Home > Reviews > TROY (REJECTED SCORE) – Gabriel Yared


troyyaredOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Gabriel Yared began work on Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy during the first phases of production, in early 2003. He was certainly an unexpected choice to score a film of this type, having spent much of his Hollywood career scoring sentimental romantic dramas such as The English Patient, City of Angels, Message in a Bottle, Possession and Cold Mountain, and scoring them well. Nevertheless, Yared threw himself into the project, exploring ancient and modern musical techniques, integrating Bulgarian choirs and Macedonian soloists into his work, and much more besides. For over a year, Yared immersed himself in the music of Trojans and Spartans and Greeks, having been afforded the luxury of time, something not often given to film music composers these days. The score was recorded in February 2004, and everyone, from Wolfgang Petersen to the studio execs at Warner Brothers, loved Yared’s work. Then, the film was screened for a test audience in Sacramento, California, and everything changed. The focus group at the test decided Yared’s music was “overpowering and too big, old fashioned and dated the film” and, sensing potential trouble, Warner Brothers unceremoniously threw out Yared’s work. Overnight, a year’s worth of research and planning was discarded by a group of studio executives who believed that the Sacramento focus group had better taste in film music than a director of Petersen’s caliber, and a composer of Yared’s standing.

James Horner was drafted in to write a replacement at very short notice and, under the circumstances, did as good a job as could be expected of him considering the time constraints he was under. The musical mess of Troy was not the fault of Horner, of Petersen, and certainly not of Yared. It is my personal opinion that the executives at Warner Brothers were short-sighted in the worst possible way for not showing Yared the courtesy of allowing him to correct the “mistakes” of his score. This is pandering to the common denominator of the lowest kind; with all due respect to the good people of Sacramento, it is utterly sickening that the focus group should be able to negate a year’s worth of effort and creativity with a few simple comments about the score being “old fashioned”. This is a film set in the year 1193 BC for heaven’s sake. What did they want on the soundtrack? Rap music? Marilyn Manson? One doesn’t need to say much more to indicate the outrage felt by many people in the film music community following this decision. James Horner, the true professional, has no charges to answer: he was just doing his job under difficult circumstances. Yared is the one who, rightly, should feel aggrieved.

In the weeks following his score’s rejection, Yared posted an open letter on his website, www.gabrielyared.com, outlining the events discussed above, and indicating his frustration at his treatment by the studio, who had hired Horner as a replacement before they even had the courtesy to inform Yared of the circumstances. Surprisingly, Yared received a great deal of criticism for this – essentially he “went public” on his dealings with Warner, something which is a definite no-no in the film business, and many people felt that his polite rant would actually do his career more harm that it would generate sympathy for his plight. Rejected scores are a sad fact of life in Hollywood these days, as studios fight to appeal to each demographic, and ensure the highest possible budget returns, regardless of the knock-on effects they may have on cinematic creativity.

Yared himself is no stranger to having his work rejected – after winning the Oscar for The English Patient in 1996, he found himself having his work on both The Wings of the Dove and Les Misérables thrown out (they were re-scored by Ed Shearmur and Basil Poledouris respectively). In the last few years, Alan Silvestri wrote a rejected score for Pirates of the Caribbean, Craig Armstrong was thrown of Tomb Raider II, Jerry Goldsmith chose not to re-score Timeline for a third time, and as I write this Terence Blanchard has just been replaced by Ramin Djawadi on Blade Trinity. He is not alone. So why did he take his rejection Troy so badly? My opinion is that Troy was a labour of love for Yared; something into which he threw his heart, and soul, and passion, and energy, and to see his talents treated so dismissively was heartbreaking; he had to speak out. Whether his outburst will be detrimental to his North American career remains to be seen but one thing is for certain: the increasing power of test screen audiences, and the lack of respect given to composers in Hollywood needs to be addressed immediately, or else the industry is in danger of losing whatever credibility remains.

One of the unexpected bonuses that resulted from Yared’s fate was the creation of a lengthy “promo” CD comprising the 18 score tracks which had been fully recorded and mastered prior to it being rejected. Sound clips (which he was subsequently forced to remove) were made available on Yared’s website for all to hear; this CD is the real deal – almost 80 minutes of wonderful music which, when listened to, cannot help but make one wonder what the film would have sounded like with this music attached to it. While I certainly enjoyed the version of Troy that hit cinemas, with Horner’s score attached, I feel sure Yared’s music would have made it better still.

