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TROY – James Horner

troyhornerOriginal Review by Peter Simons

In what was one of this years most upsetting events in film music, Gabriel Yared’s powerful score for Troy got rejected and was replaced by one from James Horner. After Yared had been fine-tuning his work for almost a year, it was suddenly up to Horner to write ‘something better’, i.e. something better fitting the studio’s wishes, in a mere two weeks. Such a task is nearly impossible and, needless to say, Horner’s work sounds less inspired and thought-through than Yared’s does. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good score. On the contrary, it’s a surprisingly fine effort featuring some of Horner’s most rousing material since Enemy at the Gates. One would just wish that the composer was given more time to explore and elaborate on his ideas.

A slave to modern scoring trends, Horner begins the score with massive percussion and a female ethnic vocal that recalls recalling the opening of Willow, performed by Macedonian singer Tanya Tzabovska, who incidentally also sang on Yared’s rejected score. The wailing vocal returns several times throughout the score (more so in the actual movie than on CD), signaling death and mourning. While it eventually gets pretty annoying during the movie, the vocal sounds quite alright on the album as its presence is kept to a minimum.

Horner uses three more key themes throughout the score. One is a fanfare for the city of Troy itself. Sadly, though for Horner detractors unsurprisingly, this motif of rising and falling brass-notes, is an exact copy of a fanfare from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. It’s unfortunate Horner didn’t write an original melody, but one cannot deny that Britten’s theme works quite well on screen. Another main theme is a noble one for the character Achilles, that vaguely resembles (but is by no means a copy of) one of the themes from Enemy At The Gates. It’s a memorable tune that is varied upon quite a bit throughout the score, and ultimately gets a satisfyingly powerful rendition during the finale.

Then there is the love theme for Briseis and Achilles. This one, bearing a strong resemblance to David Arnold’s Stargate, sounds the least inspired and is this score’s weakest link. It is too simplistic, remains underdeveloped and fails to portray the complicated relationship between the two characters. The first appearance of this theme in the movie, as Achilles is making love to Briseis while she holds a knife to his throat, sounds too forced and laughable. What’s worse is that this theme is transformed into a downright horrible end credits song called “Remember” with the worst lyrics ever from Cynthia Weil. She really has some explaining to do! The unbelievably bland song is performed by Josh Groban, who, under different circumstances, I would love to see teaming up with Horner again.

A highlight of this score is the track “The Greek Army And Its Defeat”, which starts off with a pounding ostinato and menacing Morricone-like synthesizer effects. As the Greek army marches towards its enemy, the ostinato increases in speed. As the battle commences the music explodes into a surprisingly slow frenzy of brass fanfares, metallic percussion and dramatic strings. With the 4-note danger motif never far away this track isn’t particularly original, neither is the rest of the score, but its relentless energy is still as exciting as anything Horner has ever written. “The Trojans Attack” is another excellent cue for brass, percussion and chorus, although the extensive use of the 4-note motif may put off some listeners. “Hector’s Death” is an interesting track for percussion and vocals, with a light bongo-rhythm representing the footwork of Achilles and Hector as they fight each other and with heavy drums representing the punches. As Hector is defeated, vocalist Tanja Tzabovska comes in to provide a mourning atmosphere.

“The Wooden Horse and The Sacking of Troy” is one of the album’s more menacing cues as low clusters of strings, brass, vocals and piano signal Troy’s doom as its citizens enthusiastically roll in the wooden horse. Then at night, when everyone is at sleep, the Greek soldiers who’ve been hiding inside this wooden structure sneak out to overtake the city from the inside. Horner provides some effectively sneaky music for plucked violins, flutes, vocals and the 4-note motif performed lightly by the strings. It’s interesting to hear a dramatic rendition of the love theme as the Greek army breaches the gates of Troy and marches in, as if to signal that love is what got this war started; and love is what will end it. Achilles’ theme goes through some powerful variation while he’s searching for his love Briseis. Wailing vocals as well as racing strings, heavy percussion and dramatic piano ostinatos accompany the city’s fall. This trend is continued is the finale track, the 13-minute “Through The Fires, Achilles… And Immortality”, with a heartbreaking theme for strings as the great warrior is shot down. Briseis and Achilles’ love theme gets one of the score’s best performances, though evoking memories of Star Trek as the Greek legend dies. His theme then gets an interesting performance, climbing up the scales as if to signal Achilles’ ascent to Olympus.

Ultimately, Horner’s music will not score many points for originality, and may even lose some points for the bad love theme. What Troy’s got going in its favor is some of the most unrelenting action music Horner has done in quite some time. A great theme for Achilles, powerful percussion, swirling strings and soaring brass – it’s all there. Even though the 4-note danger-motif is omni-present in this score, it’s not quite as overbearing as it was in Enemy at the Gates. Horner actually manages to put it through a couple of nice variations.

Given the time restraints it’s not surprising that Horner revisits some of his earlier material to put this score together as quickly as possible. Given his past of incorporating classical tunes into his music, it’s even not surprising he quotes Britten’s War Requiem. What is, however, surprising is how closely Horner’s score resembles Yared’s rejected one. The same female vocalist is used, as well as the same Bulgarian women’s choir. A significant number of scenes are scored and orchestrated is a similar fashion; almost as if Yared’s rejected score served as a temp track for Horner. The use of Tanya Tzabovska’s vocals as a motif for death and mourning is one example; the specific use of percussion during the scene when Achilles fights Hector is another. It makes the rejection of Yared’s score an even greater mystery than it already is.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • 3200 Years Ago (3:36)
  • Troy (5:01)
  • Achilles Leads The Myrmidons (8:30)
  • The Temple of Poseidon (3:28)
  • The Night Before (3:28)
  • The Greek Army And Its Defeat (9:38)
  • Briseis And Achilles (5:19)
  • The Trojans Attack (5:01)
  • Hector’s Death (3:27)
  • The Wooden Horse And The Sacking of Troy (10:02)
  • Through the Fires, Achilles… And Immortality (13:27)
  • Remember (written by James Horner and Cynthia Weill, performed by Josh Groban) (4:18)

Running Time: 75 minutes 15 seconds

Warner Sunset Reprise 48798-2 (2004)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by James Horner, Eddie Karam, Conrad Pope, Randy Kerber and Jon Kull. Featured musical soloists Ian Underwood, Tony Hinnigan and Eric Rigler. Special vocal performances by Tanja Tzabovska. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Jim Henrikson. Album produced by Simon Rhodes and James Horner.

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