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The River
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Herbert W. Spencer

Notable Solos by:
Warren Luening
Tommy Tedesco
James Walker

Varèse Sarabande

Release Date:

Also See:
The Spitfire Grill

Audio Clips:
1. The River (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

4. Love Theme From The River (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

5. The Ancestral Home (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

7. From Farm to Factory (0:29):
WMA (188K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

Regular U.S. release, but completely out of print and difficult to find.

  Nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

The River

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Buy it... if you have grown weary of John Williams' space operas and high adventure style of the 1980's and seek a change of pace to one of the composer's most heartfelt and organic works of pure Americana.

Avoid it... if you have absolutely no tolerance for the moderate use of contemporary rhythms and percussion in parts of the score, for The River is somewhat dated in these regards.

The River: (John Williams) There was a flurry of films in the early 1980's that dealt with dramatic representations of the hardship of the American farmer, and largely because The River arrived last in this series in 1984, audiences weren't particularly sympathetic to it. The quality of the film, despite poor critical response, is quite decent, setting aside the awkwardness of Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson as the leading couple fighting to save their farm from both a regularly flooding river and a hydroelectric developer played brilliantly by Scott Glenn. Director Mark Rydell once again turns his attention on the mundane but important aspects of rural America in The River, tackling the subject of farming from both the perspectives of money and natural disaster. Gibson, while not known widely at the time, has always remained the weak link in an otherwise precise depiction of contemporary Alabama lifestyles. Helping counter his miscasting is John Williams, who was once again inspired by Rydell to convey a convincing sense of Americana that few modern composers could accomplish. Williams' work for Rydell had included The Reivers and The Cowboys, and while The River obviously exists in a different generation and addressed more realistic, everyday subject matter for many audiences, the composer does not miss the chance to emphasize the farmland along with the people. The success of The River as a score is due to Williams' ability to capture the pastoral elements of the landscape and a simple lifestyle in both the massive scope of expansive melodrama that listeners have come to expect from him and, more importantly, in the more confined atmosphere of personal, heartfelt struggles. Throughout the picture, Williams' score offsets the film's ominous storm clouds with an upbeat spirit of perseverance and respect for the land. It is as organic in texture as the composer has perhaps ever been.

The music does occasionally reach for the sense of majesty that was common in the composer's scores of the early 1980's, but for listeners weary of Williams' space operas and adventure sound of this period, The River has always been an anomaly worthy of repeat appreciation. The Academy agreed, nominating this score along with Williams' other work of the year, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In many ways, The River has more of a unique impact on its film than its better known companion from that year. One of the small wonders regarding The River is the fact that Williams created four distinct themes for the picture and managed to develop each one with remarkable precision throughout his relatively short score. Listeners often get sidetracked by Williams memorable instrumentation for the recording, including notable contributions by trumpet, flute, contemporary percussion, and, most importantly, acoustic guitar. But the underlying themes in The River allow the remarkable solo performances to appeal to the heart of the listener better than the ensemble could have done with otherwise mechanical structures. The album cue "The River" conveniently conveys all four of these ideas in direct succession. The first theme is one of jubilation and hope, opening the first twenty seconds of that opening cue and occupying greater time in the first minute of "From Farm to Factory." This idea is very reminiscent in spirit and performance of the perky adventure theme from Jaws. Most prominent in the score is the next theme heard in "The River," Williams' primary representation of wholesome living and determination to make it work in tough circumstances. It is this undeniably charming theme, usually performed with piano and guitar underneath the ensemble, that extends to "The Pony Ride" (where it receives some noteworthy embellishment in the form of a complimentary country-inspired motif), "Back From Town," and "A Family Meeting."

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Third in the cue "The River" (at 2:15) is the score's love theme, tenderly representing the primary couple's moments of bonding in the story. Solo trumpet in low ranges gives this theme a comfortable throwback personality, expanded considerably by Williams in "Love Theme From the River" and reprised with trepidation in "From Farm to Factory," briefly in "A Family Meeting," and in fragments in "Young Friends Farewell." Most elusive in the score is the theme for the land, usually performed by solo flute and appearing first at 3:30 into "The River." Soaring to great heights in "The Ancestral Home" (a cue most representative of the composer's harmonically dramatic writing of the decade), this theme is frequently heard thereafter, including "Rain Clouds Gather," "Back From Town," and "A Family Meeting." Together, these elements create an extremely effective work, "A Family Meeting" rotates through all of the themes so effortlessly that Williams achieves remarkable cohesion. While the drum kit-style of percussion and electric keyboarding in a minority of The River will date the score too badly for some listeners, the three notable acoustic soloists will save the score for others. The extended guitar work in "Growing Up" and "The Pony Ride" is extremely easy on the ears, seemingly informing James Horner's style of incorporating the instrument into a whimsical but warm environment for The Spitfire Grill a decade later. There is at least five minutes of Williams' many different dramatic styles each to be heard in the various parts of The River, giving any collector of his music guaranteed highlights. Only the harrowing scene of "The Tractor" receives minimalistic, truly troubled material of suspenseful dissonance to break up the album's presentation. The score was released by Varèse Sarabande in 1991 and not only fell out of print but became extremely difficult to find, demanding surprisingly unrealistic prices on occasion. The River certainly isn't worth $100, but at normal retail prices would be well worth the expenditure. It remains a lovely and highly effective soft spot in Williams' career. **** 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 337,530 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.16 Stars
Smart Average: 3.16 Stars*
***** 21 
**** 32 
*** 32 
** 18 
* 18 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
  Max -- 7/30/10 (11:45 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 37:05

1. The River (4:30)
2. Growing Up (2:53)
3. The Pony Ride (3:16)
4. Love Theme From The River (4:54)
5. The Ancestral Home (4:31)
6. Rain Clouds Gather (3:07)
7. From Farm to Factory (2:44)
8. Back From Town (3:40)
9. Tractor Scene (2:18)
10. A Family Meeting (2:39)
11. Young Friends Farewell (2:39)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a short note about the score and film.

  All artwork and sound clips from The River are Copyright © 1991, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the 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 8/13/09 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2009-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.