Yared’s Troy is a full-throated, balls-out epic of the classic kind, written for a huge orchestra, full choir, assorted percussion instruments, and solo ethnic vocals. The core of the score is a descending-ascending three-note motif, first heard during the opening moments of “Approach of the Greeks”, and which forms the cornerstone of the majority of the film’s action cues thereafter. “D-Day Battle” features the 3-note motif in a powerful brass setting, surrounded by fluid, swelling, melodically-led orchestral action that majestically accompanies the approach of Menelaus’ Greek army to the shores of Troy. “Battle of the Arrows” sees the motif being sung by the choir under a churning orchestral onslaught, before emerging into a stirring rendition of the beautiful choral hymn first heard in “Achilles’ Destiny”. “The Sacking of Troy” sees the motif used in a more nervous way, underwritten by off-center snare drums and a more ominous feel, before emerging into a triumphant orchestral sequence that segues, via an interesting contrapuntal choral segment, into the menacing-yet-moving finale, “Achilles’ Death”.

These bold action sequences are counterbalanced by a delicate love theme, which seems to be a direct descendent from his work on The English Patient and others. “Helen and Paris” and “Achilles and Briseis” both offer touchingly simple melodies for woodwinds and strings, the romance of which comes as a welcome breathing opportunity, and the restraint of which underlines Yared’s confidence in the strength of the emotion of his music.

In addition to this, there are many wonderful individual moments which hint at the kind of music Yared is capable of creating for this kind of canvas. “Achilles and Boagrius” is another wonderfully realized action cue, eventually emerging into a muscular, throbbing piece for brass and percussion that illustrates a domineering side we didn’t know Yared had. “Sparta” echoes to wonderfully exotic middle-eastern rhythms and more than a hint of the Turkish bazaar. “1000 Ships” swells to an enormous crescendo that reverberates with choral majesty as Achilles and the Greeks cross the mighty Aegean. “Hector! Hector!” is more subdued that one might imagine, playing on notions of heroism and noble resignation as the Trojan leader reluctantly agrees to fight the Greek warrior Achilles; the fight itself is underpinned by tribal, almost savage percussive rhythms which rattle and reverberate alongside the swords and shields of the protagonists.

And then there is Macedonian-born vocalist Tanja Tzarovska, who lends her thoroughly unique voice to “Mourning Women” and “Hector’s Funeral”. Without wanting to be unkind, at times Tzarovska sounds as though she is being murdered: her voice is shrill, loud, and uncompromising, but despite the discomfort of actually listening to her performance, its effectiveness cannot be denied. Her strangled, tortured tones add a sense of lamentable desperation and grief – exactly the intended effect, and her performance of the “End Credits Song” gives the score a sense of moving finality. In the end, war is futile. Everyone dies. It is perhaps no coincidence that Tzarovska’s vocal work is one of the elements Horner chose to carry over to his replacement score.

Despite all the glowing praise, Yared’s score is certainly not 100% perfect. At times his percussive rhythms bring to mind Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ or Holst’s “Mars the Bringer of War” from The Planets, and although Yared has himself stated that he has no “culture” in film music, and does not listen to other film scores, his music is also occasionally reminiscent of Zimmer’s Gladiator, and references the stylistics of Poledouris, Goldsmith, and the choral writing of Graeme Revell (although this is likely to be nothing more than a coincidence, probably due to the fact that all composers draw inspiration from similar classical sources). Having said all this, Yared’s Troy remains a blisteringly good score, a thoroughly entertaining listen, and one cannot help but wonder how much better the film would have been had this music remained intact. I just hope Warner Brothers see fit to give Yared’s work the recognition it deserves and allow it to be released to the general public; music this good should not go un-heard. As it is, had it not been rejected, it would unquestionably have been one of the best scores – if not the best score – of 2004.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Approach of the Greeks (2:30)
  • Achilles’ Destiny (5:42)
  • The Opening (3:57)
  • Achilles and Boagrius (3:46)
  • Sparta (1:59)
  • Helen and Paris (1:44)
  • D-Day Battle (4:53)
  • 1000 Ships (3:36)
  • Mourning Women (1:25)
  • Achilles and Briseis (5:31)
  • Battle of the Arrows (7:11)
  • Greek Funeral Pyres (2:19)
  • Hector! Hector! (3:38)
  • Achilles and Hector Fight (4:38)
  • Hector’s Funeral (2:24)
  • The Sacking of Troy (7:48)
  • Achilles’ Death (8:48)
  • End Credits Song (4:34)

Running Time: 76 minutes 23 seconds

YAD Music (Promo) (2004)

Music composed by Gabriel Yared. Conducted by Harry Rabinowitz and Nick Ingman. Orchestrations by Gabriel Yared. Special vocal performances by Tanja Tzarovska. Recorded and mixed by Peter Cobbin. Edited by Alan Jenkins. Album produced by Gabriel Yared.

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