbyes (3:12)
  • Alfred, Tristan, the Colonel, the Legend… (15:09)

TT: 75 minutes 18 seconds

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