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REBEL IN THE RYE – Bear McCreary

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Rebel in the Rye is a biopic about the life of J. D. Salinger, the reclusive author of the classic 1951 novel about teenage angst and social alienation, Catcher in the Rye. It looks mainly at Salinger’s life as a young man, charting the time he spent serving on the front lines in World War II, following the creation and publication of Catcher, examining his relationships with his girlfriend Oona O’Neill, his mentor Whit Burnett, and his supportive publisher Dorothy Olding, and lamenting the subsequent unwanted fame and notoriety Salinger suffered through, which led him to withdraw from public view for most of the rest of his life. The film was written and directed by Danny Strong, and stars Nicholas Hoult as Salinger, with Zoey Deutsch, Kevin Spacey, and Sarah Paulson in supporting roles.

The score for Rebel in the Rye is by composer Bear McCreary who, after a long and very successful career as a TV composer on shows ranging from Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead to Outlander, Black Sails, Da Vinci’s Demons, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is slowly beginning to add full-length feature works into his repertoire. Whereas most of his scores to date have been genre works – sci-fi, horror – Rebel in the Rye is one of his first ‘serious drama’ scores, and it’s a quite superb departure from his more popular works. Many people know that McCreary was a protégé of the great Elmer Bernstein, and it is from his sound that McCreary takes a great deal of inspiration; the resultant work is a loving homage to his mentor, an emotional and attractive journey through the mind of a transformative writer.

According to the score’s press information, McCreary was greatly inspired by the images of Salinger typing away at his greatest masterpiece, and chose to use two grand pianos to represent its sound. “The close-up shots of typewriter hammers striking paper reminded me of hammers striking piano strings. The way Salinger sits at the typewriter, blasting off furious finger movements, reminded me of how I sit at the piano when I play.”

“Innocence (Theme from Rebel in the Rye)” is the score’s heart, and you can hear and feel Bernstein’s legacy within it, as McCreary channels one of Elmer’s most beloved scores, To Kill a Mockingbird. The gentle, intimate piano-led opening emerges into something warmer and more expansive through the gradual introduction of light woodwinds, a soft string backing, warm horns, and a virtuoso violin element. Interestingly, some of the phrasings in McCreary’s writing also have echoes of 1990s James Horner to them, especially his more intimate dramas like Jack the Bear, House of Cards, and The Man Without a Face, which is a welcome new sound in McCrearys canon.

A secondary theme, similar to the Innocence theme but with a more serious sound, emerges in the second cue, “Early Writing,” an earnest and determined piece for rolling pianos, flighty woodwinds, and classical violins that seems to be intended to illustrate the dynamism of literary genius. This cue also introduces one of the score’s more interesting ideas: the use of typewriter keys in the percussion section. Although this is not a new idea for scores that accompany films about the creation of literature (Dario Marianelli famously used it in his Oscar-winning score for Atonement), the sound is nevertheless an interesting and appropriate texture that adds an extra dimension to the sound palette.

This sound, and these two themes, dominates the majority of the score, a constant undercurrent to Salinger’s creative process; subsequent cues like “A True Writer,” “Simply Grand,” and “Writing Catcher” provide especially lovely restatements. Later, both “Bananafish” and “City Without the City” present interesting variations on this style, where the core themes are accentuated with exotic percussion sounds, tribal rattling, and slightly off-kilter chord progressions that occasionally seem to have a vaguely Indian flavor, which is unexpected but entertaining.

A brief sequence during the middle of the score speaks to Salinger’s experiences in World War II. Both “Inspiration at War” and “Wartime Anxiety” have a stark, slightly barren sound for solo trumpets, martial snare drums, and horn chords; again, McCreary’s music here has a vague James Horner feel, creating a mood similar to the wartime sequences from scores like Glory, Courage Under Fire, and In Country. “Wartime Anxiety” concludes with a spectacular return to the ‘writing motif’ featuring passionate, florid pianos and more of that typewriter percussion.

In addition to the orchestral pieces, McCreary also found time to have some fun creating some original jazz music. Cues like “Giving the Time,” “Sowing Your Wild Oats,” and “Celebration at the Stork Club” are wonderfully vivacious pieces of big band swing, with a rousing brass section, pianos, and jazz percussion leading the charge. Meanwhile, “Oonlight Serenade” features more romantic jazz, slow and intimate, capturing the ill-fated relationship between Salinger and Oona, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. To ensure authenticity on these pieces McCreary worked with famed jazz arranger Jeff Hoeppner, and his influence allows the music in these sequences to sound superb.

Capping off the album is a song, “Coming Through the Rye,” performed by Raya Yarbrough. This song, which is adapted from a poem written in 1782 by Scottish scribe Robert Burns, plays an important part in the story of Catcher in the Rye, as it is Holden Caulfield’s misinterpretation of the poem’s title that drives much of the story’s second half. Having already tackled ancient Scottish poetry in his main title for Outlander (“Over the Sea to Skye”), McCreary instead decided to give this song a sexy spin, re-imagining it as a crooned 1950s jazz ballad.

The final three cues – “A Request From Whit,” “He Was Writing,” and “Rebel in the Rye End Credits” – provide a most satisfying return to the two central themes, which are rendered with a rich, warm sound, and which rise to an outstanding, large scale finish that ranks among the most traditionally beautiful moments of McCreary’s film career to date.

Overall, Rebel in the Rye is an excellent drama score, one of the best of its type this year so far, which will especially appeal to fans of Elmer Bernstein and James Horner’s more lyrical, intimate works. More importantly for me, however, is the fact that it adds yet another string to Bear McCreary’s compositional bow. His television scores are consistently full of versatility, but translating that into a cinematic setting is not always easy. However, with Rebel in the Rye, McCreary has succeeded admirably, and has further solidified his position as one of the most interesting and exciting young composers working in film music today.

Buy the Rebel in the Rye soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Innocence (Theme from Rebel in the Rye) (4:29)
  • Early Writing (2:39)
  • Giving the Time (2:47)
  • Sowing Your Wild Oats (1:52)
  • A True Writer (3:04)
  • Oonlight Serenade (3:36)
  • Impending War (1:27)
  • Celebration at the Stork Club (0:45)
  • Typewriter Drums (2:00)
  • Simply Grand (1:08)
  • Inspiration at War (4:52)
  • Wartime Anxiety (4:43)
  • Bananafish (2:41)
  • Writing Catcher (1:22)
  • Coming Through the Rye (performed by Raya Yarbrough) (1:19)
  • City Without the City (4:43)
  • A Request From Whit (1:48)
  • He Was Writing (4:16)
  • Rebel in the Rye End Credits (2:20)

Running Time: 51 minutes 50 seconds

Sparks & Shadows (2017)

Music composed and conducted by Bear McCreary. Performed by The Nashville Scoring Orchestra. Orchestrations by Bear McCreary, Edward Trybek, Henri Wilkinson and Jeff Hoeppner. Recorded and mixed by Steve Kaplan and Nick Spezia. Edited by Chad Birmingham. Album produced by Bear McCreary.

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