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HOME ALONE – John Williams

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

homealoneMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Writer-producer John Hughes, best known for his 80’s teen movies “16 Candles”, “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” conceived a new twist on the holidays when he took on “Home Alone”. The story opens with the McAllister family preparing for a Christmas vacation in Paris, France. As the family is packing, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets into a scuffle with his older brother Buzz and is sent to his room on the third floor. As the out of control family rushes to depart the next morning, Kevin is somehow overlooked and left “Home Alone.” When Kevin awakes and finds himself alone he makes the best of it, as any kid would, by having fun, eating pizza, making a mess and jumping up and down on his parents’ bed. The real fun begins however when Kevin discovers two burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) planning to rob his house on Christmas Eve and devises all sorts of booby traps and outrageous schemes to defend his house at all costs. The film stretched credulity from the start, but through its slap-stick humor, Christmas sentimentality and Culkin’s endearing screen persona, it won the hearts of the public and became a huge commercial success. The film made Culkin an instant star, spawned a sequel and to this day remains an enduring holiday favorite.

Bruce Broughton was originally hired to score the film, but a scheduling conflict lead to his withdrawal. Director Chris Columbus approached John Williams on a gambit and was pleasantly surprised when Williams, who loved the film, which he thought had an E.T. flavor, and agreed to score it. He was asked to provide a Prokofiev-like score, and so he responded with five themes, traditional Christmas carols and new carols that he created. For the main theme he conceived a song and sought out his long-time friend and lyricists Leslie Bricusse who had collaborated with him on three films in the 1960s. The song “Somewhere In My Memory” turned out to be an enchanting song and the score a critical success. Although Home Alone earned two Oscar nominations for best score and best song, its score would lose to John Barry’s magnificent Dances With Wolves.

The score opens with one of its highlights, the song “Somewhere in My Memory”, an enchanting new Christmas carol for chorus and orchestra. The cue begins with a tender and twinkling statement of the song’s theme, emoted as a pair of descending minor thirds carried with synthetic chimes, celeste, xylophone and glockenspiel. Williams transfers the theme first to woodwinds, then to horns and finally to strings before, a children’s chorus enters at the 1:06 mark. Embellished with sleigh bells, the children’s voices provide a heartfelt innocence and wonder of Christmas that is iconic. After completing the lyrics, the theme is again taken up by full orchestra before concluding as it began with twinkling synthetic chimes, celeste, xylophone and glockenspiel. The theme reprises often in the score; in “The Bookshelf” it is comic with pizzicato string textures, while in “Walking Home” it is full of longing while sung by a boy’s chorus.

“Star of Bethlehem”, which opens with twinkling synth celeste, strings and rhythmic sleigh bells introduces the score’s second theme played as a concert piece for full orchestra. While the title song emoted the child-like innocence and wonder of Christmas, with this piece we hear a more classical, passionate and complex expression. I must say that this exquisite cue is instantly recognizable as a work by Williams and offers testimony to his genius. This stirring theme is heard often in the score with and again receives a full statement in cue 20 where it is carried reverently by organ and boy’s chorus.

Home Alone introduces the Main Theme with synth chimes and celeste later joined by woodwinds and rhythmic sleigh bells. The music is whimsical, carefree and abounding with a child’s playful lightness of being. The theme is reprised in “Banished to the Attic”. “Go Pack Your Suitcase/Introducing Marley/In Good Hands” begins dramatically with an orchestral blast with lingering tremolo strings as the boys are told to pack their bags. At the 0:13 mark the scene shifts to the boys viewing their mysterious and ominous neighbor Marley who is shoveling snow. We hear the “Star of Bethlehem” theme darkly emoted by woodwinds, which evokes trepidation and unease. When Marley turns to see the boys, we here the iconic Dies Irae theme carried by foreboding tubular bells, which scares the boys off to their rooms. At the 1:36 woodwinds introduce the quirky and comic Burglar Motif as Harry, who is in the false guise of a policeman, assures the McCallisters that their house is in good hands.

“We Slept In” introduces the Flight Theme, a frenetic and presto paced theme that emotes the animated frenzy of the family racing to overcome sleeping in. It segues into “Hard Count” where plucked strings underscore the incorrect head count that leads to Kevin being left home alone. Both these cues were excised from the final film. The lively Flight Theme is reprised in “Making the Plane” and “Paris Arrival”.

