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The movie, the score, the legend… the book

October 12, 2022

Legends of the Fall” has long been regarded as one of the late James Horner’s finest works. It’s an emotional powerhouse full of sweeping melodies and rich orchestrations. It shows Horner at his very best and it kickstarted his, arguably, most successful period, the mid 90s, when he scored “Casper“, “Balto“, “Apollo 13“, “Braveheart” and the Oscar-winning “Titanic“. The full printed score to the epic “Legends of the Fall” is now available via Chris Siddall Music Publishing.

Whilst Horner’s score for “Legends…” received a Golden Globe nomination, I believe it never really got the award recognitions it deserves. Granted, no one really stood any chance against the popularity of “The Lion King“; and I think the lacklustre response to the movie itself didn’t help either. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post wrote at the time: “[…] the actors may have captured the spirit of the story, but that’s impossible to know. These are performances that lost too much in the editing room, smothered by music and overshadowed by a picture-postcard vision of the American West.” Ouch. That said, it made $160m at the box office against its $30m budget; so it was at least a financial success.

For me, the 1995 film is a mixed bag. I adore the Montana landscape (though it was actually filmed in Alberta, Canada, but… same difference, right?). I also adore the music and the cinematography (John Toll being the only Oscar winner here). The acting I’m not so sure about. Julia Ormond looks lovely but looks miserable all the way through, Brad Pitt is at the height of his ‘hunk’ era and is showing off his hunkness and pouty lips, Anthony Hopkins will always only be Anthony Hopkins and his role gets a bit awkward after his character suffers a stroke. The real stars here are Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas and Gordon Tootoosis.

The story is a grand ol’ one of family drama, love, war and politics. It gives Horner a wide canvas upon which to paint his music, but I believe the story is a mess. Director Ed Zwick (“Glory“, “Courage Under Fire“) tries too hard to cram too much into two hours. There is so much going on! I’m always reminded of how children tell a story… “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then that happened, and then we went here, and then we did that…” and, and, and. It’s a series of (generally unfortunate) events, lacking real flow.

James Horner delivered a large, sweeping orchestral score with numerous strong themes, long cues and full-bodied orchestrations (from Horner himself, Thomas Pasatieri and Don Davis). And the full printed score is now available to read, study or simply marvel at thanks to Chris Siddall Music Publishing.

Legends of the Fall in Full Score” has 223 pages, 9×12 paperbound, contains 38 cues meticulously transcribed from the original manuscripts by Chris Siddall and Tom Margraff. On the cover is a beautiful portrait of Brad Pitt’s character Tristan by Dave Kang. Inside, the book features a lovely foreword by music editor and frequent Horner-collaborator Jim Henrikson; and it also features an extensive analysis of the score’s themes by fellow IFMCA-journalist and Professor of Music Theory at Oklahoma City University Erik Heine.

Heine’s analysis is as valuable as the score itself. He talks about the themes from a music theory point of view. He talks about structures, phrases, harmonies and progressions. He illustrates this with excerpts of the themes, including the chords and their progressions.

The score follows the cues as presented in the original manuscripts and as written for the film, so it may contain music we’ve not heard on album or it may contain variations. There are several cues where Siddall includes both the film and the album versions (e.g. “Twilight and Mist”, “Off to War” and “Tristan’s Return”). In the unlikely event that you’re not aware… Intrada has released 2-CD expanded special edition of “Legends…” and this would likely be the best companion to the book; unless you’re lucky enough to still have an DVD with isolate score.

The full score, presented as concert score, is a joy to read through. Sure, some of us might need their reading glasses, but the whole thing is neat and tidy and printed on sturdy paper so you can flick through the pages without fear of tearing theme. What stands out, as with Siddall’s previous releases, is the attention to detail and all the little extra’s he puts in. The cue list shows the orchestrator for each cue, and the score itself is ‘decorated’ with descriptions (hitpoints, markers, whatever you call them) of what’s going on on-screen. It makes it so much easier to follow the music, especially for those whose music reading skills aren’t top-notch.

Whilst the score is largely an old-fashioned, sweeping orchestral one, it does feature synthesizer, pan pipes, bass pan pipes, shakuhachi and some interesting percussive instruments. This book not only gives you an insight into how Horner created his melodies and his harmonies, but also how he created the more atmospheric moments, relating to the Native American side of this broad tale.

You all know I’m a Horner fan. “Legends…” is a masterpiece in my opinion and it’s wonderful to study the score in great detail. “Legends of the Fall – In Full Score” is available from Chris Siddall Music Publishing and it comes highly recommended.

Article by Pete Simons (c) 2022 Synchrotones

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