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GODS AND GENERALS – John Frizzell and Randy Edelman

February 21, 2003 Leave a comment Go to comments

godsandgeneralsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

After the massive success of Randy Edelman’s Gettysburg score in 1993, it was only natural that he should be involved in the music for the sequel. However, whereas most of the music in Gettysburg made surprisingly good use of an anachronistic synthesiser and string amalgam, the music for Gods and Generals is more traditionally orchestral, employing powerful instrumental and choral forces without anything remotely electronic to be heard. The most surprising – and pleasing – thing about it is that it was written by John Frizzell, who is enjoying something of a career renaissance with what is easily his most high-profile and accomplished score since Alien Resurrection. Rather than being an actual sequel to Gettysburg, Gods and Generals actually covers much of the same ground, but from different perspectives and points of view, notably that of the legendary General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (Stephen Lang) and the events of 1861-1863, leading up to the legendary battle at Gettysburg. Gods and Generals is directed by Robert F. Maxwell, from the book by Jeff Shaara, features a star-studded supporting cast including Jeff Daniels, Mira Sorvino, Kevin Conway, Bill Campbell, and Robert Duvall as General Robert E. Lee, and clocks in at a staggering 3 hours 40 minutes running time.

John Frizzell is a composer who has not so much frustrated me as puzzled me as to why he has not gone on to reach the heights his early career promised. After bursting onto the scene with Alien Resurrection, and writing surprisingly excellent scores for low-profile films such as Beavis and Butt-head Do America and Dante’s Peak, his career unexpectedly nose-dived, relegating him Hollywood’s second tier and forcing him to churn out horror dreck like I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and mediocre family fare for much of the 2000s. However, I firmly believe that the orchestral and choral majesty of Gods and Generals will bring him and his work to the attention of many people who thought he was nothing more than another jobbing scribe, and will allow his career to build once more.

The score is a multi-themed epic, filled with powerful resonance and emotional emphasis. The dramatically rich ‘Gods and Generals’ presents the central theme – a stirring, noble, soul-searching refrain with a sensational choral element which actually starts off sounding like a patented Edelman über-anthem, but quickly develops into a glorious theme that speaks of heroism and patriotism in abundance. It appears in a slightly melancholy piano variation in ‘Loved I Not Honor More’, with near-spiritual overtones in ‘You’ll Thank Me In The Morning’, and mixed with the homespun horn refrain (first heard in ‘You Must Not Worry For Us’) in the epic ‘To The Stone Wall’, a truly triumphant track that celebrates the bravery of the men who fought and died in the war.

The jaunty march in ‘The School of the Soldier’ is a standout, with a trumpet refrain that sounds like a bastard cross between “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music, a Christian hymn and “Dixie” composer Dan Emmet. It has that unmistakable Civil War sound that is difficult to describe but immediately recognizable. Similarly authentic are the Appalachian folk tunes which make use of Mark (The Patriot) O’Connor’s superbly expressive violin solos, such as ‘Lexington Is My Home’, ‘Too Much Sugar’ and the quiet finale ‘The Soldier’s Return’. Composer and Chieftains member Paddy Moloney adds a distinctly Gaelic spin to a number of cues, highlighting the important part the Irish regiments played in Civil War history. ‘These Brave Irishmen’ and ‘The First Crop of Corn’ both make wonderful use of the evocative sound of tin whistles and Uilleann pipes, the latter of these also featuring a sonorous cello-led finale.

The only cue which stands at odds with the others is ‘VMI Will Be Heard From Today’, in which Frizzell embarks on some rather large-scale dissonance to illustrate that, far from the romantic ideal that permeates today, Civil War life was deadly and dangerous on a daily basis. Threatening pizzicato bass notes, a Twister-style windy clarinet motif, heavy percussion, and quite bit of orchestral chaos and violence make it an interesting, intriguing track.

And then there is the work of Randy Edelman, who has not really scored a “quality” movie for a long time, his last probably being Dragonheart way back in 1996. Despite his acclaimed association with Gettysburg, his work is not featured greatly in Gods and Generals, and that which is, is very different from its predecessor. Nevertheless, his three cues leave a definite impression: ‘Go To Their Graves Like Beds’ is a romantic, reflective piano melody augmented by deep choral passages. Although not obviously “Edelmanish”, they still fit well in context, and complement Frizzell’s work. ‘My Heart Shall Not Fear’ is attractive, but darker than other cues, featuring some of Edelman’s trademark unresolved chords; ‘My Home is Virginia’ is a slow, graceful, almost peaceful tale of remembrance, again featuring a prominent piano motif, recapitulated in ‘No Photographs’, where it is accompanied by O’Connor’s warm, dance-like fiddle.

The songs – ‘Going Home’ by Mary Fahl and ‘Cross the Green Mountain’ by Bob Dylan are both superb in their own right, the former especially weaving a captivating spell with the combination of Fahl’s deep and soulful voice, arranger John Lissauer’s enchanting orchestral parts, and the meaningful lyrics which – in the words of director Ronald Maxwell – speak of “an attachment to place, to a community, and to a home worth defending”.

Gods and Generals is easily an early contender for best score of 2003; so much so that, had it been released last year, it would have made my Top 5 of 2002. With thematic strength, choral beauty, orchestral passion, superb instrumental solos, a lilting Irish flavor, and two standout songs, this is by far the landmark score of John Frizzell’s career to date. Let’s just hope he has the talent, capacity and opportunities to progress from here.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Going Home (written by Mary Fahl, Glenn Patscha and Byron Isaacs, performed by Mary Fahl) (4:56)
  • Gods and Generals (3:42)
  • You Must Not Worry For Us (2:09)
  • Loved I Not Honor More (3:13)
  • Lexington Is My Home (1:23)
  • The School of the Soldier (3:58)
  • Go To Their Graves Like Beds (2:24)
  • My Heart Shall Not Fear (1:46)
  • These Brave Irishmen (2:51)
  • To The Stone Wall (3:41)
  • You’ll Thank Me In The Morning (3:20)
  • The First Crop of Corn (3:26)
  • My Home is Virginia (4:24)
  • No Photographs (2:54)
  • VMI Will Be Heard From Today (2:42)
  • Too Much Sugar (1:56)
  • Let Us Cross Over The River (2:48)
  • The Soldier’s Return (2:02)
  • Cross The Green Mountain (written and performed by Bob Dylan) (8:12)

Running Time: 61 minutes 19 seconds

Sony Classical SK-87891 (2003)

Music composed by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman. Conducted by Nick Ingman and Randy Edelman. Orchestrations by Andrew Kinney, Jeff Atmajian, Frank Bennett, Bruce Babcock, Stuart Balcom, Robert Elhai, Don Nemitz, Lolita Ritmanis and Carl Rydlund. Featured musical soloists Mark O’Connor and Paddy Moloney. Recorded and mixed by Rick Winquest and Elton Ahi. Edited by Lisa Jaime. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman.

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