In “The Basement” we hear an ominous reprise of the Main Title theme, which highlights the fear of the furnace as Kevin explores the basement. The Star of Bethlehem theme follows as Kevin flees the basement with the cue ending as a fading ethereal statement. “Target Practice” is an animated piece that features a militaristic drum roll as Kevin gorges himself on ice cream while watching a gangster movie. In “Sledding on the Stairs” Williams uses bubbling woodwinds to introduce a rare statement by solo tuba that soon yields to sparkling horns and woodwinds as Kevin slides down the stairs.

For “Lights On” we hear tremolo strings and tuba playing as sound effects while the neighborhood’s automatic timers one by one illuminate each house. We segue into “Guess Who’s Home” where we hear the first extended statement of the quirky and cartoonish Burglar Theme, carried by woodwinds and percussion, as Marv and Harry survey the house. Williams plays the Mystery Theme with tremolo strings and woodwinds against the Burglar Theme to evoke unease. French horns sound as Kevin sees the burglars and turns on his house lights to scare them off.

“The Man of the House” opens with the Star of Bethlehem theme that segues into another statement of the Dies Irae motif as Kevin confronts Marley. Williams then employs an animated rendering of the Star of Bethlehem theme to underscore Kevin’s retreat and escape. Continuing on to “Police Check”, we hear the Main theme emoted with unease and uncertainty as Kevin hides. The following cue consists of three scenes; in “Phone Machine” the Burglar theme is featured with contrabass, strings with a concluding harpsichord flourish, while “Drug Store” displays again the a dark rendering of The Star of Bethlehem theme and Dies Irae motif as Kevin meets Marley face to face. As Kevin flees home in “Escape Across the Ice” we hear an amazing progression of themes starting with a potent Star of Bethlehem theme that segues into Somewhere In My Memory and then lastly to the Burglar theme.

“Follow That Kid!” is a most enjoyable cue that opens with a chime and three descending ominous statements by woodwinds and horns that usher in the Burglar theme as Kevin is followed. Slowly the energy builds until a robust statement of The Star of Bethlehem theme is heard. The cue concludes with a fragment of Somewhere in My Memory set with a magical metallic twinkling of tuned brass cymbals.

“Cleaning Clothes” opens with a playful rendering of Somewhere In My Memory that segues into the Furnace motif and finally the Burglar Theme as Harry and Marv observe the house. In “Kitchen” Kevin scares Harry and Marv away and we hear woodwinds and bass create suspense that is broken by a string crescendo. “Scammed by a Kindergartner” opens with the playful and syncopated Kevin’s theme carried by oboe, other woodwinds and plucked strings as he cut’s down a Christmas tree. The Burglar theme rises from the lower register when Harry and Marv realize that a kid is home alone and scamming them.

The classic Christmas carol “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam with translated lyrics by John S. Dwight is arranged by Williams and presented with girl’s choir, organ and orchestra. It serves as a backdrop to Kevin finally overcoming his fear of Marley while they sit and chat in the church. “Carol of the Bells” is an ancient Ukrainian chant that was first adapted to choir by Mykota Leontovych and then later to its modern form by Peter Wilhousky. It’s beautiful and yet simple theme carried by Orchestra and Chorus consists of a series of repeating four note ostinato statements in the manner of a carillon. What is brilliant about this choice is that the melody is in reality a new rendering of the four-note Dies Irae motif. The music’s transformation is an allegory for Marley’s transformation from a feared neighbor to a kind old man. This transformation is brilliantly conceived and testimony to Williams’ genius.

“Setting the Trap” is a complex cue that plays as Kevin devises a myriad of amazing defenses to defend his home from the burglars. Played atop a pop sounding percussion beat we hear an amazing interplay between the Carol of the Bells and Star of Bethlehem themes featuring marvelous string play, ascending woodwinds scales with sleigh bells and glockenspiel accents. The following eight cues – from “The Attack Begins” through to “Marley to the Rescue” – are sequential and underscore the comic failures and well-deserved injuries inflicted on Harry and Marv as Kevin’s ingenious defenses repeatedly thwart their efforts. In an interview Williams said he deliberately created a cartoonish feeling to these cues, which required precise timing given the many comic moments. We hear in this extended thematic passage animated woodwinds and percussion offering various quirky renderings of the Burglar motif. Eventually with “Clothesline Trapeze” and “Marley to the Rescue Williams” introduces counterplay from “Somewhere In My Memory” as Marley rescues Kevin and saves the day.

