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Section Header
Amistad
(1997)
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Soprano Solos by:
Pamela Dillard

Orchestrated by:
John Neufeld
Conrad Pope

Label:
Dreamworks Records

Release Date:
December 9th, 1997

Also See:
Seven Years in Tibet
The Lost World
Rosewood
Schindler's List

Audio Clips:
1. Dry Your Tears, Afrika (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (263K)
Real Audio (163K)

2. Sierra Leone, 1839 (0:31):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

6. Middle Passage (0:24):
WMA (163K)  MP3 (196K)
Real Audio (122K)

11. The Liberation of Lomboko (0:31):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

Availability:
Regular U.S. release.

Awards:
  Nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy Award.









Amistad

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Buy it... if you are drawn towards John Williams' more intelligent exercises in restraint, with themes that won't sweep you off your feet but rather entertain with their cultural adeptness.

Avoid it... if a comparatively short Williams score defined by its multi-cultural title theme doesn't offer enough overwhelming melody or robust action to sustain your interest.



Williams
Amistad: (John Williams) While the history books had never pointed much light on the events of the Spaniard slave ship La Amistad and the rebellion of its 53 captured Africans, director Steven Spielberg revived interest in the topic with a quality 1997 film that follows most of the basic historical facts. After the slaves kill most of the crew of the ship and inadvertently sail onward to the American coast and are captured, their trial represented the tug of war between the claims of the American government, Spain's queen, the ship's surviving crew, and the American naval officers who captured them. Inspiring their defense is former president John Quincy Adams, whose portrayal by Anthony Hopkins is a highlight of the film. The production qualities of Spielberg's effort are exactly as you would expect, raising memories of the equally powerful Schindler's List. But Amistad failed to muster the same emotional attachment in audiences as the previous classic, and the film withered after causing a flurry of initial public inquiry about the event. Nevertheless, an opera based on the subject debuted the same year, countless books were offered about the subject, and the film received its fair share of recognition during awards season. One of the production's Academy Award nominations came to John Williams, who extended his lengthy streak of nominations during his years of production with his highly stylistic music for Amistad. The year of 1997 was one of much anticipation for fans of the maestro; after three years of rather mundane and sparse activity, he wrote a respectfully strong score for Rosewood, a marginally satisfyingly robust sequel for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and a melodic and rich effort for Seven Years in Tibet. Technically speaking, Amistad is likely the best of these four scores, showing a side of the composer's ethnic elegance that is rarely heard. The centerpiece of the score, the "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" adaptation of a 1967 poem, is a rousing, victorious song with spoken African vocals.

The African flavor of parts of Amistad was of interest to Williams fans at the time because the composer had been commissioned to write music for the forthcoming Olympics, and many had thought (erroneously, as it would turn out to be) that he would provide music of precisely this international flavor for the opening of the event. The personality of Amistad is split into two halves, which is perfectly understandable given the plot of the film. The African elements, heard in the title theme's song performance and a sub-theme for Djimon Hounsou's character of Cinque, both feature instrumentation atypical to Williams for the period and are a refreshing exploration of tribal sounds. The American counterpart to this African half is scored with Williams' usual noble ideas for trumpet and French horn, respectfully tasteful at every moment. The title theme is the score's most obvious identity, and it offered Williams a chance to assemble 50 vocalists and a variety of authentic percussion (including a slapping metallic sound unique to this score) to accentuate the powerful bass of the orchestral ensemble. The poem "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" by Bernard Dadie is adapted with all the victorious bravado that Williams can arouse, though the upbeat nature of this theme is a somewhat surprising choice for the composer. For the slaves, there would be decades of hardship to come, and "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" seems to handle the topic with valiant defiance that perhaps doesn't apply necessary gravity to the concept. The underlying theme's presence in the score is pervasive in that it features an elegant repetition late in its progression that is used to tie the score together. This five-note conclusion to the theme is appended masterfully to the end of both Cinque's theme and the American theme, symbolizing the eventual and inevitable merging of cultures. Full reprises of the song would explode in "The Liberation of Lomboko" and the official concert-suite arrangement at the end of the album, though the theme's most beautiful performance comes from the wordless vocals in the latter half of "Middle Passage." This cue alleviates some of the problems with abrasive, dry mixing from which the three full song performances suffer.

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The theme for Cinque is provided with a concert arrangement of its own in "Cinque's Theme" and features the solitary longing in flute performances that Williams collectors will best remember from Hook. This theme would interestingly be handed over to the full, lush ensemble and conclude with a horn solo that would seemingly foreshadow the America that the character would come to encounter. This theme would receive a haunting resolution in the subdued choral performance of "Going Home" at the finale of the film, once again followed by a subtle reference to the title theme. The story's transition to an American setting in "The Long Road to Justice" is announced with a buoyant and optimistic trumpet and French horn theme that represents the better halves of JFK and Born on the Fourth of July. Williams' positive themes for Americana settings seem to blend together after a while, and the one for Amistad remains rather anonymous in this history. While well performed, these good-natured passages later in the score lack the powerfully genuine touch that Williams has provided them in times past. In both "The Long Road to Justice" and "Mr. Adams Takes the Case," the American theme yields to the African title theme, but maintains the Western instrumentation. Outside of these thematic passages, there are few other cues worth noting. Much of the remainder of the score is darkly suspenseful, scored with a slight hand by Williams. An exception is "Sierra Leone, 1839," which features a deep male chorus chanting to tribal rhythms that combines the raw menace of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with the synthetic edge of Jurassic Park. The same style extends into "Crossing the Atlantic," which opens with an electronic pan pipe rhythm synonymous with James Horner's career. Overall, Amistad does not offer sweeping melodies or attractive action material. It is an intelligently successful exercise in restraint, though its major detraction is the overly optimistic nature of the title song and a few of the suspense cues. Otherwise, Amistad is a very impressive score that compensates well for its slower passages with outstanding thematic integration and execution. ****   Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 336,649 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.





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 Track Listings: Total Time: 55:51


• 1. Dry Your Tears, Afrika (4:18)
• 2. Sierra Leone, 1839, and the Capture of Cinque (3:39)
• 3. Crossing the Atlantic (3:21)
• 4. Cinque's Theme (4:12)
• 5. Cinque's Memories of Home (2:35)
• 6. Middle Passage (5:18)
• 7. The Long Road to Justice (3:16)
• 8. July 4, 1839 (4:01)
• 9. Mr. Adams Takes the Case (7:15)
• 10. La Amistad Remembered (5:08)
• 11. The Liberation of Lomboko (4:09)
• 12. Adams' Summation (2:55)
• 13. Going Home (2:02)
• 14. Dry Your Tears, Afrika (Reprise) (3:37)

(track times not listed on packaging)




 Notes and Quotes:  


The insert includes the standard note from Spielberg, though he makes some serious film music spelling mistakes in his notes. He mispells the names of two major composers (out of three). Surely Williams would have caught these mistakes if he had read the proofs.





   
  All artwork and sound clips from Amistad are Copyright © 1997, Dreamworks Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the filmtracks.com site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/9/97 and last updated 2/17/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1997-2013, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.