War Horse (John Williams)
After writing War Horse in 1982, Michael Morpurgo had tried many times to get his acclaimed novel to the screen, but always unsuccessfully until 2007 when it was adapted for the stage. Two years later, legendary director Steven Spielberg bought the rights and decided to direct it for Dreamworks. Spielberg assembled all his usual collaborators for the film, including composer John Williams, who had been absent from film scoring for three years until his return earlier this year with his marvellous score for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (also helmed by Spielberg). Whilst very different scores, they both prove beyond any doubt that Williams is still top of his game even whilst approaching the age of 80. There are many ways to compare Tintin and War Horse, but, to put it simply, Tintin is for fans of more action oriented scores, whilst War Horse is for those who love the memorable thematic material for which Williams is so famous. Being a member of the latter group myself, this is my favourite of the two, but make no mistake, both scores are fantastic in their own way.
Williams’ last year of major production was 2005, during which he composed four scores, and in all of those but one (Revenge of the Sith), they were not dominated by memorable themes. Though as already mentioned, there are several memorable themes to be found in the score for War Horse, there isn’t really one that can be considered the “main” theme. There are four primary themes for the score of War Horse and the odd few secondary ideas. Much of the score is clearly influenced by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, but that said, there are also many comparisons that can be made to earlier scores by Williams, such as Born on the Fourth of July, Far and Away, Saving Private Ryan, and The Patriot. Two of the aforementioned four primary themes could be called the “main” theme, and both are introduced in the first track, “Dartmoor, 1912”, and both reoccur throughout the score.
After a brief introduction to the first of the themes, performed by a solo flute with string and light brass accompaniments, the score swells at 2:09 into a fully orchestral rendition of the second theme. Representing the English countryside, it’s a beautiful composition, somewhat reminiscent of certain moments from Williams’ 1992 score for Far and Away.
High points in particular are “Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding”, containing some wonderful comedic music on cellos starting out, and then moving into the more emotional material for strings and horns, similar in both melody and orchestration to moments from Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot, “Learning the Call”, which after a lush rendition of the aforementioned second theme, Williams launches into a series of heroic brass fanfares towards the end of the cue, somewhat reminiscent of Hook in places. “Plowing”, is another, with it’s noble horn performances of another of the score’s themes being a definite highlight.
Though, as already mentioned, Tintin is the score dominated by action music, but War Horse has its fair share as well, with “The Charge and Capture” and “The Desertion”, and later “Pulling the Cannon” and “No Man’s Land”, making excellent use of heaving percussion and violent brass, with the latter cue being the primary highlight of the score’s action music. Following “The Reunion” and “Remembering Emilie, and Finale”, two beautiful, emotional fully orchestral pieces, the album concludes with the usual concert arrangement of the score’s main themes in “The Homecoming”.
In summary, this is easily one of the top five scores of 2011, and I think it can be said with utmost confidence that John Williams will become the single most nominated musician in the history of the Academy Awards in 2012 (he’s currently tied with Alfred Newman), since either War Horse or Tintin, or both will certainly be up for the award. Hopefully, his work will also be rewarded with a long overdue sixth Oscar win. Listening to the maestro’s two scores from this year really reminds you of his genius – especially when you compare them to the computer-generated film scores that so many blockbusters are cursed with these days. Buy without hesitation.
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1. Dartmoor, 1912 (3:35)
2. The Auction (3:34)
3. Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding (4:42)
4. Learning the Call (3:20)
5. Seeding, and Horse vs. Car (3:33)
6. Plowing (5:10)
7. Ruined Crop, and Going to War (3:29)
8. The Charge and Capture (3:21)
9. The Desertion (2:33)
10. Joey s New Friends (3:30)
11. Pulling the Cannon (4:11)
12. The Death of Topthorn (5:45)
13. No Man’s Land (4:35)
14. The Reunion (3:55)
15. Remembering Emilie, and Finale (5:07)
16. The Homecoming (8:06)
Total Time: 65:46
Music Composed, Conducted & Produced by John Williams
Orchestrations by Eddie Karam
Nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Oscar.
The album’s liner notes contain credits and the usual note from Steven Spielberg.
All images and artwork are Copyright © Dreamworks & Sony Entertainment