In “The Next Morning” electronic chimes usher in a sentimental rendering of Somewhere In My Memory as Kevin awakens to a white Christmas. The mood continues with “Mom Returns” as Kevin is reunited with his Mom and family. In the “Finale” as we see Marley warmly reunited with his estranged son and granddaughter, all seems right with the world, and Williams concludes the score with a warm and reaffirming reprise of Somewhere In My Memory that is just wondrous. The Christmas carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” leads into the “End Title” suite which opens with the frenetic Flight Theme that segues into the Burglar Theme and lastly the heart-warming Somewhere in My Memory carried by choir and orchestra.

The remaining cues are traditional Christmas carols selected by Williams to be used as source music during the film; Jingle Bells and the Christmas Carol Medley which features O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, Joy to the World, Deck the Halls, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and lastly, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. In “Finale [Alternate – O Holy Night]” Williams sought to highlight the film’s secondary narrative of forgiveness and reconciliation as Marley reunites with his family. The last cue features the Christmas carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas that introduced the End Title cue that was used in the 1990 album release.

This is a most welcome reissue of what I consider a modern holiday classic. The score was re-mastered by Mark G. Wilder and Maria Triana at Battery Studios and the sound quality is crisp, pristine and just sparkles. I must thank La-La Land Records, producers Nick Redman, Mike Matessino and Didier C. Deutsch, Sony Music and 20th Century Fox for reissuing this expanded release. With Home Alone John Williams once again demonstrates his supreme talent of understanding a film’s emotional narrative and succeeds in writing yet another classic. He provides a multiplicity of beautiful themes and a new Christmas carol, which he expertly weaves with traditional Christmas carols into a wondrous tapestry. The use of a children’s choir imparts both innocence and warmth while the wide array of instruments used and orchestration is just magical. My singular and minor criticism is that half of the album cues are short, less than two minutes, a length that does not lend itself well to supporting a full thematic statement. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this score for Williams’s devotees and as a welcome addition to any film score collector.

Rating: ****

Buy the Home Alone soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Somewhere In My Memory (3:24)
  • Star of Bethlehem (Orchestral Version) (2:54)
  • Home Alone (Main Theme) (1:27)
  • Go Pack Your Suitcase/Introducing Marley/In Good Hands (1:51)
  • Banished to the Attic (1:07)
  • We Slept In/Hard Count (1:20)
  • Making the Plane (0:54)
  • The Basement (2:18)
  • Target Practice/Sledding On the Stairs (1:31)
  • Lights On/Guess Who’s Home/Paris Arrival (3:18)
  • The Man of the House/Police Check (1:22)
  • The Bookshelf (1:10)
  • Phone Machine/Drug Store/Escape Across the Ice (3:06)
  • Follow That Kid! (2:12)
  • Listening to Carson (0:44)
  • Cleaning Clothes/Kitchen (1:39)
  • Scammed By A Kindergartner (2:10)
  • Walking Home (Somewhere In My Memory) (1:06)
  • O Holy Night (composed by Adolphe Adam, lyrics by John S. Dwight (2:51)
  • Star of Bethlehem (3:00)
  • Carol of the Bells (1:27)
  • Setting the Trap (2:31)
  • The Attack Begins (1:30)
  • Marv Enters the Basement/A Hot Hand/Sore Head (2:50)
  • Paint Cans (2:06)
  • Clothesline Trapeze/Marley to the Rescue (4:13)
  • The Next Morning/Mom Returns/Finale (4:26)
  • We Wish You A Merry Christmas/End Title (Somewhere In My Memory) (4:19)
  • Walking Home (Without Chorus) (1:05)
  • Clothesline Trapeze (Film Version Insert) (0:23)
  • Jingle Bells (1:02)
  • Christmas Carol Medley (7:43)
  • Finale (Alternate Version)/O Holy Night (1:34)
  • We Wish You A Merry Christmas/End Title (Original Soundtrack Version) (4:15)

Running Time: 78 minutes 48 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1158 (1990/2010)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by Herbert W. Spencer, John Neufeld, Alexander Courage and Angela Morley. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner. Edited by Ken Wannberg. Score produced by John Williams. Album produced by Nick Redman, Mike Matessino, Didier C. Deutsch, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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  1. Riley
    January 12, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Great review as always.

  2. January 12, 2011 at 10:35 am

    It’s a magnificent score from 1990. Academy Award Winning composer John Williams scores: “Home Alone”. He became famous to work with Steven Spielberg. John Williams is a genius.

  3. February 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    The Best Christmas Score!!!

  4. Karol
    February 10, 2012 at 3:03 am

    You should review the 1990 CBS Records issue with 19 tracks.

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